It was becoming an increasingly guilty secret that Chris and I had never visited the Royal Armouries. As the UK’s national collection of arms and armour, it is the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of a sword-based research trip. Not only that, but many of the museum’s contents have directly inspired our creations.
So when our dear friend Dan Smith at Swordpunk offered to put us in touch with the curators, we were all too glad to rectify our past negligence and start planning a trip to Leeds.
Needless to say, we were not disappointed. Not only were we treated to an exceptional level of hospitality, with Assistant Curator of European Edged Weapons Iason Tzouriadis taking time out of his schedule to show us around. We were also able to delve into the fabled Store 3, where the non-display edged weapons are kept.
May marks the beginning of festival and tournament season for many an intrepid fencer. For us, the summer arrives in the shape of Swordpunk, a breathtaking boutique festival where weapons experts and circus performers come together to share skills and soak up the sun in the stunning private estate of Newnham Paddox.
We’ve been involved with this community extravaganza since before lockdown, and its unique combination of relaxation and serious wow factor keeps us coming back for more. After all, where else can you learn staff fighting, axe throwing, sharp cutting, fire spinning and belly dancing all in the same place?
It feels like only months ago I was writing our last New Year’s update in the middle of lockdown, and wondering what 2021 would hold. While it’s undoubtedly been a year of ups and downs across the board, we have been fortunate to have the faith and support of our customers and community throughout.
In many ways, 2021 was a tentative step into a wider world, after the restrictions of early Covid. We were delighted to attend not one but two combat arts events – the madcap Swordpunk and the renowned Malta Historical Fencing Association International Event. Each gave us a well-needed shot of perspective, reminding us why we love the work we do.
We also settled back into regular training with our own fencing group here in Sussex, experimenting with new fencing forms, which in turn informed Chris’s craft and research. From heated pub debates to the heat of the forge, our inspiration relies heavily on our friends and comrades.
Perhaps the year’s greatest blessing – and testament to our hard work – was a steady stream of creative and challenging commissions. From close museum replicas to original fantasy concepts, we have been continually increasing our skills and knowledge to keep up with our clients’ visions.
As with many fencers, we felt the lack of events deeply over 2020 and 2021. Crossing festivals off the calendar began to take its toll, and those regular reminders of our wider community left a sword-shaped hole.
So it was with immense excitement that we packed our bags last week for an event unlike any other: Swordpunk 2021. This skill-sharing festival combines combat arts like fencing, archery, axe throwing and whip cracking with circus skills such as juggling, fire and flow arts. Tucked away on a Capability Brown-designed estate in Warwickshire, it offers acres of lakes for swimming and woodland for strolling, a well-stocked tavern and an inviting fire pit.
We first got involved with Swordpunk in 2019, when we set up a demonstration forge. We were immediately hooked on the event’s close-knit atmosphere, reminiscent of Robin Hood’s merry men training and feasting together in the woods. When we were invited to return, we decided to show off Chris’s handiwork with something new: a sharp cutting experience.
The Balefire was always fuelled by stories. Stories of knights-errant and wily rogues; the kinds of stories that filled our shelves and hearts as children, and which inspire us still as we forge and fence. The great swords of legend are never far from our minds when we design bespoke weapons – and in our flights of fancy, we suppose our own work to be a link in the centuries-spanning chain of tales upon sword-wielding tales.
Ask anyone with a passing interest in history to name a famous sword, and one name will find its way forth: Excalibur. The legend of King Arthur has seen a constant cycle of rebirth since it was first recorded in the 11th Century – from Monmouth’s pseudohistories, to Tennyson’s poetic epic, to a stream of star-studded film adaptations. This ancient tale of a great leader and defender, replete with mysterious wizards, dangerous lovers, and magical swords, is often considered the rosetta stone of all English fantasy, drawing older traditions together into one cohesive thread, which has been woven into almost every sword-and-sorcery tale since.