In April of 2008, the British government introduced legislation against the production, sale, or importation of samurai and medieval replica swords, as part of a "wider strategy to tackle serious violent crime," says a BBC news report.
The ban makes sense, especially since the United Kingdom is facing an increase in sword-related crimes. Just this year a boy was murdered by a Lord of the Rings replica sword, and as it has become increasingly more difficult to acquire a gun in the United Kingdom, either legally or illegally. Authorities in the UK have long worried that the increase in violent crime will have negative consequences regarding prospects for travel to the United Kingdom and have appropriately taken action. Despite the ban, exemptions have been put in place to allow collectors, filmmakers, martial arts dojos, and historical re-enactors to utilize the blades for either commercial or entertainment purposes.
Oddly enough, the banning of replica swords coincides with the emergence of "living history" events in the United Kingdom such as Medieval and Renaissance fairs, battle re-enactments, and jousting and archery competitions. One British internet user noted, (rather snobbishly, I assume), "We have stone castles, we don't need to build them out of plywood for a droll fair like in the States;" but that didn't begin to answer my original question, which was why they have exploded in popularity as replica swords have more or less disappeared. Perhaps as swords have vanished from public life, the Brit's have realized an essential part of their culture and history is disappearing and must be preserved through some sort of bizarre time-warp festival so swords won't be forgotten?
America has quite the opposite problem.
Regardless of the reason, dozens of fairs celebrating Britain's Viking Period, the Norman Invasion, and the daily life of an English peasant can be found throughout England, Scotland, and Wales. Like in the US, you'll be dodging flying turkey legs, throwing axes and knives for fun, and be harassed by village drunks draped in burlap, seeking another swig of swill. Although UK law prevents anyone other than professional re-enactors from sporting swords, sabers, or scimitars on their hip, anyone can visit a period blacksmith at a fair and purchase various other medieval gizmos and gadgets that will prove a superb gift, as well as being highly useful to the right recipient.
Somewhat historically accurate, semi-professional blacksmiths that once made a living producing £40 replicas for teenagers have re-branded their trade. Those who found themselves out of a job after the banning of replica swords have turned to "living history" events as an outlet to sell their products, producing very high quality knife blades for cooking, as well as high quality chain mail, which is used by fish processors, prep cooks, and divers. The Tewkesbury Medieval Festival, widely regarded as the largest free medieval gathering in Europe, attracts re-enactors, entertainers, tourists, traders and artisans including blacksmith collectives producing high quality steel and iron cooking utensils, including knives, silverware, and pots and pans.
Autumn is now upon us, which means it's the most popular season for Renaissance and Medieval Fairs, so time to start planning your Renaissance-themed road trip (sadly Auto Europe doesn't rent horses or donkey-driven carts. A Renaissance or Medieval Fair provides retail therapy, along with story telling, dancing, juggling, sword fighting, and delicious beers, ales, ciders, meads, and lagers, and generally family-friendly fun. All in all, a trip to a "living history" event in 2014 means a chance to purchase incredibly high quality steel goods from experienced blacksmiths, while adding education, entertainment, and sword-play to your travel itinerary.
All photographs courtesy of: Boykov / Shutterstock.com