The Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Festival, one of the UK’s most successful and popular summer events, returns this year from 26 June to 2 July. This unique festival looks set to attract huge crowds of all ages, with every visitor keen to soak up the sights, sounds and smells of the past, and eager to learn more about the history of years gone by, whilst improving their understanding of what is happening in the world today.
For the first time this year, the entire programme will be themed, enabling visitors to find the talks and events they are interested in more easily, and to also encourage a little curiosity too. The six distinct themes are: Environment, Conflict, Politics, Science and Exploration, Sport and Society and Culture.
Over the course of a week, the festival will host over 200 talks and panel discussions on leading issues of the past, present and future. These will take place across five fabulous venues: the 750-seater main tent, the 350-seater second tent, the Outdoor Stage, Speaker’s Corner – where speakers can talk in a more informal setting – and new for 2023, the Stove Tent, an intimate 100-seater in the round, with a central wood-burning stove – just perfect for cosy later-night events, a little live music and some atmospheric story-telling.
Festival-goers can expect to rub elbows with some of the most fascinating and accomplished historians and performers around. The line-up this year is truly impressive, featuring big names like Michael Morpurgo, Antonia Fraser, Ian Hislop, Antony Beevor, Tracy Borman and and Charlie Higson.
Household names such as Simon Sebag Montefiore and Antonia Fraser will be taking to the stage in the speaker tents, whilst some of the most talented and vivacious historians, raconteurs and actors will be entertaining the crowds with a blend of inclusive hands-on activities and demonstrations. Just one of the big draws in the programme will be former Prime Minister John Major who will be talking about politics, both past and present. The BBC’s International Editor, Jeremy Bowen, will also be making his festival debut when he discusses the making of the modern Middle East, and Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee is bound to fuel debate as she examines the true state of class in Britain.
Want to learn about the current War in Ukraine and Putin’s Russia? Interested in busting myths about Charles I’s wife Henrietta Maria? Curious about the dramatic story of women of the American West? Or if you want to reminisce about Ashes series gone by, there’s former England cricket captain Mike Brearley. Or if you want to find out more about the Abbey Road studios with David Hepworth, or hear the astonishing inside story of Colditz with Ben Macintyre, then the festival is the place to be this summer.
Parents can enjoy hearing from TV presenter and distinguished gardener, Alan Titchmarsh, while their kids are put through their paces at the SOE Training Camp, learning about unarmed combat, weapon handling, and code work. Even Tracy Chevalier, the author of the international sensation “Girl with a Pearl Earring,” is making her festival debut to talk to the ever-popular Dan Snow.
War buffs will love the special mornings devoted to The Cold War and The Second World War. These two events will include live firing of a 3.7-inch heavy anti-aircraft gun, and a discussion about Britain and the nuclear threat, as well as a welcome return to the festival by 102-year-old veteran Mosquito bomber pilot Colin Bell. Or maybe you’d prefer some light-hearted WW2 chatter with James Holland and Al Murray as they record a ‘live’ edition of their We Have Ways of Making You Talk podcast.
James Holland, Chair of the festival, said: “This is a more integrated programme than ever before, and one that reflects the extraordinary times in which we’re living. We want everyone who comes here to have a brilliant time, and to enjoy themselves, because there’s such an incredible range of things to see and do. But we also hope they’ll be able to learn a great deal as well, and that our events will help people to contextualise what’s happening in the world right now.”
Having received a standing ovation in 2022, the festival welcomes back Bill Browder who returns to talk about Russian money-laundering, state-sponsored murder and surviving Vladimir Putin’s wrath. For those who are keen to learn more from World War II veterans, two remarkable ladies will be sharing their memories on the stage this time: Betty Webb will be recounting tales of her codebreaking work at Bletchley Park, and Olga Henderson will explain what life was like as a child in a prisoner of war camp.
Dr Kate Vigurs, who became a huge festival-favourite last year, will be capturing the audience’s imagination again, this time with some astonishing women’s stories from history. Meanwhile, over in the speaker tent, ground-breaking writer Peter Frankopan will discuss his major history of how a changing climate has dramatically shaped the development and demise of civilisations across time.
Each day around the festival site, throughout the day and evening, performance artists will be sharing their enthusiasm and knowledge about their chosen subjects. Back-to-back entertainment, for all the family, will include Edwardian Adventurer Adam Schuch-des-Forges who will be regaling the crowds with his alter ego’s hilarious (mis)adventures from the Golden Age of Exploration.
The Chalke Valley History Festival for Schools will take place on Monday 26 and Tuesday 27 June and will feature a wide range of curriculum-based subjects, delivered by the very best historians in the land. Speakers include Tracy Borman on Anne Boleyn and Elizabeth 1, Jeremy Jennings on the French Revolution and Hallie Rubenhold on the untold lives of women killed by Jack the Ripper. Over 15,000 children have attended since the schools’ festival launch and each year more and more students are inspired to engage with history in new and exciting ways.
Huge living history encampments will be constructed around the festival site, and these will range from the Iron Age through to the Cold War. The Medieval encampment will be the centrepiece of the festival and is not to be missed. There will also be live music every day, special activities for children and families, as well as everything you’d expect from an English summer festival set in the glorious rolling chalk landscape of ancient Wessex: delicious locally-sourced food and drink, lots of shopping, more books to buy than you can shake a stick at, camping under the stars, and just the occasional crack of musketry, the thunder of hooves or the boom of cannon fire. The Chalke Valley History Festival is where history comes to life and where memories are made.
There’s a new Trench experience, where school children and adults alike can step back in time and experience the sights, sounds, and smells of World War II through the Oosterbeek Perimeter, where the British 1st Airborne valiantly held out with diminishing supplies during the Battle for Arnhem in September 1944.
During the festival weekend, visitors can expect to see the Medieval encampment, complete with a full joust and other activities and demonstrations. Watch skilled knights battle it out on horseback and learn about the history and culture of the Middle Ages. This year, kids can even build and test their own mini-trebuchets. Meanwhile, festival favourites will be sharing stories and historical facts and figures from across the centuries, including Max Hastings’ graphic new history of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, Michael Wood revealing the true story of The Trojan War, and Andrea Wulf talking about her eye-opening biography of the first Romantics.
As Festival Director Jane Pleydell-Bouverie says, “This festival has something for everyone, from the most serious historian to the casual observer who just wants to soak up the atmosphere and have a good time.”
There will be live music throughout the festival, with each day focusing on a different era of 20th Century popular music. The line-up includes The Bluebirds, a stunning close-harmony trio passionate about keeping the vintage sound of the wartime years alive, Old Baby Mackerel who will recreate the music of the early 20th Century, and The Soul Strutters who will delight the crowds with their love of groove, disco, funk, soul and R&B from the ’70s.
So, if you’re looking for a fun and engaging way to immerse yourself in the sights, sounds, and smells of the past, look no further than the Chalke Valley History Festival. It’s a unique opportunity to experience history like never before.
Tickets can be bought via www.cvhf.org.uk
Over 200 fascinating talks, given by incredible historians and entitled ‘Chalke Talk’, can now be heard on the Chalke Valley History Festival podcast. These talks have been taken from more than a decade of festival appearances.