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Top left Visitors to Torrington learn 17th century musketry drill. Top right The barber-surgeon gets to work in the aftermath of battle. Right Pike drill for some raw recruits.

Forgotten battle relived

Torrington, 1646. Did you know it was the last major battle of the English Civil War? The Parliamentarians were mopping up, but Ralph Hopton still had 5,000 men under arms for the King in the old Royalist stronghold of the West Country. He had taken station at the little North Devon town of Torrington, to which Thomas Fairfax marched to meet him with 10,000 men. The attack was launched on 16 February in weather wet and cold. The ends of the town streets had been blocked with great mounds of earth. Around midnight a skirmish at one of the barricades escalated as fresh troops were thrown in and the Royalist line collapsed. Hopton's cavalry reserve fled down the main street and started a general panic.

Torrington is now the site of an innovative visitor attraction. With around a million pounds of Rural Challenge funding, the almost-derelict Georgian Castle Hill Hotel and the totally-derelict Victorian

Pannier Market were bought, refurbished and converted into a major 'living history' experience. At first the idea was to try and be completely 'authentic'. But pike drill in the rain, even with costumed presenters speaking and acting in role, tested visitor enthusiasm. 'These days, the use of the word 'authentic' is banned,' explains Richard Simmons, the Manager of Torrington 1646 (aka Master Thomas Arkham, the noxious preacher). 'It is neither possible nor practical to be so. What we are trying to achieve is to give visitors an entertaining insight into what life was like for ordinary people during those troubled times.' So the emphasis now is on having costumed presenters speaking with accuracy and humour – about dress, arms, medicine, tactics, the battle itself – to visitors comfortably accommodated. Good costumes, enthusiastic staff, an impressive array of props, and a fine exhibition make this an interesting experiment in presenting the past to the general public.

Torrington 1646 is open every day from 10am to 3pm (last entry) except Sundays (and Mondays in December and January). It can be found at Castle Hill, near South Street Car Park, Great Torrington, Devon. Adult entry is £6.95, kids (over five) £4.75, concessions £5.95, families £19.50.

Smalltalk May-August 2007. Museum of London. New free exhibition: London’s Burning. Curator tours 3:00pm 17 May, 28 June, 26 July and 30 August. Explore the Great Fire, the most famous disaster in London’s history. Be transported back to September 1666 and discover what it was like to have your home and livelihood destroyed, and how a fire which claimed less than a dozen lives changed London’s cityscape forever. Using eyewitness accounts, dramatic video installation and a wide range of objects, London’s Burning brings to life real stories of how Londoners lived through the fire. For more information visit museumoflondon.org.uk or call 0870 444 3851.

6-12 May 2007. Stoney Cove. The Nautical Archaeology Society will run a diving phase at Stoney Cove to survey the quarry. In addition during the same period they intend to involve local history and archaeology groups in unravelling and interpreting the documentary and visible remains of the quarrying period. Contact Ian Barefoot, at the Society offices at Fort Cumberland, Portsmouth, or via email at Ian@nasportsmouth.org.uk (subject line should be ‘Stoney Cove Project’)

12 May 2007. Truro High School, Archaeology in Cornwall Day. An update on the latest research in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Speakers will include Tatjana Kymanntow, University of Belfast, Jaqui Mulville, Univesity of Cardiff, Charles Johns and Sean Taylor from the Historic Environment Service, Vanessa Straker, University of Bristol, Henrietta Quinnell and Tony Blackman. Cost £18/£20 to include coffee and light lunch. Further details available from secretary@cornisharchaeology.org.uk or by telephone at 013260280130.

12 May 2007. Major new exhibition opens by the Kent Archaeological Society at the Maidstone Museum & Bentlif Art Gallery, St. Faith's Street, Maidstone Kent ME14 1LH to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the founding of the KAS. Exhibition runs May-September. For more information, please call 01622 602838 or visit museuminfo@maidstone.gov.uk.

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