The Levin Medieval Market

The Levin Medieval Market

There aren’t a lot of historical costuming events in New Zealand, and one that I’ve never managed to get to is the annual Levin Medieval Market.  Levin is only an hour and a half up the coast from Wellington, and I (finally) had the weekend free this year, so I decided it was time to go.

I put the word out to friends, and not only did Hvitr & Madame O put their hands up, Hvitr already had a 10th c Viking outfit, and Madame O committed to making a 1360s ensemble like mine if I’d help her with the pattern.  Juliet came down from Palmy, and we four went to the fair!

Very conveniently, Juliet’s parents live in Levin, so we Wellington girls headed off just past 7am (gah), drove up, met Juliet there, got dressed, and then headed out

I was warned ahead of time not to get too excited about how medieval the day would be: I was told to expect standard market fair with the Order of the Boar doing fighting demonstrations and a few other re-enactors.

The Levin Medieval Market

I’m really glad I had the warning, because it was very true.  It was a few reenactors, maybe 15 stalls with any real relation or attempt to be anything medieval, 30 stalls with handmade things ranging from fabulous to twee, and another 30 stalls selling imported tat.  And two stalls with plants that Juliet and I drooled over but couldn’t buy for reasons of practicality.

The Levin Medieval Market

There weren’t really any reenactors doing anything but battle-y stuff either, which was quite sad.  I would have loved to have seen a tent about food, or textiles and clothing.  (Psst, if anyone involved is reading this, if you’ll give us a tent or pavilion space like the one the musicians have down below, I’ll show up with 3-4 other people in 14th c dress and we’ll sit and sew and do clothing and sewing demonstrations all day!  We could probably even wrangle some food historians to talk about our lunch.)

The Levin Medieval Market

Much to my surprise, our group  had the most accurate medieval clothing  of all the women  I saw.  We ran into one person I know could have beaten us, but she’d worn her old first attempt for reasons of practicality.  We were all reasonable beginners in the era, so I was hoping for some really polished, impressive outfits, but alas, either everyone else focuses on other things, or they had all decided to save their outfits for a less hot day.

Even more to my surprise, we didn’t get asked questions about our outfits, or asked for photographs!  There weren’t many people dressed up, but I’ve still never felt more anonymous in period attire.  It was lovely, but very odd.  (I did have a tiny run-in with a costume snark (wearing totally modern cheap polyester clothes, natch) who sniffed because my outfit wasn’t entirely hand-sewn while I was chatting to a Morris dancer about how we were handling the heat while standing in line for the loo.  She then proceeded to declare that the Morris dancers outfit wasn’t right either.  C’est la vie!)

So now, the day in photos!

One of my  favourite stalls was a blacksmith who travelled around in his own caravan-house, with a portable forge, and…

The Levin Medieval Market

…wait for it…

The Levin Medieval Market

…his pet chickens!

The Levin Medieval Market

The chooks got let out of their coop at the market, and just wandered around, foraging in the very nice grass, and being adorable.

The Levin Medieval Market

We had lunch very near their stall, so we threw them a few bits from our picnic.

The Levin Medieval Market

We brought a full picnic, because while there were food stalls I (wisely) distrusted that they would have eats I would be enthusiast about.

We packed nice cheeses and breads and swamp dragon eggs (green and scaly with big hard round yokes) and fire dragon eggs (green and stripey and bright pinky-red inside) and rhubarb and ginger cordial, and Hvitr got ambitious and made delicious venison pies from a Medieval recipe:

The Levin Medieval Market

Yum, yum!

The Levin Medieval Market

Madame O bought amazing antique loom drops from when NZ had a larger textile production industry:

The Levin Medieval Market

I desperately wanted some (of course!) but couldn’t think what I would do with them.  As soon as I got home I realised I could have used them to make a really neat coat-hanging rack for our entry, which we really need!  Gah!

The Levin Medieval Market

Juliet admired beautiful NZ made wool blankets (but it was too hot for them to be really appealing):

The Levin Medieval Market

And both Juliet & I bought beautiful hand-whittled wooden spoons from a maker who was sitting there whittling as he sold.  We noticed them early in the day but decided we would come back for them later, and when we did we found the ones we wanted, with spiral handles, had already sold.  Alas!

Maker to the rescue: he took the ones we liked best, and quickly whittled in some spirals for us!  Now we have gorgeous spoons (mine is heading to my parents in Hawaii) and a great story!

The Levin Medieval Market

The best part of the market was after lunch, when the events had died down a bit, when we discovered that the horses from the medieval horseback demonstrations were just chilling in little stalls, and we could go pet and cuddle them:

The Levin Medieval Market

The Levin Medieval Market

The other best part was after the market, when we hung out in Juliet’s mum’s much cooler garden and took pretty pictures:

The Levin Medieval Market

The Levin Medieval Market

The Levin Medieval Market

The Levin Medieval Market

We have decided that the day was wonderfully fun, but next time we’re just going to have our own picnic, so we can get up at a more civilised hour, and pick a cooler location (where we don’t have to walk to the carpark).

And I have decided that wimples are where it’s at, because I forgot to apply sunscreen to my chest and got a rather nasty sunburn.  Ouch!


  1. It looks like it was a fun day despite the sunburn. Also, straw hats next time. You see straw hats all the time in farming illumination and in paintings. They help a lot with the sunburn issues.

    • Notice the part where I’m wearing a straw hat in the only picture of me at the market 😉 I just took it off for photos at the very end.

  2. You all look lovely. Glad to hear you had a nice time.

    And yes, wimple are made of awesome – protect against sunburn, keep you cooler in summer and warmer in winter, protect against dirt and muck, give you a convenient piece of fabric to cover your face with if working over a particularly smoky fire… the list goes on!

