Some Thoughts of a Novice Re-enactor

The date had been set, and at that time it had seemed a long way off.  But now here we were, a week to go and I'm wondering!

I had already had my first experience in costume some time before.  It had been quite entertaining to see the expression on people's faces when they entered St Margaret's Church, Paston, and saw a Medieval woman serving the tea!  Having been a volunteer helping with refreshments for a while, I had been very kindly lent a costume for the more recent events. I was then asked if I would be able to join the other members of the Paston Society for the event at Oxburgh Hall.  This was to be very special, as the Society had been invited by the Bedingfeld family themselves, and the National Trust does not normally have "external" input such as ours.  It was naturally very important that we were able to"put on a good show".

A month or so before the big event I had joined with the members of the Paston Society for a very enjoyable evening where we heard some of the history of the Paston-Bedingfeld family. The group then shared their expertise in spinning, paper-making, basket-weaving, calligraphy and herbal knowledge, and it was hands-on and "have a go". It was great fun, and in the end I felt drawn to the calligraphy (no pun intended) and agreed to take on the role of demonstrating Medieval writing.

A week before the event, and the last planning meeting saw us making sure everyone had the right costume and appropriate equipment.  I was thrilled to be handed a bundle of goose feathers and an instruction sheet telling me how to make quill pens.  During the following week I studied a book of calligraphy, wielded a Stanley knife (I found the dagger just wasn't sharp enough) and produced half a dozen Medieval writing implements. To my considerable amazement I found they worked (well, sort of – better than I had expected, anyway).

The weather forecast for the weekend-long event was kind, which was very gratifying as we re-enactors were in a marquee. Had it been the previous weekend, we would probably have been blown away in the gale! Visitors were queuing to enter the grounds of Oxburgh Hall, and at 11am the gate was opened.

From that time until we finished on both the Saturday and Sunday, the hours seemed to fly by.  People were drawn into our marquee by their curiosity, and many had difficulty extracting themselves (and their children) to go and look at Oxburgh Hall itself, for which they had paid good money.  Many people, both children and adults, were eager to try their hand at writing with a quill pen. Fortunately, no-one got themselves covered in too much ink (with the exception of me) and just to be on the safe side, among the many useful things I had been thoughtfully provided with were some not-very-medieval baby wipes. Using the sealing wax and seals proved very popular too, and I think we only set fire to the paper twice.

There were many inquiring questions, some of which I was able to answer myself; those I could not I was able to pass over to one of the other re-enactors whose knowledge and experience were vastly greater than mine.

What did I think of my first "re-enactment"?  Well, I spent the two days with some very pleasant and friendly people, both re-enactors and visitors.  I really enjoyed the sharing and demonstrating of what I had learnt about Medieval writing and being able to give others the chance to try it too.  And when you see people's faces and they tell you how much they have enjoyed it, you know you've all had a good time.

Diana George