Living in the past - meet Hampshire's Anglo Saxon reenactors, Herigeas Hundas

Combat demonstrations and sparring with Vikings on the battlefield are just a few medieval acts that this reenactment group bring to life when they play roles of their Anglo-Saxon ancestors from hundreds of years ago.

By Hollie Busby
Monday, 16th August 2021, 8:42 pm
Updated Monday, 16th August 2021, 8:42 pm
Warriors from Herigeas Hundas. picture by Ross Underwood
Warriors from Herigeas Hundas. picture by Ross Underwood

For this tight-knit community, living a simpler way of life can be an escape from the fast pace of modern technology, even if only for a couple of hours.

Not only do they play out authentic traditions like blacksmithing and spiritual healing practices to the public, but displays allow for children to become real-life warriors complete with sword and shield in hand.

'You see the children's faces light up. Especially for little girls when they realise that they can hold a sword and be just as tough as the boys', says the group's media officer, Jen Atkinson.

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Archers from Herigeas Hundas at Butser Ancient Farm.

The members form Herigeas Hundas, a Hampshire-based reenactment group with hobbyists from the south coast, but also as far afield as Northampton and Cardiff.

Action-fuelled events take them up and down the country to hold displays of the Anglo-Saxon era, referred to as the migration period, when the Romans are leaving Britain and an influx of Germanic tribes start migrating in.

Villagers can choose to portray a character reminiscent of a traditional role from that period.

From cooking a stew over the fire to talks on the types of armour and weapons used, the experience gives a window into the gruelling work of a villager living in late fourth century to early seventh century Britain.

Bea Helmes of Herigeas Hundas in traditional Saxon clothing. Picture by Sarah Wingrove

Last month, the sound of clashing shields and swords rang out across the South Downs as Herigeas Hundas’ members came face to face with the Romans and Ancient Britons of The Vicus reenactment group at a Battle for Britannia display at Butser Ancient Village near Clanfield.

At every event from Arundel Castle over August bank holiday weekend to the South of England show in Haywards Heath, the group hones each craft and battle display to make it as close to real life as possible.

Archaeologist and group member, Bea Helme, says: ‘We hand make all of our clothes that are stitched and made up by ourselves. We try to make sure that the correct materials like linen and wool are used and we try to make sure the correct colours that would've been available are also used.

‘We have different members who will go further back in that production line and do more of it themselves. We've really been putting the work in these last couple of years to make sure that everything we do is as authentic-looking to the public as possible. We will try to use ingredients and utensils which would have only been available at the time.’

Joe Tyler, blacksmith for Herigeas Hundas, taken at Butser Ancient Farm, 2021. By Bea Helmes/Herigeas Hundas

For group members like Bea, Jen and blacksmith Joe Tyler, reenactment was something they came across through a love of ancient history.

When Bea, an archaeology student at the time, went on placement at Butser Farm, she discovered her first reenactment event at the open-air museum. She says: 'We encountered some of its members there that weekend and immediately wanted to join because it just seemed like such fun. As archaeologists, we were already really interested in history. We've had a lot of people say I didn't realise you could do this. They didn't realise that dressing up in historical clothing and doing the stuff we do is possible.

‘For many people, that first interaction with a reenactment group kickstarts their enjoyment of it.'

For Jen, it was a visit to Butser with her partner that ignited her passion for reenacting as an Anglo-Saxon villager. Jen also found members from other reenactment communities after attending shows. She says: ‘We do one event at Arundel Castle where we can camp overnight on the grounds of the castle, which is just an incredible experience. But there you are doing a reenactment show with reenactors portraying everything from the stone age, prehistoric down all the way down to ourselves as Anglo-Saxons.

Herigeas Hundas members sat by the fire at Saxon Hall, Butser Ancient Farm, 2021. Picture by Bea Helmes/Herigeas Hundas

‘There are Norman knights, medieval knights in full plate mail, you get Tudors and Romans down to people portraying the Second World War, Wrens and suffragettes.

‘It's the most incredible experience. At the end of the day when the public have gone home, and you can sit around the fire with a glass of something nice, and you've got all of these fantastic people that you can talk to.’

When teacher Joe Tyler stumbled upon reenactment 14 years ago, it was a result of his car breaking down.

He says: ‘I had to get the bus to work when my car broke down, and it was around that time I was thinking about trying to look for something to join around the Germanic era. When I got off the bus to walk to work, there was something on a notice board with the face of the Saxon god, Woden.

‘I immediately went straight to it. It was a poster advertising for the Saxon period. I suppose you could say it was a coincidence but a very, very perfect coincidence. I rang the number on the poster straight away and was with that group for about four or five years and then peeled off to make another group that we are in now.’

After Joe learned various different traditional crafts through reenactment it ultimately led to a new career path in blacksmithing. Joe, who is also the group’s combat officer, found he had a talent for the ancient trade.

Even today, the skills of a blacksmith remain largely the same as in medieval times, as Joe explains: ‘The blacksmith thing hasn't really changed a lot so it’s still a hammer-to-anvil sort of thing.

‘We have a couple of modern machines that make some things easier because it allows us to work large pieces of material at a quicker speed. Besides that and a couple of other tools the actual work hasn't changed, to be honest.’

Where you can catch Herigeas Hundas

Herigeas Hundas will return to Butser Ancient Farm for the Vikings Attack show to defend the Saxon Hall from the Vikings of Wuffa, a reenactment society from Lowestoft, Suffolk, on Saturday, September 18 and Sunday 19,

The museum will also be host to the Equinox Boat Burn with the Saxons and Vikings on the evening of September 18.

Visitors can indulge in a hog roast and vegetarian barbecue complete with a bar, entertainment and music while watching a ceremonial boat-burning at dusk to mark the turning of the year.

For more information on Butser go to butserancientfarm.co.uk.

To find out more about Herigeas Hundas, where to see them or how to get involved, visit hampshirereenactment.com.