    Another good tip for hot days is to drench your veils/wimple in water before wearing and then regularly throughout the day. Much, much cooler!

    • Thank you!

      Yep, I did a bit of veil dampening, which was great, but it dried so quickly you never see it! Luckily (but unluckily) the Wellington area is having one of the worst summers since weather records began, so it was only around 22 degrees (though that feels more like 26 with the strength of the NZ sun), and there was a nice breeze, so it wasn’t too hard to stay cool.

  3. Sounds a lot like most “Renaissance Fairs” here in the U.S. A bit better actually, because you at least had a “few” reenactors, instead of hired jousters performing mostly for spectacle. But at least the four of you look great!

    • That’s what I was going to say. Most of the places I’ve seen with jousting it is very obviously scripted. Annoyingly so.

    • The Renaissance Faires I’ve been to in the US were a lot better, and a bit worse.

      The better was having way more interesting infrastructure (cool tents and booths, all of which you could get up to and see), and making it mandatory for all the stallholders to be dressed, vaguely relevant to theme, and participating, so you got LOTS more people in costume, and a much wider range of costumes and crafts and Renaissance related things. Plus, they had multiple period singers and shows and plays. The worse was the forced jollity, heavy emphasis on ‘wenches’, fair sanctioned sexual harassment (guys on the entry gate yelling ‘ye olde’ commentaries on the physical merits of women as they entered – I would like to brag that even at 17 I was stroppy enough to yell back ‘you’re sexually harassing a minor’ at them, which shut them up right quick) much higher entry prices, and then the expectation that you would tip for everything and for every show.

      I’ve only been to the fancy California Renaissance faires though, so maybe there are small regional ones that are more like this.

      If there was any jousting I didn’t see it – there was scripted hunting a plastic boar from horseback, knocking swords off wooden knights, and spearing rings on lances – very easy on the horses. The foot battles were unscripted and had a tally-keeper so a winner could be announced. Maybe like what the SCA does?

      • I have to admit that I’ve only been to the Ren Faire near me, which does have jousting, and the costumes of the hired players (especially the woman who plays Queen Elizabeth I) is not bad from a historical perspective. I don’t know what the California ones are like.

        Our Pennsylvania Faire has a practice of giving a deep discount (I don’t think it’s free, but I haven’t been there in a long while) for patrons who show up in a reasonable attempt at costume. Despite that, there aren’t a lot of visitors in costume, alas.

        I agree that the “wenches” and sexual harassment part is pretty outrageous (and fortunately not present in our local Faire).

        • I haven’t been to a California faire since 2004 (goodness, time flies!) so hopefully in the past decade they have massively toned down the ‘let’s make every player learn and repeat all of Shakespeare’s bawdiest jokes’ aspect of them!

          I love the idea of a discount for people in costumes. This market was only $5, but it would still have been a nice gesture. In comparison, the California Faires were $25-30, and parking was around $10 for the day. Plus, you weren’t allowed to bring in your own food.

  4. lyndlenz says

    Yes, I have a few friends in the SCA and I haven’t heard them mention this event as one they go to. There used to be jousting one at Harcourt Park in Upper Hutt every year and SCA people would teach various arts, but I don’t know if they still do it. Their big do is in Canterbury each Jan.

  5. It’s interesting to think that there was a time in English history (not sure about rest of Europe) when a respectable woman wouldn’t dream of showing her chin in public!
    I’d much rather be dressed like you on a hot day than be clad in polyester head-to-toe (shudders).

  6. Such a fun day! And I ordered some horse hair to go with the metal studs I bought so it is Helmet Time again soon.

    Given adequate adequate advance warning I’d definitely be up for doing a demo with you, and could probably dig out some recipies and do something food related. There might be some obstacles to that under the new health and safety law though 🙁 .

  7. Eleanor says

    Maybe you should come over and check out the medieval fair in St Ives, Sydney. It gets bigger every year. Its a huge event.

  8. Susan says

    What an interesting day! I was rather disappointed not to see photos of those “inauthentic” morris dancers, however, having fiddled for Castlewood Morris for many years (until crops of bad knees and babies resulted in more musicians than dancers in our side).

    Contemporary morris dancers wear all manner of attire, with some common/frequent elements: white garments, colorful vests, streaming colored ribbons, baldricks, bellpads, beribboned and flowered hats adorned with pins and badges, garlands, or if it’s a more rowdy version, clothing completely covered with streaming ribbons, sometimes masks, sometimes blackened faces, cross-dressed molly dancers, and more. And don’t get me started on the wide variety of hobby horses and other hobby critters. Castlewood had a hobby dragon.

    So I do have to wonder about that snarky self-proclaimed polyester-clad expert’s expertise, when it comes to morris attire. Even if she was referring to the earliest accounts of morris dancing, there’s not enough known about what was and what was not customarily worn back then, so unless she’s a time traveler…

    I think you had her number, though!

    Castlewood Morris Dancers

    • Her complaint had something to do with the dancer’s rose being red when it ought to be white, or vice versa! Alas, for your sake, I declined to indulge her nitpicking, and did not inquire as to specifics.

      • Susan says

        Good grief! Flowers of all kinds are fine on morris hats or garlands- where were these red or white roses worn? Although all flowers are okay, having no flowers at all is okay, too.

        Maybe the “critic” was thinking of the Wars of the Roses. Or something. Who knows?? Thanks for filling me in on her gripe. She sounds pretty gripey!

        Castlewood Morris Dancers

  9. I’ve just realised that’s your circlet on your hat. It’s quite fetching. 😀
    But I’m most fascinated by the loom drops; what exactly would those have done?

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