For 20 years Ludlow has been host to the Medieval Fayre. It’s an event that brings people together according to Paul Saunders and Prue Dakin who work hard every year to make it the magical show it is for visitors, traders, entertainers and staff alike. It’s an even more special event because it heralds the Christmas season and as Prue explains: “It’s a very happy festival to work on and I think that infuses the Fayre with a genuinely special and welcoming atmosphere. It’s great fun!”
Prue and Paul have been involved from the very beginning, have seen it evolve and know what keeps everyone returning year after year. The Medieval Fayre is, as you would expect, a programme packed full of food, stalls and entertainment: think musicians, jugglers and knights.
A lot of thought and detail goes in to the fair: a particular requirement by Prue and Paul is for authenticity and for any trader that participates to look the part. Many traders spend their year planning their costumes and how they are going to set out their seasonal stall and wares.
That authentic feel is woven throughout the event and dressing in medieval array is all part of the fun for everyone involved including visitors.
Paul explains that putting on the event is “very much like the practising the ancient art of alchemy – we take everyday elements and combine them to produce something much more valuable. The alchemist’s aim was to produce gold from base metals, whereas ours has always been to transport people back into a wonderful medieval world packed with entertainment, treasures, feasting and fellowship.”
Back to medieval times
Ludlow is a natural setting too with its atmosphere, history and castle all lending credibility to the jauntiness and jousting that is part and parcel of the event.
Speaking of the castle, for the past 20 years Prue and Paul have worked with the same team bringing the history alive for visitors.
Because the team know every corner, step, nook and castellation of the Castle and work hard to make sure it permeates the event, visitors can expect to be transported the moment they enter the Outer Bailey, walk over the drawbridge, past the Keep and into the Castle Gardens.
You’ll find straw spread throughout, hanging banners and tents with festive greenery bringing you a bit of the past through smells (the best ones!), sights and sounds. Expect fantastic food, drink and festive entertainment around every corner.
Jest, joust and just jolly
One suspects that back in the medieval times they knew how to entertain the masses. Today, this isn’t just buying and wandering around for the sake of it, Prue and Paul place as much thought in to entertainment as to the actual setup of the Fayre. The entertainment is carried out by professional players and there many hands-on events, have-a-go activities and re-enactment of history for a rousing time. And a medieval fayre just isn’t one without a Knights’ Tournament and if the weather permits, a flaming finale. You can also join in on the Christmas carols or the jesters’ shows.
Paul, who has been a professional historical entertainer for 25 years has worked with a wide range of performers and audiences. He considers all angles for performers not just the content but also the venue and who it is likely to draw. The best thing about the fayre is that it is family oriented to suit a range of tastes. Luckily fans and returning visitors will find familiar and favourite events as well as expect something new every year.
Three years ago, Paul brought in Tryzna, a band from Poland, to give the Fayre a more international feel and the band “went down a storm”. Needless to say, Tryzna is back this year with a brand new repertoire of music from the ancient Silk Road trade route. Similarly, Hand To Mouth Theatre are bringing a show that is new this year, Flights of Fancy. There is also a new walkabout act, Hodmann Dodmanott and Sally Forth, which Paul expects audiences to love because “It’s very funny, very seasonal and guaranteed to make you smile.”
In the same vein, he found a medieval surgeon specialising in tournament injuries, alongside a blacksmith. Success says Paul is down to “staying at the top of our game by ensuring that whilst everything may not be absolutely authentic right down to the last rivet, we do ensure that we maintain a medieval spirit in everything we do.”
On creating medieval magic:
“One element of medieval life we have never sought to reproduce is serfdom or servant and master. Likewise, we have never had a peasants’ revolt or rebellion yet! So I suppose what I am saying is that everything and everyone is part of the show and that’s the alchemy of it. Bring each element together in the right combination and create gold. The knack is to be able to reproduce the magic every year and so far, so good.”
On learning, fun and horrible history:
“Whilst we don’t specifically have an educational remit, our variety of hands-on and have-a-go activities are very popular as a way of learning about medieval times and the skills people needed to survive everyday life.
The other variable that features is also the time of year – it’s late November with all that that brings! The Hands-On History Tent provides an area for arts and craft activities, medieval board games, circus skills and is a place where you can take a break from the hubbub, maybe discover a little more about medieval life with some of our professional historians. Equally, you can step outside and watch a blacksmith, hawker or medieval surgeon at work.
We aim to be true to the period with respect to clothing, instruments and props as far as we can be. Our shows are generally acoustic. We do use a discreet PA in on the Castle Garden stage as the area is busy with stalls and visitors eating and drinking and chatting. This means all our performers – whether they are musicians, storytellers, puppeteers, street theatre – they all have to be larger and louder than life. That’s why we have giants, fighting knights, colourful jesters and stilt walkers and bands. The emphasis is very much on entertainment and having a good time. You need to be seen and heard. Sometimes it’s difficult but that’s medieval for you!”
On hot cocktails:
“This year for the first time, for example, we’re doing a pop up hot-cocktail bar for the first time and I’m really excited about that. We also have some great new entertainment including The Flying Buttresses who have to be seen to be believed, they’re hugely entertaining and utterly adorable. Lots of our visitors very much see us at the start of the Christmas season so the Fayre always feels celebratory too, the start of winter!”
To find out more about Ludlow Medieval Christmas Fayre and to book tickets, visit: