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Royal Hospital Chelsea

Join us for a celebration of history from the heart of Chelsea

The past will be brought to life in an immersive mixture of physical and virtual events for the Chelsea History Festival 2021.

In response to the pandemic, the 2020 festival hosted a varied programme with events both in person and online. This year, the festival will focus on bringing people back to historic Chelsea – the perfect stage to explore, debate and celebrate history. Our online events reached a global audience and this year we will maintain that with a number of online only and hybrid events.

Taking place in the heart of London in partnership with three iconic institutions: the National Army Museum, Royal Hospital Chelsea and the Chelsea Physic Garden, this year’s diverse festival will host over 70 exciting physical and virtual events with more than 15 headline speakers, including James Holland, Olivette Otele and Jonathan Dimbleby, and feature a number of exclusive pre-publication launches.

Brand new for this year’s festival, the History Village in the heart of London will take visitors back through time to learn first-hand what life was like in Roman London or the First World War. This immersive outdoor event brings history to life with living historians, serving military units and local cultural organisations. Visitors will also have the opportunity to become knights in shining armour for the day as they clash blades at the Sword School, alongside a wide range of other family-friendly activities.

So many of the stories we tell about the past are about resilience and recovery, it feels more important than ever to gather and reflect on the history that makes us who we are. This year we will have a new bigger headline venue to keep our audience safe, an outdoor history street packed with fun for history lovers and all the family, and the largest and most varied speaker programme we’ve ever had. I hope you can join us.
Harry Parker

Creative Director, Chelsea History Festival

This year we have a range of physical and virtual events to stimulate, inspire and entertain

With our biggest line up of speakers yet, we will show you history in all its variety.

This year’s programme will cover a wide range of themes, from military to art history and social to natural history. The festival line-up launches with bestselling author and historian Julie Summers speaking to former editor-in- chief of British Vogue Alexandra Shulman about the ground-breaking work of her wartime predecessor Audrey Withers. Discover the intrepid story of Vogue in its most formative years, when Withers forged an identity for the magazine that went far beyond just fashion.

Headline speakers include Jonathan Dimbleby and Andrew Roberts will discuss Operation Barbarossa, Hitler’s invasion of Russia in June 1941, and the tangled web of consequences it had for all those involved. This operation, which saw millions of men killed, wounded, or registered as ‘missing in action’, would ultimately bring about the destruction of the Third Reich.

The festival will feature a number of pre-publication exclusives including Helen Fry with her new book Spy Master, which dives deep into the secretive life of Thomas Kendrick the secret agent who saved MI6. Other festival exclusives include a first look at A War of Empires: Japan, India, Burma and Britain, 1941-45 with Robert Lyman and, ahead of the launch of his latest book, James Holland will bring to life the story of the Sherwood Rangers, an elite tank regiment who played a pivotal role in the final months of the Second World War.

Other highlights include Catherine Ostler who will be examining the astounding life of Elizabeth Chudleigh, radically re-evaluating her life, her behaviour and her legacy. And Shrabani Basu will uncover the story of a real-life criminal case that took place in Edwardian England, featuring Arthur Conan Doyle as the detective.

In a unique event developed especially for the Chelsea History Festival, renowned historians Olivette Otele and Peter Frankopan consider the challenges of telling the stories of people and places that are often overlooked.

Sixty years on from the release of EH Carr’s influential text What is History?, contributors to the ground-breaking new collection What is History, Now? will unpick the burning questions facing historians today. The panel will be chaired by the collection’s editors Suzannah Lipscomb and Helen Carr, great-granddaughter of EH Carr.

We will explore the influence that trees have had on our culture, myths and history with writer and photographer Archie Miles as he tells us the stories of Trees That Made Britain, while Jonathan Drori will take us on a fascinating botanical journey across the world, exploring the historical and cultural significance of a wide variety of plants.

2020 Festival Highlights

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