Monthly Archives: August 2014

We’re all going on… a Summer Holiday

If the title of this post has induced horrendous visions of being stuck on a bus with Cliff Richard singing, have no fear, this is actually about something far less terrifying; a long hall full of armed and marauding vikings. At the beginning of August our society held its annual weeks holiday at Murton Park. The group has attempted to hold a week-long event there since the first one in July 2004, 10 years ago, and also during the event we had our 11 year anniversary as a society and celebrated it in our own unique way as you will see.

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We stopped in another house this weekend, as our is still undergoing some work on the roof and daub, and with the kids along, it was much easier to simply stop elsewhere.This is a picture of the house we stopped in on the first holiday, and you can see how long ago it is, as there is a rare straw bale, the house didn’t have a porch yet, and most importantly, Anlaf still had hair!

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Here is the same house now, which you can see has a convenient porch and deck outside, which is very useful with the kids.

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We brought a lot of things to stop the full week, and set out the inside as best we could.

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There is something quite satisfying about stopping in these places for a longer period, as you get the opportunity to slide into a more natural pattern of eating and sleeping and it becoming ‘normal’. The only problem is, as with most holidays, just as you are getting used to it, its time to come home again.

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Either way the kids enjoyed the week in their usual fashion, Hakon spent a lot of time fighting and joking around.

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Ragenleif… well she did her own thing as usual

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We got on with a few jobs on the village, such as shingling the backside of our house, fitting the remaining shutter, and Al gave us a great hand by building out and trimming the eaves on the front of the house. Osric and Snorri also got a lot of daubing done inside Snorri’s house, and on the side and front of our house, Osric being watched here by Hakon and Ragenleif.

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During the week Odin also got a bit of a haircut of salad leaves, like a larger version of an cress-haired egg-man!

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We also get more opportunity to wear many of the different and elaborate outfits we have made over the years. Here is Katla in her Viking style strap dress and accessories with Ragenleif.

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Here is Einar ad Hakon showing off their dress, Einar in a copy of the Viborg shirt, with linen trousers and winingas, with a belt and seax.

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However, where the real beauty and mystery of the village comes to life is at night, by the light of the fire.

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By firelight everything seems more enigmatic. One can put aside reality and be drawn a little into the atmosphere. The fire flickers, and shiny objects glitter and sparkle in the dark. The dark corners and shadows draw a veil over the dirt, dust, and any authenticity inaccuracies just like snow does, and the imagination and the senses seem much more alive in the dark.

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It is a wonderful place to take photographs, though with the low light it can be quite tricky. Any attempt to artificially light the place looks awful, flash or any lighting of any other kind can easily destroy the wonderfull shadows and the yellow glow. Yet there is precious little light to capture images without graining and blurring, and often I resort to putting liquid wax or oil onto the fire to produce a bright flare for a few seconds to allow me to use a slightly faster shutter speed. If you notice anyone a little dazed looking on the photographs; now you know why!

 

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We also tend to let the children stay up until they fall asleep, and often they will play viking and other ancient games, like Katla and Hakon here playing pick-up stones, a scene I can almost image all those years ago; a boy and his mum playing a game by firelight.

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After the cooking is done, everyone gets together for the evening meal. The cooking and the meals are a great opportunity to use known viking ingredients and suggested recipes and attempt to investigate some of the possible tastes of the tenth century: Lamb and onions with leaf salad and beetroot, onion soup and bread, bacon, boar, and barley, vegetable stew amongst other treats.

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Of course, in such an environment, it would be rude not to same some fine brewed ales and meads as well!

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I’d like to pick up a final point I mentioned briefly earlier, and it is a point I have also heard echoed by Professor Neil Price in his Messenger lectures at Cornell University about firelight and shiny things, notably metalwork. You can see on this picture of me, the effect the brass, tin, and silver of my belt buckles, strap ends, seax sheath fittings, and arm rings have in a dark hall. You can also see how the tin sheet on the Tating ware jug, and the tinned studs on the iron-bound box glow. To people in the 10th century, this would seem as enticing and enchanting as it does to us, perhaps even more so.

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I’d also like to introduce you to two new looks Einar and Snorri are trying, entitled ‘Blued Steel’

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These are a final few  shots of the village the last night before we left, with the sun slowly setting.DSC_0155

You can see the back side of our house finally shingled here, with the new shutter on the reverse side fitted.DSC_0150

Lastly a final shot of the house, with a little more of the roof finished, and the two daubed panels. Still quite a bit of work to go, but a good deal of progress made none the less. DSC_0175

It was a shame to leave, but we had a good trip, with more progress on the house, some good feasts and chats, and even a sneaky trip into the Yorkshire museum and the Jorvik centre to check out some of the real stuff again. We will be back again in early September for a birthday celebration, and another great banquet!

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Clothes, and boxes, and cups… oh my!

