Living History Programme

Weds 23rd June – Sun 27th June 2021 | Outdoor Programme £11.00 – £13.50 Adults, £5 children

We’re showing the vital role of both women and men in our developing story, how the landscape shaped us, and covering more than three millennia as delve deep into the past. From domestic day-to-day living to warfare and survival there will be much to learn from the Stone Age through to the end of the Cold War.

All our living historians are experts in their fields and each event will show them making or doing something from the past – and often busting many deeply entrenched myths as they are quizzed some of our best-loved TV historians and authors. Each event is suitable for all the family.

But be warned: while some events are not for the squeamish, others involve very loud bangs too. Expect an assault of the senses: you will be able to see, smell, hear, touch and taste the past in our most extensive ever living history programme.

The Stone Age (Stone Age Settlement) – all days

The team from the brilliant Ancient Technology Centre in Cranborne will be displaying a basic Stone Age settlement and from here demonstrating daily life but also flint-knapping and how this basic tool was one that allowed the rapid advancement of mankind.

The Iron Age: Daily Life (Iron Age House) – all days

Caroline Nicolay will be focussing on different themes each day, from making walls with wattle and daub, to paint and art using natural pigments, food and cooking, health and hygiene, and cordage using natural plant and animal fibres. A large number of daily crafts and skills were an essential part of daily life in the Iron Age.

The Tools of the Iron Age Warrior (Iron Age House) – all days

Tom Timbrell be looking beyond British shores as he explains how weaponry developed and evolved among the iron age and Celtic peoples – from clubs to swords and axes.  With practical demonstrations and an explanation of how and why these weapons developed, Tom will also recreate the combat techniques and skills of the age, drawing upon recent practical and archaeological scholarship on the subject.

Roman Road (Roman Camp) – all days

The planning, construction, and use of roads in Britain was almost non-existent before Roman occupation. The skills and technology introduced by the Roman

engineers had a profound effect on the landscape and in this event we will be explaining and demonstrating on the ground the techniques, tools, and plans that enabled the first road system to be developed nearly 2 millennia ago

Roman Marching Camp (Roman Camp) – all days

The Roman Army were engineers as much as fighting men and trained to construct temporary defensive camps to protect themselves on both route marches and in occupation areas before more permanent constructions could be built. In this event, our Romans will showing be explaining the types of marching camp used during Vespasian’s conquest of Britain in 43AD, and demonstrating the construction techniques and materials used.

The Norman Knight (Medieval) – all days

This Norman Knight school is a family friendly and fully interactive performance that will take spectators through the steps required to become a knight. With plenty of opportunities for members of the audience to get stuck in with dancing, sword work, arming a knight and tilting on foot, the session culminates with a knighting ceremony at sword point. It covers the weapons, training, and skills required by a feudal knight and shows the armour and other equipment which the Norman Knight would use in combat, as well as the skills required to meet the expectations of social life in 11th Century England.

Marginalia (Medieval) – all days

In an age when books were made of vellum, extremely expensive, and considered a long-term investment, marginal notes were often added to enhance a reader’s understanding.  This event explains the art of marginalia and the strange drawings and doodles that were often included, and is an immersive and interactive display for all the family incorporating art, heraldry, and calligraphy in the 11th & 12th Century life of the Church.

Longbow versus Armour (Proving Ground) – weekend

Will Sherman 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.

Medieval Combat – The Spectators Choose (Moot) – weekend

How combat adapts and differs between weapons, with live demonstrations. This will feature fights with: a two-handed sword; a single sword and buckler; a spear; and a dagger. This has some audience interaction as well as the audience get to choose the weapons.

Tudor Food (Tudor) – all days

The brilliant Alex Compiani will discussing and cooking the kinds of ingredients that were being used at the end of the Elizabethan period – 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 1590 style.

Tudor Herbal Cures (Tudor) – weekdays

With Ian and Caroline Lycett-King. The Tudors used many plants to make salves and cures and in this talk we will be guided along the hedgerows of the festival site, picking out various plants used during the 16th and early 17th centuries for remedies and medicinal purposes – and many of which are still used to this day.

The New Model Army (Civil War) – weekend

How and why it developed – architects behind it – techniques – what made it different from previous armies – new professionalism.  Weapons involved etc.

The Home: Stone Age Dwellings to Timber Frames (Medieval)

In this inter-active event, Dave Brown and 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 stuctures to oak framed buildings.

