Posted by: Wayne Robinson | July 22, 2011

Changing Dates – the case against

At each Soldiers’ Council meeting for the past few months we’ve had the same discussion regarding the future direction of the group, and due to the lack of time, the discussion has to be kept at a high level, and we all agree to think about it and come back with a more developed plan. We then repeat this the following month with much of the time spent recapping the previous discussion and very little gets newly resolved. This post is my attempt to move the discussion to a less time poor forum with an aim to kicking it along a little and getting more some more engagement.

By the nature of the SC meetings, we have to restrict ourselves to the generalities to avoid getting bogged down in the detail. I suppose my problem is that I think it is the detail that distinguishes groups and by sticking to the high level, we never will get to the nub of what makes us who we are.

Several options were discussed last night, with a stated aim of moving to a more civil (with less of the Inescapable Military Feel), more comfortable representation with the main ways of achieving this being to change the group to be a 1631 bagage train guard on the Continent in the 30-years War, and the other to remain London 1642, but to place more emphasis on the other six days of the week when we’re not being a militia.

My main objection to the change of depiction centre on two main parts, one being self-interest, and the other being that it would move us in the opposite direction to the one we decided that we want to go. I’ll deal with the self-interest first and then get in to the real meat of the argument in a minute.

We’ve spent a not inconsiderable amount of time and money building a reference library, getting the clothing and accountremonts and learning the production skills as closely as we can to the period and culture in question. In my case, it really is all about the detail. My clothing and footwear are of specific types that fit the 1640s fashions rather than the earlier period. My armour is of a very specific type associated only with the Trained Bands in the period 1640-1645. I’m finaly getting to the point where I can produce turned wares to the English patterns and have access to the correct timbers and know how to get the correct finishes. The books on post-medieval ceramic wares for the regions around London have finally been published so our pottery now can be accurate to location, period and style. All this will be of no, or diminished relevance to an earlier period and continental location. To take a couple of specific examples, leather drinkware such as bombards and jacks were a specifically English form of vessel, so unique that foreigner’s amazement or horror on their first encounter was regularly recorded. None of the leather jug type drinkware have even been found outside Britain. Leather bottles are known in France and Spain, but take very different forms, none resembling the costrel or flacket forms we currently use. Our pikes have characteristic English heads and the statutory butts and comply with the 1638 specification. To broaden this aspect of the argument slightly, musketeers with the new Tower pattern musket will be using similarly incorrect weapons for 1631. If we become this earlier expeditionary force, while we could broadly claim to still be a mid-seventeenth century military group, the detail would be wrong.

The second part of the argument hinges on the conflict between the stated intent – more comfort/less military and the proposed depiction of 1631 bagage train guard on the Continent in the 30-years War. Bagage train guards, by their nature are a military unit. They may be the old and infirm, but are still carying out military service. This means sleeping in hedges or under carts while the officers are billeted in comfortable houses. Food equals foraging, not fine dining. Moving to the continent puts us further from home, and being set well into a mature conflict further reduces opportunities for comfort and means the few luxuries we have would have would be looted and therefore be continental in nature. Unless people have information to the contrary, I think it reduces the options for our female members to either dress as male soldiers or to be in one of the serving professions that follow in the wake of an army.

I feel our aims would be better met by remaining in London in 1642 and concentrating on those other six days. We have a geographical and cultural context in the catchment area of the Green Band which gives great scope for further exploring the comforts of civilian life. Food and drink are two areas that we’ve really just started to try. We know they sometimes stayed in tents, we know they had picnics and on occasion had a lovely time dressing up in shiny tin and marching around the field. I don’t see how starting again from scratch would allow us to present a more accurate and better representation of a chosen place and time. All I think we need is an iterative reform process – review what’s not right, see if a replacement is needed and sell, dump or remake it.

What do you think?



  1. Cavaet, I wasn’t part of the original discussion so haven’t thought about the idea other than reading this post… but I don’t think I’d be keen on moving the date back either. Essentially there is no reason you couldn’t incorporate slightly earlier dated acccroutrements into your kit (yes, there will always be exceptions Virginia) but moving the date is more problematic.
    It is getting harder and harder to discuss anything properly at a SC, the meeting the moving, the ordering food, the trivia, the young people and their noise /grumpy old woman rant 😉

  2. I vehemently concur with the Reverend. This is like the Ostrich solution, nay worse – it isnt even looking at the real issues of the club before burying one’s head in the sand.
    There is no reason people cant do impressions from the continent. There is no reason particular events cant be 30 yr war or any other period roughly 1600-1660. In effect, whilst there is the ‘primary focus’ of the Green band, who outside the Routiers knows this? The Routiers are a ’17th century club’ to all intents and purposes to the public and to other reenactors.
    The Green Band, for better or ill when it was established as a focus, is a good one. It is for us to personally aspire to. With a few costume tweaks, many of us can be 30 years or NMA in a flash.
    Why a baggage train? Egads, surely the TB’s baggage train impression is included in our current options? And as the Rev says, the other days of the week.
    Do I detect a subcurrent to allow 24/7 Poles? Seems silly to waste the foundations of years of work. And besides that – when do we ever say ‘this event is Green Band impression only’? Rarely. Blacktown perhaps?
    Thing is, the Elephant in the room needs shooting. Why are there no new members and how to attract some?
    I havent put much thought into this, but if I had to, I would go for the public perception strength. Be Green Band focused, but broaden the appeal and possibilities of the club. Include Pirates!!!
    I’m serious. The Pike, Musket and Piratical Society – Primary impression Green Band early ECW, with other ECW impressions, The Batavia, 30 Years War, and Pirates from the Golden Age of Piracy c 1650 to 1730. It would be good to see someone do Pirate impressions properly, and would be funny, and perhaps be a way of attracting some sort of membership, and allow some form of place relevant historical, historical reenactment (ie William Dampier).

