August 2014

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August 3rd


Yes, I've done it last - the full saga of the trials and tribulations of Princess Elinor of Gondarlan on her way to womanhood is finally out in both paperback and electronic versions! So last weekend we went out to celebrate with our author chum/military historian David Cooke, (contributor of the jacket blurbs and some glowing reviews on Amazon) - and there we are on the left, full of curry, as Dave becomes the first person to take advantage of the £9.99 trilogy offer.


Then yesterday we had the official launch at our annual Towton Battlefield Society Yorkshire Day event at The Crooked Billet. Because this was a celebration of Yorkshire history in general, we didn't restrict ourselves to Wars of the Roses. Instead the Frei Compagnie's 'time-tarting' members (plus some friends) could come out in all their multi-period glory, as the picture below left shows - we had Stu, Wayne and Gareth in Viking/Dark Age, Alan as an early 16th century Landsknechte, Des, Hannah and Amanda in English Civil War, and Steve as a member of the Manchester Regiment from the Jacobite rebellion, as well as our usual medieval show. (You can see some close-ups of how fine they looked below).


Initially, it seemed that the rather dismal weather forecast would be wrong - there were only a few spots of rain while we were setting up, and by the time the event started at noon, we had glorious sunshine. So things were going with a real swing; the bouncy castle was bouncing and the musicians playing in the Billet beer-garden, a crowd starting to build up on the field ready for the first gunnery show at 2pm, and I was in the middle of delivering a guided tour of Lead Chapel when, alas, the heavens opened torrentially. (Continued below pics).


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17th century Des loads his gun                            Our Vikings: innocent traders or bloody marauders?                        Grr! Wayne marauds...                     18th century Steve looks dashing

That literally put a damper on things, and cleared the field as all the visitors made a mad dash for the pub while re-enactors scrambled to get all their shiny metal pointy things under cover! Luckily the rain had eased off slightly when I left St Mary's with my little band to walk back across the sodden grass with water soaking slowly up my linen damask skirts - but it soon started again, and we sat helplessly under the kitchen awning watching it pour down. So that put a literal damper on proceedings, and probably put off a lot of visitors who would otherwise have come - because we never recovered much a crowd even when the rain stopped and the sun shone brightly for the rest of the day. Ah well - we still had fun; I sold over £50's worth of books, and £20's worth of TBS merchandise; and a half-dozen of us rounded it all off with a slap-up meal in the Billet (I can warmly recommend the pork burger with stuffing and apple/cider compote). Happy Yorkshire Day!




11th August


The Frei Compagnie had a different sort of day on Wednesday 6th, appearing at a National Playday event at Queen's Park in Castleford. As it was a weekday we were just a small, select team of self-employed and holidaying-schoolteacher or student members: me, Alex, Wayne, Des and his grand-daughters Hannah and Amanda (everyone else was at work!). And I'm very glad we had the opportunity to go, because Queen's Park is a wonderful traditional Victorian civic park, restored to glory by a dedicated team of Friends. The site it occupies originally belonged to two major local landowners, the Monkton Milnes of Fryston Hall and the Blands of Old Kippax Park Hall; they began creating the Park in the late 1800's, and it officially opened in 1897 in time for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee. The original bandstand (restored by the Friends group) is still standing, as is the Bowling Green Pavilion built in 1910; some of the trees planted at the time are now in full magnificent maturity, and the original pathways are still extant too, albeit now covered in tarmac. It also has football fields, a 'Chill Zone' for young people and a wild meadow, and it's now a popular, well-used community resource with a lively events programme including band concerts and horse shows - thanks largely to the Friends' energetic fund-raising for improvements, and their success in wiping out the anti-social behaviour which had for years blighted the place.


So we were very pleased to support the event, despite the periodic downpours (above right) which had Wayne diving for cover to stop his armour rusting, and, sadly, kept away a good number of visitors (the organisers estimated a crowd of around 1500, whereas the event normally attracts between 3000 - 4000). That was a shame, because most of the time we were in blazing sunshine (below right), and the people who ignored the weather forecast thoroughly enjoyed the rides, stalls, bouncy castle, birds of prey, children's games and other attractions. They liked us, too, especially Des and Hannah's big bangs (below centre) and trying on our kit (below right); we had fun too, and Wayne even got chance to meet the Castleford Tiger (below left)! So a lovely place to visit, a great day all round, and I hope we can take part again next year.



