29 June 2015

Chalke Valley History Festival trip

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One of the highlights of Enrichment Week was the annual Sixth Form study trip to the Chalke Valley History Festival. Set in a beautiful valley on the Wiltshire and Dorset borders, this unique event brings together leading historians, academics from top universities, biographers and journalists to talk on a wide variety of different subjects. For the first time this year the group of 21 students and three teachers stayed overnight in the Cathedral Close in Salisbury, and attended talks, seminars and debates at the festival over the course of two days.

One of the most thought-provoking lectures was given by David Olusoga who spoke on the immense contribution made by the four million soldiers and labourers drafted in to the First World War from all corners of the British and French Empires. With a series of superb images, he brought to life the extraordinarily diverse range of cultures and religions present on the Western Front, opening the eyes of his audience to a very different perspective on the battlefields of France and Belgium. Other outstanding speakers included William Doyle on the abolition of the aristocracy during the French Revolution, Tracy Borman on the rise and fall of Thomas Cromwell, Professor Tony Badger on the American Civil Rights movement, Dominic Sandbrook on the ten key events in Britain since 1945, and Janina Ramirez who gave a passionate description of her groundbreaking research into the lives of ten Anglo-Saxon saints.

Outside the three large marquees where the talks took place, many ‘living history’ specialists were on site, including Roman soldiers, medieval knights, and Napoleonic riflemen. Tanks, weapons and cars were on display from the last 200 years, and several of the lectures were punctuated by the enormous booming of an 18-pound artillery gun from a far corner of the field. As they wandered around the site, soaking up the glorious sunshine, students were also able to fire medieval longbow, taste medicine dispensed in Tudor England, and examine popular Georgian fashions.

In addition to the enormous stimulation provided by the festival, the students also participated in a private workshop in Salisbury Cathedral on the legacy of Magna Carta and viewed the cathedral’s copy of the document, one of only four original 1215 editions which survive today. In the evening the group dropped in to the medieval church of St Thomas’s to view the stunning Doom Painting, described by one historian as ‘not only a most remarkable work of art of the late 15th century, but also a historical document of first rate importance’.

For the many Sevenoaks students currently preparing for university degree courses in History, this trip provided unparalleled academic enrichment and exposure to some of the very best current research on a broad range of different subjects. We all left inspired and enthused, and with long reading lists of books to devour over the summer holiday.

Vanessa FitzGerald

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