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

Armchair General Towton Recreation

By Richard Layton

We were all delighted to find our medieval kit went on quite nicely over the top of the wetsuits, my 15th century shoes even went on over the wetsuit shoes so I had nice warm feet. Some of us were not quite so lucky, but not one person complained… Too much…

Seimon had given us directions and I knew where it was and again I was not sure how he was going to use it as a site for a medieval battle, again I need not have worried, when we got there it was perfect. The river was a bit higher after all the rain we had had, but because of the gravely bank he had chose it wasn’t a problem at all. I was a bit concerned about falling over in the swiftly flowing river with the armour on, but the medieval shoes actually gripped quite well on the wet slippery stones. This was proving to be quite useful experimentation as well as darn good fun.


The cast is assembled

We were now able to watch Seimon get the set ready or “dress” it as it’s called by the pro’s. He walked purposely from his van (in very fetching green waders I may add) with a big brown bag and a kitchen sieve. Hmmm, what is that man doing? We all stood amazed as he set about sieving white powder over about twenty square feet of river bank. One damp welsh river bank was turned before our eyes into a snow covered scene from a Christmas card. He then called for the spare weapons and arrows he had asked us to bring and these went onto the set too, also with a sprinkling of snow. It looked fantastic, utterly believable as a scene from Towton. Cars on the nearby main road were slowing down to see what we were doing, craning their necks to catch a glimpse of the scene as they sped by.

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Turning a Welsh river bank into a Yorkshire battlefield and waiting for the shoot to start

Whilst this set dressing continued we all started to need the toilet, many cups of tea and coffee that morning had woken us up but left us with a slight problem. Medieval kit is not the easiest to go to the toilet in at the best of times, but put it over a layer of neoprene that does not have any access anyway and we were completely foiled. There was only one thing for it, we had to just relax and get on with it. Some of us found it easier than others, one man, who shall remain nameless, could only go when standing up against a telegraph pole, he could not just stand and wet himself but had to put some normality back into his relief. Some of us enjoyed it though, rather a lot in some cases, which just made us laugh even more and begin to compete as to how many times we could go and to experiment with trying to get it down both legs at once to create equal warmth in the feet. Not easy! The extra warmth it provided was very welcome though as it was a bit nippy waiting to begin the photo shoot.

Practicing potential shots

Seimon finally called us over and started to cover us in really good quality fake blood. We had discussed the use of blood and it was decided that for the sake of good taste we would not go too far but realised we probably could not even begin to get anywhere near bloody enough. The men fighting in medieval battles, where they stood pretty much toe-to-toe hacking and smashing at each other with a variety of implements, would have been covered pretty much head to foot in blood, and worse. It would have been expensive to re-create that and a bit much aesthetically for the pictures. We all agreed we looked fantastic and then started to get into position for the first shot.

You can never have too much blood. We actually decided to tone it down from how gory it would have been

It meant I had to lie on my back in about a foot of water and fight the man on top of me. It was a real experience, the water started filling my sallet (15th century style of helmet) and the jack I was wearing just started soaking the water up, it was uncomfortable. Mark, the man I was fighting, had a mouthful of fake blood which he delighted in dribbling over me as we wrestled. We did a few takes and then I had to get up. The water in the helmet and a flake of snow from a snow candle* in my mouth had caused quite a big surge of panic in me meaning I just had to get out of the water as fast as I could. It was really tiring. We all began to realise just what it would have been like for the men fighting for their lives in the river in 1461. It was easy now to see why and how so many had lost their lives there.

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What it looks like from a spectators point of view whilst we tried various picture angles

We did that shot a few times more in slightly differing ways and then had a tea break. I took this opportunity to try running in my wet sodden armour and clothes. The Lancastrians at Towton were routed and fled the battle, many thousands of them being cut down as they tore off their armour in a bid to get away faster. Throwing helmets aside to get more air and to make it easier to run. I tried to jog and a quick sprint. It was laughably slow compared to how fast I can run normally. It was all too easy to see how so many of them were cut down by the pursuing horsemen of the Yorkist army. Smashing and cutting at unprotected heads and backs as they rode by. It was very grim and sobering to think of this as we drank our lovely warm teas and coffee.

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A close up of the agony… The fake blood was sickly sweet! Fighting on your back in water wearing armour is scary, the faces pulled were quite genuine!

Seimon had many different shots planned for the day and my worries about the others not being too keen to get wet and mucky were distant memories as they piped up with more ideas that got them even wetter and dirtier. Mark was urging me on to even more violent struggles; acting the complete professional model as opposed to the skilled carpenter he is in real life. Needless to say Seimon can get the best out of even the raw-est of models. We were all getting really into it. Calling for more blood, more dirt and more uncomfortable positions to get into. It was great!

A photographer from the local newspaper turned up about 2pm to take some pictures of Seimon taking pictures of us. He got us into some very hackneyed positions but it was fun and he seemed very impressed with the set up and our commitment to the job considering we were all now drenched, cold and sticky with loads of fake blood.

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Lots of different angles were used by Seimon to see which was best. In the second photo, if you look closely at the reflection in the bevor (throat protection) you can see Seimon… We thought it looks like a man on horseback

It was drawing to close now and the last shot was drawing near. Seimon wanted my wife, who is also a medievalist, to take a very final and for me moving part in the day. I was to lie on the snow covered ground and be covered in snow. Lucy was to drape herself over me as if she had just found her love dead on the battlefield. It wasn’t until I saw the actual photograph of this did it sink in just how moving and personal a picture this would be for me.

I find this particular shot very moving. It’s my wife and I in a very personal and sad situation

We packed up. We were all absolutely shattered, but very much on a high. It had been the most amazing of days for everyone concerned. One I personally will never forget. I hope to get the opportunity to work with Seimon again on future projects, we have ideas that we are working on and I know now I can call on the help of some very reliable, tolerant, professional, brilliant friends. Watch this space.

I would like to thank Mark Robbinson, Graham Dall, Ian Lawson and Lucy Layton for the help and support they gave with this project. The next one will probably be even more uncomfortable.

*The very candles Seimon had been mentioning in the weeks before! You light one end and the burn releasing vast quantities of very believable snowflakes to billow past the scene. Very effective.

* * *

A note from Seimon:

Recreating Towton was going to be a photographic challenge. A week’s worth of torrential rain made a stream a river and a fast flowing one at that.
Welsh mountain water is not the warmest at any time of year. The snow was fake, but the cold wasn’t… All these elements made this photoshoot into an experience! We all came away thinking "you poor devils."

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