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Medieval Period



Very little documentary evidence has survived regarding leisure and entertainment in medieval Dartford. One can only speculate that, as with other medieval towns, saints’ days and national events would have been celebrated by most of the local populace. Religious festivals were accompanied by miracle plays, processions, and feasting; secular occasions and the annual fair presented the ideal opportunity for bawdy merry-making and sports and games which included archery, bowling, dice, hammer-throwing, quarter-staff contests, quoits, skittles and wrestling.

The Midsummer Solstice (23 June), the feast of the Eve of St. John, was celebrated in most towns, and was marked by feasting, drinking, playing bawdy games, building bonfires, carrying torches and rolling burning wheels down hillsides. In some towns, houses were decorated with garlands. Christmas was the other great celebration characterised by wassails, feasts, gift giving, and mummers (dancers). Christmas was the time for the lords of misrule; one of the lowly peasants of the manor was allowed to be lord for the day and order feasts and entertainments for his fellow peasants.

St Swithun’s Day was traditionally an occasion on which to mark the richness of the harvest. There was bobbing for apples, races, currant bread and plums. On Lammas Day in August there were candlelit processions and bread was ceremoniously saved for the next year. Many of these celebrations were a survival from a remote pagan past, so the Church did its best to discourage them.


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Music was an important element in medieval life. Instruments included violins, drums, harps, lutes, organs, citoles, psalteries, flutes and horns. Minstrels and jugglers were often to be found in bands of travelling players.


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Medieval warfare produced entertainments, in the form of ritualised battles, known as tournaments or tourneys. Tournaments seem to have been invented in the eleventh century by Geofroyde de Preuilly. They were particularly a feature of French courtly life, and were far less popular in England except in the time of Edward III.

A tournament was a battle in which prisoners were taken and, although deaths could occur, they were chiefly symbolic re-enactments of the type of events that were taking place in reality. As time went on the tournaments became increasingly entertainments rather than practice wars, with music, dancing and betting.

The joust, liked by many in England, was a small-scale tournament which was increasingly popular from the fourteenth century. It was a one-to-one combat with any of a variety of weapons, carried out on horseback or on foot. Jousts were also indulged in as the opening of a tournament.


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Edward III, on his return from France in 1331, proclaimed a splendid international tournament on Dartford Heath or Dartford Brent in which his knights and nobles endeavoured to outdo other nations in military skill and magnificence. King Edward, who may have owned a fortified royal house in or near Dartford, ordered all the able-bodied knights of the realm to attend the Dartford tournament, presumably to ensure the success of the occasion. Edward III himself rode in the tournament at Dartford under the banner of William de Clinton. The tournament was the great sport of the upper classes. No doubt the local populace was invited to watch the Dartford tournament. Musicians, acrobats, jugglers and other performers would flock to the tournament to entertain the crowds and earn some money. By the late middle ages, rules had been written for tournaments, and the knight and his horse were so well protected that fatal incidents were comparatively rare.


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