Castle building in Colchester
PUBLISHED: 17:06 10 January 2014 | UPDATED: 17:06 10 January 2014
Now home to an award-winning museum, Colchester Castle is the town’s most famous landmark and is home to some of the county’s rarest and most significant Roman artefacts. The castle closed to the public in January 2013, after visitors had been given the opportunity to explore the empty castle one final time before it went off limits to allow significant renovations to commence.
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) awarded £3,267,400 towards a major redevelopment of Colchester Castle back in 2011, contributing 77% of the funding towards the £4.2m project. The equally vital match funding comes from Colchester Borough Council, the European Union through the Norman Connections project, Renaissance Museum Hub Funding, the Friends of Colchester Museums, the Essex Heritage Trust and the Friends of Colchester Roman Wall.
Tim Young, cabinet member, councillor and portfolio holder for planning, community, safety and culture, explains how the HLF has given Colchester Castle Museum an irresistible opportunity to refurbish. ‘This will be a brand new state-of-the-art museum for the 21st century, that will hopefully produce a museum experience that will be unforgettable for everyone,’ says Tim.
‘The displays have been there for more than 20 years and were looking a bit tired, although it was still an impressive display and museum. We put a bid in for funding, which was fortunately successful, and this has enabled us to create an experience for people to come back time after time. There will be 1,000 lights, lots of interactivity and digital activities. In fact, everything people expect from our traditional displays with modern technology.’
Necessary building works to the castle have been arranged by local Essex contractor Huttons, including re-pointing the exterior, new insulation for the roof, installing a new lift, under-floor heating and upgrading the plumbing. The design of the interior was created to ensure that the museum will be exciting, accessible and will offer a new approach to interpreting the collection. The aim is to attract a larger and broader range of audiences and to encourage more repeat visits from local residents. Cutting edge technology and interactive displays will further enhance visitors’ experiences.
Stephen Marsh, one of the designers from Yorkshire-based firm Redman Design, revealed how visitors can expect something memorable, with the reinterpretation of the Boudicca Revolt story particular exciting.
Stephen comments: ‘The story is presented as a dramatic and absorbing immersive AV film that is presented on two, large, ceiling-hung video projection screens. As part of the Roman circus story a chariot race video game with replica chariot will allow visitors to experience the thrills and spills of what would have been a highly competitive and dangerous sport.
‘The main change to the castle interior is that for the first time in a long time the castle spaces can be more easily seen and appreciated. The display structures have been paired back and in some instances given a degree of transparency to allow clear, uninterrupted vistas of many key castle features. The castle, along with its new displays and stories, will form a visually stimulating and engaging experience for visitors both old and new. Through various new interpretative and mixed media techniques, this castle and its collections will be brought to life.’
The story of Colchester will be told from its foundation more than 2,000 years ago to the Siege of Colchester in 1648. The history and features of Colchester Castle will be revealed and interpreted to give people a much better sense of the scale and importance of this unique building. The castle displays will also be used as a starting point and a link to discovering other heritage sites in Colchester, including the Town Walls and Roman Circus, with a range of interaction appearing around the town at key heritage sites.
Paul Sealey has been an archaeologist at Colchester & Ipswich Museums for 35 years and is responsible for the collections that will be put into the new-look Colchester Castle Museum.
‘For the castle redevelopment project I have been working out what Iron Age and Roman material will be put into the new museum,’ says Paul. ‘It’s proving to be a difficult job because there are so many wonderful exhibits to choose from, but we haven’t room for them all.
‘Of course, the objects in the new galleries and the stories behind them need explaining and new text has been produced to let visitors know where each object was found, when it was made and why it is important or interesting. As well as object labels, we have text panels explaining major topics such as why Britain was invaded by the Romans in the first place.’
Colchester’s most famous landmark will welcome back it’s visitors when it opens in spring this year, and will enrich the experience of visitors tomorrow and for future generations.
Tim adds: ‘The biggest thing no one knows yet, and personally my favourite thing that I am looking forward to most, is the audio visuals that are going to be up against one of the walls in the castle. When we took all of the artefacts out and exposed one of the walls, we felt we couldn’t cover up this space as it was so spectacular. We are also going to give local people the opportunity to hire the space in the evenings and use it for their own projection. I really can’t wait for it to open and to reveal it to the public, but also so I can experience it myself.’