Napoleonic: Tactics of the British Army (Georgian) – weekend

In this event, learn how the British Army’s infantry evolved over the course of the long and dramatic Napoleonic Wars from scouting and the introduction of the rifle to advancements in formation for both attacking and defence.

Corpse & Effect: How to Snatch a Body…and Why (Victorian) – all days

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 Village Smith (Victorian) – all days

A recreation of the village blacksmith during the Victorian era.  Ian Thackray and Will Sherman will be working on new pair of metal gates for the farm, and explaining the thought behind the design, techniques used during the period and the wide roles expected of the blacksmith in the mid-nineteenth century.

 First World War: Feeding the Four Million (First World War) – all days

Staff Sergeant Fred ‘Shiner’ Potts will be explaining how on earth the British Army managed to feed its four million men three meals a day during the 1914-1918 war.  He will be showing what rations the men were given, the ingenious ways in which it was mixed, prepared, cooked and eaten and also talking about the ‘luxuries’ of the estaminet and the importance of tea and cigarettes. Staff Sergeant Potts will also be providing a Soyer Stove and cooking demonstration and proving that bully beef and hard tack could be delicious…

First World War: A Blighty One! (First World War) – all days

Captain Will Dickie will be discussing what life was like for the Regimental Medical Officer on the Western Front and explaining how a wounded man was treated – from the front line to the RAP to the battalion hospital to the French civilian hospital – where they were then assessed and if not curable, sent back to Britain – and hence a Blighty one!

First World War & the Spanish Flu (First World War) – weekend

Casualties from the Spanish flu were even greater than those of four years of war.  In this talk and demonstration, our frontline nurses explain the origins of the global pandemic, why it had nothing to do with Spain and how new and pioneering approaches medicine and treatment was rapidly developed and put into practice.

Sherman vs T-34 Tank (Second World War) – all days

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 Red Army Tank Crew

In this event, our Red Army living historians demonstrate what it was like to be part of an armoured unit in the Soviet Army during the Great Patriotic War from living conditions to combat.  It includes a demonstration of the T-34 in action.

Royal Navy Commandos (Second World War) – all days

Our team of Royal Navy Commandos will be demonstrating their equipment, weaponry and unique practices, explaining their origins and how they came to leave their ships and fight on the beaches.

 Eat Knuckles, Fritz! (Second World War) – weekend

Combat techniques of the World War 2 Special Operations as laid down in Fairbairn’s own manual. How to use the Fairbairn Sykes Knife. We will demonstrate 10 techniques from Fairbairn’s guide ranging from the simple, through the comical, to the brutal.

Threshing (Second World War) – weekend

Our wartime farmers will be demonstrating the machinery, tools and skills of the increasingly mechanised farming from the wartime era throughout the festival weekend, but in this event will be demonstrating how corn was threshed using new machinery and explaining the impact this had on farming.

Horse vs Tractor (Second World War) – weeked

In this talk we will have a working heavy horse alongside a wartime tractor.  With the arrival of the tractor it looked like the horse was an out-dated animal on the farm, but there was still plenty for the horse to do and it was not until long after the war that horses finally began to vanish from the fields.

Wartime Mechanisation of the Farm (Second World War) – weekend

There will be an impressive array of wartime machinery on display including almost every tractor brought over to Britain from the USA during the war thanks to the Lend Lease deal.  In this talk, we will discuss their roles, the challenges facing farmers here in the Chalke Valley and the impact these machines had on wartime farming.

Steam Power & Agriculture (Second World War) – weekend

We will have at least four steam engines on display and working at the festival and this demonstration we shall be explaining their evolution and development and the many roles they played in agriculture from the end of the Victorian period right up to and including the Second World War.

WVS – Women’s Voluntary Service in the Second World War (Second World War) – all days

Lindsay Ratcliffe – Lindsey (and hopefully Georgina) will be presenting the Women’s aspect of the Homefront, including rationing, make do and mend, and all the other social aspects of the homefront in 1940’s Britain during and after the Blitz.


Not stone is left unturned in this recreation of a British Army Cold War-era armoured brigade headquarters. Eight vehicles will be part of the HQ as well as a host of weaponry and equipment charting the British Army’s progress from 1945 to 1992. Breathe in the heady odour of gun oil, canvas, diesel, and rations cooking on the stove, then examine the command post maps, see the staff watchkeeper ready with the latest briefing, receive an introduction to weapon handling and receive instruction in nuclear, biological and chemical clothing and equipment. Meanwhile, the Radio Relay detachment are linking the Ptarmigan wide area data, trunk and telephone system…