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CHF 2024

Our Top Picks for Chalke History Festival 2024

It's not long to go until Chalke History Festival 2024, and while some things about it might have changed, one thing that hasn't is a line-up of fantastic speakers. With well over two hundred speakers appearing over the week, from Monday 24 June to Sunday 30 June, as well as living history, performances and demonstrations, and a wealth of activities for children, the choice might be a little daunting. So here are our top picks to help you plan your week. All tickets can be purchased here.

Monday, 24 June

Hannah DurkinHannah Durkin - Survivors: The Lost Stories of the Last Captives of the Atlantic Slave Trade

In July 1860, more than half a century after federal law banned the importation of captive Africans and just nine months before the beginning of the American Civil War, the last slave ship, Clotilda, docked in Mobile Bay, Alabama. Dr Hannah Durkin tells the stories of the Clotilda slaves, following their lives from their kidnappings in what is modern-day Nigeria through a terrifying 45-day journey across the Middle Passage and their sale into slavery at the dawn of the Civil Rights movement. Of the 103 captives who survived the voyage, Matilda McCrear, the last of them, died in January 1940 at the age 83, just five years before the nuclear age. This is an astonishing, deeply compelling tapestry of history, biography and social commentary.

Adam Rutherford et al - The Seventh Son: The History of Humans

Adam RutherfordAfter millenniaThousands of years. of Homo sapiens imagining itself to be entirely unique, in 1856 we discovered another sort of human: the NeanderthalsAn extinct species (or subspecies) of human who lived in Eurasia between up to 600,000 years ago (the first 'true' Neanderthals being from around 250,000 years ago) and about 40,000 years ago. They lived alongside modern humans and interbred with them.. And in the twenty-first century another, and then another. The scientific impact of these discoveries was immense, and today thanks to new molecular techniques in archaeologyThe study of the things humans have left behind. See 'Some Notes of Archaeology'. and genetics these ancient relations still beguile us, representing something at once so alike but also different; extinct, yet with a legacy of surviving DNAHolds the genetic code to all living things, and is passed down to children from their parents. in all living people. This 'philosophy of Neanderthals', a point of cultural and existential fascination, has always existed at the intersections of science and literature, and this conversation will explore the history of such ideas. Sebastian Faulks, Adam Rutherford, and Rebecca Wragg Sykes discuss what Neanderthals tell us about our origins and nature, about evolution and fate, and what it means to be the last surviving form of humanity.

Adam Rutherford and Sebastian Faulks will be at Chalke for just the day. However, Rebecca Wragg Sykes will also be part of a panel discussing 'The Tech Revolution' on Wednesday (see below).

Richard Whatmore - The End of Enlightenment

Richard WhatmoreThe Enlightenment is popularly seen as the Age of Reason, a key moment in human history when ideals such as freedom, progress, natural rights and constitutional government prevailed. In this radicalA person who advocates thorough or complete political or social reform, or a description of that change. re-evaluation, historian Richard Whatmore, Professor of Modern History at the University of St Andrews and Co-Director of the Institute of Intellectual History, argues that the Enlightenment was a profound failure for many. He traces the changing perspectives of economists, philosophers, politicians and polemicists, including figures as intellectually diverse as David Hume, Adam Smith, Edmund Burke and Mary Wollstonecraft who strived to replace superstition with reason, but witnessed instead terror and revolution, corruption, gross commercial excess and the continued growth of violent colonialism. Richard Whatmore will be in conversation with Ali Ansari, Professor of Iranian History and Founding Director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at the University of St Andrews.

Although Richard Whatmore is speaking only on Monday, Ali Ansari will be making appearances throughout the week, in conversation with other authors, in panel discussions, and on the recent history of Iran.

Tuesday, 25 June

Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook - The Rest is History Live Broadcast

Tom HollandDominic SandbrookThe inimitable, the unique, the phenomenon who are historians Tom Holland and Dominic Sandbrook join Chalke History Festival for a live broadcast of the hit podcast The Rest is History. The dynamic duo will interrogate the past and attempt to detangle the present. They will be questioning the nature of greatness, why the West no longer has civil wars and whether Richard Nixon was more like Caligula or Claudius. The entire human history, or as much as they can fit, distilled into about fifty minutes. And for those who can't fit into the tented talk, there is the option to watch it live-streamed onto one of the outdoor stage screens.

