The man returning Norwich Castle to its medieval roots

PUBLISHED: 13:11 10 April 2018 | UPDATED: 13:11 10 April 2018

Dr John Davies, who is leading the Norwich Castle keep project (photo: Antony Kelly)

Dr John Davies, who is leading the Norwich Castle keep project (photo: Antony Kelly)

Chief curator at Norfolk Museums Service, he is leading the project to return Norwich Castle keep to its medieval heyday

What are the main changes visitors will see?

On their approach to Norwich Castle, visitors will be directed towards, and welcomed to, the medieval keep, which will have a clear and distinct entrance alongside that of the museum. On entry, they will encounter the stunning recreation of the medieval royal castle, with its original 12th century appearance and suite of rooms based on those created for King Henry I. They will be able to explore all parts of the castle, while discovering its special place in history. The whole castle will be fully accessible to all visitors, from ground floor to battlements.

What are you most looking forward to seeing?

It isn’t just the restoration of the medieval royal palace. I am also looking forward to seeing the responses of our visitors as the hidden wonders of Norwich Castle are revealed to them.

Do you have favourite items in the collections at Norwich Castle?

I have many favourite objects. I would single out a delightful bronze figurine of a wild boar, which dates from the Iron Age, some 2,000 years ago. I must also mention the Happisburgh handaxe. Its discovery led to fieldwork which doubled the known antiquity of human occupation in Britain.

What led you to a career in archaeology and museums?

I grew up with a fascination for the past, through the abundant archaeological remains near my childhood home in Kent.

I spent much time in my youth wandering through London’s museums and galleries, linking my love of archaeology and the arts. In later years, I realised that museums presented the best way of communicating archaeology to the public. This has especially been the case in Norfolk, where professionals have always worked closely with the public – the people who actually make most of the important archaeological discoveries!

The study of archaeology at university allowed me to research and attempt to answer questions about our distant ancestors.

And I was always inspired by the wonderfully recreated world of ancient Rome depicted in the Asterix cartoons!

When it is finished, might Henry I recognise his palace?

Yes indeed! We will be looking to use the extra space created in the keep to enable us to do more things, including better interpretation and learning facilities for teaching and schools. However, our baseline is that we want to recreate the main architectural spaces as they were in the days of King Henry I, with the appearance and feel of the 12th century castle.

The £13.5m Gateway to Medieval England project also includes a new gallery in partnership with the British Museum and a walkway right round the battlements, with digital reconstructions of the medieval city. Most of the museum will remain open, with the keep, entrance and café areas closing for periods. The transformation will be complete by 2020, paid for by the Heritage Lottery Fund, plus other grants, and donations to the Keep Giving campaign.

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