History in the making

I’ve been reading a book called ‘Albion: The Origins of the English Imagination’, by Peter Ackroyd, in which he examines popular thought and literature in Britain since the Saxons in order to identify common threads.  That’s a book which deserves a post of its own, but more on that later.  For now, I thought it was interesting that one of the things he said the British were obsessed with was the past.

My father, among other people, has always maintained that the British are obsessed with our past because it was more glorious than our present.  He thinks it’s a little pathetic of us, to be frank.  So I was amused to have it pointed out to me that whenever you look at British culture, we have always been obsessed with the past.

The first piece of fiction written in English, in fact; the epic poem Beowulf, written down some time in the 8th century, but clearly composed earlier, is set in a past which had already become legendary.  The first piece of fiction in English is a historical, in fact 🙂  As a historical novelist, this warms my heart.

However, in a blinding change of tactic, I’m going to use this fact as an excuse to post some pictures of what I did at the weekend.  I’m a member of the Saxon re-enactment society, Regia Anglorum who attempt to recreate the society in which Beowulf was first performed.

One of the enormous things we have done over the past ten years has been to buy some pine-infested land in Kent, clear it of the trees and build an Anglo-Saxon longhall on it.  This has been done with nothing more than the volunteer, amateur work of the members of our society, who’ve turned their hands to tree clearing, landscaping, post hole digging, carpentry, wattle and daub, lime plastering and roofing with hand cut oak shingles.  After about 10 years work, the longhall is almost finished and it looks like this:

At the weekend we were doing various jobs such as fitting the shutters to the windows and putting on the final, blinding white, finishing coat of lime plaster.  (Not quite blinding yet because it hasn’t had time to dry yet.)

Inside we’ve begun to furnish it with necessary articles such as lamps:

Meanwhile, outside, we’ve brought our society’s longships into the area because it’s cheaper to dry-dock them here than it is to pay mooring fees.  I spent most of my time there taking down and coiling the running and standing rigging, and spreading out the sails to dry before rolling them back up again and lashing them down under a tarpaulin to stay dry.

Oh, there’s also a hive in the corner there – we had heard there was a swarm in the area, so we were trying to catch it.  We’ll transfer it to a more appropriate skep if we get it 🙂  And speaking of wildlife, we’re lucky to have managed to buy this land in the centre of a wildlife preserve, full of the kind of animals with which the Saxons would have been very familiar:

(There are wolves too, but I didn’t get a picture of them).  Altogether, I like to think it’s a modern triumph of the antiquarian spirit, such as would do both Peter Ackroyd and the Beowulf poet proud 🙂

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