But there’s much more to being part of a historical re-enactment group than a band of burley blokes barrelling around a field wielding scary-looking swords.
As the group is currently on the lookout for new members, I went along to meet the famous the Knights of Skirbeck, which is based in Boston, to see what’s involved.
I knew this was not a group who does things by halves when their brave leader and founder, Dave Bedford aka Sir Dave, answered the door dressed in full 14th and 15th century garb, complete with authentic medieval spectacles.
Sir Dave said: “We first joined the group in Hertfordshire but the travelling was a pain and we found there isn’t a group that does what we want to do in Lincolnshire, so it’s all started from there.”
And so the Knights of Skirkbeck were born in 2008, and now perform living history displays all over the country.
“You don’t need to have historical knowledge. If you do know some that’s great, but if not, we will teach you everything you need to know,” Dave said.
Something of a historian himself, Dave and all the members go to great pains to make sure all their costumes and weaponry and equipment are historically accurate, doing plenty of research behind the scenes and most of their equipment either purchased themselves through collectors or handmade.
The average event for the Knights of Skirbeck involves them setting up camp on a Friday morning, erecting between six to 12 tents which are all authentic 14th or 15th century tents, and then Pud will make a cooked breakfast for everyone before they all get into character.
They make sure everything is authentic right to the last detail, as not only will they sleep in these tents overnight, but also dressed in whatever their characters from that time period would have worn too. It’s not as cold as you might think,” said ‘Sir John Thomas’, “We wear plenty of layers and linen which is cool in the summer and keeps us warmer in the winter.”
As well as one of the knight’s helmets, Pud also let me try on one of the lady’s costumes and even though it was wet and cold on that day, the heavy material definitely kept me warmer than I expected.
But it’s the summer when the knights are in most danger from the elements, as it is easy for them to end up suffering from dehydration when wearing their heavy armour and thick clothing in 20-30°C heat.
One of their biggest set-pieces is Richard III’s death at the Battle of Bosworth.
Dave said the reason they chose this period in history is because of the local angle, as Henry Lancaster, the future Henry IV who ruled from 1399 to 1413, was born at nearby Bolingbroke Castle.
New members can bring whatever they want to the table, as there are many different roles within the encampment.
There is obviously the sword fighting for the men and for the women plenty of roles including herbologists, wise women and field surgeons - a role which Dave’s wife Caroline, or Pud, plays with aplomb and has been known to do all sorts of disgusting mediaeval treatments on the unsuspecting public. One of the most popular includes a worm extraction involving a long metal pipe and a piece of wire heated on the fire, as well as leeches and the arrow extraction kits.
Then there’s the Callister which is for people who would not be taking their medicine orally, but by some other more uncomfortable method:
“I’ll suggest that some poor chap in the audience is welcome to take his medicine by some other means if he’d prefer...” Pud laughed, demonstrating the length and width of said medicinal pipe.
Their motto is “Est ridiculum ergo valida” which means ‘it’s funny, therefore valid,’ and all of their performances are not only to educate the public but to show them a good time too. As long as people find what we’re doing funny, then it’s valid,” Sir Dave explained.
Of course, anyone who has seen the knights in action will know that being a member of the military and a soldier is not for the faint of heart, and there have been injuries over the years for the Skirbeck clan thanks to their chaotic skirmishes, ranging from nasty bruises and punctured lungs from misplaced sword blows to broken ankles.
But it’s all in good fun and proper training is given when it comes to sword fighting, Dave said.
Although none of the fights are choreographed, all of the soldiers are taught the proper strike points, i.e. where it would hurt the actor less to be struck with their swords.
These are the ankle, the upper thigh, the upper arm, and the top of their head where their helmets and various padding will cushion the blow.
Dave was, in fact, a full-time health and safety officer not so long ago so therefore he is very passionate that everything is safe for all involved.
“There are three things that we take very seriously: the first is safety, the second is authenticity, and the third is security - in that order - nothing is choreographed but everything is done properly,” he said.
To get right into the heart of the action on the ‘battlefield, all of the male actors need to rise through the ranks just with any other military to ensure that they have the correct training and expertise to be able to do the dangerous stunts.
They start off in the militia where they have to show that they can fight with their own weapons, and then they progress to different levels of fighting before the last where they can become a Knight by taking on two opponents at once with a different weapon in each hand.
All new members are loaned their equipment first to make sure they are not spending a lot of money on something that may not be for them.
Dave said: “We would never expect you to buy all of your own equipment
Newest member, the ironically-named 6ft tall ‘Tiny Tom’, joined in August 2021 and he said he joined “because of the swords”:
“Dave put one in my hand he said and that was it,” he recalled “I said ‘yes’ straight away and that was it!
“Dave said because I’m tall, people would be most scared of me but would also charge at me the first and I was happy to go for that.”
The Knights of Skirbeck will be performing in the Henley on Thames Jubilee Joust over the Bank Holiday.
They will also be holding a training and recruitment event in Holbeach on July 2 and 3.
Anyone interested in getting involved with the Knights of Skirbeck can visit their website at www.knightsofskirbeck.co.uk/
Alternatively call Sir Dave and Pud on 01205 368134.