This image: The cast of Austentatious
A new festival, from the team behind Cambridge Literary Festival
A feast of history and heritage awaits at Cambridge History Festival, which makes its debut at the Wimpole Estate from 7 to 9 July. Featuring a rich programme of talks, debates, performances, workshops and activities, the event is the product of an exciting new partnership between Cambridge Literary Festival and the National Trust. Wimpole, an elegant stately home surrounded by acres of gorgeous gardens, promises to serve as a perfect backdrop for fascinating forays into the past with some of Britain’s most eminent historians.
“Our aim is to engage, educate and entertain as broad a range of people as possible about the past,” explains festival director Cathy Moore. “An understanding of history, especially in volatile times, is essential to help us understand the world we live in, to help us make informed decisions about our future and, of course, to have as much fun as possible along the way.”
The idea for the festival came about when Cathy was taking a walk at Wimpole one sunny evening, and was struck by how wonderful a place it would be to stage a celebration of history. “The Wimpole Estate is a jewel in the crown of the National Trust,” says Cathy. “It provides the opportunity to present a galaxy of historians in a priceless piece of our national heritage.”
“We’re very lucky to have an exceptionally beautiful place to look after here at Wimpole,” agrees Anne French, Wimpole’s events organiser. “How often do you get to go to an event with views over Grade I listed parkland and lovingly tended gardens? Many of the talks will take place in the Grand Dining Room at Wimpole Hall, which I would personally say is fairly glamorous compared to most lecture theatres I’ve been in (but then I’m biased!). We already welcome visitors from all over the country and so for that reason as well we felt that Wimpole would be an appropriate location for a festival with such a wide appeal.”
On the first day of the programme, catch Austentatious: an improvised Jane Austen novel. A mad miscellany of modern culture and Austen-esque mannerisms and themes, performed in Regency costume, this thoroughly impressive show is improvised anew each performance, based on audience suggestions. Previous ‘lost works’ include Sixth Sense & Sensibility, Jurassic Mansfield Park and Double O Darcy – strap on your bonnet and expect the unexpected.
Also flying the flag for Austen is TV historian Lucy Worsley (left), who’ll be exploring the author’s life through the places which meant the most to her, a journey which also delves into search for her own Mr Darcy and decision to spurn marriage. In addition on the first day of the festival, join architectural historian Simon Thurley on a tour of noteworthy Tudor homes and learn the fascinating story of Hanna Reitsch and Melitta von Stauffenberg – two pioneering female pilots who acted as Hitler’s personal Valkyries while covertly supporting an attempt to assassinate him.
The next day serves up a sumptuous buffet of treats for history fans, including The Court of Oberon, a play performed in true 18th century style; an opportunity to unearth the fascinating bodily secrets of prominent Victorians with Kathryn Hughes; a romp through the earliest Greek comedies and tragedies with Natalie Haynes; and the chance to pull up a seat at the table of Queen Victoria – a royal gannet who changed English food forever.
Sunday 9 July yields another bounty of events, from a glimpse into the world of Anne Boleyn, England’s most scandalous and controversial queen, to a look at what Brexit means for Britishness with Andrew Marr (right). GOT fans look out for Winter is Coming: The Medieval World of Game of Thrones, which will reveal the historical stimuli behind George RR Martin’s behemoth fantasy series. Investigating giants, dragons and direwolves in medieval texts, old Norse gods and ravens, Carolyne Larrington will demonstrate how Martin took inspiration from the Middle Ages to construct his fantasy world.
The children’s programme, meanwhile, includes a journey into history with Ka, a time-travelling cat; dastardly deeds and shenanigans in Putting the Mystery into History with Helen Moss; and a helping of mad science and hands-on experiments on Sunday afternoon.
“Wimpole History Festival offers an extravaganza of history and provides an experience that can’t be found anywhere else in the country,” says Cathy Moore. “You’ll find world-class historians alongside historical re-enactors, bringing history to life so that you can see, smell, touch and learn about it. Hear from your favourite historians on topics ranging from the classics to the present day whilst getting up close to battle-clad crusaders, WWI heroes and Tudor weapons. Children can try their hands at sword school, dressing up as a Roman emperor and meeting real-life falcons, whilst grown-ups can practice their warrior pose with early yoga on the lawns or enjoy a guided tour around the estate. Local pop-up food and drink stalls will provide the sustenance, or pack a picnic. There really is something for everyone – and the perfect excuse to hop in the car and explore one of the National Trust’s hidden gems.”
For the full programme and booking info, visit the Wimpole History Festival website wimpolehistoryfestival.com
Cathy Moore, festival director, selects her must-sees at this year’s event
“It’s a tough one – I love Lucy Worsley, Andrew Marr and William Dalrymple but the events I am most looking forward to are Orlando Figes, whose book A People’s Tragedy is one of the stand-out works to document the Russian Revolution; food historian Annie Gray has written a sumptuous book called The Greedy Queen, which records what Queen Victoria ate and how she changed English food forever; Piers Brendon offers a fascinating history-in-the-making perspective on the life of HRH Prince Charles and his years spent waiting to be king; and, having watched David Olusoga on BBC4 with his remarkable series Black and British, seeing him up close will be a real treat.”
This image: Wimpole Hall