School children hear tales of an English hero

8th Apr 2024

Primary school children in Cambridge have been learning about Anglo-Saxon rebel Hereward the Wake – and recently received a ‘visit’ from him.

Historian David Maile worked with history teacher Amy Beck of King’s Ely Prep in Ely and arranged for local legend and Fenland hero Hereward the Wake (actually re-enactor Rory) to come and talk to Year 7 and 8 pupils.

Hereward came to fame in 1070 when he secretly made his way into the UK, in the east of England, with his rebel army. He valiantly opposed William the Conqueror’s forces and the new Norman rule that had been imposed after the Conquest of 1066.

Hereward and his brave army defended the Isle of Ely against William the Conqueror for 18 months until they were defeated.

Chroniclers told of his daring exploits against the Normans after raising an army of 700 Saxons based as Bruneswald, a densely forested area on the borders of Huntingdonshire and Northamptonshire.

Stories about Hereward captured the imagination, just as they did for other outlaws such as Robin Hood and Dick Turpin. They were all fighting against unjust authority and were heroes for the common people.

Amy said: “Hereward the Wake took us back 1,000 in time and told the children stories that have become enshrined in folklore.

“He talked about how Hereward killed a bear, how he rescued a princess and, most importantly, how he was the last man standing against the might of the Norman army as they tried to capture the Isle of Ely.

“Rory, dressed as Hereward, entertained our pupils and allowed them to handle replica weaponry and to try on a helmet. He then joined Year 7 in the classroom for a tour of their artwork on ‘remembering Hereward’ which included life-size drawings of him. It has really helped to bring Anglo Saxon history to life for the children.”



Hereward the Wake’s links to Courteenhall

This October marks the 953rd anniversary of Hereward’s Last Stand and the Fall of Ely.

The Wake family claim direct descent from Hereward. Since the accession of the twelfth Baronet in 1865, each holder of the title has borne the name Hereward. The family’s crest is the Wake knot.

The publication of Charles Kingsley’s novel Hereward the Wake: Last of the English in 1866 led to a revival of interest in his story and he was seen as a national hero.

Historian David Maile has been studying and researching Hereward the Wake for over 18 years. He is on a mission to bring the Saxon rebel ‘out of the misty world of folklore and legend and back into historical authenticity’.

David, who is Director of Operations for Wake Hereward Projects and also works in the music industry, said: “For me, raising the profile of a forgotten hero like Hereward is akin to reviving the career of an old Rock n’ Roll legend.

“I became a big fan of Hereward when I was six years old after my grandmother told me all about him. I’m always amazed that people don’t know more about him which is why I started to research him.

“The Wake connection to Hereward and the wonderful story, history and tradition that surrounds him is immensely important.

“It was great to work with King’s Ely Prep and to see the children so enthusiastic and interested in a local hero. I’d like to work with more schools and to bring Hereward the Wake to a whole new audience.”


Find out more about the Hereward the Wake Project here.

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