Tudor Re-enactment Days bring our building back to life!

Well, our last-minute work trip to London turned out to be fun – once the various appointments were sorted. A very quiet city and no rush on the tube – it must have been surreal in London during lockdown. What struck me most of all is how respectful people were: everyone kept their distance, wore masks on the trains, and generally seemed well-adjusted to the situation of living with Covid-19. The theatre was still fully booked (if you haven’t yet and you are in London at some point, go see “SIX” and take your children – it’s great fun, and the best history lesson about Henry VIII’s wives in a long while!) and the London Mithraeum has clearly managed to gain some public traction in the last few years. Catching up with old friends was a pleasure after such a long time, and just roaming the streets of London – or sitting on the 11 bus ambling along the Thames- was a real treat.

Gave me time to reflect on our Tudor Reenactment Days at the priory and how glad I am that it was such a success. We had a good few hundred people come over four days, which made it busy but not crowded. Lots of families with children of all ages and lots of things for everyone to see and do. Commotion Times, our re-enactment outfit of 20+ re-enactors, brought their own children and, especially for our young visitors, it was great to chat to their Tudor peers and learn how children in Tudor times would have lived and spent their time. This year, we had a baby, all sweet and very well-behaved in her little Tudor outfit, asleep in her moses basket, to the delight of all of us. Her father, an archer, was making his longbows in the undercroft and showing us how to shape and bend a bow, with wood shavings all round him and visitors asking lots of questions.

We had Tudor games and competitions in the garden, and the “Dutch” artist in residence painting away for our exhibition in autumn. The ladies in the parlour and their maid were busy with their needlework and crafts, while the wenches in the kitchen helped our Tudor cook to prepare a meal for everyone. The delicious smells wafting through the building were indeed mouth-watering. I think our Tudor hounds were everyone’s favourites, and it just adds a special extra to have the dogs about.

A wonderful new addition this year was the Tudor surgeon and his assistant in the Great Hall, explaining how sword cuts would have been dealt with, and other injuries and ailments treated. In the upper chamber, our lutenist enchanted people with his beautiful music, and many visitors dressed up in our Tudor robes – and not just the children!

The weapons in the armoury are always very popular, and this year, we had archery in the garden, too, which people loved (yes, we pestered everyone for feedback – I do go through it all and try to shape our programme accordingly). Big blokes with their longbows surrounded by an attentive crowd listening to their expert explanations and demonstrations. I wonder how many children now want to do archery…

But it was the fact that the building was finally alive with people again that felt most uplifting to me. All ages and interests came together and enjoyed our Tudor Re-enactment Days. A huge thank-you to Commotion Times for coming to the priory and lending us their expertise to put our building into a Tudor context for everyone to experience.

None of this could happen without our volunteers, of course. It’s no small feat to have the entire four-day event running smoothly and ticking over safely. And next time you come to visit the priory, do give our volunteers a verbal pat on the back for me, will you?

I’d better go now and sort out the figures, input your feedback in our customer relations database, file the photos and videos and send them to the various parties involved. And write our announcement about Commotion Times coming back to the priory in winter for – *drumroll – a Tudor Christmas!

But there’s lots going on at the priory until then, so keep an eye out for the Lord Mayor’s visit, Heritage Open Days, children’s workshops, Exeter Literary Festival, lectures and more.

Until then, stay safe and be in touch, Judith

Dr J Morgane, manager of St Nicholas Priory, Exeter