The tradition of making armour for battle goes back thousands of years. Strapping leather together to make a strong material resistant to bronze sword blows was probably the first type of armour ever created. Leather was replaced by chain mail and then this was superseded by full suits of armour made from steel and iron, so heavy that their wearers couldn’t regain their feet if they fell off their horse.
All these forms of armour are celebrated at the Armour Making Contest at Ashby-de-la-Zouch, which is held on the Sunday nearest to August 22nd, the day that the nearby Battle of Bosworth took place in 1485.
There are many different categories to enter. The most popular is the chain mail contest where rings of metal are joined together to form a strong protective barrier against sword thrusts and arrows. There is a children’s version of the contest where kids link safety pins together in playful imitation of the real thing. A knitting contest also takes place with the aim of producing a half-length chain mail coat made from wool within three hours.
The contest started in 1685 to mark the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bosworth and the succession of the Roman Catholic King James II. In the first year there were only two contests – the leather armour one and the chain mail for men. Contestants had “ye lengthe of burnningge of a six inch candle” to complete their armour. The armour then had to be tested; the original idea was for the local Protestant vicar to put on all the armour in turn and then be attacked by the largely catholic judges with swords until the vicar screamed for mercy. This idea was vetoed by the town’s mayor who decided that it was in the best interests of religious tolerance for the armour to be tested on a tree stump.