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Wednesday 5th March
It's that time of year again - on Sunday 2nd, the TBS Frei Compagnie held its Annual General Meeting at one of our regular venues, the library of the Royal Armouries in Leeds (helped by our member Stuart Ivinson, second from the right on the photo, being librarian!). It's always a jolly occasion, and well attended as you can see - we ended up with 14 people present, nearly half the membership. That in itself is a source of some amazement and pride, since we began in 2007 with just 10 members and no active recruitment policy... but over the years we've grown to more than 30-strong. And I use the word 'strong' advisedly - between us we have decades (if not centuries!) of re-enacting experience and a pretty impressive range of skills including pyrotechnics, combat, medicine, cookery, music and all kinds of crafts. Having such a large pool of people to draw on enables us to serve TBS well and put on a good show for our public; and the Frei Compagnie serves its members well too, by allowing us to enjoy cheap and (relatively) painless re-enactment at local events, rather than slogging cross-country to the major nationals at the end of a working week.
So we're set for a good season again this year - see the Frei Compagnie page for details of our forthcoming events.
As usual, the first one is our annual 'biggie': the Society's Palm Sunday commemoration of the Battle of Towton (see Fran's splendid poster, right). You may recall that last year we had to cancel - initially due to a waterlogged field, then authentic if highly inconvenient heavy snow! This year, the site is again very wet after a winter of extremely heavy rainfall; but now the Atlantic storm systems have stopped drenching us, we've had some fine dry weather in Yorkshire, and we're hoping that the coming 6 weeks will dry the sog out sufficiently for us to go ahead (although we'll be monitoring the site carefully in the meantime, and will publicise any cancellation in advance).
So it's all systems go with the planning - we're expecting a great turn-out of traders and exhibitors in the Barn, including the famours Wars of the Roses artist Graham Turner, and the grand unveiling of Towton Tapestry Group's design for our very own version of the Bayeux tapestry! There'll also be the usual guided walks round the battlefield in the morning - I'm taking one myself - along with an all-day medieval living history camp on the field, and a full programme of entertainments beginning with re-enactors' archery practice and ending with a new battle finale, 'The Fall of Lord Dacre and Norfolk's Arrival'. Our knight Sir Wayne has volunteered (or was press-ganged into) playing the doomed Lord Dacre, who was famously shot in the throat when he lowered his bevor to drink, and now lies buried in All Saints churchyard at Saxton... and I'm hoping that I might be the one to shoot him!
The Frei Compagnie! Clockwise from centre back: Mick Doggett, Alan Stringer, Howard Atkin, Tim Hamilton, Stuart Ivinson, Wayne Reynolds, Rob Atkin, Dave Moss, Des Thomas, Alex Harrison (her hair, at least) and Fran Perry (also partially obscured)
Members of the Richard III Society may have been as miffed and mystified as I was by an item on Page 33 of the latest Ricardian Bulletin: a brief report on a diary piece by playwright Alan Bennett, recently spotted in the London Review of Books. Plainly no lover of King Richard - or the Society! - Mr. Bennett has an ill-tempered whinge about a site very close to my heart, the lovely little chapel of St Mary at Lead (right), where he had been so put out to find a 'gaudy banner advertising the Richard III Society draped in front of the altar' that he rolled it up (what a cheek!) and would have destroyed it if he'd had the means.
As a regular visitor to St Mary's since 2005, I've never seen a banner, gaudy or otherwise, there; so, baffled as to what he might be referring to, I immediately contacted a friend in the Friends of Lead Church. She replied that the Friends only allow flowers to be placed on the altar, and promptly remove anything else - but otherwise, she was just as puzzled as to what the offending item might have been.
My next port of call was the Yorkshire Branch of the Richard III Society, who were also unable to shed any light on the matter - except to say that their hand-made banner is too precious to be left on St Mary's altar or anywhere else!
Finally I asked Hubcap, whose best suggestion was that in his rabid anti-Ricardianism, Alan Bennett may have confused the banner with something placed there long ago by Towton Battlefield Society in its early days - but like me, he had never seen anything draped on the altar in his many visits to St Mary's.
So alas, we are none the wiser as to the nature or origin of the banner which provoked Mr. Bennett to such spleen - although I was faintly surprised that he didn't have a rant about the permanent Ricardian fixture at Lead: this lovely piece of stained glass in the window behind the altar, donated by the Yorkshire Branch in 1982. Perhaps he didn't notice it - which may be just as well, or he would probably have smashed it!
It's all most mysterious - so if any reader knows anything about the gaudy thing that so upset our esteemed playwright, do email me. Meanwhile I can't help feeling sad that all Alan Bennett could do was carp and criticise, instead of enjoying the peace and beauty of this delightful building, and feeling grateful to the Friends group and Churches Conservation Trust for maintaining it in such good condition.
Thursday 27th March
Having just received some images from the day, I can report back on the great time I had with Greenhill Primary School in Wakefield on 6th March (there's me on the right, in the guise of 'Jack the Archer', taking half the class through a bill-drill). The Year 5 group is studying the Wars of the Roses, and after covering the Battle of Wakefield, teacher Andrea Smith invited me in to follow it up with a day on the Battle of Towton. So I packed up a car-load of costume and weapons, and headed out for an extremely intense, but highly rewarding day.
We started off with a Powerpoint presentation on the build-up to and story of the battle, during which I kitted myself up in full archer gear of gambeson, brigandine, helmet, falchion and buckler, dagger and bow and arrows. As ever, the children were enthralled by the grue, and loved trying things on and handling the weapons in the practical session afterwards! I was pretty impressed by their intelligent comments and questions, especially, 'Do you think Lord Clifford underestimated Lord Fauconberg?' - and by their conduct at the lunch (see left) served after everyone had a go at the bill-man's infantry drill. They had cooked an authentic 15th century meal from scratch, complete with trencher bread and manchet rolls, and tucked into a feast including venison, pigeon, rabbit, wild boar sausage and trout - all of which they had boned and prepared themselves - with none of the cries of, 'Ooh, yuck' we so often hear from children (and adults!) at the Frei Compagnie table. Maybe there's a lesson here for parents: get your children involved in preparing and cooking food, and they're willing to try (and enjoy) all kinds of unfamiliar things.
Then in the afternoon we had a have-a-go archery session; again, they threw themselves into it with great enthusiasm, with one or two showing great natural promise - perhaps they'll be the longbow champions of the future. It was all pretty hard work but tremendous fun; the class will be using their experiences to do a creative project on soldiers at Towton, samples of which will be on display at the TBS Palm Sunday event - and I'm looking forward to seeing them.
Feat and bill-drill images courtesy of Andrea Smith and Jayne Nicholson, Greenhill Primary School