The Minstrels' Court

The wonderful medieval midsummer festival in Chester is fast approaching.  The Minstrels' Court will be taking place once again at St John's Church on Saturday 11th June, from 10.30am-4.30pm, a great celebration of the city's heritage, one of the world's largest medieval music festivals and one of only a handful of re-enactments to take place in its original and authentic location.

The tradition of the Minstrels' Court began back in 1204 when a ragged band of musicians and entertainers from Chester marched into Wales to save Earl Ranulf from a siege and thereafter gained his blessing and protection. There is a great legend around this.  This tradition continued with their gathering at the church of St John the Baptist each midsummer for over 500 years until it died out in 1756.  The tradition was revived back in 2008 by a group of musicians, re-enactors and community groups and has taken place each year since.

There are lots of living history displays in the church, recreating something of the bustling atmosphere of the medieval church where business transactions and meetings took place each day.  Scribes sit beside weavers and traders, soldiers and knights mingle with pilgrims and gamblers.  All the while music is performed by some of the finest medieval musicians in the land.

The church of St John the Baptist is surrounded by history, with the ruins of the Roman amphitheatre on one side, Grosvenor park on another, where a excavation is current in progress shedding light on lost buildings, and the river Dee to its rear.  St John's is the oldest church in Cheshire and the city's original cathedral.  Visitors can wander between huge Romanesque pillars and discover Saxon carvings alongside medieval effigies and even Civil War history.    It's a very atmospheric place and the perfect setting for the Minstrels' Court.

As well as the eye-catching medieval characters, storytelling and puppet shows provide lots of interest for families.  It's a free event too, making it a great day out for families.

At 1pm the minstrels leave St John's for a procession through the streets of the city, arriving back at the church at 1.30pm to collect their licences to perform in a recreation of the ancient ceremony.  

Living history displays and demonstrations take place through the day in the church, along with informal music sessions in the porch.  At the front of the church there are performances through the day.  The approximate timings are below.

10.30 - Maranella - Cheshire based medieval music ensemble
11.00 - Storytelling - medieval tales from Cheshire and North Wales
11.30 - Medieval Puppet theatre
12.00 - Trouvere - one of the finest medieval music groups in Britain
12.30 - Dressing a Knight demonstration
13.00 - Procession of Minstrels through the city
13.30 - Licensing of Minstrels
13.45 - The Time Bandits - Chester based group mixing music from 15th-18th centuries.
14.30 - Doucette - Renaissance recorder group
15.00 -Trouvere
15.30 - The Mulberry Tree - new music inspired by the Shakespeare 400 anniversary
16.00 - Maranella

There's so much to see, and it's all free.  Hope to see some of you there!

The Piper's Tale

As regular followers of this blog will know, we love traditional folk tales and we love bagpipes.  This year Tom will be out and about with his storytelling show - The Piper's Tale.  Here's the essence of the performance.  Do let us know if you'd like to see it near you...

Plucking a Noodle

Trawling through mentions of 19th century pipers in Chester and found this from the Chester Chronicle 26 April 1833, admittedly there's only a brief mention of bagpipes and the music, but the story is a familiar one from folk songs. And the epilogue shows a firm belief in witchcraft even at this date.
PLUCKING A NOODLE - A countryman named Francis Hanmer who said he came from Bryngwylla near Oswestry, charged Ruth Jones, a female of common repute, with stealing his watch. The complainant said he came to Chester on 27th February last, to sell a horse for his master, Mr. Lewis, of the Brook House, near Oswestry. In the evening he strolled out into Eastgate-street, where he met with Miss Jones, who invited her to accompany her to the Three Tuns in Frodsham-street. He, not liking to refuse Jones's request, went with her to the Tuns, where he found a number of Cyprians, engaged in a mazy dance. Aroused by the discordant squeakings of the Irish bag-pipes, on which a fellow was discoursing a most exhilarating music, he rose up from his seat and, as he expressed it, "had a bit of a hop - a three-handed reel with four females and during this time I lost my watch". He could not swear that she took it from him, but she was the nearest to him while engaged in the dance.
Alderman Morris (addressing Hanmer) asked him if he were married. Hanmer with a sheepish look replied "Oh yes Sir, I have a wife and five children". - Ald. Morris, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself for being in such company. What will your wife say when she hears of this transaction?" Hanmer, "I'll not tell her anything about it" - As there was no evidence to prove that Jones stole the watch, she was discharged.
Hanmer visited the police office on Sunday evening, and while there he told one of the officers, that if the magistrates did not commit Ruth Jones, there was a "cunning fellow" (a sorcerer) that lived in his neighbourhood, and that he would engage him to bewitch Ruth: and that he would bring her, watch and all, across hedge and ditch, flying from Chester to Bryngwylla. One thing is quite clear, poor Hanmer is no conjuror!