Heritage & Culture

#SummerFun | Peterborough, prepare for battle!

The nation is divided. The Crown is at war with Parliament. In Royalist Peterborough, destruction is wrought upon the Cathedral by Cromwell’s men, and Woodcroft Castle is put to siege to root out a defiant Royalist spymaster... But who will win the day? Witness the outcome for yourself as Peterborough Heritage Festival (Saturday 17-Sunday 18 June) returns to the historic heart of the city and Cathedral precincts, dramatically recreating the siege at Woodcroft. Presented by Vivacity in association with Perkins, Peterborough Cathedral and Peterborough City Council, the Festival will be bringing to life over 3,500 years of Peterborough history, this year with a focus on the Civil War. And best of all, it’s free!

Now in its ninth year, Peterborough Heritage Festival has grown to become the city’s most popular public event, attracting over 37,500 people in 2016. It is unique in that all the periods that are brought to life by the visiting re-enactment groups – ranging from the prehistoric to World War II – are related specifically to the city’s own history. Each year, there is also a centrepiece that focuses on one specific period or event. There has been a medieval joust – the first to take place in a city-centre for centuries – and even a full Viking invasion.

The Heritage Festival also features a large programme of fringe events either side of the main Festival weekend (9-24 June inclusive) where people can enjoy walks, lectures and get involved with a multitude of heritage societies and attractions across the city, at venues such the Cathedral, as the Museum, libraries, at Nene Park and Railworld. This year the theme of the main event is the Civil War. ‘2017 marks the 375th anniversary of King Charles I raising his standard and declaring war against Parliament in 1642,’ explains Vivacity Heritage Programmes and Commercial Development Manager Rachel Walmsley. ‘To mark that anniversary, the Sealed Knot – probably the world’s most famous group of re-enactors – are coming to display their military might. They will also have a camp in the Bishop’s Palace gardens over the weekend, so you’ll be able to wander through and see what life was like, chat to the re-enactors and get a real flavour for what was going on back then.’ ‘What was going on back then’ includes the siege at Woodcroft Castle, whose thrilling, explosive and at times grimly comedic events the Sealed Knot will be recreating in all their glory.

The Siege of Woodcroft Castle
‘Woodcroft is one of those little gems around Peterborough,’ explains Stuart Orme, Director of Operations at Peterborough Cathedral – also a local historian with long involvement in the Festival. ‘It’s a 13th century fortified manor house, which is also moated. The siege there took place in 1648, during the second Civil War, when Charles I had been imprisoned for a couple of years by Parliament and the Royalists organised a revolt to get him sprung from jail and topple the Parliamentary government.’ One of those rabble-rousing at the time was a local priest by the name of Dr Michael Hudson, who had also been Charles I’s spymaster.

‘He was up in Stamford trying to raise troops, without much success, when local Parliamentary forces came after him.’ Hudson fled to his nearest bolt hole–Woodcroft – and to no one’s surprise, those Parliamentary forces followed and demanded his surrender – but Hudson was not for giving in. ‘There was an attempt to storm the property, but they had too few men and several Parliamentary troops were killed in the attempt. Reinforcements arrived and again called upon him to surrender. Again, he refused. Eventually they managed to break inside, probably through use of a petard, which is an explosive device which they attached to the gate.’

Hudson was clearly not one for keeping a low profile, and spent much of the conflict up on top of the tower bellowing encouragements to his troops. Then, when the Parliamentarians broke in, things took another dramatic turn. ‘He ended up hanging from the ramparts in an attempt to escape the Parliamentary soldiers – there is a Parliamentary newsbook which includes a rather lovely cartoon of him dangling there. He refused to surrender even then. They ended up cutting off his hands, sending him plunging into the moat, then fished him out, disembowelled him and plucked out his tongue, which was said to have been shown to people in every town in the area as a warning to others not to use their wagging tongues against the Roundheads!’ His unhappy spirit is said to haunt Woodcroft Castle to this day.

Woodcroft itself lies six miles outside Peterborough, but the Festival will be bringing the event into the city centre with the aid of one quite significant stand-in. ‘The Guildhall will be Woodcroft Castle for one weekend!’ explains Rachel. ‘The Sealed Knot are wonderful at this sort of thing, so it will be a real spectacle. It’s a local regiment that is leading on it – Colonel John Pickering’s Regiment of Foote – but they will have many more to add to their ranks. They also like to ad lib a bit, so anything can happen!’

The best of the rest of the Fest
The Festival is not just about one event or period, of course. ‘We try to represent as many historical periods from Peterborough’s history as we can,’ says Rachel. ‘We have our usual Roman cohort coming, Vikings and Saxons, Normans, knights from the Wars of the Roses, people from the Tudor period, the Civil War of course, Georgian sailors, Victorians, WWI, WWII – and they will be spreading all around the Cathedral, through both the Bishop’s Palace Garden and the Deanery Garden.’

As always, these will include some historical characters who will be roaming around and who you can stop for a chat, including Old Scarlet the gravedigger, Katherine of Aragon, Oliver Cromwell and Charles I. A returning favourite from previous years is Fiery Jack and his band of historical entertainers. ‘The Children’s Zone, with lots of different games, will be back in the Cathedral cloisters throughout the day, with a sword school, circus workshop, Victorian sideshow and much more.’ Some of these events may have a nominal charge of 50p per child for those wishing to get involved. The Cathedral also has a new children’s activity guide for just £2.

