When knights were bold…
The noise of horse’s hooves, the clash of lances and the spectacle of knights in full plate armour…
This is not something you associate with Peterborough city centre on a Saturday afternoon, but it’s precisely what will be coming to the city centre as part of the amazing plans for this year’s Peterborough Heritage Festival. The event is organised by Vivacity, in association with Peterborough Cathedral.
Now in its seventh year, the Heritage Festival celebrates the rich heritage of the Peterborough area over the last 3,500 years of human occupation. Hundreds of costumed re-enactors descend on the city centre and historic surroundings of the Cathedral precincts, bringing to life our history from the Bronze Age to World War II for delighted visitors. The event is hugely popular, last year attracting over 30,000 visitors during its main weekend, making it the biggest event in the city centre calendar. This provides a challenge to think of new attractions each year, something that falls to a team led by Vivacity’s Events and Programmes Manager, Stuart Orme.
The focus of this year’s event will be on an expanded arena programme on Cathedral Square, with a busy schedule of live music, falconry and re-enactment displays
“It is both great fun and at the same time quite daunting,” Stuart admits, “but this year I think we’ve got something really exciting which will provide a ‘wow’ factor to the event, alongside many of the elements that people have to come to associate with the Festival.”
The focus of this year’s event will be on an expanded arena programme on Cathedral Square, with a busy schedule of live music, falconry and re-enactment displays. The highlight of this year’s festival will be a twice-daily joust, where visitors can see plate-armoured knights tilt at each other in a specially constructed arena, experiencing the excitement of a medieval tournament.
“It’s a real first for Peterborough,” explains Stuart. “Whilst there are similar jousts at many stately homes and heritage sites throughout the country, this is the first time that one has been staged in a town centre in England since the Middle Ages. The last reference we can find to such a joust in this country was one staged at Smithfield in London, by King Edward IV in 1467. Thereafter they were always staged at Royal Palaces and the like. Similar jousts have been staged in the last few years in Germany and France, and the company we’re working with to provide the joust, Historic Equitation, has been involved in providing these. The knights taking part in the joust come from across Europe, and are some of the best in the world. It should be a real spectacle, and we hope that it will draw visitors from far and wide to come and cheer them on!”
“We’re really looking forward to this year’s talk, not least as he reveals some of the Peterborough connections to the story of Magna Carta in this anniversary year”
The joust isn’t the only high profile event as part of this year’s Festival. Each year a guest lecture is held inside Peterborough Cathedral, with a high profile figure talking about an historical topic. This year sees the return of historian and broadcaster Dr David Starkey, talking about Magna Carta and its relevance 800 years on.
“Dr Starkey came and held a sell-out audience spellbound at the Cathedral in 2011, and we’re delighted to welcome him back” Stuart says. “Not only was he a great speaker, but he spent about two hours afterwards doing a book signing, as he took time to chat to everyone who came. We’re really looking forward to this year’s talk, not least as he reveals some of the Peterborough connections to the story of Magna Carta in this anniversary year.”
“City-centre hotels, restaurants and cafes tell us that they see a 10% boost in takings over the main festival weekend…”
The Heritage Festival is also expanding this year to include a special schools day, providing an opportunity for local children to come and meet characters from different periods of Peterborough’s history, bringing the story of their city to life. School parties will spend a day ‘time travelling’ between different living history encampments, being able to experience the sights, sounds and smells of the past. One of the challenges besides programming and organising the festival is sourcing the funding to pay for the event. Vivacity has been fortunate to secure support from Perkins Engines Company Limited as part of a three-year partnership, which will enable the Heritage Festival to continue, and indeed to grow, at a time when public funding is being withdrawn as part of budget cuts.
Adrian Talbot, Marketing Centre of Excellence Manager at Perkins says: “The Heritage Festival is one of the highlights in the city’s cultural calendar and we are pleased to be once again partnering with Vivacity, to ensure its success. Founded in Peterborough in 1932, Perkins has deep roots in the city and we also have a key role to play in its future, which is why we’re committed to supporting events such as this, which bring the whole community together. The Heritage Festival is key in showcasing Peterborough as a vibrant city which celebrates its diverse culture and ensuring it is a place where people want to live, work and visit.”
Stuart adds, ‘Events like this are not just nice to have, but are vital to the city’s economy, too. City-centre hotels, restaurants and cafes tell us that they see a 10% boost in takings over the main festival weekend, not just from local people coming to enjoy the event, but also visitors from further afield. We know an increasing number of visitors come to Peterborough annually to spend the weekend here, attracted by the Heritage Festival. This year we have already been approached by a number of coach companies who want to bring groups here specifically for the event.”
The main weekend for this year’s Heritage Festival looks like it will be an unmissable date in everyone’s diaries, and there are set to be more announcements over the coming months about the exciting programme. For more details and announcements, make sure you visit the Vivacity website at www.vivacity-peterborough.com/festivals/heritage-festival/