‘Oh my gosh!’ were the words of one little girl when she saw part of Cadw’s interpretation displays at St Davids Bishop’s Palace. She was one of the many visitors to be enthralled from the moment they have stepped through the gatehouse and been enveloped by the sounds of a busy bishop’s palace.
The sound of bells, singing, and galloping horses creates an atmospheric sense of arrival and expectation followed by the first glimpse of a procession of cut-out characters inspired by illustrations from fourteenth-century manuscripts. The audio and visual displays show how Cadw faced up to the challenge of breathing new life into a magnificent historic monument that deserved to be appreciated and better understood by a wider audience.
The aim was to create interpretation that was imaginative, innovative and interactive and, by presenting the palace in its wider context, would inspire visitors to move on to visit other relevant sites such as Llawhaden Castle and Lamphey Bishop’s Palace. After entering, that little girl was able to take part in the Bishop’s Palace Quest by helping Alun the servant boy to locate the bishop’s missing wine cup. The quest encourages children to explore the site in the search for clues and helps them to understand what life was like for the people who lived and worked in the palace.
Downstairs, there is more drama with lightboxes to interpret the undercrofts. These are display cubes that are lit from within so that the illustrations are vivid and striking, providing an innovative and eye-catching method of interpreting an area that’s both dark and exposed to the elements. Upstairs, there is a series of lectern panels with audio recordings of the steward explaining how the various rooms were used. Outside, a collection of interpretive picnic tables give visitors the chance to play games such as Nine Men’s Morris, or learn some interesting facts as they eat.
The new interpretation has been funded through Cadw’s £19 million European-funded Heritage Tourism Project, which is backed by £8.5 million from the European Regional Development Fund through the Welsh Government.