More Apedale photographs added
A successful weekend preparing the equipment for the new season starting at Wrest Park. Centurio's birthday was also celebrated.
On April 1st this year, the date that the Vindolanda Trust was formed in 1972, five Guard members were proud to parade at a celebration to mark the life and work of Robin Birley OBE, the Trust's founder, who had died the previous autumn. Some 150 invited guests gathered in a marquee near the Hedley Centre to hear members of Robin's immediate family speak about his life. After sporting achievements at school Robin served as a second lieutenant in the Royal Marines during national service before taking a degree at Brasenose College ,Oxford. Teaching posts then followed in Vancouver, Gordonstoun and Alnwick College. Following the foundation of the Vindolanda Trust, excavations at the site took up most of Robin's time. He did however find time for public service on various councils including Chair of Northumbria County Council . Robin also served as a Magistrate and was appointed an Alderman of Northumbria CC.
Most of all Robin Birley will be remembered for being the finder of the Vindolanda writing tablets, voted some years ago the top treasure of Britain, and realising what these slivers of wood actually represented. From these tablets came the wealth of information on the life and work of the Roman Army on Hadrian's Wall.
Our first major public venue of the season was the multi-period St George’s Day Festival at Wrest Park which we have regularly attended. Unfortunately this particular weekend was bitterly cold and miserable with constant wind and rain and we were initially concerned about putting up the big tent. However we did manage it and set up camp as usual. English Heritage were also concerned about the weather and suggested via social media that public with advance tickets might wish to use them on the Sunday in preference to Saturday. Although visitor numbers were considerably smaller on the Saturday, around 4,500 people attended over the whole weekend.
Usual displays were given including the participation of two cavalrymen. Cloaks were much in evidence on Saturday and the hot camp stew proved popular. Due to the wind we were not able to shoot the artillery and we were all very relieved to retire to the warm pub in the evening. The pub has recently changed hands and, despite the recent departure of the chef, the new licensee provided us with good home cooking and a friendly smile, both of which were very welcome!
The weather was better on Sunday and the sun even managed to shine. It was obvious that the public had taken EH’s advice and were much more numerous but the weather still remained rather chilly.
Members turned out for this regular date on the English Heritage calendar.
The weather was almost perfect, except for a few moments of light rain and a persistent wind but on the whole we were lucky to avoid the downpours which affected many other places.
Crowds were good and enthusiastic and most of the displays went well.
Veteran members may remember Conrad who reappeared and displayed with us during the weekend.
Altogether an enjoyable weekend at one of the most impressive locations we visit.
We were up early on Saturday to get our kit into the Studio, park the cars and erect the camp. The three sites were a considerable distance apart and the logistics could have been a problem. However members concentrated and to my surprise, all the pieces came together.
After erecting the camp we kitted up to march to the start point for a grand parade through the city celebrating the date on which Britain's first Saint, St Alban, had his head cut off. At least 500 people took part.
Two displays were given during the day at 12.30 and 3 pm to very large crowds in the park area outside the Cathedral. The displays went well. On the down side the big problem we had was looking after both the camp and artillery with the numbers we had. However with every member cooperating we managed to pull it off.
Feedback from St Albans has been good with the organisers saying we were the highlight of the day. This is due to all those members who did turn up upholding the Guard's standards. Well done to them.
Four members turned out at Ribchester Roman Fort to assist Nigel Amos with his cavalry displays on the 19th/20th July.
Eleven members and one French chap turned out at Vindolanda for the Hadrian's Wall Pilgrimage. Many of the well known Roman Army experts were in attendance and it was clear once again the high regard in which The Guard is held.
Three members turned out at the Roman villa at Lawrence Weston on the 27th July
Three members took part, as cavalrymen, together with one pony, in filming today at HQ for a video which we now learn is for the new gallery at the Corinium Museum Cirencester.
The first weekend in August saw a return visit to Dover Castle, a truly spectacular venue, but with the disadvantage of being a long journey for almost all Guard members. To improve this problem somewhat, a minibus was arranged so that several members could travel via the farm and cut down on the amount of driving required and also help with loading.
We displayed in good weather to sizeable crowds along with a contingent from the Gemina Project in Holland, who had travelled especially to join with us in our displays. We also had the addition of three Cavalrymen from Nigel Amos’s group. As usual displays were given on the Castle green out side the keep where our living history camp was also located. Our billet was in the suite of Education Rooms inside the keep area, so all facilities were close and convenient for us. We were especially glad of the use of the minibus for transport to and from our evening hostelry ( the local Wetherspoons) as our days of climbing the hill from town to the castle after a long day in kit are definitely now over. A beer tent and food stalls were available on site and we were treated to a beer by the crew of a new cruise ship who, on a team building exercise, were being shown the attractions of Dover as a port venue and for
whom we stayed in kit for photo opportunities.
The weather stayed dry for both days and English Heritage were more than happy with the event and with the numbers of public attending.
The only downside to the weekend was the huge traffic jam we all encountered at the start of our homeward journey. The M20 had been closed and we all, ferry traffic included, had to use the A2 and M2. Consequently it was almost midnight when we arrived back at HQ with some members still having to make a further onward journey.
FISHBOURNE ROMAN PALACE
The weekend of August31st/September 1st saw a return to Fishbourne Roman Palace near Chichester after a period of three years. Sadly several familiar faces at the Museum were missing due to retirement, ill health and moving on, but there was still a strong band of staff and volunteers helping the public to enjoy a good visit. The weather was fine both days and we gave our usual displays to the public who had good views from the spoil heap mounds. As in the past we had to use “soft” ammunition (ie. melons and onions) for the ballista and onager as the trajectory was over a public footpath, policed by staff, into an adjacent field. Fortunately everyone escaped harm and were not too annoyed to have their cycle ride interrupted. Former member Richard Bridgland who regularly kits up for the Museum, was guest commentator for the weekend.
Our camp was set up beside the gardens and museum buildings and hosted many interested visitors. The organisers calculated that visitor numbers had not been exceeded since our previous visit.
Our usual watering hole, The Bull’s Head, had come under new management since our last visit and we were very pleased to receive a warm welcome there and have our requirements ably catered for. Accommodation was within the Museum buildings with a cooked breakfast available on Sunday morning. We departed in good time with the satisfaction of a job well done.
APEDALE COUNTRY PARK, NEWCASTLE-UNDER-LYME
It was eleven years since our previous visit to this venue and we were pleased to see how much development had taken place there when we arrived for our weekend on September 28th/29th. There was a steam railway, coalmine and museum alongside a cafe and country park, all staffed by enthusiastic volunteers. We were especially glad to have the use of a grassed display area.
The weather forecast was distinctly unpromising and a violent downpour on Saturday morning did not augur well for the rest of the weekend. Fortunately the decision was made not to erect the large white tent and, although that deprived us and the public of a modicum of shelter, it was a good decision as one of the organisers tents blew down overnight.
We gave our usual displays together with three members of Nigel Amos’ Roman cavalry group. Two displays on Saturday and the early display on Sunday were given in dry weather however during the Sunday afternoon display it poured down thus meaning we took home very wet kit.
We were pleased to have a visit from our President, Prof Simon James, who sensibly chose the slightly drier of the two days, and also former member Graham Sumner. Our overwhelming impression of the weekend, apart from being soaked, was of the resilience and enthusiasm of the visitors. Despite the bad weather, the organisers calculated that after paying for us, the Cavalry they would still make a profit; obviously down to their wide advertising and pre-sale of tickets. We were not surprised to see that they had won several awards for volunteering!
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