July 2015



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7th July


Clay pigeon shooting, Pimms on the lawn, tractor rides and 'Guess the Weight of the Sheep' competitions... what better way could there be to spend a summer Saturday than at this quintessentially English village gala in Kirkby Wharfe? It's one of the Frei Compagnie's favourite events thanks to the idyllic setting (see pics  below text), and also because the area is so historically interesting. There's been a settlement at Kirkby Wharfe since the Viking period, and by the Middle





Ages it had become an important and valuable manor. Being only a few miles from Towton and a mile south of Tadcaster, the estate (now known as Grimston Park) was almost certainly the site of slaughter as the Yorkist army chased the routing Lancastrians from the field on Palm Sunday 1461, and the original manor house (sadly lost without trace) was splendid enough for King James I to have stayed there in 1603. In the early 19th century Grimston Park was acquired by the first Lord Howden, who built the present mansion house in 1839, and sold the estate to the Fielden family in 1872. The Fieldens are strongly committed to preserving this glorious slice of unspoilt England, and if you fancy living or working in one of their sympathetically-converted buildings at Kirkby Wharfe, check out the Grimston Park website! Alas, we just had to make do with camping there for the day - which after a very grey and wet start turned into one of the glorious hot sunny days we usually enjoy at this event. Us 15th century ladies sweating in our linen and wool kirtles were certainly casting envious eyes at the Regency contingent, whose ladies were in light summer frocks with parasols (although our two Waterloo veterans weren't so cool, especially Stuart in his full Coldstream Guard uniform!) - so after a long, hot afternoon of living history and have-a-go archery, it was great to cool down with a lovely big jug of iced Pimms!

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L - R: Kevin, Anna, Stuart and Dawn go Regency in          Our beautiful campsite, with Sir Wayne grilling gently in his armour                         Mr Doggett demonstrates the finer  

honour of the Battle of Waterloo                                                                                                                                                                                           points of the longbow

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13th July


Did you know that there are TWO castles in Wakefield? You may be familiar with the imposing ruins of Sandal Castle, just south of the city (above right, photo courtesy of Roger Keech); but very few people (even locals) know about the second site, Lowe Hill, situated in Clarence Park about half a mile north of Sandal (below right). Once a 12th century motte-and-bailey castle with a timber keep and two baileys surrounded by a palisade fence, Lowe Hill was probably occupied for less than 200 years; the baileys were subsequently used for medieval ridge-and-furrow farming, and the earthworks are now so eroded and overgrown with trees that they're difficult to recognise as a scheduled ancient monument.


However, this may change - as I discovered on Friday, when I was lucky enough to get the low-down (if you'll pardon the pun) on recent developments at the 'Forgotten Castle', thanks a meeting held by the Friends of Clarence, Holmfield and Thornes Parks. The Friends obtained a Heritage Lottery Fund grant to employ West Yorkshire Archaeological Services (WYAS) to carry out geophysical surveys (which revealed occupation pits within the baileys, and showed that Lowe Hill's timber structures were never replaced in stone, as was the case at Sandal Castle). It was very much a community project as the Friends threw themselves into ground-clearance operations to allow the survey work to go ahead, and WYAS went into four local schools to teach pupils about Lowe Hill and get them directly involved in on-site operations. The whole project was captured in an excellent short film which was shown for the first time at Friday's meeting, and these initial investigations will be followed by preparation of a detailed management plan with a view to further works to clear excessive vegetation, consolidate the slopes and undertake area investigation (to supplement results from a limited dig carried out in 1953). I certainly hope it all goes ahead... this long-neglected castle deserves a little TLC, and more extensive excavation could add greatly to our knowledge of the site - who knows, it may even turn up some information on the Battle of Wakefield!


Artist's impression of Lowe Hill in the 12th - 13th century by Steve Boxall, from the recently-published CHaT leaflet Lowe Hill Castle, Clarence Park, Wakefield: A Forgotten Castle

elderflower sponge

18th July


Fancy a really unusual and delicious summer treat? Then go pick the last few elderflowers before they all wither, and try my Elderflower Sponge (left)!


Ingredients: 4 large or 6 medium flower-heads, 100g butter or margarine, 100g caster sugar, 100g wholemeal self-raising flour, and 2 medium eggs beaten with a tablespoon of milk.

Method: Put the flower-heads in a bucket or bowl, cover almost completely and leave outdoors/in a greenhouse for at least a couple of hours or overnight before use (gives insects chance to escape!). Then rinse in cold water, carefully pick off all the tiny flowers, and put aside. Cream together the fat and sugar until pale and fluffy, gradually beat in the eggs/milk, and fold in the flour. Add the elderflowers to the mixture and stir well.

Place in greased 18 cm sandwich tin and bake in a pre-heated oven at Gas Mark 4, 180 degrees C or 350 degrees F for 40 - 45 minutes until well-risen and golden-brown.


It's absolutely gorgeous hot or cold with cream, ice-cream, yoghurt or whatever you like - and the elderflower flavour is even more intense when it cools down (if you can bear to leave it that long!). Quantity makes about 8 servings.

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27th July


How about this for a campsite, eh? This weekend the Frei Compagnie had a wonderful treat: we were invited to guest with our friends the Red Wyverns (Clifford Household) at one of their favourite venues, the magnificent Appleby Castle in Cumbria (see left). Appleby is highly unusual in that it's one of the very few Norman castles which has been occupied continuously since it was built. It began life as a typical motte-and-bailey castle, and the ditches of the first earthworks, dating to c. 1095, still remain. A stone keep was added in the early 12th century by Lord Ranulph le Meschin, and the castle was further developed as a stronghold into the Wars of the Roses period, when it was held by the Clifford family (the lords of Appleby, Skipton, and hereditary High Sheriffs of Westmorland); and the last major building phase came in 1686 - 90, when the fine Palladian mansion (below left) was created by Thomas Clifford, the 6th Earl of Thanet.


Sadly, Appleby closed to the public some years ago, and is currently only open for guided tours, functions and weddings by arrangement; however, this should change when stabilisation work on the Norman keep has been completed (scheduled for 2016). In the meantime, we relished the opportunity to enjoy the Wyverns' hospitality in these glorious surroundings - especially Stuart 'John Clifford' Ivinson, for whom it was a rare chance to portray his alter ego in one of the Cliffords' castles (see pic far left, below), and for me, for whom it was an equally rare chance to play my recorder without a background of thumping fairground music! The event seemed to be much appreciated by a steady stream of local people and tourists on Sunday, and it was a real pleasure to work with such a well-informed, interested crowd - until the forecast heavy rain put a damper on proceedings from about 2 pm! Still, we'd had a great time prior to that, as these images show: from second left, preparing for the trebuchet demonstration; Wyvern warriors preparing to repel a cavalry charge; and metalworkers hard at it in the casting workshop. What a great day - many thanks to the Wyverns for having us, and I hope we get chance to return when the site is fully open to the public again.

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