I attended Pells Junior School in 1963 when the highly respected headmaster, Mr Turner, was my teacher.
With great foresight he chose a medieval theme for our school play that year and also ensured it had an enormous cast. The result of this was that scores of us kids were owners of medieval costumes a whole year ahead of the 700th anniversary of the Battle of Lewes.
Of the anniversary events of 1964 I remember most vividly the torchlight parade made by thousands of Bonfire Boys and Girls. I also went to the big fete down on the Convent Field where I’m sure an entire ox was roasted. The helmet memorial was pretty impressive too.
So was I in costume? No. You see, a year is a lot of growing time when you are just 11. When I went to try on my outfit in May 1964 I found it was far too small for me!
Fifty years later and the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Lewes loomed up. I’d had five decades in which to prepare a medieval costume that this time must surely fit. But did I get to wear one? No. Instead, for the Battle Royal event held in town last Saturday I donned a bright yellow hi-vis vest and directed the road closure operation.
Oddly enough, I didn’t mind missing out on dressing up at all. This was because an unexpected bonus of supervising our stewards was that I had one of the best views possible of the whole Battle Royal process down through the town and mighty impressive it was.
I have to say I was pleased and proud to be part of the event’s organising team. My input began last summer when I was invited along to a meeting with Andy McBean, Sharon Reid and Ian Denyer.
Whilst there were plenty of excellent and worthy events in the pipeline to mark the 750th anniversary, the trio was concerned that there was nothing really planned to bring the streets of Lewes alive. They had heard I’d had considerable experience in staging special events and wondered if I’d pitch in and help put something together.
First step was involving the Lewes Bonfire Boys and Girls; where better than in their ranks to find the hundreds of participants prepared to go full-on medieval?
Next we were incredibly fortunate to gain the services of Francis Burrows. A Chailey resident, Francis had been a keen re-enactor with his own group, the Swords of Albion. He hadn’t been active for around a decade but was keen to drag his band out of retirement for a last hurrah involvement of some kind with the Battle of Lewes.
Francis proved to be a tireless organiser and brilliant at making things medieval happen. Within a few months we had refined the concept of Battle Royal, a title lifted from Sir Tufton Beamish’s seminal book telling the story of the 1264 conflict.
Into the bargain, thanks to an initiative by one of our committee members with the rather apt name of Pamela Earl, we also had the wherewithal for a Battle of Lewes Fireworks Display, courtesy of a grant from Lewes Town Council.
The rest is history, as they say! The fireworks were fantastic and Battle Royal last weekend filled our streets with colour, noise and medieval mayhem.
It was a great Lewes event and, like Bonfire Night, it was something that would have happened even if no-one turned out to see it. As it happens, a great number of people did see it and along with the Battle Royal participants they will have great memories. Like me, they can proudly say ‘I was there’.