History: Busting common myths about the medieval period

With the show season in full swing, we thought we would revisit some common myths that turn up time and time again. We hope this little myth-buster will help you counter some of the myths and misconceptions that the public may have (plus stop you from inadvertently spreading any of your own).

Continue reading “History: Busting common myths about the medieval period”

Show report: Newport Ship Open Day – October 2016

Cardiff Castle Garrison were thrilled to return to the Newport Ship for another Open Day. The charity are continuing to preserve the 15th Century timbers of the ship found in the River Usk in 2002, and hope to finish this process over the next year. They then plan to display the ship in a purpose-built museum.

Continue reading “Show report: Newport Ship Open Day – October 2016”

Show report: Newport Ship Open Day – August 2016

We were delighted to return to the Newport Ship this month for their open day. Now in their new warehouse, this medieval ship is being painstakingly preserved and studied. Five hundred timbers had returned from freeze-drying at the York Archaeological Trust only two days before, so it was great to have a look at the progressing work.

A model of the 15th century ship
A model of the 15th century ship

We set up a range of displays for the public to help interpret medieval life including archery, weapons, armour, crafts and music. It is always great to make links between our displays and the archaeology at hand. For example, in showing medieval spinning and wool processing we could relate this to the sheep wool (potentially of Merino type [Mulville and Hunter Zooarch JISCMail 2003]) and other animal products that were found in the ship’s caulking and luting material; these included raw fibres, dyed fibres and woven material which were used in sealing the timbers and plugging leaks (Jones 2013, 4 & 10). The ship also had a silver coin inserted into a cut out in the stempost/keel join, potentially placed as a token of good fortune at the start of the ship’s construction. A largely 15th century (and thus contemporary) token or badge consists of a coin sealed inside a pewter purse (Spencer 1998; Spencer 1990, 116-117, 134-135, Figures 311-314c). One interpretation of these finds is that a belief existed that carrying a token of wealth increased your chances of attracting wealth to you.

We look forward to seeing the ship’s continued conservation and reassembly!

Showing the bows, bolts and arrows.
Crafts and crossbows being shown to visitors (and to Friends of the Newport Ship!).
A box of spindles and wool.
Displays of crafts and weapons, including the referenced purse-shaped pewter token.
Crafts and musical instruments.

Jones, T. 2013. S.O.S. News from the Friends of the Newport Ship, 21.

Spencer, B. 1998. Museum of London Medieval Finds from Excavations in London 7: Pilgrim Souvenirs and Secular Badges. London: The Stationery Office.

Spencer, B. 1990. Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum Medieval Catalogue Part 2: Pilgrim Souvenirs & Secular Badges. Wiltshire: Salisbury & South Wiltshire Museum.

Show report: Grand Medieval Melee at Cardiff Castle – 13th & 14th August

Another old favourite this weekend at Cardiff Castle’s Grand Medieval Melee: a show Garrison have been attending for many years. As usual, we had a wonderful time demonstrating crafts, clothing, arms and armour, and even had authentic music provided by one of our members. Have-A-Go archery was also a great hit with the public. Thanks so much to everyone who came along and made it such a special show for us.

NB: Garrison are going to be super-busy over the next couple of weeks. Please drop in and see us at the Newport Ship Open Day on 20th August, or at Caerphilly Castle on 28th and 29th August. See our event page for more detail.

Show report: Big Cheese at Caerphilly Castle – 30th & 31st July

It was another amazing year greeting the thousands of visitors who came to Caerphilly’s Big Cheese at the end of July.

The event is a long-running cultural celebration set in and around Caerphilly Castle, and featuring large numbers of traders, street entertainers, falconry and a traditional fun fair.

We provided have-a-go archery for members of the public, and craft, arms and armour and cooking displays.

See our pictures below:


Show report: Joust! at Cardiff Castle – 17-19th June

We had a terrific time again at one of our favourites events – Joust! at Cardiff Castle.

The Garrison provided a full living history camp, with displays of fourteenth-century crafts, cookery and weapons and armour.

Check out our gallery for some lovely shots of our weekend (thanks so much Andrew Forster!).