  3. I must admit that Trained Bands-wise I did enjoy the conceit of the “other six days”, rather more than the spurious argument of reduced options for women in the 1631 scenario, given that we have a well-established tradition of re-enacting from the underwear out. Also I must have missed the bit about Mother Courage, because I was thinking that the baggage train was in fact the Picnic Bus, circa Turnham Green.

    A question for consideration – has particularisation of focus become a millstone around our neck rather than a means to “better” reenactment? Is the goal a precise impression of 10 a.m. Sunday morning, May 4 1642, Cripplegate – the house of a Merchant-Taylor, perhaps, in all its middle-class aldermanic dullness? I feel myself yawning even now, and I know I’m not the only one. If not the elephant in the room, this is at least the giraffe.

    Actually, London in the mid-17th century was wealthy, rowdy and full of itself, drawing people from inside the country and without, definitely NOT BORING. The problem is, the source material for the more interesting bits is harder to come by. Hmm, must check out those Hollar drawings again…

  4. Sue, have you had a good look at ?
    I dare you…

  5. So who did suggest changing the date? I’m sure it has nothing to do with Poles… Thank you Reverend for your scintillating discussion.

  6. yes, I agree with the Rev, whilst I have nothing like the depth and quality of gear he and Glenda have, I would be loathe to leave the comforts of 1640’s Merrie Englande and all the rescources we have for that period, and move to a place *filled* with foreign types with their strange food…as for this sleeping in hedge rows, if I have to do that I want our good English hedges, nothing beats them for comfort!

  7. Perhaps we can take a step back… to what the discussion at last SC, at least, was intended to be about. This business of “what shall we focus on” is all very well, but can only be meaningfully discussed when we have answered another question: How much effort are we prepared to put in?

    Fifteen years ago (or thereabouts) we could fairly claim to be at the leading edge of re-enactment in Australia. Both the quality of our kit and the vigour of our culture were unsurpassed, and largely unequalled.

    This is no longer the case. Many societies are now ahead of us, and good for them. Some (I’m thinking of the excellent SCA household we saw at Easter) got that way independently, some by deliberate imitation of us, others no doubt by being caught up in an “arms race” without really knowing how the race originated. All very good. Mission accomplished.

    So what now? I suggested last month that we ought to make a conscious choice about which of three directions we take over the next decade or so (and yes, there are graduations in between, which I leave as an exercise). They are:

    1) Aim to be once again the best, most accurate, most vigorous society in the country, in order to provoke a new arms race among the rest of the community. This will require a great deal more effort than we are currently putting in – my guess is the eight or ten people who are putting in most of the time now will have to about double their efforts, and everybody else will have to triple or quadruple theirs.

    2) Stay about where we are. Put in the effort we now are, but without the pretence that we are going anywhere fresh, or that we are leading the community. Attend events if we feel like it, if we don’t get a better offer.

    3) Fold the society. Accept that many members have moved on, and that we are not attracting new ones in any significant numbers. Distribute club kit among the members, or bequeath it to a successor organisation, and go on with our lives, perhaps meeting up once a year to remember old wars and past glories.

    I make no statement about my own preference, but until we have a shared view of what road we are taking, the style of clothing and accoutrements we plan to take on the journey is neither here nor there.

    (for the time being)

  8. I’d like to think it’s fairly obvious from the post that my vote is for option 1.

  9. Andy, I have some problems with this formulation of choices.

    “can only be meaningfully discussed when we have answered another question: How much effort are we prepared to put in?”

    There are as many answers to that question as there are people in the Routiers, because we all have different motivations for belonging. I never liked arms races when I was in other groups, so I’m not about to start in one now. I’ll do what I can, *in the company of others*, to address deficits, but I was never good at the Home Ec or workshop thing and am largely self-taught, which is fine for the largely geometrial medieval wardrobe but a bit of a bugger for later periods. I’m also relatively time-poor at the moment, but hope to be less so in 6 months time, and in 5 years give or take it’s a different story again.

    Spike’s story is naturally different from mine (although he’s no more skilled on the handcrafts side than I am). But our common point is that we want to have fun doing something we enjoy with friends.

    “All very good. Mission accomplished.”

    Yes, I saw what Pierre said on the 20th anniversary video. Things have changed – the fantasy element is still with us and ever more will be so, but the authentic groups (using values from ‘mainstream’ up) are more prevalent. We haven’t used that as a motivator for some time and I don’t think we need to start again.

    “Accept that many members have moved on, and that we are not attracting new ones in any significant numbers.”

    Perhaps we aren’t fun enough anymore?

  10. Hi Sue, what did I say, I can’t remember.

    I can say this – fun does not just happen, although it can. It can also take commitment…sounds like there is some soul searching going on. Empires rise and fall…………..but I see a large scholastic store of Knowledge and a wealth of reproduced material, much of it of good quality. To be honest, I never thought the show would go on this long – congrats to all involved….but where to now seems to be the question; most of us are 50 or more. My own interests in re-enactment are very small these days due to work, children, back gardens and, well, more grey hair than formerly…have you considered a merger with the living history group, a more events based approach where resources and knowledge can be pooled as events needs must.


    PS has anyone scene this Ruskie Polack flick 1612? – quite liked some of the gear

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