Live History Live!

Thursday 24th June – Sunday 28th June 2020

In addition to our talks and debates, and our acres of Living History encampments, our ‘Live History Live’ programme will be providing a different kind of experiential history – featuring over 50 interactive events starting Thursday evening of the festival, to really bring the past alive so you can see, hear and feel history.

Across various locations of the site, we bring history alive in an interactive and immersive way.

This year we have an especially rich and varied Live History Live programme that shows the vital role of both women and men in our developing story.  From domestic day-to-day living to warfare and survival there will be much to learn from the Roman and Celtic era through to the end of the Second World War.

S.O.E. Secret Agent Training

An exciting new addition to the programme and based on the very real training course used for would-be agents being dropped into Nazi-occupied Europe, the SOE Training Camp will include being introduced to techniques in unarmed combat, weapons handling and how to pick a lock, while students will also be put through an assault course that will test metal and nerve!  Pre-booked tickets only.

Soldier School

In Soldier School, the budding Second World War recruit will be introduced to the uniforms and kit of the British Tommy – as well as a chance to see and handle some weapons from the machine-gun to firing mortars.

Have-a-Go Archery

Using real bows, arrows and traditional butts, anyone can have a go at using the longbow.

Sword School

Pre-book sessions at Sword School and learn some of the techniques used by medieval swordsmen, in both attacking and defensive moves.

The Trench: Cassel 1940

 It’s the third week of May 1940, and at the town of Cassel in Flanders, the 2nd Gloucesters and 4th Ox & Bucks are defending the hilltop town against the full fury of the victorious Germans.  Their job: to hold on for as long as possible a key stretch of the southern flank as the bulk of the British Expeditionary Force folds in on itself and falls back to Dunkirk.  In this trench experience you will be transported back to late May 1940 and to the hastily built and defended trenches as the Germans make their murderous assault.

Celtic Battle Cry

This is a fully interactive event for all the family.  Meet the Warrior Queen at the far end of the Proving Ground and learn about pre-battle chants and fighting styles, weapons and techniques.  For those brave enough there will be the chance to apply red ochre war paint, spike hair with chalk and learn to blow a horn.  A short walk to the top of the hill and then you will put the fear of the gods into the Romans below and charge with blood-curdling cries.

The Iron Age Settlement

A guide around the Iron Age settlement, built here at the festival.  You will be shown what food our Iron Age men and women in Britain are eating, how they gather it, butcher and process every part.  Clothing and day-to-day living, from food to hygiene, will be explained and demonstrated while there will also be a chance to see how the Iron Age blacksmith worked and the tools and weapons he made.

Roman Warfare

One of the most important weapons in the Roman armoury was the ballista, a giant crossbow used in siege warfare.  During the conquest of Britain there was nothing in the Celtic armoury to match its range as those at nearby Maiden Castle discovered to their peril.  Using an exact replica, our living historians will be demonstrating its lethal range and pitching it against the Celtic sling.

Roman Surgery

Recent study of Roman surgery has suggested it was far more advanced and effective than previously understood.  In this event, our Roman surgeon will be working alongside a contemporary one and using the instruments and techniques of Ancient Rome on a real animal carcass.  It’s not for the faint-hearted!

Medieval Fletcher

Will Sherman will be showing you around his 14th century home and then demonstrating the art of arrow making, from the forging of the arrowheads (and explaining the different types and their uses) to the manufacture of the shaft and the gluing and weaving of the aerodynamic feathers.

Longbow versus Armour

Will Sherman and Graham Ashford will be demonstrating the power and skill required to fire the longbow as they unleash a raft of arrows at different types of armour, and in doing so will be busting a number of myths.  With big screen technology to support what they perform live, this will be an exciting and revelatory event showcasing the importance of practical research.

The Medieval Retinue of the Crecy Campaign

This event will show what it was like to be a retinue soldier under Edward III during the Hundred Years War.  With stage-by-stage explanations and demonstrations, our living historians will bring to life a professional soldier of the 14th Century, dispelling myths and casting fresh light before finally giving a demonstration of agility and combat moves at full speed.

The Tudor House

Georgina and Lindsey Ratcliffe will be welcoming into their Tudor house and showing you how a Tudor family existed and survived on a day-to-day basis.  You will be able to see inside and out as well watching them cooking, candle-making, and spinning wool from the sheep around their settlement.  They will also reveal the secrets of 16th Century medicine and hygiene in this fascinating insight into the Tudor world.

The Home: Stone Age Dwellings to Timber Frames

In this inter-active event, Xander Drury will demonstrate how the first dwellings were constructed, the tool and materials used and allow spectators to have a go themselves.  He will also show how these basic techniques developed from basic structures to oak framed buildings.

Coaching Inn – Food 1690

The brilliant Alex Compiani will discussing and cooking the kinds of ingredients that were being used at the end of the 17th Century – a time of increasing global travel.  From trade routes and the value of spices and fruits, he will explain and show how mouth-watering recipes were cooked and prepared 1690 style.

Printing Press 1690

In this event, Amani Skillen will be using a 17th century printing to show how printing developed both for the publication of books but also pamphlets, and the profound effect this had on the development of man and political and revolutionary thought.  Focussing on the late 17th century, a period when sedition and pamphleteering were rife, there will also be a chance to help print a pamphlet.

Beer Making 1690

Our Truth & Memory team explain the process of beer making, from its daily importance, how it developed, the processes involved and its benefits to health and hygiene. They will also explain why, in this pivotal period and thanks to the arrival of hops from the continent during the Dutch Wars, the addition of hops transformed ale into beer.