Show report: Beaumaris Medieval Festival – 29th-31st August 2015

Cardiff Castle Garrison were thrilled to be invited up to Anglesey this August Bank Holiday to be part of Beaumaris Castle’s Medieval Festival. We showcased a full living history camp, with weapons and armour, cooking and crafts, along with providing have-a-go archery for the public. We had an amazing time, and it was wonderful being able to meet so many other medieval re-enactment groups who were part of this event.


Guide: What to expect at shows

A Cardiff Castle Garrison living history encampment
A Cardiff Castle Garrison living history encampment

Everyone is welcome at shows, as long as they are a paid-up member of the Garrison (necessary for insurance purposes), and have the minimum 14th Century kit (clothes) required. If you don’t have this yet, don’t worry. You can contact our Secretary to arrange membership, which can even be done just before or at the show if necessary. You can also contact our Living History Officer to find if it will be possible to borrow kit. To message either, please email cardiffcastlegarrison@outlook.com.

Show Features and Facilities
Show features and facilities vary from show to show, from small tabletop displays in modern locations to full living history encampments in historic locations with authentic tents, cookery, textile craft, arms and armour displays, and archery and combat ranges. Please see the appropriate Garrison Facebook events page for details of what each show will contain.

Types of Show
Garrison shows fall into two categories: single-day shows and multiple-day shows.

Single-day shows take place over one day with no overnight camping. They are usually set up on the morning of the show before it starts and taken down that evening after it finishes.

Multiple-day shows take place over several days, usually weekends, with camping options for members overnight. Set up takes place the night before the show’s first day, and take down on the evening of the show’s last day.

Camping Options
Camping is usually either in authentic group tents or in members’ personal plastic (modern) tents. At most of our multiple-day shows we provide authentic group tents for members to sleep in. These are usually divided into girls’ and boys’ tents and members provide their own bedding. If you would like a place in one of these tents or would like to check if they will be at an event, click through to the event page on our Facebook group and comment, or email us at cardiffcastlegarrison@outlook.com.

Alternatively, if space is permitting, members are welcome to pitch their own tents at shows. However, please note that unless the venue has a separate ‘plastic’ camping area, all modern tents must be completely packed away while shows are open to the public, usually from around 9a.m. til 5p.m. Members are then welcome to re-pitch their plastic tent each evening.

Garrison authentic group tents where members often camp during shows

The Garrison owns many large pieces of kit necessary for shows including tents, fireboxes, tables, benches, etc. which must be transported from our storage facility to the show location and then be set up there prior to the show’s opening. At many shows, we rely on members to volunteer to transport this kit and at all shows we rely on members to set up the camp. Therefore, we ask all members attending an event to help with set-up arrangements (typically on the evening before the first day of a multiple-day event) if this is possible.

Members pitching an authentic group tent
Members pitching an authentic group tent

Set-up logistics vary from show to show. Instructions will be included on the event page for the specific show on the Garrison’s Facebook group closer to the event date, so check on Facebook for this information.

Generally, some volunteer members pick up kit from storage with their vehicles and take it to the show’s location the night before a multiple-day show or on the morning of a single-day show, and other members meet them there to help set everything up.

Volunteers at set-up help to pitch our authentic tents, set out our fire and cooking equipment and set out our furniture including benches and tables. Additionally, on the morning of each event members set up our living history displays. Experienced member(s) will be on-site every day and can will instruct any new members on how to help. There will also be committee members on-hand to help you out as well.

Show Activities
The Garrison generally provide a living history camp which contains several authentic tents and several living history displays such as textile crafts, weapons and armour or archery. Our members run these displays throughout the day, showcasing reproduction items and authentic skills to the public and answering their questions.

Please don’t worry if you don’t yet know enough to give a display as we’ll teach you everything you need to know during shows. New members are welcome to assist with any displays that interest them or, for their first show, just sit and listen to the experienced members and pick up information.


At almost all multiple-day events, the Garrison provide an authentic hot meal each day for participating members, which is cooked as part of our cooking display. Vegetarian and other special dietary options can be catered for if given sufficient notice – please email cardiffcastlegarrison@outlook.com and the committee will pass your requirements on to the cook(s).

At multiple-day events, we also provide authentic snacks during the day including bread, cheese and various fruits.

Food 2

Plenty of water is always available during our shows.

