PLANS have now been finalised for an exciting programme of activities which take place across four days next month to celebrate the life of Tamworth’s Lady of the Mercians, Aethelflaed.
Tamworth’s Aethelfest takes place between July 12 and July 15 and includes a whole range of events, such as an Anglo-Saxon themed family fun day, the unveiling of Tamworth’s largest ever piece of community art, guided tours, talks and an academic conference weekend drawing scholars, authors and delegates from across the world.
Tamworth Borough Council has produced a 12-page brochure listing all the activities which has now been distributed across the region, with copies going to motorway services, train stations, supermarkets, airports, tourist information centres and visitor attractions, including in all of Aetheflaed’s fortified Mercian towns, with the hope of attracting visitors to join in the celebrations.
Copies are also available at locations throughout Tamworth including at the Tourist Information Centre in Marmion House in Lichfield Street, Tamworth Library and Tamworth Heritage Hub in Middle Entry. It is also available online at the www.aethelflaed.co.uk website.
Aethelfest is being led by Tamworth Borough Council in partnership with a range of organisations to celebrate the life of one of the most powerful and influential women in Anglo-Saxon England. Daughter of King Alfred the Great, Aethelflaed played a key role in defending the ancient kingdom of Mercia against Viking invaders and spent much of her time in Tamworth as a seat of royal power.
She took her last breath in the town 1,100 years ago in June 918. This anniversary is being marked with a range of activities, all designed to raise awareness of this ‘warrior queen’ and Tamworth’s role in her eventful reign.
Commemorations began with the unveiling of a six-metre statue of Aethelflaed on a roundabout outside Tamworth Railway Station, where she points visitors to the town centre, and continued with a national commemorative service at St Editha’s Church. This was organised by Tamworth and District Civic Society, marking the anniversary of the day Aethelflaed died 1,100 years ago, and was attended by hundreds of civic dignitaries, TV personalities, authors, historians and HRH Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex.
This historic occasion will be followed by the four-day Aethelfest extravaganza. Much of the family fun takes place on Saturday, July 14, with a Saxon encampment in the Castle Grounds, including toys and games, coin and parchment making, crafts, storytelling, a crown making workshop and more. There will also be a Saxon Living History event at Tamworth Castle (normal admission charges apply), where visitors can learn about Aethelflaed, find out about Saxon battle tactics, take their place in a shield wall and dig for artefacts.
At the centre of the fun day will be the live unveiling of Mercian Mosaic – Tamworth’s largest ever piece of community art. Over the past 18 months, volunteers have been busy decorating 1,400 yard square tiles which will be brought together for the first time on July 14 to reveal a large Anglo-Saxon-themed mosaic which will be laid out on the lower lawn of the Castle Grounds (weather permitting). People are invited to watch as the mammoth project takes shape during the course of the day.
Aethelflaed’s part in history is of also great interest to historians, scholars and academics across the world and will be explored in depth during a weekend conference to be held in Tamworth as part of the anniversary events.
Scholars from UK and international universities will descend upon the town for the July 13-July 15 conference for a full programme of lectures, exploring themes such as women and political power in early Medieval Britain, the re-making of Mercian rulership, the origins of St Editha’s Church, the uncontested succession of Aethelflaed’s daughter as an exceptional example of female succession, and Tamworth in the Domesday book. There will also be a photographic exhibition on Mercian landscapes, accompanied by a lecture about Anglo-Saxon influences on modern authors such as J.R.R Tolkien. Delegates are already confirmed from the United States, Canada and Europe.
The conference is being co-ordinated by scholars from Keele, Chester and Manchester universities and a limited number of tickets are available at www.aethelflaed.org.
A variety of local talks and lectures will also be held throughout the weekend for members of the public interested in the subject, including the Tamworth and District Civic Society Annual Lecture with TV historian Michael Wood and Tamworth Literary Festival talks with archaeologist, writer and broadcaster Martin Carver and a panel discussion with authors Dr Sara Reid, Annie Whitehead, Marianne Whiting and Dr Jennifer Evans. Author Dr Margaret Jones will also be discussing her new book ‘Founder, Fighter Saxon Queen Aethelflaed’ at an event at Tamworth Library, which is also hosting an Aethelflaed display.
Other events include a special guided walking tour of Anglo-Saxon Tamworth with the Guild of Town Guides and a new Aethelflaed Ale, called ‘Our Aethel’ which has been brewed by Tamworth Brewing Co in Market Street.
A variety of Aethelflaed merchandise has also been commissioned to mark the anniversary and will be available to purchase from Tamworth Tourist Information Centre in Marmion House, Tamworth Castle and at a merchandise tent which will be in the grounds on Saturday, July 14.
Cllr John Chesworth, Tamworth Borough Council’s Cabinet member for Culture and Operational Services, said: “We know that Tamworth has a very long and rich history, and especially as the capital of the ancient kingdom of Mercia. We also know that Aethelflaed played a key role in laying the foundations for a united kingdom of the Anglo Saxons. She spent much of her time in Tamworth, even raising her nephew Aethelstan here, who is acknowledged as being the first king of that united England.
“That’s why the town has been chosen as the perfect location for the academic conference where the story of Aethelflaed will be further researched and discussed.
“As a town we have come together to go all out to mark this occasion. It’s not just about celebrating our heritage, it’s also a fantastic opportunity to raise the profile of Tamworth and maybe attract visitors who have either never heard of us before or were not aware of all the place has to offer.
“The Aethelfest programme is being co-ordinated by a range of organisations all working together towards this common goal. It really does have something for everyone, whether that’s finding out more about this key part of our history, joining in some family fun, or watching the live unveiling of one of our largest ever pieces of community art. I hope lots of people take the opportunity to come out and take part in Aethelfest.”
For more information, please visit www.aethelflaed.co.uk.