Museum Monday

This Monday, we’d thought we take a bit to talk about the re-installation of some of our most interesting artefacts in the Castle’s state rooms. For years, many of the conserved finds from the BRP and Brian Hope-Taylor’s excavations were tucked away in a little room at the far end of the gift shop in their own little exhibit. The only problem was that folks would reach the gift shop and often go no further. We were stumped as to how to draw attention to the artefacts and information placards when there was delicious fudge and souvenirs in the previous room. A few years ago, some of the artefacts were integrated into the existing state rooms displays, Our one-of-a-kind (okay, one of, like, three in all of northwestern Europe) 6-billet pattern-welded sword was logically in the armoury on the first floor of the keep; it’s uniqueness was sometimes not recognised when displayed amongst the shiny and sharp medieval and post-medieval bladed weaponry. While this melding of artefacts into existing spaces increased the quantity of eyeballs on the artefacts, it still felt like something was missing. How could we best use these artefacts to tell the stories of Bamburgh Castle?

The past year has allowed the curators to combine cutting-edge technology and some tried-and-true, good old-fashioned museum display protocol to give us a more holistic glimpse into the three millennia of occupation of the site.

The first room, what was the medieval kitchen, has been streamlined to focus on five particular assemblages in detail. The large wooden model of the castle is still there, but it is now joined by video screens and a projected animation on the upper story wall. The video screens stand behind the glass display cases or freestanding artefacts. This room features the Bamburgh Beast and filigreed thumbnail (both of gold) each in a minimalist mount, while the carved-interlaced stone chair-arm is positioned as it would have been during its period of use to really help you understand the wear patterns on the leading edge where great kings would have rested their fingers. Each video panel shows magnified views of the objects as castle owner Frankie Armstrong pleasantly and engagingly shares further information about the objects in his family’s care. From these short videos, you really get a sense that a deep responsibility to the stewardship of this shared heritage is the underlying driver for this revamped exhibit.

As you wind your way through the adjacent rooms, you eventually reach the salon where the curators have taken great care to give voice back to half of the population that is often written out of history elsewhere: the women. Here at Bamburgh, however, formidable women stand out to us through the material culture individuals whose names are now lost to us and the documented works for the public good by named post-medieval owners. The salon, a heavily gendered space in the early modern period, is the perfect matrix for these snippets of women’s history through objects. We hope in the future to see this exhibit expand to include more historically gendered objects (such as latch-lifters and girdle tools) and really engage with this idea of performed gender and femininity. As the named women hold elite status as well, so we hope to be a part of developing the artefacts on display to include objects associated with lower status women in our long history here.

The ground floor of the keep is our next stop, where there is now an interactive dig touch-panel. It allows you to excavate computer-animated grid squares of our former Trench 1 and Trench 3 to find artefacts that our team discovered over the years.

The traditional museum display case are also used in the base of the keep, with cases full of interesting artefacts and small placards describing them. The cases are now mostly organised by theme, allowing you to see every-day items like stycas, knives, and dice, and the more high-status and ornate material grouped together as well. Also, the fantastic sword we discussed earlier has found a home in the lower level of the keep.

You can still come visit us to the end of this week to chat about the archaeology with our team up at the windmill in the West Ward, and then take a walk through the state rooms to see some of our best finds in their new displays!