This weekend was spent at Battle Abbey, East Sussex.
The Battle of 1066 constitutes a huge part of our cultural history, seeing the Norman-French under William defeat the Anglo-Saxons under Harold Godwinson and reshape the face of Britain. As I grew up in Hastings, we were reminded of its importance regularly and a large part of our tourism campaign was to write 1066 Country on everything not nailed down.
Yet importance to history does not always coincide with well-kept heritage. In my current local area, treasures of the past that could be almost equivalent to Battle Abbey, such as St Augustine’s Abbey, are hidden and all but forgotten about by the public.
Battle does a tremendous job at bringing history to life and encouraging the public’s engagement.
The site is very well-kept and well-staffed. The plaques of information are clean and relatively up to date. It is easy to find someone to ask questions or get directions.
I know this is often due to funding and as someone who has volunteered at small, local museums, I do appreciate how difficult it is to make a difference to the world on a budget.
However, Battle did have some cheap and fun craft ideas – such as a little station in the tower to design and colour your own heraldic shield. This sort of thing is incredibly simple to provide but always enjoyed by families.
Most importantly, the site is constantly updating.
Since I last visited, the rooftop of the Great Gatehouse was opened, offering a fantastic view of the historic town and battlefield for visitors.
There is now a ‘Spot the Saxon’ trail with magnificent oak-carved Saxon and Norman warriors dotted around the fields. Kids loved this and it was hard to find one without happy members of the public hanging around to take a selfie with them.
Battle Abbey is a hub of re-enactment and living history. They run everything from battle reenactments to outdoor theatre. There is nothing so perfect to encourage childrens’, and adults’, love of history than bringing it to life and having it fight it out. I have done some re-enactment myself and it really is escapism like nothing else.
Not only did I have a lovely day out, it reminded me of how to do heritage right.