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A History Of Marquees

 What is a Marquee Tent?

A marquee is a large tent which is commonly erected for social or commercial functions. Marquees are predominantly for outdoor use, but may be used temporarily as demountable structures within larger buildings or roofed spaces.

The word, 'marquee' has its roots in the mid-17th century French word, marquees, which denotes a linen canopy which would be placed over a military officers tent, distinguishing it from others. This illustrious word may also relate to marquis which is a type of nobleman and certainly carries an aristocratic air, and is especially beloved for entertaining, in UK culture.

 The History of Marquees

A history of marquees is indeed a history of tents.

These simple shelters are composed of a frame-like structure, overlaid with fabric, animal skins or other materials have been used throughout the ages and across the world as habitations, often used as mobile residences by nomadic peoples as well as for recreational, social and military purposes.

Roman tents made of goat or calf skins were made and distributed throughout the Roman Empire. The contubernium was a tent used to accommodate 8 men with larger and more impressive structures used by notable officials, such as, centurions and generals.

By medieval times, tent technology and materials had advanced, in particular with the introduction of linen or hemp canvas, making tents lighter and more innovative.

Images of early medieval ridge tents known as 'Geteld tents' have been found on 9th century illustrations. Oval, square, six, eight and twelve sided structures in bright colours were used by knights on military campagns and tournaments. Medieval pavillions were a display of the wealth and status of the owner, each being bold and distinctive and of course requiring many servants to erect, dismantle and transport.

Many peoples and cultures worldwide have developed their own tent technologies. Well known traditional designs include the Mongolian yurt, the Native American Wigwam or Tipi and Morroccan Berber tents.

The jump to larger structures made for purposes other than sleeping may have developed through military uses, for example as a mobile mess, field hospital or meeting room. Lighter materials and modified designs allowed large tent structures to be created. One of the most iconic is the Big Top, first introduced in 1820s in America. By the mid 19th century all the components were available for marquee structures with which we are now familiar.

Traditional marquees draw from the pole tent design, which in itself goes back many centuries. The fabric roof is supported by central ‘king’ poles and ‘side’ poles which are held in tension by ropes and stakes into the ground to give shape and dimension. This vintage and villge green style is currently enjoying a resurgence, although contempoarary marquee styles and structures are becoming increasingly diverse.

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