How John uses his costumes to start conversations
I love chatting to people about their passions, and although you could probably make a pretty good stab at guessing what John, 68, is super-enthusiastic about, as so often happens, when we got talking at the Living Crafts event at Hatfield House it turned out there was a whole load more about his interest that you’d never have imagined.
“I’m dressed like someone from the Middle Ages - about 1415 -around the time of the Battle of Agincourt. I do it because it encourages people to come and ask me why I’m dressed like this and then I can explain to them about the history and the period.
I actually made most of what I’m wearing. I may not know how to use an iPhone (I’m working on that!), but I do know how to use a sewing machine. I was taught by my mum. The shirt is linen, and the little cape top is wool (I didn’t make that, it’s too fiddly. I couldn’t be bothered!). I have various different outfits and various helmets, as well as about seven swords. I buy them from specialist traders, or on the internet. I found one of my helmets on ebay!
I got interested initially through archery. I joined an archery club when I was in my 40s. And then, after a few years, I thought I'd try longbow. Through that I met Adam, who owns a company that makes longbows, arrows and anything to do with longbow archery, and he asked me to help him. If you think I'm an anorak about Agincourt, he’s even worse than me!
It’s good fun working for them. I only do it part-time, but I really enjoy it. I’m retired, after 42 years of working for British Telecom, so it’s nice to be able to pick and choose what work I want to do.
I’ve done a lot of events like this, and country fairs. I also do 17th century battle re-enactments. Shooting arrows and fighting with swords, that kind of stuff. It's all very controlled. You have to pass tests, otherwise you're not deemed competent enough to go out onto the field. And it’s all choreographed, so we all know exactly what we’re going to do before we begin. The only thing I don’t like is when people smile when they're trying to ‘kill’ each other. It just doesn't look right! Unless, of course, you are a true maniac. In which case, that’s even more worrying!
Doing shows like this is a great way to get children interested in history
Doing shows like this is a great way to educate children, show them things and get them interested in history. So much about history is about understanding what we did in the past and where we went wrong. We should learn from our mistakes but we never seem to, do we. And you do think why? That’s the idea of learning from your experiences. Or it should be.
I’m constantly studying and learning. I look at YouTube, or I might see something interesting and think ‘oh, I’ll read up a bit more on that’, or I’ll look it up on Google. I read a lot of books. I spend more time reading books than I do looking at a screen.
People spend too much time staring at a screen
The joy of doing this for me is talking to people. People spend too much time staring at a screen and texting. But this is conversation. It’s an art in itself.
What I want to do is make a difference. If I can educate someone, even in a little way, they might take that on. And if not them, then maybe someone they then talk to. So it might make a difference. That’s the main thing for me. “
I met another wonderfully inspiring Heydayer at the Living Crafts show. Jenny discovered, purely by chance, that her passion - can you guess what that is? - had its roots in generations of her family history. Read her story here.