Tom Holland will be participating in a number of other talks and discussions throughout the week, including 'The Ultimate Bodyguard: Viking, Spartan or Samurai' with Christopher Harding and Justin Pollard (Saturday), and 'The Infernal Word: Notes from a Fallen Angel' with Dean of Salisbury Cathedral Nicholas Papadopulos (Wednesday).

Ronald Hutton - Britain's Pagan HeritageRonald Hutton

Happily sponsored by us!

Britain's pagan past, with its mysterious monuments, atmospheric sites, enigmatic artefactsObjects made by humans that are of historical interest., bloodthirsty legends, and cryptic inscriptions, is both enthralling and perplexing to us in the twenty-first century. In this gripping talk Ronald Hutton, Professor of History at Bristol University and a leading authority on ancient and medieval paganism and magic, explains and reveals the long development and enduring cultural significance of paganism, from the Paleolithic Era to the coming of Christianity.

Read our most recent interview with Ronald Hutton here.

Michael Wood et al - Power: The Leader

Michael WoodWhat is it about certain individuals that separates them from their fellows? What is the significance of the strong man – and woman – and what is the importance of hereditary and elected leadership? In the first in of a series of talks that look at who wields power in our society, Tim Bouverie, Michael Wood and Tracy Borman discuss the factors that enable certain individuals to emerge as leaders.

Michael Wood will be speaking on the same day on 'In the Footsteps of Du Fu, China's Greatest Poet'. Likewise, Tracy Borman will be enthralling the audience with 'The Secrets of the Royal Palaces'. Tim Bouverie will be in conversation with former President of Estonia Toomas Hendrik Ilves on Thursday.

Wednesday, 26 June

Autojeu Theatre - One-Man King ArthurAutojeu Theatre

You have never seen King Arthur quite like this. Autojeu Theatre, with their signature brand of physically comic storytelling, breathe new life into the legend of King Arthur. In this performance, a young boy navigates his destiny in uniting a divided Britannia, supported by his faithful knights and his moral compass, Merlin. Created by the team behind the off-Broadway 5-star hit Beowulf, this is not to be missed! Suitable for all ages.

Autojeu Theatre will also be performing on Tuesday.

Robert Lyman et al - The Tech Revolution: Bringing History into the Twenty-First Century

Robert LymanNewspapers today are awash with stories of the detrimental effects of screen time, the existential threats posed by AI and the people left behind as their jobs are replaced by robots. However, for historians, the tech revolution of the past years has brought about huge changes in both the way they research and communicate their findings. This panel of hands-on historians, Alex Hildred of the Mary Rose Trust, military historian Robert Lyman and archaeologist Rebecca Wragg Sykes, discuss how technology has made possible ground-breaking new discoveries and brings history to life in all kinds of exciting ways.

Alex Hildred will be discussing the Mary Rose with experimental archaeologists and ancient craft specialists Andrew Braund and Will Sherman on the same day. Robert Lyman will be in conversation with James Holland on Thursday, discussing the significant battles of 'Imphal and Kohima'. Rebecca Wragg Sykes is in a panel discussion looking at the history of humanity (Monday, see above). Read the review of Robert Lyman's most recent book, Victory to Defeat, here.

Al Murray - The Pub Landlord: The First Draught of History

Al MurrayStanding up so you don’t have to take it lying down any more, the Pub Landlord will be making his Chalke History Festival debut, making sense of the questions you already had the answers to. As we all know history is written by the winners: French history books are blank from cover to cover. In this Chalke History Festival exclusive, the Landlord takes a night off from his nationwide tour, Guv Island, and drinks deep from the first draught of history.

Al Murray will be coming directly from another appearance at Chalke History Festival, where he will be recording a D-Day special, live episode of hit podcast We Have Ways with James Holland.

