The forgotten anniversary: Re-enacting Battle of Hastings in 1966

Amid all of the hype and focus on the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings this weekend, another important anniversary was almost forgotten about.

Wednesday, 19th October 2016, 12:56 pm
Updated Friday, 8th June 2018, 12:09 am
Actors reliving the Battle of Hastings in 1966
Actors reliving the Battle of Hastings in 1966

Friday, October 14, marked 50 years since the very first time one of the most significant dates in English history was commemorated, in 1966.

Ken Higgs helped organise the re-enactment which was put on to celebrate the 900th anniversary of 1066 and said what he remembers most is the police’s under-estimations of how big it would be.

Officers refused to close Powdermill Lane for the event which was in a nearby field but they soon regretted it.

Ken Higgs, 88, helped organise the 1966 re-enactment

“The funniest thing about it all was the police’s attitude that we were going to get a maximum of 1,000 people and we said, ‘no we’re not we’re going to get a massive crowd,’ and we did! The roads were absolutely cluttered up,” he said.

“I didn’t see it as we were busy on site but everybody said that every approach road was filled with parked cars.”
It was so busy the mayor of Hastings got stuck in traffic and could not get there.

Ken reckoned more than 10,000 people turned up for the re-enactment, fought by students from Oxford and Canterbury universities and believed to be the first event to mark 1066 as he can find no trace of anything to mark a previous anniversary.

The 88-year-old retired architect, along with a few others from Bexhill Round Table, helped Battle celebrate the 900th anniversary with very little financial support.

The 1966 re-enactment was the first of its kind, according to Ken

Other than a sponsorship from Heinz beans, the group put together the re-enactment out of their own pockets and spent hours making weapons and armour and organising everything from the soldiers’ horses to tickets.

“We did put on quite a show for the time,” a very proud Ken said.

“I knew a friendly farmer who had a field on Powdermill Lane which was a great amphitheatre where people could sit on either side and in the middle we had the battleground.”

Ken believes around 6,000 men showed up to re-enact the famous battle with sideshows such as jousting and Saxon and Norman camps with the men’s wives sewing and cooking to stoke the public’s interest.

Ken has a book filled with pictures from the day

“When I was initially investigating what we could for armies, I approached the military and asked if some of the young soldiers could took part in the battle and the initial response was quite good but a general wrote back to me and said they could not allow schoolboys to take part so we had to go to the universities,” he said.

The event was so popular around £9,000 was raised which was used to buy equipment for the Conquest Hospital, a substantial amount for an event with little promotion, funding and expectation in the 60s.

The idea caught on as a Battle Round Table was set up from it as well as future re-enactments to mark 1066, and Ken feels proud to have kicked it all off.

Ken, whose wife Patricia died shortly before their 25th wedding anniversary in 2009, was invited to watch this weekend’s showcase at the abbey as well as dinner beforehand.

A local riding school provided horses for the battle

The grandfather said he was impressed with the costumes and the scale of the re-enactment, especially considering the rain which held off in 1966.

“They made quite a good effort of it despite the weather not being too good,” he said.

“They were somewhat better dressed because I think they borrow costumes but we made our own.

“I think the horses that took part were good too, we had a whole riding school taking part with us.

“I was glad that they took advantage of it and worked on it to a greater degree than we were able to as we had no funding for it except for Heinz who gave us a certain contribution.

“I just wrote around to several businesses and no one took any interest except Heinz.”

Ken has a book filled with pictures from the day, which remind of the feat he and his friends pulled off 50 years ago, something many people seem to have ignored amid the excitement of the 950th anniversary.

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