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Posts Tagged ‘re-enactment’

Oswestry Heritage Comics II - week 47

Living the Middle Ages – Week 47 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

There are many re-enactment groups up and down the Borderlands, with enthusiasts participating in living history from a range of different periods. Cwmwd Iâl bring to life an important period of our history: the years between 850 to 1199: the “Anglo-Saxon” period – the time of the Kingdom of Mercia.

During this early part of the middle ages, the frontier between England and Wales was a dangerous place. There were constant skirmishes between the English Kingdom of Mercia and the Welsh Kingdom of Powys. Cattle were an important part of trade between the two kingdoms, and so cattle-raiding became a profitable criminal enterprise. To control the trade – and to control the cattle-raiding – the Kings of Mercia decided to strengthen the frontier between the two Kingdoms. The earthwork known as “Offa’s Dyke” was built in the late 700s by the Mercian King Offa to mark out that frontier, and help control both trade and raiding. But the frontier did more than create a border – it created a “Borderlands”: a place where the two sides could meet, not just on the battlefield.

So the 350 years covered by the Cwmwd Iâl group represents a really interesting and complicated period of history: a time when Mercia and Powys were both fighting and trading, each side trying to grow stronger through both war and commerce. For the ordinary people caught up in this Borderlands rivalry, this 350-year period was a time of both danger – and opportunity. Plenty of small towns and settlements in the Borderlands – like Oswestry – both prospered and suffered during that time. Fortune, power and prestige could be made through both war and trade – and lost in the same way.

Cwmwd Iâl brings this period to life through a great mix of historical research, experimental archaeology and re-enactment. Through their research, they uncover details about the life of ordinary men, women and children in that period; through experimental archaeology they test theories about how these mediaeval inhabitants of the Borderlands lived and worked; and through re-enactment they bring that all to life for the rest of us.

Last year was a busy year for the group, so during 2018 they’re taking it a bit easy. However, they’ll be taking part in events throughout Wales during the summer – and you can check out their schedule on their Facebook page. And they’ll be coming together as a group for their annual re-enactment of the Battle of Crogen (which took place in the Ceiriog Valley, just near the railway viaduct and the canal aqueduct at Chirk) at Chirk Castle on the 1st and 2nd of September. Put that date in your diary: it’s always a great event, and a great way to see what life in the time of King Offa would have been like.


The Oswestry Heritage Comics are a year-long series of weekly newspaper comic strips about the archaeology, history and heritage of the area around Oswestry, Shropshire in the UK. The comics are published in the Oswestry and Border Counties Advertizer every Tuesday, and on Facebook. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.
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A Comics Exhibition – Week 44 of the Oswestry Heritage Comics

It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost ten months since the Oswestry Heritage Comics project started. To celebrate, Qube: Owestry Community Arts is hosting a month-long exhibition about the comics and the project in their main gallery space. There will be a selection of our favourite comics on display, as well as panels talking about what the comics project hoped to achieve, and a glimpse at the behind-the-scenes work that goes into the making of the comics. There will also be some of the historical and archaeological objects featured in the comics, kindly lent by the people who helped tell their stories: Huw Davies is lending us some of his Napoleonic re-enactment kit; the Shrewsbury Museum is lending us the Neolithic axe that’s usually on show in Oswestry Library, as well as the Rhynchosaur fossils from Grinshill; Rachel Scotland is lending us the mysterious piece of Victorian carved stone she and Mark dug up in her garden; and Roger Cooper is lending us a lead Civil War cannonball and several musket balls from the excavations he’s directing up at Oswestry Castle. Plus I’ll be giving a gallery talk and doing workshops for both kids and adults on making your own comics!

If you’re interested in comics, then Qube is the place to head to this month. I look forward to seeing you all there!


The Oswestry Heritage Comics are a year-long series of weekly newspaper comic strips about the archaeology, history and heritage of the area around Oswestry, Shropshire in the UK. The comics are published in the Oswestry and Border Counties Advertizer every Tuesday, and on Facebook. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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Week Seven: Bringing Heritage to Life

I really enjoyed my visit to the re-enactment day at Whittington Castle put on by the 5th/60th Regiment and other Napoleonic War era groups. Huw invited me along to meet his group and have a look at the research that had gone into their uniforms and equipment. I don’t know a great deal about the Napoleonic Wars. So it was a great opportunity to really get immersed in all the history, and see the connection between the facts and the dates of who fought what battle when, where and how – and what that all meant for the men and women caught up in the actual, day-to-day experience of the war.

Historians and archaeologists often study these violent and world-changing periods through somewhat abstract evidence: musket balls, earthworks, maps, regimental records, etc. It’s all too easy to forget that all of these things had a real and lasting impact on the lives of real people, essentially not much different to ourselves. Each musket ball we see in a museum could be a life lived blinded and disabled, or even a life cut short; every campaign map speaks of days of marching and hardship for troops in all sorts of conditions. Every cooking pot, every button-shining kit, every writing desk or pair of shoes contains stories of the people who used them. Sometimes we concentrate on the object and forget about the people behind them.

We shouldn’t overlook these human stories – and re-enactment groups do a fantastic job of reminding us that’s what history and heritage is really all about. Getting a close look at the way ordinary people lived and survived in extraordinary circumstances can be a unique window into our past.

We’re lucky around Oswestry to have so many visit Whittington Castle. So next time Huw and the 5th/60th are at Whittington Castle, I definitely recommend you visit!


The Oswestry Heritage Comics are a year-long series of weekly newspaper comic strips about the archaeology, history and heritage of area around Oswestry, Shropshire in the UK. The comics are published in the Oswestry and Border Counties Adverizer every Tuesday, and on Facebook. The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

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The 5th/60th Rifles at Whittington Castle.

Britain at war with Europeans over the future of a continent-sized polity? No, not the slow-motion car-crash of Brexit – but a Napoleonic re-enactment at Whittington Castle at the weekend. British and French armies met below the battlements, giving firing demonstrations, showing off their kit and uniforms, doing parade drills and – to wrap the whole thing up – re-enacting part of the siege of Almeida. It was a spectacular display: big enough to make the volley fire really echo around the village, but with groups small enough so that you could walk around and talk to everyone who was taking part.

Re-enactments like this are part of the whole idea that history can be “brought to life” – that past lifeways and behaviours can be reconstructed in the present. Archaeology is often a lot more interested in the material remains themselves than this phenomenological engagement, but the process of archaeological interpretation now owes a fair amount to such ideas. Experimental archaeology validated the logic of re-enactment by demonstrating that archaeological features and artefacts are understood differently when the life-histories of structures or items of daily use are replicated and studied. Construction, use, re-use, discard and deposition take on new meanings when observed first-hand.

Watching history “come to life” – whether a Napoleonic siege or a neolithic flint-knapper – is part and parcel of public interaction with “the past”. Most non-archaeologists engage with the past much more readily when seen as a series of lived moments and used objects. Allowing artefacts, features, sites and monuments to tell their stories by making their life-histories visible is key to successful engagement with public and non-specialist audiences. Even when those narrative life-histories are incomplete or compromised, they importantly still communicate the past as real and lived – more present and more relevant.

For more on Whittington Castle events, check out their Facebook page.
For more on the 5th/60th Rifles, check out their website, and find photos from the Whittington siege at their Facebook page.

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