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.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *