A FAQ for the confused and a guide for new members
Who are you?
Gwerin Y Gwyr is the Swansea Branch of the national reenactment society Regia Anglorum that has branches throughout the UK and as of recently the USA as well. Our membership is a varied cross section of the local community and we also have a university branch based at the University of Wales, Swansea.
What exactly is it you do?
Officially our main purpose is to reenact the life and times of the British Isles during the period surrounding the Norman Conquest, a period covering 950 to 1070. In practice we often do shows and events portraying period slightly earlier or later than this as required, often stretching as far back as 500AD and as far forwards as the 1200’s. We perform combat demonstrations, battle reenactments and displays of authentic crafts and games of the period. We perform shows at historic sites, schools fete’s, carnivals and other events, we give talks and demonstrations to schools and historical societies, take part in sponsored events and on occasion are involved in recreations for film and television. We also help staff Oystermouth Castle during the summer in return for being allowed to practice there during the winter. Some photos of what we get up to can be found here.
Where can I find out more?
You can contact us via email, come along to one of our battle practices or hearth nights or catch up with us at a show. Details of these events can be found here. We are always looking for new members or are happy to discuss possible bookings.
Questions and answers for new and potential members.
Where and when does all this happen?
We meet each week at the Pub on the Pond for a hearth night (social evening) to discuss group business, exchange gossip and eat and drink a lot! Battle practice’s vary with the time of year
We get to use Oystermouth Castle while it’s closed to the public, we practice down there on Saturday afternoon from 1PM until we get tired.
Subject to interest extra session run in Singleton Park on Wednesday afternoons from 2PM.
When we don’t have access to the castle we use a corner of Singleton Park, on Saturday afternoons frpm 1PM.
When the evenings are long and light and practice on Wednesday evenings from 6pm subject to interest.
Events can be held all over the country, and the main shows season starts in February with the Jorvik Viking Festival in York. The season winds down as the nights draw in and the weather deteriorates but we usually manage a few shows right up to Cosmeston Halloween – and once the shows are done there’s still the big reenactors market in November.
What do I need to get started?
Yourself, some warm, loose, comfortable clothes (preferably old as they will get muddy) and some sturdy shoes to practice in. Thick leather gloves such as gardening gauntlets are also strongly recommended. You don’t need to buy anything until you’re sure you want to continue. You will probably be able to borrow costume and weaponry for your first show, if after that you want to carry on then you’ll want to get your own kit. What you’ll need for basic kit is a wool tunic and trousers, a spear and a shield. That is a bare minimum; most people will also have at least, a pair of authentic shoes, a belt, and a short knife called a scramseax. There are of course many many fancy extras that you can acquire (if you want) as time and money allows. Once you start attending shows you may want to invest in some camping equipment as many shows run over two or more days. There will usually in a spare space in a tent but you at least want a warm sleeping bag.
Is all this kit expensive?
Happily, Dark Age reenactment is at the bottom end of the cost scale especially if you buy raw materials and make your own stuff. Fabric for costume can often be picked up cheaply in charity shops, if you do want to go for the more expensive option then wool and linen average about £5-8/metre. Weapons come more expensive, a spear shaft at the moment costs £10.50 with spearheads at £18. Buying you own supplies and assembling your own shield will cost about £15-20. The cost rises sharply if you buy ready made stuff and for flashy weapons such as swords which can sell for up to £200.
Where can I buy all this stuff?
Raw materials can often be bought through the group, things like leather, spear shafts, spearheads and shield bosses. Fabric as I mentioned can often be found in charity shops or at any fabric shop, though it will often be cheaper through a reenactment specific trader. Weapons can be bought through specialist suppliers, most of whom will supply catalogues on request. There are also regular reenactment markets, the largest of which is held in Oxford in March and November of each year (the group sometimes runs a minibus up to these) and traders can also be found at most large events.
What can I do?
We have a very relaxed attitude to roles within the society. We don’t force gender specific roles on our members, if you’re female and want to fight…fine, if you’re male and want to sit on the LHE (living history exhibit – the authentic campsite) and cook or sew that’s fine too. You can concentrate solely on the combat side and not bother with the craft side at all, or can be totally non-combatant and just do the crafts or you can do a bit of both, it’s up to you.
What weapons will I get to use?
