OVER THE YEARS, English Heritage has built an unrivalled reputation for the quality and authenticity of its annual programme of historical presentations and events.
Initially focusing primarily on military re-enactments--from its yearly portrayal of the Battle of Hastings to medieval or Civil War sieges at its castles countrywide--more recent years have seen a shift in emphasis away from the battlefield. These days the field has broadened to include the niceties of life at Elizabethan court or Georgian cricketers in frills and breeches who invent the rules as they go along.
Tracy Borman, English Heritage Director of Education and Outreach explains:
'Although there is still a place for big set piece battles and the colour and spectacle of military displays, it isn't enough. It is the minutiae of everyday life that interests and inspires people and gives them a broader picture and deeper understanding of life in times past--which after all, wasn't just lived on the battlefield.
'Children especially respond to detail and in living history displays, we are able to quench this thirst for discovery. At events, I very often see children crowded around an individual character absorbed in hearing tales of the pox or the plagues--and ignoring the action going on nearby! It is the mundane aspects of life which they love to hear about--and usually the more gory, the better. Seeing the implements used for barbaric seventeenth century dentistry or knowing that children ate ground mice to cure whooping cough, for example, gives them a real insight into the daily lives of their ancestors and a context and substance to their own lives.
'TV has played an enormous part in this demand for detail. Not just the historical docu-dramas which bring the centuries straight into the living room, but also reality TV--viewers today expect to know what people eat for breakfast or how they cope with fear and the same applies to the private lives of people from the past.'
This year, English Heritage has broadened its programme very widely to encompass much more living history, discovery and interaction. At its series of Elizabethan festivals, for example, children can quiz Queen Elizabeth on why she never married or what she enjoyed eating for dinner and learn how to bow or curtsey according to the strict rules of sixteenth century etiquette.
'But it is at its new showcase event, Festival of History, which takes place at Stoneleigh Park, Coventry on August 9th and 10th, that this new approach really comes together. …