Meet the Characters of Caerphilly Castle: Cadw invests £260,000 into digitalisation of much-loved site

Wednesday 28 August 2013

Caerphilly Castle is one of Wales’s national treasures, holding centre stage in its home town at the foot of the south Wales Valleys.

John Griffiths, Minister for Culture and Sport

John Griffiths, Minister for Culture and Sport

Caerphilly Castle is one of Wales’s national treasures, holding centre stage in its home town at the foot of the south Wales Valleys. It’s the largest, and probably one of the most well known castles in Wales, however for some people, the depth and significance of the stories behind this historic monument are not always apparent or easy to grasp.  

As part of the Welsh Government’s plans to increase public access, enjoyment and participation in Wales’s heritage, Cadw has launched a series of new interpretation experiences at Caerphilly Castle, ranging from sculptured heads of historical characters, to light projections and sound effects, to improve the overall visitor offer of the site.

The castle, which is surrounded by a series of lakes, was built by Gilbert de Clare of Norman descent, and later restored by the 4th marquess of Bute, son of Lord Bute. The new interpretation features take an innovative approach to history, combining art and traditional interpretation techniques, to tell the rich and diverse stories of this slumbering giant.  

John Griffiths, Minister for Culture and Sport explains the approach behind the £260,000 interpretation project at Caerphilly Castle: 'From interactive siege warfare games and innovative touch screens, to models, sculptures and a 270 degree digital film, the new interpretation brings the stories to life, giving visitors an opportunity to learn about the monument in an imaginative and hands-on way.'

'The development is part of a £19 million Heritage Tourism Project (HTP), supported by the European Regional Development Convergence Fund, which aims to increase the economic value of heritage in Wales and also funding from the Visit Wales Digital Tourism Project. Caerphilly Castle is the latest Cadw site to benefit from HTP funding, following successful interpretation projects at St David’s Bishop’s Palace, Conwy Castle and Denbigh Castle.'

Tony Payne, Head Custodian at Caerphilly Castle, is delighted by visitors’ reactions to the new technology: 'Visitors seem to be getting so much more out of their trips to the castle since introducing the improved interpretation facilities. We’ve seen a big increase in the duration of visit – with some people staying for two hours or more. Visitors have fed back that they feel they are getting better value for money, and that the facilities enable them to learn much more about the stories behind the site.

'The interactive technology is also proving to be a real hit with children, who absolutely love the sound effects and the sculptures dotted throughout the monument, telling the story of the castle’s characters. The giant wooden model of the marquess of Bute, which appears to be holding up the leaning tower of the castle, is sure to provide a photo opportunity or two!

'Caerphilly Castle is a fantastic monument and the improved facilities have strengthened the offer of the site as a key visitor attraction. Our team is proud of the enhanced experience and we hope it inspires visitors to get more involved in Wales’s history.'

Visitors can watch the dramatic stories unfold as they explore Caerphilly Castle’s new and innovative interpretation facilities:  

• Be mesmerised by the projection of fire in the Great Hall, created by Jessica Lloyd Hughes. Scenes appear from the flames, illustrating feasting, drinking, table manners and entertainment in the Lord Despenser’s Great Hall.
• Join the giant marquess of Bute, created by John Merrill out of wood from Powys Castle Estate. This huge piece of work depicts the 4th marquess of Bute holding up the leaning tower of the castle alluding to his restoration work.  
• Any movement will disturb the castle guard sat on the communal toilet… This entertaining exhibit appeals to the whole family, either screaming in horror or laughter!  
• An innovative touch screen display where visitors can peel back the layers to reveal the work carried out by the 4th marquees of Bute. To find out about the scale of the work you’ll have to blow up a barrel of gunpowder, flood the castle, let loose the catapult to knock down the castle walls or send the marquess birthday wishes.
• The castle is under siege warfare. Visitors are shown how the castle was defended and attacked with life size models, a wooded hourd, sounds of incoming arrows, and a stone sculptured knight protecting himself while attacking the castle walls.
• The east and west Gatehouses tell some interesting stories.  There’s someone lurking in the inner west Gatehouse - when visitors step into the darkened room, he will make an appearance and reveal himself. And in the inner east Gatehouse, a digital portcullis rises to protect the castle and its inhabitants during time of attack.
• Look into the minds of the four key characters in the castle’s history – stories of love, lust, murder and power.  Four sculptured heads of King Edward II, his wife Queen Isobel, Roger de Mortimer and Hugh le Despenser tell their versions of the castle’s medieval soap opera.
• 800 years of history are told in a ten minute-long, 270 degree, animated film.