For many people, dressing up and acting out battles from hundreds of years ago – while mainly surviving on a diet of foraged berries and mutton (and the odd ice cream) – wouldn’t feature too highly on their list of weekend plans.
However, for 36-year-old Jenny Kell, there’s nothing she’d rather do.
From Monday to Friday, the mum-of-two works as a clinical pharmacist. But come the weekend, she metamorphoses into her chosen role: an indentured wet nurse from the Viking period.
Based in Cumbria with her husband and four year old twins, the family often travel far across the country to participate in events, camping out alongside hundreds – if not thousands – of other historical reenactors moving back in time.
‘They’re almost like little holidays, because it’s a complete change from our normal life,’ explains Jenny.
Indeed, any ties to the 21st century must be left at the entrance to the ‘show’, as she describes it.
Modern technology, while used for safety purposes, must not be on display. Clothing must be as accurate a representation as possible to what would have worn at the time – to be considered a successful event, the experience should feel like a deep-sea dive into the past.
Historical reenactment, or living history, as it’s also known, first took root in Northern Europe in the 1890s. Today, there are around 140 reenactment societies in the UK, with around 20,000 enthusiasts devoting their time, money, and expertise to the hobby.
While these groups recreate all periods between the Roman Ages up to the Vietnam War, activities remain broadly similar: camp tasks, arms drill, sentry duties, historical crafts and skirmishes between troops. There’s a space for everyone, no matter their interest.
At weekends Jenny transforms herself into a indentured wet nurse from the Viking period (Picture: Supplied)
Jenny’s path into living history was preordained from childhood: where summer holidays would see her family packing up the car to visit key sites of historical interest, with performing reenactors opening Jenny’s eyes to how fun history could be.
However, it was on meeting her husband that her fascination with living history became a hobby.
‘He got into it at St Andrews University and when we moved to Cumbria some of his old uni pals told him about a local group… and the rest is history,’ she quips.
When Jenny talks about her hobby of seven years to those outside of the living history circle, she admits she’s often met with raised eyebrows.
‘Most people are either interested in it and so start conversations with me on it,’ Jenny explains. ‘Or else they are not – but at least can see I enjoy it.
‘I’ve had a lot of people when I first talked to them about it ask, “really, you want to go camping, without any mod cons? Why do you enjoy that?!”’
And now with many …read more