On Saturday 27th.January, Nantwich will commemorate the English Civil War battle of Nantwich which took place in 1644. Nantwich was a Parliamentarian strong hold in Cheshire and was besieged by Lord Byron’s Royalist forces. Every yearhundreds of the Sealed Knot re-enactors from all over the country invade Nantwich in their civil war uniforms and arsenal.
I’m a veteran of the event myself, not as a re-enactor, but as a photographer. I’ve seen it grow from a small group of soldiers who stood around the square for an hour to the big event it is today. These days activities start in the morning before the troops arrive with Morris Dancers and singers entertaining the crowds. I enjoy talking to the knowledgeable Sealed Knot to learn about the history and way of life during the Civil War. Then I’ll watch the troops do their drill and engage in a mock battle.
It’s always been quite a challenge to photograph the event due to the large number of people there and the distracting backgrounds. If you get there mid morning you’ll be able to warm up photographing the Morris Dancers. They’re a friendly bunch who enjoy actively dancing and like to pose for portraits as well. I liked to try using a variety of shutter speeds to capture them sharp and also get some blurry movement. Around midday the Nantwich Players Theatre will put on a short performance in the square where a scandrell is found guilty and marched down the stocks in Pillory Street where the children throw lettuce at him.
The troops will march from Malbank School down Welsh Row around 1pm into the church square and wait to be inspected doing their drill. There’s also a wreath laying ceremony to remember everyone that died during the battle. The troops will be there for about 30 minutes and you’ll have an opportunity to photograph them. It gets very busy with many spectators and photographers at this time. Of course, the way you photograph the event depends on what type of pictures you want. I always like to get a general view of a line of soldiers using a wide angle lens, with the church in the background, but it can be difficult to get without spectators in. Then with a longer lens look out for some of the many characters there who make great portraits. Using a wide aperture can help diffuse the background. Also keep an eye out for when the regiments doing their drill as you can get some good photos looking down the pikes or barrels. Don’t forget to focus on the eyes.
After the drill the soldiers will march down to the Mill Field by the River Weaver to re-enact a mock battle. They will engage with cannon fire, muskets and pikes to gain territory. Due to the camber of the land slopping to the river, it can be difficult to see if you’re not on the front row so it’s a good idea to get there early to get a good spot. It’s probably best to use a lens in the range of 70-200mm as the action could be across the field or closer too. They also have a secondary barrier that you’ll need to photograph over. Be prepared for the loud bangs the cannons make when they’re fired. Trying to capture the moment of them firing is difficult so you could try a rapid fire technique. It’s good to take a variety of photographs of the flag wavers, the drummers, the musketeers and the pikemen in combat. Sometimes smoke drifts over the scene which adds to the atmosphere.
I’ve found this schedule of the days events:
RedShift Stage – Town Square – 10am – 1.30pm
10.15am – Sinead D’abreu-Hayling
11.00am – Nantwich Young Voices
11.30am – Tim Lee
11.55am – Nantwich Players Theatre
12.45pm – Sealed Knot troops leave Malbank School to parade along Welsh Row
1.00pm – Troops arrive into Town Centre
1.15pm – Wreath laying ceremony at War Memorial
1.30pm – Troops parade to Mill Island to battle
Nantwich Museum – 10am – 12.30pm
10.00am – Civil War tour
10.30 – 11.30am – Musketry demonstration with Sealed Knot
11.30 – 12.30pm – 17th Century music from Forlorne Hope
Mill Island – 1.45 – 3pm
1.40pm – Troops arrive
1.50pm – Artillery Demo (BIG BANGS!)
2.00pm – Battle reenactment begins
Around Town – 10am – 12.30pm
Mollies / Plough Witches / Street entertainers
Doomsday Morris Dancers
Good Shooting, Peter