IF WE CAN all agree that the Chalke Valley History Festival takes place just the other side of the city boundary, then it can be added to the growing calendar of attractions Salisbury has to offer the visitor.

The festival proved an immediate success, and deservedly so, as it’s a serious enterprise featuring top speakers covering some fascinating corners of our history. Fortunately, the popular approach to historical research has blossomed in the last 40 years: days when my school took the easy option of not teaching the science students any history after the age of 14. Even then it was all about kings and queens, and squabbles between a few of these families. Most of our ancestors were peasants and the outcome of these wars was of little consequence to their lives.

Chalke Valley Festival can’t ignore this traditional aspect of history, and anniversaries abound this year. Waterloo, Agincourt - this an argument between one French family, the Plantagenets, and another that went on for more than a hundred years and five generations. It was a conflict ultimately lost by the ‘English’, thanks to one Jean d’Arc!

So even today, much popular history revels in sordid conflict, battles for land, wealth, and power. More interesting is the history of ideas, which can be revealed by studying the stories of science, literature and art. Uniquely, art’s primary historical sources can be viewed by anybody in any town or city museum.

It’s also 800 years since Magna Carta, which launched us on such a glorious path to enfranchisement that we have yet to achieve citizen status, and are still a subject nation. This brings up the matter of the ‘barons’, whose arrival I had been awaiting with trepidation. It turns out the decorative work is of good quality, but this still can’t hide the fact that the basic model design is ludicrous: comical without being amusing. Throughout the summer visitors will be given a strange impression of how seriously we take our heritage.

A little bit of local history worth celebrating is Fisherton Mill’s 21st anniversary, which is being marked from this Saturday with a retrospective show featuring many local artists who have exhibited there over the years.

I have said before that I am a fan of the Mill. It demonstrates how a creative environment can be economic and flourish in Salisbury, with a mix of cafe, studios, crafts and exhibitions. It’s yet to be seen who are the 21 artists they have chosen for the show, but I’ve learned that that my favourites Julie Ayton, Fred Fieber, and Ruth Dresman are among them.

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