Thursday, 27 June

Rachel DawickRachel Dawick - London Labour, London Poor: Voices of the East End

Folk musician and songwriter Rachel Dawick takes us on a voyage of discovery into the lives of the working class in East London during the 1840s. Her music draws on Henry Mayhew's London Labour and the London Poor, a four-volume compendium containing hundreds of interviews with the people of Victorian London. These voices from the past are now captured in song, offering a unique window into the lives of the people themselves - the mudlark, the queen's rat catcher, the ballast wives of London, and many more.

Michael Palin et al - History's Greatest Explorer? You Decide!

Michael PalinOver the centuries the British Isles have produced well above their fair share of legendary explorers. From Drake and Cook, to Livingstone and Speke, to Thesiger and Bell, these adventurous souls have written themselves into the history books by pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and endurance. But who should be crowned greatest of all? There are few better people to help decide than two of Britain’s greatest living explorers: Sir Michael Palin and Major Levison Wood. They will each advocate for their own chosen candidate, refereed by explorer Alex Bescoby, before their cases are put to you – the audience, for the final decision.

Michael Palin will also be talking on the same day about his great-uncle, Harry, during the First World War. Alex Bescoby will be discussing further humanity's need to travel on Sunday. 

Joyce Wilding and Kate Vigurs - Joyce Wilding: SOESpecial Operations Executive was a secret British espionage, sabotage, and reconnaissance unit working in occupied territory during the Second World War. FANYThe First Aid Nursing Yeomanry was formed in 1907 and is a British women's organization active in both nursing and intelligence work during the World Wars.

Joyce WildingKate VigursOne hundred-year-old Joyce Wilding was a member of the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry during the Second World WarA global war that lasted from 1939 until 1945.. Over 3,000 women worked for FANY on behalf of Special Operations ExecutiveSpecial Operations Executive was a secret British espionage, sabotage, and reconnaissance unit working in occupied territory during the Second World War., and Joyce's career was exemplary. Working as a driver and a wireless operator, her career culminated in working for SOE’s Camouflage Section. She would meet submarines and ships, pick up packages and take them to London – later realising she was handling documents and paperwork coming in from Occupied Europe to be forged for agents going into the field. Join SOE historian Dr Kate Vigurs, as she talks to Joyce about her wartime work and what it meant to have been part of such a remarkable organisation during the Second World War.

Kate Vigurs will also be talking on the role of the Maquis and SOE behind enemy lines in the run up to D-Day (Saturday), as well as performing throughout the week as the wonderful, ever-entertaining History's Maid (see below). Read our interview with Kate Vigurs here, and the review of her book on women working for the SOE in France, Mission France, here.

Friday, 28 June

Tobias Capwell and Robert Bartlett - The Middle Ages and the Movies

Tobias CapwellRobert BartlettEminent historian Robert Bartlett and historical film advisor Tobias Capwell take a fresh look at how our view of medieval history has been shaped by eight significant films of the twentieth century, from Mel Gibson’s Braveheart to The Seventh Seal and El Cid. They discuss the historical accuracy of these films, as well as how some were translated from page to screen. And, most importantly, just why is Monty Python and the Holy Grail so very funny?

Tobias Capwell will also be talking about his passion for the armour of the late-medieval English knight on Saturday. Robert Bartlett will be in conversation with Ali Ansari, also on Saturday, on the fate of medieval manuscriptsBooks, documents, or piece of musics written by hand rather than typed or printed. Later, pieces of work that have not yet been published.. Read our interview with Tobias Capwell here.


HistrionicsThe brilliant annual comedy history panel show is back this year with some familiar faces - Dan Snow and Alice Loxton - and some new ones too (Ben Willbond, Anuvab Pal) as the teams show off their deep historical knowledge under the watchful eye of Quiz Master Charlie Higson. Expect historical high jinks, merry mayhem and two teams playing the fool with more larks than the greatest of court jesters.

Dan Snow will be presenting 'The History Hit Guide to Medieval England' on Saturday (see below). Alice Loxton will be participating in a range of discussions on Friday and Saturday, including on eighteenth-century graffiti and rebellion, and magic and folklore in the early modern period. On the Friday, Ben Willbond will also be talking about the hugely successful BBC sitcom Ghosts. Charlie Higson will be talking further on both the Friday (discussing war movies with Antony Beevor and James Holland) and the Saturday (in a panel discussion, which also includes Alice Loxton).

Dan Jones and Calder Walton - The Deep State Through Time

Dan JonesCalder WaltonOne of the most popular conspiracy theories of our time is the existence of the 'deep state', in which an unelected cabal pull the strings of government to achieve their secretive agenda. Even Taylor Swift is implicated. According to a recent poll 1 in 5 Americans believing that she is tied to a deep state plot to re-elect Biden. However, the concept of the deep state is nothing new. Best-selling historian Dan Jones and Calder Walton, a world leading expert in intelligence and national security, discuss the deep state from the fourteenth century to the modern day, and examine to what extent the course of history has been influenced by this invisible force.

On Friday, Calder Walton will also be discussing 'Spies: The Epic Intelligence War between East and West'. Read our most recent interview with Dan Jones here.

Saturday, 29 June

James May and James Holland - The Car: Did We Get It Wrong?

James MayJames HollandJames May has spent a lifetime making an intimate study of cars: from the slow to the exceedingly fast, from luxurious to ultilitarian, small to large, old to space age. Having travelled the world and driven more types than almost anyone else on the planet – perhaps two others excepted – he has still has not decided whether we should ever have bothered driving any of them in the first place. He intends to have reached a conclusion by the time he walks on stage.

James Holland is exceptionally busy across the entire week at Chalke History Festival. As well as seeing him at the D-Day Morning and in conversation with a number of other historians on everything from cricket to farming, he will be speaking on his latest book, Cassino '44 (Friday). Read our interview with James Holland here.

Dan Snow and Matt Lewis - The History Hit Guide to Medieval England

Dan SnowMatt LewisJoin Matt Lewis and Dan Snow on a guided tour spanning more than five centuries of English medieval history, and witness spectacular changes in military, political and economic spheres. At home and overseas, England’s status and identity was in constant flux, and yet through it all, the nation withstood the turmoil of everything from the ninth-century attack of the Great Heathen Army to the year of three kings in 1483 – just. From the bit before 1066 – which matters just as much! – through to the Wars of the RosesA series of conflicts, during the second half of the fifteenth century, between two branches of the Plantagenet line: York and Lancaster. Over the course of 30 years the crown passed through several hands: Henry VI, Edward VI, Edward V, Richard III, and Henry Tudor. Most historians date the end of the Wars to Henry VII's victory at the Battle of Bosworth Field, although it can be argued that they actually finally finished during the sixteenth century., 'The History Hit Guide to Medieval England' charts the extraordinary development of a young nation that went on to emerge as a global superpower.

Dan Snow will also be participating in the hilarious festival staple, Histrionics (Friday, see above).

Jonathan Sumption and Frank McDonough - Courting Popularity: A Cautionary Tale from Hitler to Trump

Jonathan SumptionFrank McDonoughIn the late 1920s and early 30s, Hitler made great play of taking on Germany’s law courts and using these appearances to gain, rather than lose, popularity. At his side was his lawyer, Hans Frank, later the Governor of Nazi-occupied Poland. In this highly thought-provoking discussion, Supreme Court judge Jonathan Sumption and historian Professor Frank McDonough explore Hitler’s strategy and assess how Donald Trump is similarly able to convert criminal law cases to win him support for this year’s US presidential election. Chaired by Europe Editor and Presenter at Channel 4 News Matt Frei.

Jonathan Sumption will be talking on the same day about the Hundred Years' War. Matt Frei is a member of another panel discussion, on '2024: A Turning Point in History?', also on the Saturday. Frank McDonough will be speaking with Paul McGann on Sunday about Weimar culture. Read our interview with Frank McDonough here, and the review of his most recent book, The Weimar Years, here.