Members are also welcome to bring their own food and/or drink during shows. However, if your food is inauthentic then please eat it out of sight, for example in one of the tents! Note also that alcohol may not be drunk whilst the show is open to the public or in the morning before the public arrive.

A few of our shows include re-enactment battles and/or fighting displays given to members of the public. Details of these may be found on the Facebook event page for the specific show.

Garrison members taking part in a full-scale battle at a show
Garrison members taking part in a skirmish at a show

To take part in combat or battles, Garrison members need to have passed the basic combat test given by the Training & Displays Officer and have the minimum amount of kit required to take part. For more information, please see our Introduction to Combat and Basic Combat Test posts.

Some of the Garrison’s events will have the option to do archery displays, have-a-go archery with the public or shooting in battles.

An archery display
An archery display

To be able to do this you must have passed your basic archery test and for archery displays and battles have your own archery equipment which has been passed by the Training & Displays Officer. Some shows will have the opportunity to do archery training after hours, which will be put on at the discretion of the Training & Displays Officer.

At the end of a show, all Garrison camp equipment needs to be taken down and transported back into storage. As with set-up, there are only volunteer Garrison members available to do this, so we ask all members who attended the show to help with this after shows if it is possible.

Professional Attitude
The Garrison is hired by event organisers to run a 14th Century re-enactment display at public shows. Members therefore need to act in a professional manner at all times, abide by Garrison rules and not commit any actions during these events which may bring the group into disrepute. Please have a quick read though the Garrison Code of Conduct before you attend your first event. It is available in the members-only section of this website or by emailing cardiffcastlegarrison@outlook.com.


Shows can seem daunting at first; but please don’t worry, our committee members will be on hand to help you as much as we can. If you have any problems, experienced members will be available and you can speak to them, or any committee members, about any issues you may have. Garrison loves new members and we’d be really happy to see you at shows!

Guide: Basic combat test

Anyone who wishes to take part in combat displays or battle re-enactments with the Cardiff Castle Garrison will need to pass the basic combat test before being allowed onto the field. Below is a copy of the official basic combat test document. The test is intended to ensure that anyone who wishes to fight is able to do so safely, but also in a convincing manner, making their displays look real while minimising the risk of injury both to themselves and to others. Anyone wishing to take the test please contact the combat captain, either at Garrison social or training sessions or by emailing cardiffcastlegarrison@outlook.com.

Though the test can seem daunting at first, it is not as difficult as it sounds, and the combat captain will teach you all the skills necessary to pass the test within Garrison’s Thursday combat training sessions, and will ensure that you have the potential to pass before testing you.

If you have any questions about the test then feel free to contact the combat captain.

The Basic Combat Test

Initial Notes

The Cardiff Castle Garrison (CCG) requires any members or guest members wishing to take part in combat displays or battle re-enactments to pass the Basic Combat Test.

This test aims to ensure combatants are physically and mentally competent and can produce convincing displays. This involves fighting safely whilst acting with ‘deadly character’ (i.e. they must look as if they are intended to kill / injure), both when giving and receiving shots. Thus, blows will look ‘real’ but the risk of injury to the combatant, their opponent(s) and any observers will be at a minimum.

The test will be administered by the CCG Combat Captain (CC) or an appointed representative. The CC may request the assistance and / or advice of other experienced fighters at his / her discretion.

The decision to pass or fail a candidate is made solely by the CC, though s/he may request the advice of experienced fighters at his/her discretion.

If the candidate passes the Basic Combat Test with their weapon of choice, they will be permitted to take part in any subsequent combat displays. This test is not an unlimited pass for combat with any weapon. If the candidate wishes to fight with a different weapon, or with a combination of weapons and / or shield, the CC may require the candidate to pass the Basic Combat Test with this/these weapon(s). Additionally, if at any later date the candidate’s competence at fighting falls below the standards required for this test the candidate may be barred from fighting in any combat displays or battle re-enactments at the CC’s discretion. The candidate would then have to re-take this test before being permitted to fight in combat displays or battle re-enactments.

If the candidate fails the Basic Combat Test with their weapon of choice, they may re-take the test after a 1 week waiting period. They may not retake the test on the same or next day. Failure of the test with one weapon does not affect any previous passes with different weapons.

The CC will score the candidates out of 10 for each of the sections outlined below. 6 represents a standard pass, 10 excellent, and anything below 5 constitutes a fail of varying degrees down to a score of 1. 

