Custom contrived: King Harold’s Day at Waltham Abbey

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King Harold Day is a good example how a custom can be made to capitalise on a local areas famous offspring and in a way question why it had not been done before. Waltham Abbey is the sort of small town nestled on the outskirts of the great conurbation of London which could easily be overlooked, lose its identity to a dormer satellite of that great city. A place where its own identity and the celebrating thereof is largely overshadowed by its larger neighbour.

King Harold, the loser of the famous battle of Hastings is perhaps an obvious choice – a victim of fortune and the sort of ‘loser’ the British oft like to celebrate and remember. However, despite the marking of his grave in the ruins of the local abbey, the first time it would appear Harold was celebrated in 2004, being developed from various sources as the event website describes how:

“Elaine Fletcher and Tricia Gurnett, who both used to work in the area, decided they would like to do something to promote the rich history of this ancient town.   They soon found that Isabelle Perrichon, owner of the historic tearooms in the town and a French national, had the same idea, and had spoken to the Rector at the Abbey Church, who had asked Dave and Sheila Giles to represent the Church on the group.   The sixth person who joined was Garth Gregory, a local amateur dramatics enthusiast.   This little group put together the first event.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LnKDwUsSWnA

2016 was a big year for the festival marking the 950th anniversary of 1066 the events were as follows:

“ We began with Compline for a Coronation in the Abbey on the 6 January 2016. During the year we went on to have a major exhibition at the Museum on King Harold II, his Life and Legacy. We welcomed English Heritage’s 1066 March to the town when armoured horsemen rode at some speed through gridlocked traffic to the Abbey and we then re-enacted King Harold praying at the Holy Cross of Waltham before continuing his journey to Hastings. Then we had the 2016 King Harold Day. This was followed by a Day Conference held at the Town Hall, and organized by the Museum, which attracted renowned speakers on King Harold, the Bayeux Tapestry and the 1066 story. Finally there was a talk on King Harold at the Museum.”

The event is a colourful addition to the roster of commemoration and re-enactment types of events which the British do so well. With the march through the town and the King praying at the cross one could clearly see in these busy modern streets how Waltham Abbey’s great history was a rich one.

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