The festival, now the largest in Britain dedicated entirely to history, started out as just 12 events in the Chalke Valley near Salisbury. Highlights included talks from Peter Snow, Professor Gary Sheffield, Michael Wood, Patrick Bishop, Michelle Paver, John Julius Norwich, Col Tim Collins and Juliet Gardiner.
The festival has gone from strength to strength is is now known as the Glastonbury of history festivals.
Wiltshire SP5 5DP
Follow the signs to the Festival rather than your SatNav
Nearest train station: Salisbury
Find out more about the 2022 festival
2020 of course marks the 75th Anniversary of VE Day as well as the 80th of Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain, and we will be holding special 1940 and 1945 days, including talks, discussions and demonstrations. It’s also an important year for the Festival itself as it celebrates its 10th anniversary. To get everybody into the party spirit this year, there will be some exciting new changes to the Festival line-up, including a vaudeville theme, live music in the bar every night, and a beautiful new Spiegeltent.
Brand-new themes for 2019:
Exploration: how exploration and navigation has changed, demonstrating the techniques of the Vikings, Tudor explorers such as Drake and Raleigh and also Captain James Cook.
Historic Home: exploring the changing ways in which we live. From the Vikings to the Age of Chivalry and from the Tudors to the Stuarts, living historians will be showing how clothing and dressing has changed over the centuries, and how cleanliness and attitudes to hygiene have also progressed.
Historic Farming: a major theme for this year, demonstrating a wide variety of different rural crafts and farming techniques, comparing ancient to modern day, from sheep driving, traditional sheering, haymaking and a series of connected skills from a wheelwright to hurdle maker to traditional blacksmithing.
The Royal Anglians: the Festival weekend falls on Armed Forces Day, which this year will be centered round the local cathedral city of Salisbury. To tie in with this event, the Festival will play host to over twenty current British Army infantrymen from the Royal Anglian Regiment who will be transformed into British infantry from 1944. Using their current skills, they will be demonstrating both what has changed in the intervening years and what has remained much the same with a series of events that will showcase equipment, weapons, tactics and infantry skills.
This summer the new ‘Live History Live’ programme – a series of some 50 events at the weekend – will offer visitors the chance to see, touch and feel history first hand. Free for all those already attending the Festival, each event will be presented by a leading historian who will be adding context to the specialist knowledge offered by expert living historians, who will be demonstrating a wide and fascinating range of activities, from historic cookery to surgery, using techniques and materials from the past.
Also new for 2018, the Festival will be celebrating its ‘Chalke Valley History Heroes’. The Chalke Valley has in the past been home to some notable local figures and, to shine a light on their extraordinary lives, there will be a series of inspiring talks about the antiquarian and historian, John Aubrey, photographer and designer Cecil Beaton, authors Terry Pratchett and William Golding, artist Henry Lamb and former Prime Minister, Anthony Eden.
The 2017 Chalke Valley History Festival moved site to Church Bottom in Broad Chalke – a hidden gem lying amidst ancient chalk pasture and narrow coombes. The new site is now closer to the City of Salisbury than the previous location and it has better access routes. Festival Programme Director, James Holland, said: “We’re obviously sad to be leaving Ebbesbourne Wake, as we’ve had five happy years there. But Church Bottom is also an absolutely stunning spot and still in the heart of the Chalke Valley, two factors we believe are of vital importance.” Read more about Chalke Valley History Festival 2017
1st July 2016 marked the centenary of the Battle of the Somme and this important date was commemorated with a number of exciting events and projects, including the recreation of a section of First World War trench at the Festival site which was as authentic in size, dimensions, and materials as possible.
The 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death was also marked.
Following the success of 2015’s Victory Party, there was again a big ‘history-themed’ Blitz Party on the Saturday night.
Speakers included: Actor Damian Lewis (Homeland), Jeremy Paxman, Bill Nighy, a trio of Snows (Dan, Peter and Jon), Antony Beevor, Artemis Cooper, Sir Max Hastings, Richard Dawkins, Ian Hislop, Menzies Campbell, Kate Adie, Michael Morpurgo, ITN’s Tom Bradby, Lucy Hughes-Hallett, Tristram Hunt, Philip Mould (from the Antiques Roadshow), Simon Jenkins, Jung Chang, cricketer David Gower, Douglas Hurd, Haydn Gwynne, Lord Owen and John Julius Norwich.
For children and families there were events such as: A History of the World in 60 Minutes by Christopher Lloyd; Theseus by Tom Holland; The Roman Mysteries by Caroline Lawrence; Horrible Histories by Martin Brown (always popular!); Zombie Origins: A History of Disease by Charlie Higson; War Horse & Private Peaceful: Writing about WW1 by Michael Morpurgo; and A History of Britain Show by The Pantaloons
At the Living History sessions over the weekend, there was also plenty for children such as the ever popular sword school and have-a-go-archery, a Mary Rose display, an Anglo-Saxon settlement, the return of the WW1 trench experience (to tie in with the 100th anniversary), WW11 weapons demonstrations, combat displays, Georgian military displays, and even jousting for the first time.
