Historic castle event is strangled by red tape

John Waller photographed at Berkhamsted Castle. Photo: Sam Pearce
John Waller photographed at Berkhamsted Castle. Photo: Sam Pearce
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Hopes to mark 950 years of Berkhamsted Castle’s rich history have been dashed due to bureaucratic red tape.

This year the motte and bailey castle is celebrating two anniversaries: the 800th year since the siege and surrender to the forces of Louis the Lion of France in 1216, plus the surrender of the Saxons to William the Conqueror after the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

But plans for a big event on June 11 and 12 to mark the dates could be in jeopardy after English Heritage, which owns the castle, told organisers it was too short notice.

Local campaigner John Waller, who is passionate about the town’s history, said: “Berko is where the crown of England was handed over to The Duke of Normandy – from here he travelled to London and was crowned King of England in Westminster Abbey.

“Quite momentous – this happened no where else in the country but Berko, so it’s unique, special and should be remembered.”

In the past there have been fetes and pageants within the castle grounds, and this year Berkhamsted History Society wanted the Medieval Siege Society to re-enact what happened back in 1216.

But English Heritage – which owns and maintains the site – said the time frame was ‘too tight’ and site damage from tent pegs must be considered.

John, 73, said: “There was going to be a trebuchet with cabbages flying all over the place, giving people a real taste of what happened – rather than just telling them, ‘on this spot in 1216,’ and having them imagine it.

“But English Heritage say they have no experts on trebuchets. If that’s the case, then they are not the right people to be looking after the heritage of this country. Are they ignoramuses?

“They say they’re worried about health and safety, but no one is going to burn to death in Berkhamsted Castle are they?

“Worst case scenario, you can go down the moats.”

A spokesman for English Heritage said: “We would like to see a re-enactment event at the castle but the timings are just too tight to turn it around for this June.

“With an event like this, we need a comprehensive plan in place, to cover 
everything from assessing the risk of damage to the castle to managing the traffic.

“We are talking to the society about holding the event next summer instead.”