A pass or fail will not be announced by the CC until the end of the test. This is to allow a full and fair assessment of all of the candidate’s skills.

In the case of a dangerous situation, the test may be halted immediately by the CC. The CC’s decision on this is final. At one point during the test the CC will shout ‘hold!’ All combatants involved shout stop fighting immediately and disengage from their opponent by withdrawing a pace (if safe to do so). Failure of the candidate to do so in a length of time deemed reasonable by the CC will result in the failure of the test.

At any point and for any reason, the candidate is permitted to request an end to the test.

The Basic Combat Test

The basic test is comprised of a number of sections:

1.1 Kit

The candidate must own or be able to borrow the following:

1. Male soft kit

  • Shirt, braies and hose at minimum
  • These must fit well enough to not impede movement
  • 14th Century style leather boots or shoes which must fit well enough to not impede movement and the candidate must be able to move securely in them over all surfaces, including grass

2. Hand protection, options include:

  • Reinforced thick leather gloves, solid enough to protect against blows (≥3mm leather, thinner at the CC’s discretion)
  • 14th Century style steel gauntlets (at least 16 gauge, mild steel)

3. Head protection:

  • 14th Century style steel helmet (at least 16 gauge, mild steel)
  • Should fit well and not slip or obscure the candidate’s vision

4. Torso portection:

  • 14th Century style gambeson, thick enough to protect against blows (1cm thick, or thicker if worn without additional armour)

5. Weapons:

  • Must be 14th Century style
  • Blunt and round-tipped
  • Free from nicks, cracks, burrs and/or other damage
  • No blunt-force weapons (e.g. maces, flails, hammers, etc.), except at the CC’s discretion

6. Shield (if desired)

  • Must be 14th Century style
  • Free from nicks, cracks, burrs and / or other damage

All kit must be authentic, provide adequate protection against blows and must not impede the candidate’s movement unduly. For further information on authenticity, consult the authenticy officer and the CC.

All kit will be inspected by the CC before the test starts. Inadequate kit may result in failure of the test. If it is a minor issue, e.g. burrs on a weapon, the test may instead be postponed at the CC’s discretion.

1.2 Footwork

The candidate must be able to adopt a fighting stance automatically, without prompting, and use this stance whilst moving (forwards, backwards, circling – all with either foot forwards).

This aspect will not be tested separately but will be monitored throughout the test. An inability to consistently maintain good footwork without tripping or falling will result in failure of the test.

1.3 Standing 8s

The candidate must be able to demonstrate the basic attacks used by the CCG. These are aimed at the designated hit zones:

  1. The head (never directly struck, always pulled)
  2. The right upper arm (aiming for the meat of the bicep, avoiding the elbow and shoulder joint)
  3. The left upper arm (aiming for the meat of the bicep, avoiding the elbow and shoulder joint)
  4. The right side of the stomach / torso
  5. The left side of the stomach / torso
  6. The right thigh
  7. The left thigh
  8. Thrusts aimed at either the right left side of the torso or thighs

All blows must be delivered to one of these zones with ‘deadly character’, i.e. they must look as if they are intended to kill / injure. All blows must be strong enough for the opponent to feel but controlled enough to avoid injuring the opponent.

First the candidate will demonstrate the 8 attacks on a shield. Next, the candidate will demonstrate them on an unarmed opponent who will not block. Hitting other zones than those designated, hitting without control, hitting too hard or hitting without ‘deadly character’ will result in failure of the test.

1.4 Moving 8s

The candidate must next demonstrate the 8 attacks whilst moving. A good stance and footwork must be maintained, as must safety and ‘deadly character’.

1.5 Blocks

The candidate must demonstrate the defences for the 8 attacks using their weapon (and / or shield, if appropriate). They must also defend against additional attacks used by other groups, e.g. right and left calf / shin

First, the candidate will block the 8 attacks from an opponent wielding a sword. Next, the candidate will block attacks from other weapons, e.g. spear, single-handed axe, two-handed axe, etc. Failure to block an attack safely or act with ‘deadly character’ will result in failure of the test.

