The Attic (a name which commemorates our first physical location) is, first and foremost, a site for the research students of the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester: a virtual community which aims to include all students, be they campus-based and full-time, or distance-learning and overseas. But we welcome contributions from students of museum studies - and allied subject areas - from outside the School and from around the world. Here you will find a lot of serious stuff, like exhibition and research seminar reviews, conference alerts and calls for papers, but there's also some 'fluff'; the things that inspire, distract and keep us going. After all, while we may be dead serious academic types, we're human too.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

A Trip To Warwick Castle


I have waited many years to visit Warwick Castle. I am not sure of the exact year but I was fairly young when I found a guidebook to Warwick Castle in a jumble sale and bought it despite not living anywhere near Warwick at the time. And the fact that it dates from 1983. I am a bit strange like that though (if you haven't guessed so already) and also own a guide book to the Tower of London from 1977. I always meant to take said guide book with me when I finally made it to the castle but stupidly I forgot it. In the end I didn't even need it, everything felt so familiar because I had read the book so much it had somehow become stored in the dark recesses of my mind, obviously displacing some really useful information along the way.


Warwick Castle was originally built in the 11th century and there are substantial remains of the Medieval stonework including Caesar's Tower, a 'masterpiece of fourteenth century military architecture' (according to the guide book) and seemingly growing out of the rock onto which the castle is built. The weekend of my visit was very wet and the river that flows towards the back of the castle was swollen with water, giving it the appearance of a moat.

Guy's Tower was also built in the fourteenth century and was named after the semi-mythical Earl of Warwick who lived in Saxon times. The Earls of Warwick reached their high point in the fourteenth and fifteenth century when their actions put them firmly in the political spotlight; Thomas de Beauchamp (1329-1369) rose to prominence during Edward II's reign and fought at the battles of Crecy and Poitiers, becoming military advisor to the Black Prince. He has a beautiful alabaster tomb in St Mary's Church in Warwick town centre where he lies with his wife, the bottom of the tomb decorated with many small figures which serves as a remarkable record of the fashions of the day. Also buried there is his grandson Richard (1401-1439) beneath a sumptuous metal cast; he was a friend to Henry V and tutor to the eventual Henry VI and was hanging around Rouen when Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake. His son-in-law Richard Neville became Earl by right of his wife, known to history as 'The Kingmaker' for his meddling in politics during the War of the Roses, one of the most complicated periods for the British monarchy, if not for the peasants who probably got fed up with all the confusion as to whom exactly was oppressing them that particular week. If you like Medieval history the castle has reconstructed several tableaux which take the visitor through the preparations for a battle through the perspective of the squire to Richard Neville 'The Kingmaker', who was killed at the Battle of Barnet (I was convinced that he had his head chopped off when he took off his helmet to take a drink of water in a quiet moment but according to wikipedia he was struck off his horse and killed). I quite enjoyed looking at the wax models, which we could move around and even touch, so despite the static nature of the piece the designers had gone to a lot of trouble with the costumes and layout. It was very brightly coloured as well, much better than the usual gloomy interpretation of Medieval life, although of course the emphasis on the Wars of the Roses highlights the barbaric nature of Medieval people as opposed to say the representation of the nineteenth century which we will come to in a minute.

Inside the decoration of the castle mainly dates from the seventeenth century and there are a number of grand and over-the-top rooms to explore. The present owners of the castle have tended to use wax models to recreate notable figures who would have visited the castle over its history; these often look incongruous to the surroundings and are not as fun as the Medieval recreation because you cannot get close to them in the same way. Henry VIII makes an appearance with his wives dutifully sat around him. Winston Churchill and the Playboy Prince Edward VIII also pop up. I wasn't really that interested in following the interpretation, which describes a 'Royal Weekend party , 1898' as I hinted earlier the gentile activities indulged in by the (probably bored) upper classes it is a contrast with the war-mongering Medieval types. I know which century I would rather live in, even if I would be party to at least one horrific skin disease and have absolutely no idea about hygiene. This would also chime with my excitement at being able to clamber about the castle ramparts and pretend to shoot arrows from the aptly named arrow slits and drop boiling oil from the gaps in the castellations.


The most disappointing aspect of the visit was the tour of the Dungeons, which is presented by the same people who bring to the world the London Dungeon experience. So lots of hammy acting and excuses for the presenters to be rude to people in the name of entertainment - it was also only VERY loosely based on Warwick castle itself so the credibility of the 'facts' was always in doubt. 'Oh lighten up' I even hear myself saying but there is something more and more cringeworthy about these gruesome excuses for spectacle, as well as the deficit view of history they exacerbate. So that was a trial and it was almost a relief to go down into the actual dungeon where the interpretation was very minimal and the cold and damp of the stones told the visitor everything they needed to know about the horror of being kept in a confined space.

So it was a definitely interesting experience showing how the castle changed in its use over the centuries, especially if you have a guide book and can then map the developments properly rather than having to use a limited memory. A walk around the town of Warwick is also well worth it, being very pretty and crammed full of old buildings, particularly St Mary's Church which still retains its Medieval atmosphere despite sustaining damage at the hands of the Puritans.

The tyrant Henry VIII and his poor long-suffering wives


Poor Daisy mistress of the Castle has a tedious day, she has to read a letter...


...while her poor hard-worked servant has to run her bath


Admiring the nasty specimens of weapons displayed on the walls

The Great Hall with its displays of, you've guessed it, even more nasty weaponry

The perfect antidote to all those nasty weapons

3 comments:

J said...

The town is fabulous - sadly, the creepy doll museum has closed since I was there.

And its funny how different perceptions can be - I hated the medieval cellar because I am terrified of waxwork, and having to get close to them was the last thing I wanted to do! Especially when the plastic horse started moving its animatronic tail! AAACK!

Jenny said...

Is that mad video presentation at the start of the Kingmaker section still there, because I didn't understand that at all.

I don't like how commercialised it has become. Shame, because I like the castle, and SOME of the things they did, like themed suppers, were really fun for those geeks amoung us! But it's sooo pricey now.

Hope you had fun though!

welsh mansions said...

I lived in the area myself but never visited the castle. I should have done.