Designed by illustrator Emma Metcalfe, it gets them to explore the ancient building – in the company of Old Scarlett! ‘There are lots of things for kids to do,’ says Rachel, ‘but plenty for adults as well. We’ll have workshops, including chain mail making and Saxon ring-making.’ These will run on the hour and can be pre-booked in advance or you can simply drop by and see when the next available slot is. There’s also falconry, medieval musicians, and the return of the Victorian camera obscura – another big hit of last year. Within the Cathedral, ‘Ready, Teddy, Go’ – the hugely popular teddy bear parachute drop from the dizzying heights of the Cathedral balcony – is also back by popular demand. There will also be Cathedral rooftop tours, so you can appreciate teddy’s plight for yourself, and free 20 minute taster tours.

There are plenty of new attractions, too. ‘In the WWII camp, we’re highlighting the fantastic work done by women in the Second World War. That’s something that Perkins particularly champions, getting women into the engineering sector, so it’s a nice link with our key sponsor. There will also be a re-enactment of the Battle of Lincoln, from 1217 during the First Barons’ War, which has its 800th anniversary this year.’ This particular battle took place when Prince Louis of France challenged Henry III for the throne after the death of King John – and it should be a pretty spectacular affair.

Although the Festival usually covers 3,500 years of history, there’s one new addition that takes things rather further back – 165 million years further back, to be precise. It is a life-sized pliosaur, and its name is Horace. ‘This is a really great thing that I’ve had my eye on for a few years,’ says Rachel. ‘Obviously Peterborough has a fascinating history, but we’ve also got Jurassic history, so I am delighted to be able to welcome Horace to the Festival. He will be staying the weekend on St John’s Square, with his groom Joe.’ Horace is not merely a model of a pliosaur, however – he’s an entire experience, which you can only fully appreciate by being swallowed up and going into the belly of the beast. ‘Horace has a cinema inside him. It’s a great way to learn about our Jurassic past!’

Getting it together
One of the great things about the Heritage Festival is that it is itself becoming part of the city’s heritage – but how this major event comes together highlights the challenges with any event such as this, not least of which is keeping it free whilst making it sustainable.

‘Perkins are really generous and sponsor a large part of the festival,’ says Rachel. ‘Vivacity provide the main chunk of money each year and both the City Council and Peterborough Cathedral generously offer their spaces and facilities, but it still costs a significant amount of money to put on, so we ask for donations on the day. It is important we keep the Heritage Festival free to enjoy and even small donations can support this. As a charity, Vivacity’s mission is to inspire people in the City of Peterborough and present activities that can inspire an interest in culture. We want to keep the festival going and ensure something bigger and better next year.’

In fact, Rachel reveals a startling statistic. ‘We had 37,500 people last year. If every one of those gave just a £2 donation, that £75,000 would secure the Heritage Festival’s future for the next three years. Obviously not everyone is going to donate over the weekend – it’s a festival for everybody and we want it to remain free to attend the main events – but those donations really do help keep this event going and make it sustainable.’ What is really striking about this, in an age when we regularly hear about hundreds of thousands or millions, is how small an amount it actually takes to run the Festival. It seems amazing value.

‘What we get for the money each year is phenomenal,’ says Rachel. ‘Many of our re-enactors do it purely for the love of it, volunteering their time. Volunteers make the weekend, really.2018 is going to be an even bigger, more spectacular event. It will be the tenth anniversary of the Festival as well as Peterborough 900 – the 900th anniversary of the current Cathedral building – so we will be making that a really big celebration.’ And this highlights another key point: it’s not just about keeping it going, it’s about keeping it growing. ‘We do try to make it bigger and better each year. This year a real focus of mine is on accessibility. There are many things that we can do to really improve accessibility – and often it’s little things that make the difference – so we’re working hard on that this year, with the collaboration of Peterborough Disability Forum and a charity called Attitude is Everything, who help improve access to festivals for deaf and disabled people.’

For a whole weekend of entertainment that is educational and gets bigger and better each year, a donation that’s less than the price of a coffee doesn’t seem much to ask. Think about that when you see someone collecting at the Festival – and let’s keep it going!

Heritage Festival highlights (and where to find them…)

● Living History encampments and arena displays by ad ozen of the country’s to pre-enactment groups, representing periods from Peterborough’s history – from prehistory to World War II. Main focus this year will be the English Civil War. ● Period music and entertainment including musicians, jesters, falconry and street entertainers ● Talks, demonstrations and displays ● Medieval market, with stalls selling replica period wares ● Food court and local real ale beer tent, plus Food Fayreoftraditional foods ● Have-a-go sessions, including archery and traditional crafts ● Talk inside the Cathedral on Saturday evening ● Schools day on the Friday (in Precincts only) ● Children’s activity area

● Arena area on main part of Cathedral Square for falconry, battle and drill displays, music and dancing ● Local history fair, with stalls from local history societies and community groups on Church Street and Exchange Street ● To uring display on Perkins heritage by the Guildhall. ● The Guildhall to be staged as Woodcroft Castle – with a full siege!

● Horace the Pliosaur –a performance piece by Emerald Ant about our Jurassic past ● Vivacity Libraries tent promoting the Summer Reading Challenge

Vivacity Heritiage Festival
Peterborough Cathedral and surrounding area
10 – 24 June


Keep up-to-date with great summer activities around Peterborough this summer with The Moment’s hashtag #SummerFun

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