Jeffrey Hedgecock, 43, of Ramona, makes armour. Think knights, Middle Ages, helmets, sallets, breastplates, gauntlets, faulds, greaves, poleyns, spaundlers, the whole deal, tip to toe. Making Medieval armour puts you in an exceedingly select guild. How select? Hedgecock tells me, “I’m the only one on the West Coast. I have two colleagues on the East Coast.”
If you’re world-class anything, you speak a dialect few normal humans understand. For example, this is what he told an Association for Renaissance Martial Arts interviewer when asked to name the work he was proudest of. Hedgecock said, “...a Bascinet based primarily on the Churburg #13. I raised the skull from flat, and raised the visor from a cone shape on which I forge welded the seam. I believe this could be a medieval technique.”
Born in the San Francisco Bay Area, Hedgecock has lived in San Diego County since 1975. He attended UC San Diego, graduated in ’85 with a degree in filmmaking, took a company job making computer graphics, didn’t like it, and since he’d already been making armour as a hobby, decided to rechristen hobby as full-time job.
We talked last week. I asked him to describe his armoury shop. “It’s about 1100 square feet. I have a couple hundred hammers. There are partially made pieces of armour on one of my benches and a couple other completed pieces. I usually keep my own armour here because it requires constant maintenance. I have a couple of saddles and a couple plastic suits of armour I made for a movie 20 years ago. I have a whole bunch of lances along the ceiling in racks. There’s a rack of swords on one wall, a few pieces I’ve made, most of the pieces I haven’t, but we use them in tournaments and at arms practice. On one side of my shop is a leather-working room, which is rather small, but it does the job. There is an industrial sewing machine. I do all my grinding in an adjacent room. It’s got plastic flaps on the door to keep the dust in and a dust-collection system so I don’t have to breathe that stuff. There are some plaster casts of people’s lower legs, which I use to fit and shape the armour. And [there is] a wood stove in the middle.”
I ask, “How many orders do you have at any given time?”
“I usually have between two and four commissions going. I’ll have a couple small pieces, like a helmet or a set of limbs, and then I’ll have one to two full armours on my books at any given moment. Full armours are usually fitted. Helmets, depends on the style; some need to be fit, some don’t.”
“I’ve read that some of your work is in a museum.”
Hedgecock says, “I’ve got two armours in the Frazier History Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. And several of my pieces have been used by jousters at the Royal Armouries in England. Most of my work, for the past 10 or 15 years, has been full armours.”
“How long does it take to make a suit of armour?”
“If I would do nothing else but work on a full armour, I could probably get it done in three months, working 40-hour weeks. It depends on how intricate a particular armour is. Some are simple, some are fancy. The [full set of] gear can run anywhere from $10,000 on up. Typically, good armour is going to run you $20,000 to $30,000.”
What is a hand-tooled suit of armour for unless one jousts in it? Hedgecock is a jouster, too. In fact, he is a very good jouster and also produces jousting tournaments. His tournament, the Tournament of the Phoenix, is regarded as the preeminent competitive jousting tournament in the United States. Said tournament will be presented at the Poway Rodeo Grounds October 26 through 28.
“How do people react the first time they see competitive jousting?”
“They’ve usually heard about it,” Hedgecock says. “Word of mouth is our primary advertising. Some come expecting a Renaissance fair. Generally speaking, they are really, really excited to see competitive jousting. When people see the first couple of hits, they are dumbstruck. They’ve never seen anything like that. They may have seen jousting at a Renaissance fair. They might have seen it in a movie, but when they see it up close and personal, 40 feet away, some people scream, some cheer, some suck in a big breath of air. It’s remarkable, the reaction, because it’s totally unexpected, even if they think they know jousting. When they see it, it takes their breath away.”
Next week: Part 2, The Jouster