Non-mandatory section, with permission and supervision of the Archery Captain:

If the candidate wishes and is armed with a shield or full plate armour, the candidate may receive missile attacks. This scenario may happen during a re-enactment battle. The candidate should be able to block the shots but should react appropriately if hit in a legitimate zone. Failure to do so will result in a failure of the test.

1.6 Free-form fighting against one opponent

Next, the candidate will fight the CC or another nominated experienced fighter for 2 minutes, or longer at the CC’s discretion.

For the first 90 seconds, both fighters must acknowledge legitimate hits by saying ‘hit’, stepping back from thier opponent, and ‘re-setting’ before continuing to fight (e.g. you cann just say ‘hit’ and carry on attacking your opponent). The CC will indicate when 30 seconds remain. From then on, both fighters will ‘take hits’: a legitimate hit must be responded to, with the one hit acting injured and the other moving in to ‘kill’ with ‘deadly character’. Mutual hits will be recognised but will not result in a ‘kill’ and the fighters should continue after ‘re-setting’.

This part of the test will be conducted in a designated area mimicking the ropes between the display/battle and the audience, testing the candidate’s awareness. The opponent will try to force the candidate and/or their weapon(s) out of this area. The candidate must use circling, etc. to prevent themselves, their opponent or either party’s weapon(s) from going outside of the area.

At some point, the opponent will, without warning, use incorrect hits (e.g. hitting too hard or hitting a non-designated zone). The candidate must react safely and appropriately to this: they must not respond with incorrect hits or act out of character but may acknowledge the hit as wrong (e.g. by saying ‘elbow’ when a hit was intended for the upper arm but hit too low), back off or (if safe) allow the opponent to deliver a ‘killing blow’ and act ‘dead’.

In ‘dying’/‘death’, the candidate must consider the surrounding battlefield and act to protect themselves and others, e.g. by keeping weapon(s) in hand, protecting themselves with their shield (if appropriate), etc.

Failure to act safely and with ‘deadly character’ throughout the ≥2 minutes, responding appropriately to hits and unsafe actions by the opponent, will result in failure of the test.

The candidate must demonstrate that they know the rules resulting in ‘death’ may change depending on the display / battle script, e.g. a select band of warriors may be ‘invincible’ until their leader dies in a scripted fight and thus these opponents will not respond to legitimate hits with ‘death’.

1.7 Free-form fighting against another candidate

The candidate will fight another candidate for 2 minutes in continuous combat. If there is only one candidate taking the test the CC will select a suitable experienced member as an opponent. If this occurs, the experienced fighter will not fight to the maximum extent of their abilities, but to a suitable level to test the candidate.

As above, this part of the test will be conducted in a designated area with hits in the first 90 seconds acknowledged by saying ‘hit’ etc. and hits in the last 30 seconds acknowledged with ‘death’.

As above, failure to act safely and with ‘deadly character’ will result in failure of the test.

1.8 Free-form fighting against multiple opponents

The candidate will fight the CC and / or other nominated experienced fighters for 2 minutes, or more at the CC’s discretion, to test their abilities to respond to multiple opponents. As above, this part of the test will be conducted in a designated area and excessive backing off / retreating as opposed to circling will be deemed to be failing the test due to the restrictions of space on a battlefield.

The first 90 seconds will consist of continuous combat against both / all opponents with fighters acknowledging hits by saying ‘hit’ etc. In the final 30 seconds fighters will acknowledge hits with ‘death’.

As when fighting a single experienced opponent, the opponent(s) will, without warning, use incorrect hits and will try to force the candidate and / or their weapon(s) out of the designated area.

As above, failure to act safely and with ‘deadly character’ will result in failure of the test.

Show report: Grand Medieval Melee at Cardiff Castle – 16th & 17th August

Cooking display by the Garrison
Cooking display by the Garrison

We have had a very enjoyable weekend at Cardiff Castle taking part in the Grand Medieval Melee; it’s one of the biggest shows of the year for us and we had a great turn out. We were lucky that the Welsh weather, which had been pretty miserable all week, smiled on us and we had lots of sunshine.

Garrison gave several public demonstrations, including cookery, arms and armour, fourteenth-century crafts and clothing, and archery open to the public.

We all had a really great time, and thank you to all of the public who came and had a chat with us and to our lovely members who put on a brilliant encampment and manned the have-a-go archery.