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Posted on Mar 24, 2006 in Front Page Features, Stuff We Like

Armchair General Towton Recreation

By Richard Layton

The last time Seimon asked me to help out with a photo shoot I ended up with 12 stone of American G.I. plus his parachute gear suspended from my waist… I couldn’t walk properly for days.

I should have realised that Seimon’s photo shoots are never quite a straightforward “stand there and smile,” type affair. He works you, he really works you quite hard, but the end results justify it. He gets the most amazing pictures that do more to recall the actual moment than any other type of photography I have seen.

So I should not have been too surprised when he and I were discussing doing a medieval shoot that he would have come up with an idea that most people would dismiss out of hand completely.

“Can you get me five or six men that are willing to stand around in their armour in a river in the middle of November?” Asked Seimon.

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“Sure no problem” Says I, rather more confidently than I actually felt…. What did I just agree to?

I know lots of medievalists, quite a few of them have arms and armour I would deem suitable for one of Seimon’s shoots, the thing was, could I persuade them to get themselves and their armour very mucky and very, very wet for not a huge amount of money?

Answer…Of course they would do it! Heroes to a man.

Click on the thumbnails for larger versions of each picture.

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"… So let me get this straight, you want me in waist deep, fast flowing water, in medieval armour whilst covered in sticky fake blood…."

***

Seimon and I had discussed ideal 15th century battles that would work as micro-cosmic photo-stories. One immediately sprang to mind. Towton 1461, England’s bloodiest battlefield. Approximately 28,000 men died that day on a cold, muddy, snowy March day in 1461 during England’s dynastic Wars of the Roses, more than on any other battlefield on England’s soil.

I was intrigued as to how Seimon could re-create this epic with only five or six men. I had seen his other work and he was right, you only ever saw a few men in the shots, hinting at a wider field of action without the need to get hold of hundreds of men, but I was still unsure how this could work for a medieval battle where men fought in big mêlée’s thousands to each side, where bodies pilled up, and where the blood and mire of battle would have been overpowering.

The other doubt in my mind was the weather. Our little part of Wales has one of the mildest climates in the UK. It rarely snows here, so little snow do we see here that when on the rare occasion we get the odd centimetre the whole county closes down and kids are sent home from schools. I would hate to see what would ever happen if we got a serious snowfall. Towton was snowy, it was quite a big feature of the battle, and the cold probably accounted for quite a few of the 28,000 fatalities. So how Seimon was going to get the Welsh weather to drop a few inches of snow just ready for the shoot was something I would leave to him. He kept going on about candles and a “really cool powder”… I decided to let him get on with it.

After an excellent summer of re-enacting it was drawing closer to the date for the shoot. I made the final plans for the gang to descend on the house and got my armour out of storage. I personally portray a slightly better off soldier, not overly well equipped but better off than some of the poor soldiers that fought with hand-me-down weapons and armour. My padded jack was checked for holes and my helmet and breastplate were cleaned of any rust patches that had formed since their last outing. It was all looking really good. Then Seimon called asking if he thought we could get wetsuits on underneath our kit. I new I could but some of the chaps coming up had particularly fine pairs of tight woollen hose (leggings), it was going to be a struggle for some of them but a quick call around and they were all willing to give it a go. These chaps are great.

towton_004.jpg
15th Century Oven Gloves

We all got up very early after a late night watching a not quite so good “historical” film. One we will not be watching again. Seimon was at the house at 8am on the dot and quickly ran through with us what he wanted. It was all starting to become clear and we all started to get very excited about the whole thing, despite the fact that it was absolutely pouring with rain outside. Seimon handed over a huge holdall full of wetsuits kindly lent to us by another local historical buff Mike. Mike just happens to own an outdoors shop specialising in surfing and canoeing… Very handy, and we were to thank him profusely by the end of the day. He literally saved our lives.

The next step was to get into kit so we could get to the shoot in good time, some of the chaps had driven for six or seven hours to get here right from the South Coast of England and had to get away at a decent time. Watching five grown men, all but one of which had never put a wet suit on must have been highly amusing for my wife. It was a struggle for all of us, some more than others. A couple went on back to front, this was only discovered after much puffing, panting and sweating and was met with curses when they were told the zip went down the back.

towton_005.jpg towton_007.jpg
Trying to get a wet-suit hat underneath a 15th Century Sallet does not work. Also, it just isn’t possible to get into 15th Century armour on your own, you always will need help at some point no matter how much or little of the kit you wear

[continued on next page]

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