As a new member the first weapon you will be taught to use will be a spear, the main reason being it’s pretty easy to get to grips with and means you at least have a chance of ‘getting’ someone your first time out. (It’s a lot easier for a novice to stay alive when their enemy is at the other end of a nine-foot pole than it is if they’re up close with a sword.) Regia enforces a hierarchy of weapons training so at a national show you will only be allowed to fight with a spear after you have passed a battlefield safety test (really very easy, just don’t poke the trainers eye out and you should be fine) and will not be allowed to use any other weapons except a scramseax (short knife) until you have passed a full weapons test using your spear. Locally in GyG we relax this a bit and allow new people to fight with a whole range of weapons at battle practices. This means they are more relaxed and safer when they start using them at a national level and it is also easier to defend against a weapon you have fought with, as you are more aware of the kind of things people will try and do to you with it! As well as spear you will be taught to fight with a scramseax (both on its own and as a second weapon), a langseax (a long knife a bit like a one edged sword), a one handed axe, and a sword. All of these can be used with or without a shield (though you survive much longer with one).
What crafts can I learn?
We demonstrate a wide range of crafts, from cooking, spinning, weaving and sewing to chain mail making, woodworking, shoemaking and many others. Basically if you want to learn a craft of the period there will be someone who can teach you, or at least point you in the right direction to find out more on your own.
Do I have to know a lot of history?
No, although you will doubtless pick up a lot as you go along and probably develop an interest of your own. I myself had little more than a passing interest in the subject when I joined and I’ve learned a lot without really thinking about it. There are a lot of knowledgeable people in the society some of who have formally studied history. If you don’t know the answer to a question they will always be someone around who does.
What happens at a typical battle practice?
We meet up at the location (in Singleton Park we can be found gossiping under the big tree, at the castle you’ll need to rattle the gates as yell for someone to let you in), usually late so don’t be deterred if no one except you is there spot on the start time. When a critical mass of people arrives we stop chatting and start hitting each other. Any new people will be taken aside to be taught the basics – where to hit people, where not to hit people, how to stand and the basics of using a spear. The rest of the group will usually warm up by doing a few clashes consisting of simple spear on spear line fights which the newbies will join in as they feel ready (Once you have the basics and are at least safe with a weapon, the best way to learn and improve your fighting is simply to fight as much as possible). Once people get bored of standing in lines and hitting each other with pointy sticks we get onto the more interesting stuff – the games. It depends where we are as to what games we play…some work better in the castle than in the park and vice versa. Other stuff such as dying practice (the more dramatic the better) and one on one combat will also occur from time to time. At various point in the practices will be gossip breaks, it’s a good idea to bring something to drink and maybe a snack as these sessions can run for several hours and you will get thirsty. When everyone has had enough, or when the light goes, or the weather becomes unusually offensive (in general we’ll be there in spite of flood, fog or fire) we’ll wander either home or to the pub. In general given enough light and decent weather we run for about 4-5 hours though people turn up and leave at various times throughout that – don’t feel you have to turn up the moment we arrive and stay until the last of us is exhausted.
What happens at a typical show?
I’m not sure there is such a thing as a typical show but Regia national shows do have a pretty standard format so I’ll start there. Most are two days running over Saturday and Sunday (Bank Holiday shows crop up from time to time and usually include Monday too), most people will turn up on the Friday night and camp over Friday and Saturday nights. Friday night is socialising…reenactors love a party, there is sometimes somewhere you can buy booze, but you are advised to bring your own if you want to drink, as this is not guaranteed. Saturday morning (for those not hung over) is a big battle practice where you can pick up training stamps. These follow a pretty similar format as local practices but there is usually more emphasis on drill and big line fights. The staged battle for the public is usually held mid afternoon or towards the end of the day’s event. The way this works varies between shows but in general a rough script is explained at the muster (the meeting before the battle where you will be split into sides, told the hit point system in use and have you kit checked out). Usually the first few clashes between the sides are just for effect, no one dies we just make a lot of noise and ham it up for the public. There is usually a parley at some point between the two leaders during which many insults will be flung and much posturing will take place. At some pre-determined point the combatants will start taking hits and dying all over the place. Often a hit-point system will be used so that, for example, squishes (unarmoured fighters) take 3 hits in legal target areas before they die and armour take 5, it makes the fight last longer and can be used to give one side an advantage if they are scripted to win. At this stage the more you scream and wail when you’re dying the better the public like it.
At small local shows the format is usually more relaxed, there isn’t always a battle practice and we tend to play to the audience more, more choreographed fights between individuals take place and we generally just ham it up more…kicking and dragging the wounded around, looting the dead and so forth.
As a group GyG does a lot of shows locally with later period groups and they have different formats again but it’s always interesting to play with other groups.
So are you all mad or what?