The Importance of Twelfth Night for the History of our Town

5th January 2022 / Museum, Museum blog, Uncategorised

Today Christmas is mainly celebrated on 25 December, however historically this was seen as the beginning of the festive period, with 12 days of feasting and celebrating, concluding on Twelfth Night.

The actual date for Twelfth Night depends on how the 12 days of Christmas are calculated, with different Christian traditions giving it as either the 5 or 6 of January. This year January 6 is especially significant for anyone interested in history.

But before we think about Twelfth Night 2022 let’s travel back in time and consider why here at the museum, we get especially excited about this time of year.

Did you know that on Twelfth Night 878AD Chippenham was attacked by Vikings?

This was a very significant event and one that ultimately led to the Wessex King, Alfred stopping the Viking advance and becoming the first King of Britain.

We felt that this was something worth celebrating and in 2017 we held our first Twelfth Night event. With the aid of reenactors and local author Geoff Hill we told visitors about Chippenham’s Royal Anglo Saxon connections and its role in making King Alfred, Great.

We had so much fun that in 2018 we did it all again and by 2019 we had established our Twelfth Night celebration as an annual event.

saxon man in costume with helmets

Saxon Re-enactor at the museum’s 2019 Twelfth Night event

However, in 2020 things were different and we could not hold our event as normal, but we didn’t want to miss out on telling our favourite story, so we went online and you can read more about the events of Twelfth Night 878AD here https://www.chippenham.gov.uk/twelfth-night

So as 2021 drew to a close and our lives seemed to be returning to something close to normal, our thoughts here at the museum, began to turn once again to our annual Twelfth Night celebration. We dusted off our Anglo Saxon outfits and began to prepare, but it was not to be. As we saw the rates of the Omicron variant increase daily in the weeks before Christmas, we made the sad decision to cancel our 2022 event.

However, we are never down for long and we are already planning how we can make 2023 an even bigger and better event!  So do follow us on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for updates over the year on what we have planned for Saturday 7 January 2023.

Now back to why the 6 January this year is even more special

Despite not being able hold our Twelfth Night event we are still very excited.  For anyone interested in researching their family or local history today is a very important day as the 1921 census for England and Wales is published for the first time online.

the 1921 census is coming graphic containing photos from 1921 and national archives branding

Find out more about the 1921 census here

The first official census in the UK was taken in 1801 and was followed every 10 years, apart from 1941. The information that can be gained from these documents is invaluable for historians but there has been a lot of anticipation around the release of the 1921 census

What makes the 1921 Census special?

Taken on 19 June 1921 this census captures a time of global change after the horrors of the First World War. It is believed that it will be the most revealing set of records to date providing information not recorded before such as divorce.

With the 1931 Census destroyed in a fire in December 1942 and the cancellation of the 1941 Census due to the Second World War, the 1921 Census will be the last major data set until the release of the 1951 census in another 30 years.

black and white photograph of chippenham high street

Chippenham around the time of the 1921 census

We cannot wait to explore this new set of records to find out what it can tell us about our town and its people. Follow us as in the coming weeks as we report on what we discover about Chippenham and our surrounding area in the 1920s!