We have been busy over the last couple of weeks with some crafts projects and I’d thought I’d share a few of them with you all. We have the groups annual week-long holiday at the Danelaw village at Murton Park Museum of farming next week and we have been furiously getting things made and ready for the week ahead. This has included buying straw hats, sharpening and repairing axes, sourcing wicker baskets, waterproofing shoes, cleaning pans and cauldrons, making implements to cook with, planning food to cook, and making and repairing clothes to last the full week.

It was my wife’s birthday last week, and I decided to make her a present. Using some spare off-cuts we had I made her a jewelry box of her own to keep her Viking treasures in, as the one we had been sharing was getting a bit full!

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The box is not an exact copy but it uses elements of many exisitng finds, combined in what I feel is an appropriate period fashion. It has a lot in common with one of the boxes from the Birka cemetery, such as its small size, the handle, and general design. The Birka example uses decorative copper-alloy plates, but iron straps and brackets are common to many boxes including Cumwhitton and the boxes from the Oseberg ship, and the tinned nails are found on the Oseberg ship boxes.

 

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The handle and lock plate are pretty ubiquitous on most boxes from the period, and the exact design of the lock being is that of a verticle mounted type (as described here), found on many boxes, both Viking and Anglo-Saxon. On this last photo you can just see the bluey-purple tinge of the metal, which I heated and quenched to darken it.

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The key is not the final version, as I didn’t have any steel appropriate. But it serves to open the box for now. The two teeth and the handle can be seen, and how they reach round inside the lock, to depress the spring, then allowing the key to act as a handle, and slide back the locking pin. One very obvious thing missing, is the hasp that actually closes the lock, which I hope to make next week on the forge at York.

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I also turned a few more objects on the lathe, in order to reduce some of the wood pile in my garage before any wood worm gets at it. I made a few small early medieval cups out of birchwood, with the classic globular shape, and decorative grooves.

DSC_0024We have also been very busy making clothes, particularly linen garments in order to cope with the heat we are having at the moment. As well as a few tunics for the children, I have also made myself some linen trousers, in two distinct patterns. Viking age trousers are, by and large, guessed at from pictorial sources, and the patterns of finds from the preceeding period. There are a few tentative pieces from the Viking age, which do suggest some commonality with these earlier garments, but there is still a lot of guesswork involved. For a very good summary of the archaeological evidence this article is definitely worth a read.

The first trousers I made are a pair of shorter, wide waisted trousers, to a very simple design similar to those found at a much earlier site at Marx Etzel, and a number of mediterranean and continental sites from the first few hundred years AD. These trousers come down to my calves, a bit like long shorts, or cut offs, and I shall be wearing them with red linen hose or woven leg bindings. Thor Ewing’s ‘Viking Clothing’ book makes a interesting case for garments such as there, and after having a chat with him at the Midlands Viking conference earlier this year, I decided to try some variations on these, to asses their style and practicality. So far they do look very different, and given the evidence for this style of dress, there does seem to be a distince continental, particularly Carolingian feel to it, which makes a lot of sense to me. Given how popular Carolingian metalwork is, the idea that elements of continental clothing fashion creept into Denmark and Anglo-Saxon England too, including these hose and such linen garments is quite compelling. Certainly the volume of the trousers, combined with the tightness of the leg bindings, produce a remarkably similar profile to some of the baggier looking trouser on many period illustrations, indicating that not all may have been quite as baggy as the ‘Rus’ pants worn by reenactors, and clearly illustrated on some pictorial sources. The legs are slit up the back slightly, to allow a quite tight fit around the calf.

DSC_0025I also made myself a pair of linen trouser in the Damendorf/Thorsberg style, with narrower, full length, legs, and more sophisticated tailoring.

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Ultimately, because of the size of the piece of cloth I had, I ended up with a bit of a hybrid pattern between the two garments, with the crotch and back gussets more like Thorsberg, but with triangular inserts in between the legs and gussets, to allow more room for movement, and prevent embarrassing tears when squatting! I was really quite pleased with this hybrid design, as it felt very like another version of the sorts of tailoring and designs we often see in archaeological clothing remains, which often seem to hint at a variety of specific patterns, within and certain style and philosophy of tailoring.

DSC_0028Finally, I have begun to make myself a pair of red linen hose to wear as an alternative to leg windings (once again if you wish to read a decent summary of the evidence for hose, please visit here). Whilst there is some debate as to whether red linen is linked to hose specifically, as dyed linen does not seen to be very common in the period, there is a reasonable argument to be made for it. As the lower legs are very visible in Viking mens clothing, and even the tops of the Coppergate sock had a small red band around it, I decided that red linen would be very striking and a good way to spend a small amount of money on a small piece of material, that would be very visible. I shall be sure to take some pictures, when I have them done!

DSC_0026We now have a final weekend to put the finishing touches to the lat bits of clothing, and then we will be ready to head to York next Tuesday! If you are in the area in the week between Tuesday 5th and Monday 11th of August, then do drop by and say hi!