The Silures are coming!

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The Independent Online
Strolling around the Glastonbury lake village, admiring the Iron Age dwellings, don't be alarmed if you come face to face with a few Celtic warriors sharpening their swords, turning knife handles on foot-driven lathes or even going into battle around reed-thatched roundhouses.

The modern Silures tribe is a history re-enactment group whose members willingly spend weekends enduring the lifestyle of first-century British Celts. They inhabit reconstructed roundhouses on sites of ancient settlements, sleeping on earthen floors - and, in good Celtic tradition, fighting.

"I spend five days a week as a bereavement counsellor and occupational therapist; for the other two, I time travel." Eryl Jones feels she has found the perfect solution to a stressful Nineties lifestyle.

Mrs Jones is joined by 30 or so others at weekends. They share a love of history and the compulsion to do something a little more King Arthur- ish than joining a local historical society.

Members of the original Silures tribe were described as short, wiry, dark-haired and extremely fierce, with tribal lands in Wales stretching from the River Severn to western Gwent and as far north as the Brecon Beacons. The modern group is mainly from South Wales, but English members are welcome.

"We try to emulate Iron Age Celtic life as accurately as possible to show people it was not a shabby or primitive era. This was a time when skilled people lived within an organised society," Mrs Jones says.

The group is in big demand, not only for "hack, slash and feast" shows, but also for demonstrating Celtic crafts, assisting school parties in the teaching of Iron Age history and archaeology, and doing film work. An enormous amount of time is put into researching the era. "Authenticity is the key, and everything we do is based on archaeological finds," says Mrs Jones. "Our costumes are hand-stitched, using material either woven on appropriate looms or first checked under a magnifying glass to ensure that the cloth could have been produced in the first century. The colours must be as near as possible to the plant dyes used at the time, and our tools, weapons and jewellery are produced on ancient-style forges.

"Our food includes stewed and spit-roasted meat, cooked on open fires, and only vegetables and pulses that were available at the time. This means onions are out - they were introduced by the Romans at a later date. We also eat unleavened bread and honey cakes."

As first-century Celts, they live in windowless roundhouses lit by candles made from animal fat, sleep on mud floors, and cook on chimney-less fires in the centre of a single room. A Celt's life seems to have been harsh, but they evidently loved self-adornment: the wealthiest wore heavy iron jewellery, and warriors painted their faces and bodies with intricate patterns before battle. The modern-day Celts use the vivid blue extract from boiled leaves of wild woad plants.

The Silures were a tough lot and were never fully conquered by the Romans. After a series of clashes and struggles, they were allowed to keep their chiefs and were given a degree of self-rule, although their taxes went to Rome.

Eryl Jones's partner, Steve, provides warfare training. He manages to combine the roles of chief battle captain and safety officer. Mrs Jones is events organiser.

"Anyone is welcome to join us for one event to see if they enjoy it. After three shows they can become an associate member and take on a character to re-enact, making their own clothes, shoes and any other items they need," Mrs Jones says. "A member is expected to learn a craft or skill in keeping with their chosen character to demonstrate at events. We have no rules on the person's status, as long as it is an accurate portrayal."

The Silures tribe can be found at Castellhenllys, Dyfed; St Fagans, near Cardiff; the Glastonbury lake village; Butser Iron Age farm, near Portsmouth, and New Barn, near Dorchester. Details: Mrs Eryl Jones, 20 Mendip View, Wick, Bristol BS15 5PY (01179 374059).