I always look forward to the Frei Compagnie's annual appearance at Ledsham Fayre, partly because we usually drop on one of those glorious, golden, mellow early autumn days - just like the one we had on Friday. Alas, this year the Saturday dawned damp and dreary, and we hadn't even managed to get the awning erected before the first rain started. "It's forecast to brighten up later," we told ourselves optimistically; and indeed it did get a little less grey in between the showers - but they continued on and off for the rest of the day! It wasn't the best introduction to our events for newcomers Christine and Stephen (right), joining us for the first time with their lovely display of hand-crafted medieval toys and games, since it was too wet for our lordly ones Stuart and Wayne to get into their armour, and too muddy and slippery underfoot for them to risk doing a combat demonstration. Still, a surprisingly good crowd turned out for the event notwithstanding the dismal conditions, and (paradoxically) we seemed to get more interest than usual in our other displays, with lots of people coming to look at our 15th century foods, crockery and cutlery.
It was so wet and chilly that I only ventured forth from the kitchen to do a little pre-Christmas shopping on the craft market in the main marquee (also giving me a welcome opportunity to warm up a bit!). The rest of the time I spent sewing a tunic for Mick to wear when he comes to some events next year as a brewer; chatting to the other ladies working on their textile crafts, (on the left Alex is spinning wool with a drop spindle, and on the right Dawn is tablet-weaving) - and eating, naturally! And unfortunately it was still raining when it came to packing-up time, which meant that our field had been churned into a perilous quagmire from the thousands of human and canine feet which had passed through during the course of the day... and that all our tents and kit had to be stowed away heavy and wet. So we were extremely relieved that yesterday was fine, and we could lay everything out in the garden to dry off and air - albeit full of chagrin that the Fayre had been the soggy filling in a sandwich of perfect golden Indian summer days, especially because Ledsham was our last main event of the season. Ah well - as ever, the good company and good crowds compensated for the less-than-ideal weather!
TOWTON BATTLEFIELD UNDER THREAT (AGAIN).
As Battlefield Society members had anticipated, the saga of the travellers' camp at Towton rolls on... Mr. Reginald Robshaw has appealed against Selby District Council's enforcement order to vacate the land known as The Gallops, where he would like to establish a permanent site. Every time this issue has come up in recent years, the sheer volume of complaints from local people and members of the wider historical community has helped to influence the Council's decisions and protect The Gallops from further development (the site lies within the extended battlefield boundary currently under consideration by English Heritage, within Towton village, not far from Towton Hall where the photograph on the left was taken). So please, take a minute to visit their website and register your own objection. It's quite easy - go to http://public.selby.gov.uk/online-applications, and register your personal details if you haven't done so already. Then search for the relevant application, reference number 2014/0850/EAP, and write your comments in the box. At the time of writing, 14 comments have been made including mine, and they're all objections... so if you'll add your voice, we may be able to scotch this threat to our heritage once and for all.
OUR WEEKENDS: FROM THE SUBLIME... ...TO THE RIDICULOUS!
It's never a dull moment for 'Team Helmick'... on Sunday 14th, we were at the Royal Armouries in Leeds, providing a little living history support for Dean's annual KDF sword training weekend along with Alex, Pete, Bill and Dave (the latter pictured top left with Hubcap) - then on the 20th we donned outrageous false hair and stepped back in time a few centuries to become 'Piekings' (top right) for Stu and Dawn's theme-party pie-fest! Quite a contrast - although I actually spent most of our Armouries day stitching together the burgundy tunic Mick's wearing on the right, and which I hope will also do for him in his medieval master brewer's guise at 2015 events! (I'm wearing a blue Dark Ages apron dress, or hangarok, over my plain woollen kirtle. The hangarok trim and straps are made from Alex's hand-woven braid; the straps should really be fastened by twin brooches with a pendant chain strung between, but I had to make do with sewing them in place).
There was quite a contrast in the food, too! Bottom left, next to the ham hock, are the tansy cakes I made for our Armouries food display; and bottom right, Dawn's magnificent meat-and-potato longship, with my offering of 'Viking
Blood Pie' (apple and raspberry, really) by the figurehead's nose. Unlike the fruit pie, the tansy cakes were an experiment made from a medieval recipe I'd never tried before. In the 15th century, these pan-fried cakes were typically eaten after the Lenten fast, flavoured with pungent young green tansy leaves to purge the system of roundworm. The recipe I tried must have been for a high-status table - in addition to butter, eggs and tansy, it involves cream, fine white manchet or pandemayne breadcrumbs and the costly spices ginger and nutmeg. (I suspect common folk would have made theirs without cream, and thickened with flour) - and they were so tasty, I plan to make them my savoury entry for December's Towton Arrow period food competition! So what with cooking and costume making, it's been a busy and interesting couple of weeks...
In 1132 AD, a small group of monks arrived in Skelldale, south-west of Ripon in North Yorkshire, to found a new abbey. Although their early efforts were beset by difficulties and poverty, over the next four centuries their foundation developed into the greatest Cistercian abbey in England, as well as one of the richest in the whole of the British Isles. Sadly, like so much of our religious heritage, it was despoiled of its vast treasure and subsequently robbed of its lead, glass and masonry thanks to Henry VIII; but despite the worst efforts of the Dissolution, the ruins of Fountains Abbey are jaw-droppingly beautiful and awe-inspiring to this day, as I hope the accompanying images show. On the right you can see the 12th century north wall of the abbey church, and the 160-foot-tall Huby's Tower which was added in the last decades of Fountains' life. Below left is the stupendous cellar and lay brothers' refectory; centre, a view of the nave; and on the right, Mick standing in the vast fireplace of the warming house, the only heated room within the cloister (apart from the kitchen) between 1st November and Good Friday. (Cont'd below pics).
Fountains Abbey is managed by the National Trust, and although the admission charge is £10.50 for an adult non-member, it represents good value for money because the site is large and diverse enough to keep you busy for hours. The very substantial abbey ruins are adjacent to the beautiful water park of Studley Royal (below left) with lakes, woodland walks and follies, as well as a gem of Victorian Gothic revival, the church of St Mary's (below right). Built in the 1870's for the Marquis of Ripon, St Mary's is separately run by English Heritage, and is well worth a visit in its own right for its amazing High Anglican interior, with gilded polychrome paintings on the walls and ceiling of the sanctuary, coloured marble columns and mosaic floors - a tantalising glimpse of what Fountains Abbey and many other churches and cathedrals must have looked like inside before all the medieval decoration was robbed and scrubbed away or over-painted. The Fountains site also has an excellent visitor centre with restaurant and shop, and another cafe (Lakeside) in the water gardens; dogs (on leads) are welcome and well catered-for; the various walkways through the grounds have hard surfaces suitable for pushchairs and wheelchair-users; and there's also a full programme of events including deer-spotting walks and Evensong services at St Mary's. All in all a fantastic place to visit - highly recommended!