King Edward's School Home

An independent day school for boys aged 11 to 18

Living History

Who are we?

We are a medieval re-enactment group which presents aspects of both medieval and military life in the years around 1392.

Why 1392?

We are a school based re-enactment group and trace our history back to the Gild of the Holy Cross founded in St Martin's Church in Birmingham in 1392. We are therefore a medieval foundation.

A school group??

Yes, and unique.  However we have been presenting the past to the public for 11 years. It is led by Jonathan Davies, a very experienced re-enactor, author and member of the advisory board of Skirmish, the UK based International Living History magazine. It is supported by five other male and female staff, it is made up of over 30 boys and girls aged 11-18 as well as former members of the group. The Foundation of King Edward's in Birmingham has a national reputation for academic excellence and this is reflected in the calibre of our recruits.

What do we do?

This depends very much on what you want us to do. Although we can produce over 20 costumed participants for local events, the normal number is from 10 to 16. We can operate as a merchant's household or as a siege unit. In Denmark we took on the role as the Centre's archers running the four-hour long, daily have-a-go sessions as well as presenting the archery demonstrations. We are prepared to turn our hand to most things.

  • Spinning/woollens - demonstrating carding, spinning and tablet weaving. We are growing our own dye plants.
  • Candles and rush dip making - using authentic materials and equipment.
  • Spices - we have a wide selection of spices and gums, some forty or more in total together with supporting displays.
  • Striking coins - we have our own die which we strike pewter medieval coins. We have a full supporting display which we used when minting on the site of the medieval mint at the Tower of London in 2013.
  • Medieval board games - and accounting, including circular chess and backgammon.
  • Scrivening - we can demonstrate the making of quills and oak gall ink, we use parchment or deckle edged hand laid paper and use appropriate writing styles.
  • Furs and Silks - very tactile and really appreciated by the public.
  • Archery - including crossbows, medieval bows and early (non-firing) hand guns. We are the only group to solely use medieval pattern bows designed to draw full compass. We practise several times each week.
  • Skill-at arms - with longswords, steel and wood.
  • Arms and armour - plate/mail and padded.
  • Loshult Cannon - we have recently had cast a copy of the earliest cannon discovered in Europe. It is properly mounted and equipped.
  • Herbs and herbalism - in 2011-12 we completed our own large herb garden at the School, which will provide the materials for this display in the future.
  • Trebuchet - we have a large 14-foot high trebuchet as well as a smaller four -foot version, both working. We have painted mantlets, stakes and pavises to present a siege work. We now have a heavy crossbow mounted on a stand suitable for siege work. It is a copy of the large crossbow in Payne Gallway's seminal book. In 2013 we won the Challenge of the Catapults competition organised by English Heritage at the major national festival 'History Live'.
  • Medieval Surgery - we have a fully equipped surgeon with apprentice surgeresses specialising in military surgery.
  • Kitchen - we have a fully operational kitchen with authentic equipment enabling us to boil, roast and griddle, and we also have a portable bread oven.
  • Encampment - we have 10 tents, pavilions and awnings that provide a colourful encampment that can house most of the Group and provide display space for all activities.
  • The Danish Middle Ages Centre - we help with all aspects of the centre including manning the full-scale siege machines, helping with the tournament, running the bakery and have-a-go archery and any other jobs that need to be done.

All the material we have is carefully researched and training is supported by the use of pamphlets produced by Jonathan Davies and commercially published by Stuart Press for re-enactment groups.

When and where can we work?

For obvious reasons we have to match our events season to the requirements of the academic year which is why it is so important to plan early. As you can see from our events list we are still very busy, but not during the exam season! We are limited in our travel to a little over a hundred miles from Birmingham on account of school transport regulations.

Who have we worked for in 2013-14?

