Category Archives: Projects

People, Projects

Meeting the Historical Re-enactors

It turns out the world of historical re-enactment is far from a monolith of collectively-interested hobbyists.

Re-enactment has its own sub-cultures, sea-shelves and side-streets.

For some simply dressing up in the garb of the past – historical cos-play, if you will – is enough (though, warning, it can be a gateway activity to harder re-enacting).

Then there are the ‘detailists’, for whom historical accuracy (or as close as it can be known) is everything – the battlefield skirmish, for example, or the right clothing/uniform for the time and place.

And then there are the ‘purists’, the most devout of the re-enactors, for whom historical dress does merely begins rather than ends with couture.

In ‘mode’, they will eat and drink the fare of the times – peasant stew, perhaps – which has been cooked in the manner of the times, using the utensils of the times. That before resuming their work, whether it is maid work, or ironmongery, or candle making or pottery. All, of course, using the tools of the times.

And those, like myself for a recent BBC piece, will be spoken to in the language of the times.

If you ask: “May I take your picture?” you will be met with some confusion as to the absence of your easel, paint and brushes.

The glasses that sit upon your nose are no longer spectacles but ‘Venetians’.

A key location on the re-enactment calendar is Kentwell Hall in Suffolk.

Events there attract more than 200 re-enactors each May Day.

The re-enactors move into the hall – speaking, eating, working, playing and living as near as possible to how their Tudor ancestors once did.


wounded woman
This wounded woman suffered a broken leg in a horse riding exercise. With her leg bound in comfrey, her re-enactment experience centred on resting up with her leg set

Honor Ridout, from Cambridge, heard about the events back in 1983.

She has been taking part ever since.

“I thought how wonderful to try to do things the Tudor way – they even walked differently because their shoes don’t have heels, while women’s heads have to be covered at all times.”

She brought her children and now her grandchildren also attend.

“It’s not acting, you’re you, but you’re in a different place,” said Kentwell volunteer Christine Fowler.

The lower orders will tend to eat a thick stew from whatever is in season while the gentry feast on up to 16 courses of fish, meat, potage and elaborate sweetmeat constructions made from almond, honey and sugar.

Articles, People, Places, Projects

The school nobody wants to talk about

This week saw the publication of an extended project on a primary school in Essex.

With its austere 1920s red brick design, outdoor playgrounds and dark wooden floor hall, It looks pretty much like any other school. What makes Crays Hill different is that nearly all of its pupils are from the travelling community.

As I reported in my piece, it is a good school, rated highly by Ofsted, with great facilities and hugely motivated and caring teachers. The children are, well, children. They’re precocious, humorous, inquisitive. Most are far more polite than most are in my own children’s school.

Crays Hill pupils

Crays Hill pupils

What made this a particularly interesting proposition/challenge photographically was that the parents did not want any of their children’s faces in the images. But I desperately wanted to share with viewers as much of their clear enthusiasm for learning, talking, making and being as possible.

I did not know there would be this limitation before I arrived to take pictures.

Crays Hill pupil

Crays Hill pupil

Looking over the images in retrospect, I could and perhaps should have done better. But I think I was on the right lines. The children’s own self-portraits are important statements about who they are and I am very pleased to have honed in on one boy’s ambivalent drawing of a policeman. Bearing in mind this boy was present during the evictions at Dale Farm five years ago, I am struck by how his policeman looks like part monster/robot/superhero (not to mention the synchrony of the colours with his wristband!).

It was a privilege to join them for a few hours – enough time to blend into the background – as they worked and I wish all of them every success with their studies.

Self Portrait by child at Crays Hill

Self Portrait

Police man by a traveller child at Crays Hill Primary

Police man

Crays Hill pupil

Crays Hill pupil

Crays Hill Primary lesson

Crays Hill Primary lesson

Places, Projects, Uncategorised

Inside Reggie Kray’s old prison cell at Blundeston

There are some places you never imagine you’ll end up.

Take, for example, the prison cell which was once home to one of east London’s most notorious gangsters.

Reggie Kray, to be precise.

He was once at the now defunct HMP Blundeston near Lowestoft. I’m told by a former guard he never requested his personal belongings to be brought in as he thought his time there would be brief. He was wrong.

His first Blundeston home was Cell 116.

I got an incredible tour of the whole prison thanks to the Freemasons of Stradbroke Lodge and a terrific security guard called Paul Dunn.

Yes, Cell 116 was intriguing. But it was solitary confinement and the unexpected artwork which blew my mind there.

The piece I did for the BBC news website is here.

Here are the images from the shoot.

People, Projects

Amputees: how people adjust to life after limb loss

Being the odd one out is strangely invigorating, a good-for-the-soul experience.

I experienced it being the only white man on a Tanzania-bound cargo ferry, I experienced it working at the no longer extant Disability Rights Commission and I experienced it a couple of weeks back with an inspiring and no-nonsense group of lower limb amputees.

By being the oddity – in the most recent example, by having two lower limbs – your sense of group identity is challenged. So these were a bunch of amputees. So they’re a group, right? But then they’ve all got their individual stories – and you hear how a below-the-knee amputation is a very different experience to an above-the-knee one.

Surprise, surprise – the people grouped by society into an amorphous block turn out to be individuals too. A life lesson that’s always worth a reminder – and being the odd one out gives that same lesson a mallet to hit you with.

The most striking story was that of Sandra, because she did what most of us might find unimaginable – she asked to have her lower leg removed.

Sandra Staffiero

Sandra Staffiero

Aged 20, Sandra was involved in a moped crash which caused a double compound fracture that prevented her from walking properly and left her in excruciating chronic pain.

Operations were carried out but the pain remained.

In 2011 she went to her doctor.

“I said ‘I cannot carry on like this’,” she  told me. “I had no quality of life. I just asked if he could do a major operation. I did not even mention the word amputation.

“When I made the decision I just felt as though a massive cloud had been lifted.”

Graham Facey

Graham Facey

And then there was Graham, who went into hospital with a sharp feeling in his foot and he woke up to find his lower leg gone. And there was a blue marker line higher up his leg. If the swelling reached the line, he would have had to have more of his leg (above the knee) removed. Terrifying. Only not, it seems, to Graham who had already experienced going blind over a single weekend.

And the incredible Frances who you cannot possibly believe is in her 60s. She had a full limb removal aged 13 months and so, in her words, has never known anything different.

Frances Collins

Frances Collins

She reminds you that she was a teen in the 1960s.She’s searching your eyes to see if you’re getting her point. I’m not.

“Mini skirts,” she points out. “Wooden leg.”


“Horrific,” she says.

The enormity of this hits you and you’re struggling to find the words. Then she smiles and says:

“But I have brought up three children and had a successful career as a teacher.”

Throughout her career, she was employed as able-bodied.

“I only got a blue badge five years ago – and that was for my other knee which is getting creaky, not my prosthetic limb.”

She said having a baby was like “having a baby” adding: “It changes everything. But everything does not stop, it just changes.

“You can do the things you want, but you just go about doing those things differently.”