Bringing new life to historic museum tales

030418 Helen Langwick Inpretation and Content Manager at at York's Castle Museum  on Kirkgate the Victorian street at the museum.    YP mag .
030418 Helen Langwick Inpretation and Content Manager at at York's Castle Museum on Kirkgate the Victorian street at the museum. YP mag .
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A doctor’s private collection of rare and obsolete objects, capturing a vanishing way of life, formed the basis for a museum which was to became one of York’s best loved attractions.

Now, 80 years on at the York Castle Museum, these objects could be brought to life in new ways, through augmented reality and immersive technologies.

260116 York Castle Museum members of staff  l to r...Denise Hamilton, Callum Curnin, Jess Munday and Philip Newton on Kirkgate at the  York Castle  Museum

260116 York Castle Museum members of staff l to r...Denise Hamilton, Callum Curnin, Jess Munday and Philip Newton on Kirkgate at the York Castle Museum

As the museum finds itself in the midst of the Castle Gateway project to rejuvenate the area of the city centre, trust owners say the venue too must move forward into the 21st century and embrace new ideas.

And, seeking input on every aspect, the trust says it will stay true to the vision of the venue’s founder Dr John Kirk and build on the inspiration of his world-famous recreated Victorian Street.

“It’s unbelievable, the history we have here in York,” said Helen Langwick, interpretation manager at the museum. “This is about what we can do with those stories.

“With the Castle Gateway project underway, there’s a real impetus at the moment. The city will be transformed within the next five to 10 years.

“This, for us, is a really significant moment. It’s time to look back at the innovative museum of 80 years ago and say ‘what’s the next step?’”

The York Museum Trust is preparing to shape a vision for the future of the site. Over weeks to come, it is to seek views from visitors and residents on just what could be done.

There are options for a more “immersive” experience, Ms Langwick has said, using theatre, or gaming, sight, sounds and smell to make displays more of an experience.

And with huge technological advances there are options around augmented reality and virtual reality to make the experience more lifelike.

Most of all, she adds, there are options for new stories to be told. The walled city, with its Viking roots and Roman past, has witnessed some of the greatest moments in history.

“There are so many different stories we can tell, particularly around the debtor’s prison which was the first purpose-built prison in the country,” she said.

“The leader of the chartist movement was held here, a movement that means we now have the vote and liberty.

“Everybody knows the tales of Dick Turpin and yes, he was a mysterious highwayman, but he was also a murderer and a thief.

“Some of the Jacobite rebels were held here, 15 Luddites were imprisoned here in York cells.

“And William Wilberforce, who once stood as an election candidate here in the city but didn’t win. That is a story about the abolition of slavery - right here in York.

“We are opening up the consultation to the public, right at the beginning. We have some ideas - but that’s what they are - ideas. We want to know what our visitors want.”

The York Museums Trust is over coming weeks to open up discussion, inviting members of the public to have their say.

York St Mary’s, on Castlegate, will act as a hub for the consultation until September.

Throughout August there are to be more unusual events, such as object ‘speed dating’ where visitors can decide if each artefacts should be included in the new displays.

There will be pitches from experts on ideas and themes, as well as testing days with the latest technologies to see how it could work.

Once initial ideas are gathered, plans will be put together for the public to consider. By the middle of next year, say organisers, they hope to have a firm idea of what could come.

“The Castle Museum is 80 years old, and it holds a special place in people’s hearts and memories,” said Ms Langwick. “There’s so much still that we can learn from our past.”