A Polite Exchange of Bullets – the Gentlemen’s Pistol Duel

Foreign Fields bring back their hugely popular and entertaining practical history of the Georgian duel – from the slights and tarnishes of honour that instigated them, to the accepted rules and practices and the different weapons used.  With audience participation – although Seconds are not expected to lose lives…

How to Snatch a Body

Possibly our most unusual and ghoulish Live History Live event, our Foreign Fields team will explain – and demonstrate – the macabre art of body snatching, extracting a fresh corpse from a grave, revealing the secrets of the grave robbers and explaining why, with the advances in surgery and medicine, dead bodies were in such high demand.  And they will also show the tricks that swiftly began to be put in place to prevent these scoundrels from succeeding in their grisly trade.

The British Tommy – Kit & Uniform 1918 to 1940

Gary Wise will be demonstrating how the British soldier’s uniform and equipment changed from the end of the First World War to the time of Dunkirk.  Showing the idiosyncrasies of both, and why the 1937 Pattern Battledress was born and its profound influence on other combatant nations, this will be a practical, revelatory and interactive session.

Light Aid Detachment – Vehicle Recovery

A key role of the LAD was to recover broken down or damaged vehicles.  Our team will be using period trucks, hoists and tools to collect an abandoned vehicle and return it to the field workshop.  There they will talk through and practically demonstrate WWII British vehicles repairs using the work benches, period tools and a spare engine of an LAD operating in Northwest Europe in 1944-45.

Light Aid Detachment – The Centaur I Tank

Our Light Aid Detachment team will be working on a Cromwell tank alongside a tent complete with work benches and tools of a British LAD team in the field in Northwest Europe in 1944-45.  With an elevated viewing platform, it will be possible to look down into the turret and engine compartment.  Including an engine start as well as practical demonstrations of the tools and maintenance routines.

World War II Blacksmith – The REME Workshop

In this event, Ian Thackray will be offering a fully interactive opportunity for people to use the tools and equipment of the Second World War blacksmith – a vital cog in maintaining fighting efficiency at the front.  The session will include welding and cutting and field engineering techniques.

World War II Blacksmith – The Hedgecutter

It was US Technical Sergeant Curtis Culin, a former garage mechanic, who created the first hedge-cutter, or ‘Rhino’ as it became known, in early July 1944.   This giant steel fork was fitted to the front of a Sherman tank which then cut through the base of the hedgerows that dominated the Normandy ‘bocage’ landscape.  In these events, Ian Thackray, with the help our tank crew, will be creating a hedge-cutter from a German beach obstacle and fitting to the front of a Sherman tank.

The T-34 Tank

We are very fortunate to have a real, working T-34 tank at the history festival this year.  Newly arrived in Britain, it served in the Red Army and is one of some 84,000 built, making it the most built tank ever produced.  The mainstay of the Red Army, this extraordinary armoured fighting vehicle will move from the WWII area to the Proving Ground, while our all-female Red Army crew will explain how it is maintained, driven and fired and will discuss the role of women combatants on the Eastern Front.

The Garrison – Anti-Tank Gun Demonstration

The Garrison will be moving three different anti-tank guns from the WWII area to the Proving Ground then unhooking them, setting them up and firing each in turn.  Using the training, instructions and techniques that were practiced by British anti-tank gunners in the Second World War, they will be show-casing the 2-pounder of the early war as well as the mighty 6-pounder and 17-pounder ‘Pheasant.’ This one will be very loud!

Wartime Farming

Our wartime farmers will be demonstrating the machinery, tools and skills of the increasingly mechanised farming from the wartime era throughout the festival weekend, including an array of tractors, steam power, and a threshing machine.  We will also have a display of wartime artefacts, local photographs and recorded memories alongside veterans who actually worked the land at the time.

As well as as our Live Interactive Living History programme, we have a range of other Living History activities going on throughout the weekend.

Living history is a brilliant way to bring the past alive – a sensory experience you can see, touch, taste, hear, and smell – and this year we will have more than ever before from the Iron Age and Romans all the way through to the Second World War.

The festival will look very different this year with our living history encampments integrated throughout the site. Amongst new additions are four historic dwellings: Iron Age, Medieval, Tudor and a late seventeenth century coaching inn.  Each one will be lived in throughout the week and will include a stockaded area for animals and all the features of daily life in those periods.

Air Displays

We are delighted that air displays shall be returning this year, for Thursday 25, Sat 27 and Sunday 28th.

Aircraft include: Hurricane, Spitfire XIX, Dakota, Mustang, Catalina, Lancaster, B17-G

The History Tellers

Show favourites the History Tellers are back again with their rip-roaring stories from the past. They’re on the high seas with the mutinous crew of HMS Bounty, digging deep for dinosaurs in queen Victoria’s Britain and diving for sunken treasures beneath the waves.

In their spectacular fifth year at the festival, Alex and Abs continue to be the perfect companion to the lectures with their fun and frantic approach to historical tale telling. Be warned: their enthusiasm is infectious!

The History Tellers will be performing every evening and through the festival weekend at their History Tellers Tent. Each show is approximately 20-30 minutes long and suitable for children.

Find out more


A greater number of performance related events in our new vaudeville-esque Spiegeltent

History Hunt

A historical treasure hunt around the festival site. Follow a series of clues and riddles centred on historic activities and events around the festival site. History Hunters will need to pay careful attention to their surroundings and the information given to solve this trail and discover the treasure. It takes around 1 hour to complete.

Static Displays

Russian T-34, Sherman, British Centaur and a host of trucks, artillery pieces, and also farm vehicles and steam engines.