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20th August


Back in 1990, I was working as a conservator for Doncaster Museums when the nearby Brodsworth Hall (left) was given to English Heritage by the daughter of the last lady of the house, Sylvia Grant-Dalton, who died in 1988. That meant I was lucky enough to get an invitation to view it from the conservation and curatorial team charged with the formidable task of rescuing it from dangerous decay and opening it as a visitor attraction. A pitiful sight it was, too: a magnificent Italianate mansion completed in 1863 for the wealthy banker Charles Sabine Augustus Thelluson and his large family, which over the course of 130 years had fallen into a state of terrible disrepair as the family and fortune dwindled. The magnesian limestone fabric was eroded by acidic air pollution; the building had settled due to mining subsidence, opening cracks in the roof through which the rain poured, and the timbers were being eaten by woodworm. Inside, the wall-hangings were faded, water-stained and hanging loose; the paintwork, including dramatic scagliola (plaster painted to look like marble) was flaking; brocade upholstery was reduced

to strings by the effects of strong light and insect infestation; the couches in the Billiard Room afflicted by 'red-rot', making their leather brittle and powdery; and everything in the place was largely as dirty and unkempt as the gardens were wild and overgrown. It was sad to think of the elderly Mrs. Grant-Dalton and her small staff living in half a dozen of the 70 rooms, desperately battling to keep the place going - but at the same time fascinating to see an entire house  full of family possessions dating from Victorian times to the present. I saw it on several other occasions during conservation work and after its public opening, but hadn't been back since about 2003 - until last Friday, that is. Then Mick and I went for a day out, and wow! What a transformation! Although the house looks much as I remembered, the grounds have turned into fairyland after a decade of  careful maintenance, as you can see below (left to right, the flower garden and dolphin fountain, garden statue, and the Fern Dell. So if you're looking for a good day out in South Yorks, I can heartily recommend beautiful Brodsworth. Although entry for non-English Heritage members is fairly steep at £9.70, there's enough to see to keep you going for at least half a day - and it's got a great tea-room when you need a break!

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26th August


One of everyone's favourite Frei Compagnie events is our annual 2-day appearance at Cawood Craft Festival - not least because we have this gorgeous medieval garth to camp on. And this year we had one of our best-ever times: lovely weather throughout, a steady stream of visitors and lots of interest on both days, good audiences for our shows, a substantial 'Cawood militia' to take part in the bill-drills, and over 100 people to have a go at archery!

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Above: Master Doggett with his 'staff of power' orders the veterans to demonstrate 'Thrang!'. Below: Lady Su looks pretty

Above: Dean uses his rondel dagger (the tin-opener for knights) on Stu. Below: Stu rests, weary from combat

I was very proud of everyone for their performances: our firepower show features longbow, crossbow and artillery; Arming the Knight includes one or more men-at-arms in full harness, plus one high-status levied archer; and as ever, the home base showed a great range of foods and textile crafts. We rounded off a successful Saturday with our traditional slap-up dinner at The Castle, where most people opted for the wonderful steak-and-ale pie with suet pastry (warning - if you order this, go for the Light Bite portion unless you're SERIOUSLY hungry!). This led to what turned out to be one of the high-spots of my weekend: composition of a new Frei Compagnie feasting song!

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At Stuart's suggestion, we set it to the tune of 'Jerusalem', and came up with the first few lines: 'Bring me my pie of golden crust, my gravy boat of steaming brown. Bring me my pint for which I lust, and watch how quickly it goes down.' Suitably inspired, I finished it off after I'd gone home to tend to Henry Wowler, and Dean and I performed the whole thing for the troops on Sunday morning (to their considerable amusement and the bemusement of some early passing visitors)! Hannah recorded it, and you'll find it on my Facebook page for 25th August if you'd like to hear it. So all we need now is our feasting banner, quartered with F and C for Feasting Company, a pie and a pint... and hereafter, all our official feasts will kick off with a rousing chorus of 'Pie-rusalem'!