Peterborough Heritage Festival has become renowned for its original approach – it’s the only multi-period city-centre historical festival in the UK focused entirely on the city’s own history. It can only do this, of course, because of Peterborough’s rich history, and each year allows visitors to this free event to step back into the time of the Romans, the Tudors, the Napoleonic Wars, WWII and everything in between. Every year has a theme – we’ve had Viking invasions, and Civil War sieges – but this year, to connect with the citywide party that is Peterborough 900, the theme is simply ‘Celebration’. ‘There’s lots to celebrate this year,’ says Vivacity’s Heritage Programmes and Commercial Development Manager Rachel Walmsley, who programmes the Festival.
‘There’s the Cathedral’s 900th, of course, but it’s also the tenth Heritage Festival, so we’ll be celebrating that too.’ As part of those celebrations there will be a kind of ‘Best of the Festivals’ strand. ‘We’re going to aim to get back some of the things that people really loved over the past ten years. We’ll have our Wars of the Roses knights battling away in timed performances, courtesy of some wonderful medieval re-enactors. And there will be Romans, and WWII re-enactors, and we will have our cohort of World War I re-enactors with us who I am sure will be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the end of the Great War in style.’
Rachel also reveals there is to be a slightly different, more hands-on approach this Festival. ‘We’re getting everyone out and about a bit more this year, and planning a lot more interactive elements across the board. We’re looking to get a few more musical acts involved, as well, to really engage with those passing by.’
Another key celebration in 2018 is the 100th anniversary of women getting the vote – something the Festival definitely has covered. ‘There’s a wonderful re-enactment group who will be coming dressed as Suffragettes – or Suffragists, depending on how militant they are feeling at the time – and they will be going around, talking to members of the public about their cause. There will also be an undercover policeman following them and questioning people who they may have been speaking to about their motives…’ That sounded so intriguing we decided we had to talk to them ourselves – but if you’re still wondering about the distinction between Suffragists/Suffragettes, Rachel explains: ‘If they’re just being political we call them Suffragists, but if they’re planning on breaking a few windows, they’re Suffragettes. Suffragists went about things through normal political channels, but Suffragettes were the more militant arm.’
Of course, what makes the Peterborough Heritage Festival special is that it is about Peterborough; all of the re-enactment groups activities have some historical link to the city itself, and this year some special performances are being planned to bring those connections to life all the more. ‘There’s a website called Our Journey which is a timeline of the entire history of Peterborough,’ explains Rachel. ‘It’s primarily a schools resource, but it is going to be open access to everybody and has all of the great stories gathered in one place. Lots of historians around the city are getting involved in writing the stories down and we’re planning to pull a lot of them together to make a kind of Reduced Shakespeare/Horrible Histories style performance of our favourite stories.’
It’s hoped there will be performances throughout the weekend, with a Saturday afternoon performance at a birthday party picnic. There will be pop-up histories, as well, with wellknown characters from Peterborough’s history, such as Old Scarlet or Katharine of Aragon, appearing and giving a short talk or performance. So, what, we wonder, will happen if Katharine of Aragon meets the Suffragettes? Or if the Suffragettes bump into the Wars of the Roses knights? You’ll have to come to find out!
PETERBOROUGH HERITAGE FESTIVAL
● Saturday 16-Sunday 17 June ● Peterborough City Centre ● To find out more, visit vivacity.org