Sunday, 30 June

Rosalind CroneRosalind Crone et al - Surprising Victorians

BBC History Magazine’s David Musgrove talks to Victorian experts Bob Nicholson and Rosalind Crone about some of the stranger characters from the Victorian period, including a man who achieved fame by pushing a wheelbarrow from Land’s End to John O’Groats and started a wheelbarrow craze in 1887, plus the second most famous cowboy in Victorian Britain, and a world-renowned cartoon celebrity.

Violet MollerViolet Moller - Inside the Stargazer’s Palace: The Sixteenth-Century Transformation of Science

In 1543 Nicolaus Copernicus declared the earth revolved around the Sun, upturning centuries of scholastic presumption and the teachings of the Ancients. We now see this as the beginning of the Scientific Revolution, heralding a new age: disenchanted, sceptical and free from mysticism. But omens, elixirs and alchemy were never far away from observations of the natural world that still hold true today. Violet Moller lets us glimpse into the workshops, observatories and libraries that cultivated a multidisciplinary approach. As knowledge spread out from the church and technology took it across borders, nothing was beneath investigation.

Betty Webb et al - Our Secret War: Three Centenarians RememberBetty Webb

This is a unique opportunity to hear from three inspiring women veterans who signed the official secrets act and conducted their war in secret and in support of D-Day. Christian Lamb, Patricia Owtram and Betty Webb MBE, all between 101 -104 years old, will be in conversation with social historian and literary agent, Simon Robinson.

Throughout the week

History's MaidHistory's Maid

History’s Maid is a live historical interpretation company created by Dr Kate Vigurs (see above, Thursday). Returning to Chalke this year with her fabulous performances and incredible stories, History's Maid will take you on a journey through the Charge of the Light BrigadeA futile British light cavalry action against well-armed and well-prepared Russian forces during the Battle of Balaclava in the Crimean War, resulting in massive losses to the British. and the suffrageThe right to vote in elections. movement, to the Warsaw Rising and D-Day. A firm festival favourite who provides entertainment and education for the entire family.

Major Banger KingAdam Schuch-des-Forges

Actor and raconteur Adam Schuch-des Forges will introduce you to the most remarkable officer that you’ve never heard of: Major ‘Banger’ King. Join 2nd BattalionA military unit, typically consisting of between 300 and 800 soldiers. of the East Yorkshire Regiment as they train for D-Day, fight their way through the Norman countryside, face countless insurmountable odds, lead all the way by the amazing, extraordinary, the indomitable Major ‘Banger’ King. 

Wizzo’s Rip-Roaring History

Wizzo's Rip-Roaring TalesWizzo’s Rip-Roaring History is an old-time circus sideshow where the stars are the props and extraordinary stories. It’s all about TIME! Against the clock, Abs ‘Wizzo’ Wisdom brings his excitement for history front and centre to you! Think Heath Robinson meets Chitty Chitty Bang Bang and throw in a generous helping of audience participation and Crystal Maze eccentricityIn geological terms, this describes the Earth's egg-shaped orbit around the Sun. See 'A Brief History of Climate Change'.. Colourful? Yes. Educational? Certainly. Rip-roaring? Absolutely!


The Chalke History Festival will take place between 24 and 30 June at Church Bottom, Broad Chalke, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 5DP.

For more details about the festival, please visit the recently relaunched website.

Follow all the news on X at @ChalkeFestival, on Instagram at @chalkehistoryfestival and on Facebook.

All photos © Chalke History Festival.

Author Info

Debbie Kilroy

Having read history at the University of Birmingham as an undergraduate, where I won the Kenrick Prize, I worked as a trouble-shooter in the public sector until I took a career break in 2009. Thereafter, I was able to pursue my love of history and turn it into a career, founding Get History in 2014 with the aim of bringing accessible yet high quality history-telling and debate to a wide audience. Since then, I have completed a Masters in Historical Studies at the University of Oxford, from which I received a distinction and the Kellogg College Community Engagement and Impact Award. As well as continuing to write for and expand Get History, I am now a freelance writer and historian. I have worked with Histories of the Unexpected and Inside History, and my article for Parliaments, Estates and Representation won the ICHRPI Emile Lousse essay prize (2019).