  • Whittington Castle
  • Avoncroft Museum of buildings
  • English Heritage - Kelmarsh (History Live), Dover Siege, Kenilworth Siege
  • Historic Royal Palaces Tower of London- Tudors at the Tower
  • The Danish Middle Ages Centre - Trebuchet using the centre full-scale trebuchets, archery, medieval merchants, working with the tournament on all aspects other than riding!
  • Cadw - White Castle, Chepstow castle and Tretower Manor.

We are also heavily involved with Outreach work to local primary and secondary schools either presenting a full medieval day or providing specialised events on everything from the Pyramids to Elizabethan explorers. This year this has involved us in 41 visits, including two major school visits involving 100 and 250 pupils.

Are you insured?

Yes like every re-enactment group we have public liability insurance. Ecclesiastical Insurance provides cover of £30 million.

What about health and safety?

It is obviously essential that we ensure the safety of both the public and the participants during events and training. Schools are well used to the need for safety assessments and appropriate training for staff and pupils. Every event and activity has to be approved by the senior management of the school and detailed procedures completed. We rely on the training and good sense of the members of the group whether in the handling of weapons or the management of the camp fire.  They gain tremendously form the responsibility that they take. During events there are always adult staff supervising.  

Child protection is an important issue but it is not one that has limited the extent of our participation at events.

How often do you train?

The advantage of being a school group is that we meet every week during term time and this gives us the opportunity to train and prepare for events, something which adult groups often find difficult.  Archery is practised regularly as well as the other military and civil skills we demonstrate. We rely upon the expertise of others for particular assistance with, for example, swordsmanship, accounting or spinning. 

In 2014, we arranged a 20-hour course in swordsmanship for over half of the Group from an experienced swordmaster. In February 2013 we arranged for a Warbow Training Day from the leading warbow archer and warbow bowyer in the country, as well as a workshop with the leading medieval herbalist.

How 'authentic' is the group?

We aim to be as authentic as possible although there is always room for improvement. We have worked closely with Sarah Thursfield perhaps the leading expert on medieval clothing to ensure that the standard of our personal kit is excellent. All our equipment is either made by us or purchased through reputable and widely used re-enactment traders. We have worked at the Danish Middle Ages Centre which has the highest standard in Europe for authenticity. 

But children!

Some 40% of the medieval population was made up of children, perhaps the problem with most adult re-enactment groups is that they are made up of too many older men and far too few women and children. Children, especially by the time they reached 10 or 11, were participating fully in the adult world. Our pupils have the energy and enthusiasm of youth allied to a lot of common sense and a natural ability to absorb information and communicate it and their enthusiasm to the public. 

We have been working successfully for over a decade now at many venues, many of our members have more experience of re-enactments than many much older re-enactors.  In the past year, articles and photographs on the Group have appeared in Teaching History and the Times Educational Supplement.

What does your group try to do?

Re-enactment which does not have communication with the public at its core is of little interest to us. What we try to do is to bring the past to life by demonstrating aspects of it, whether that is striking a coin, cooking food, spinning, or shooting with bow, crossbow or trebuchet. We want to work with the public, that is what we enjoy and what we think is of value. Authenticity is important; the wool we spin with is therefore carefully chosen to provide examples of the types available in the period.  We conduct detailed research to ensure that we are as authentic as possible but at the same time knowledge however detailed is of no relevance if it is not communicated with fluency and enthusiasm to the public. That is what we do.

We are constantly working to improve our presentation and equipment.  For example, in 2014 we made a perfect copy of the Tannenberg Gun, an early hand cannon, made in bronze in the design department. We are making our own physic garden to provide the resources for our herbalist, as well as providing a teaching aid for the history and biology departments.

Feedback from the public

"Thank you so much to you and the rest of the group for putting on such lovely displays - it was a pleasure having you at both. I know how much effort goes into getting these displays up and running and just how tiring these weekends are. It is all much appreciated."

As far as I was concerned the group was a great addition to the visitor experience here. I had seriously underestimated the professionalism and assurance your group members had as presenters working with the public. We are all thinking of various opportunities for us working together."