Where To Learn Medieval Skills In London

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 42 months ago
Where To Learn Medieval Skills In London

Medieval Combat Society re-enacts battles, and trains in Kingston

Inspired by the recent Wolf Hall television series? 21st century getting too much for you? Retreat into the middle ages by pursuing these medieval activities in London.

Go into battle

We've already covered London's medieval battle groups in detail, and if you're interested in re-enacting medieval battle scenes, we'd give the Medieval Combat Society a go. In the summer months, they go all over the place, re-enacting battles. In winter, they train every other weekend in Kingston Upon Thames. If you want to take part, but aren't too sure about the actual fighting bit, they also need people to fill roles such as dancers, medieval musicians, ladies in waiting and priests.

Blacksmithing

In medieval times, blacksmiths, who specialise in working with iron, created horse shoes, weapons, armour and iron utensils. There's not much call for chainmail and the like on the streets of London these days, so blacksmiths are few and far between (some claim that there are only four qualified blacksmiths in the whole of London).

One of these is Richard Pace, resident blacksmith at Stepney City Farm, who runs regular blacksmithing courses at the farm's forge. Choose from day, weekend, or four-day courses, or a one-to-one session to get you up to date on your blacksmithing requirements. Learn basic skills such as heat management or hammer management in the starter sessions, and up your skill-set from there. Let's face it, who doesn't want to wear a chainmail suit* that they've made themselves?

*You may not make this on your very first lesson, but it's nice to have goals.

Archery

Here at Londonist, we don't advocate the (probably illegal) killing of animals for sport, but there's something highly satisfying about repeatedly taking shots at a target after a long day. It's even an Olympic sport — so who can argue with that?

2020 Archery is based in two different venues close to London Bridge and Bermondsey stations. Get started with a 1.5 hour have-a-go course for £25, or try a five-week evening or weekend course from £95.

Falconry

Meet the birds at Coda Falconry

Lots of roads named "Mews" in London, aren't there, particularly in West London?  Mews used to be the place where birds used for falconry were kept - a sort of bird stables, if you will. The main reason people used to keep birds of prey was for pest control — falcons and the like could be used to keep houses clear of rats and mice.

While hawks, eagles and buzzards are hard to come by in central London, a journey slightly outside of the M25 takes you to Hayes Hill Park Farm in Lee Valley, where Coda Falconry operates. See barn owls, harris hawks, red tailed buzzards and other bird species in the twice daily shows. For a more interactive encounter, book yourself onto a falconry experience, or shadow a falconer for a day.

Basketmaking

Basketry (or basketing, basket making or basket weaving) involves using pliable materials such as pine straw, stems, animal hair, hide, grasses, thread, and fine wooden splints to create, yep, you guessed, a basket. While animal hair isn't used so much these days, a basket's always handy, right? An archaic form of a tote bag, if you will.

The Goodlife Centre in Waterloo offers an introduction to two different types of basket making — rush baskets and twine baskets. We could pretend we know the difference, but instead we'll move swiftly on to City Lit, which offers a basketful of courses, from rush basketry to willow baskets.

Silversmithing

The focus these days is more on jewellery and valuable items than practical items such as bowls and urns, but the trade is still very much alive. London Jewellery School provides courses on jewellery, stone setting, cufflinks and the like. For a more in-depth look at the art of silversmithing, Centrepunch in West Norwood runs a Beginners Silversmithing Course, where you can learn skills such as sawing, filing and soldering over three days.

Thatching

There don't seem to be any chances to learn the skill of thatching in London these days — we guess it's a supply-demand thing. Thatched roofs were banned from London following the Great Fire in 1666. The only one still in existence today is that of Shakespeare's Globe — and special permission had to be granted for this roof to be built when the theatre reopened in 1997.

Medieval banquet

Entertainment at London's Medieval Banquet

Worked up a bit of an appetite doing all of the above — or just thinking about it? Among the calmness of the yachts and restaurants of St Katharine Docks lies a right raucous night out. The Medieval Banquet consists of a four course feast fit for a king (Henry VIII and his courtiers usually make an appearance), plus ale, wine and juice. Entertainment consists of medieval European music, and you can even hire a costume to look the part. Bottoms up!

Medieval tube map

If you get so involved in the medieval pastimes of London that you find yourself lost, take a look at our medieval tube map to get yourself back home again.

See also: Get creative: alternative craft classes in London

Last Updated 02 June 2015