The schools programme was over 3 days, rather than 2. With a day for Y6 primary schools added on the Wednesday now.
The air displays were over 2 days this time (Saturday and the Sunday). Planes included B-17 Sally B (Saturday & Sunday), Hurricane Mk I R4118 (Sunday), The Normandy Duo (Saturday), Rolls-Royce Heritage PR Spitfire XIX (Sunday) and Battle of Britain Memorial Flight C-47 Dakota (Saturday)
The 2013 programme, was even bigger than 2012, and included not only the top historians in the country, but also an expanded Living History element, the inaugural Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Festival Air Show, the return of the Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Prize, and a brand new Schools Festival.
Speakers included Boris Johnson, Sebastian Faulks, Joanna Lumley, Neil Oliver, Dan Snow, James Holland, Ian Hislop, Don McCullin, Michael Wood and Paddy Ashdown.
For the first time, the Festival played host to the Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Festival Air Show. Taking part in the event on the Saturday afternoon, set against the magnificent back-drop of the Chalke Valley hills, were historic aircraft such as Spitfires, Hurricanes, Mustangs, and Messerschmitts, with displays by The Old Flying Machine Company and The Great War Display Team. The Festival also welcomed flying legend Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown, the former Royal Navy officer and test pilot who has flown more types of aircraft than anyone else in history, who gave a talk after the air show.
The Festival had a wide array of historical periods on show, but also drew upon the very best re-enactors and historical interpreters in the country, who all believe passionately in educating and bringing history and the past to life. The Living History programme this year was bigger and better, and included encampments representing various different periods of history. Back by popular demand was Sword School and Have-a-Go-Archery, as well as a new immersive First World War Trench experience. There were firing demonstrations, drills and skirmishes in the new Battle Arena throughout the weekend, and a re-enactment of the Battle of Vitoria on Sunday 30th which was an incredible spectacle.
Co-Chair James Holland said: “The aim of the Festival is to inspire and excite people about our incredibly rich and varied history. It’s wonderful to be able to have some of the most brilliant historians in the land coming to the Festival, but it’s also thrilling to see some of the most iconic aircraft that have ever flown performing here too. The mixture of lectures, black powder and Merlin engines makes this Festival unique.”
Following its huge success in 2012, the Daily Mail Chalke Valley History Prize came back for its second year – this time in partnership with Penguin Books. A national historical writing competition for teenagers, the prize aims to help young authors develop not only important writing skills but also a love and passion for history. The Festival had a new judging panel for 2013 which included bestselling author Sebastian Faulks; one of our best-loved actresses, Joanna Lumley; comedian and author, Charlie Higson; historian and author, James Holland; literary agent, Mark Lucas; editor at Penguin UK, Alex Clarke; and senior teacher, James Petrie.
On the Monday and Tuesday of this the 2013 Festival was the launch of the first ever Schools Festival. Aimed at Year 10 and Year 12 students, and taking part over two days, it included a wide range of curriculum-based subjects delivered by eminent historians including Tom Holland, Laurence Rees, and Professor Michael Burleigh. From 1066, through the Tudors and the First World War, and the rise of the Nazis to the Second World War, the programme offered a series of lectures, seminars, living history and inter-active demonstrations, bringing history to life.
Elsewhere there were book signings arranged by Festival partner Waterstones, writing seminars, talks given by the team behind the recent discovery of the bones of Richard III, a brand new history quiz show, and a performance by Horrible Histories of ‘Barmy Britain’, the first time a London West End Show has ever been performed in a field in the middle of Wiltshire!
All Festival profits went towards the Chalke Valley History Trust Trust which was established to promote the understanding and importance of history to all ages and, in particular, to school children.
For 2012, the festival grew much bigger. Three venues (the William Golding Tent, the John Aubrey Tent and the Eden Arena) housed more than 50 events. The goal was to put ‘history’ back on the map. Influential and popular academics, writers and broadcasters such as Jeremy Paxman, Michael Morpurgo, Ian Kershaw, Amanda Vickery, Ian and Victoria Hislop, Sir Max Hastings, Antony Beevor, Tom Holland, Dan Snow, Simon Jenkins, and Michael Wood gave interesting insights into historical events and emphasising the importance that history plays in shaping our future.
There was a new living history arena for longbow demonstrations, French firepower displays, WW2 firing demonstrations, cavalry displays and more. The visual aspects enhanced the whole experience and lift history from the pages of books; putting the sights and sounds before your own eyes.
Also new for 2012 was the formation of both the Chalke Valley History Trust and the Chalke Valley History Prize. The Trust promotes history and the need to understand the past to those coming through the educational system, and the history prize is designed for young authors to show their historical writing skills. Michael Morpurgo led the judges in deciding an overall winner.