Bosworth Heritage Centre – a visitor’s view
Our summary of the interpretation at the King Richard III Visitor Centre and Bosworth Heritage Centre.
Today we finally got round to visiting the King Richard III visitor centre in Leicester. It’s really well done. For me as an interpreter I loved how ‘tricky’ words in the ‘Dig Diary’ gallery had been highlighted and a description was neatly given to the side. The skeleton which describes Richard’s injuries is nicely presented too. However, the ‘pièce de résistance’ comes at the end of the visit. Being able to look into his shallow and hastily dug grave paints a thousand words in your mind, especially as you’ve been able to learn the story beforehand.
Our ticket included entry to Bosworth Heritage Centre too. It was here that the last significant battlefield of the Wars of the Roses between the Lancastrians and Yorksists took place.
This was my second visit and on both occasions I’ve got confused as soon as I’ve entered the exhibition. The first gallery is dedicated to the build up to the Battle of Bosworth. Yes, the story is a little complex but in my mind the interpretation doesn’t do it justice. To me there are inconsistencies with names – and too many are introduced at once. The story is a little muddled.
After battling with it into the next gallery I grabbed Ruth and got her to break it down for me, as she knows and loves this era well. I knew otherwise I’d have it hanging over me for the rest of the visit. From there on in the rest of the exhibition handles the story of the battle and its aftermath very well. There are nice handling objects, and whilst you could argue there is a lack of text hierarchy – some short, sharp paragraphs encapsulating the story for those who just want soundbites – you get a good feel for this period in our history.
The centrepiece is a circular gallery with a horizontal screen on a podium in the middle of the room that talks you through the battle by way of animating advancing/retreating troops on a map. It’s a very visual and simple way of explaining the battle. I was able to get a good understanding of how it played out. The supporting re-enactment film shown on several screens around the room is ok and gives a feel of the battle, but the one thing I like to know when I enter any gallery and see a film on a loop is a progress bar. This simple addition puts the visitor in control. It tells me whether I should wait for it to start again – and slip off to a side gallery which handles specific themes like Barber Surgeons really nicely – or dip right in now.
The penultimate room handles how the battlefield was finally discovered after 500 years. It’s amazing to think that something so significant in our history could not be located for so long. The panels here are less wordy and well set up. I don’t recall them from my previous visit so suspect this is newer.
I think my favourite part was the last gallery before the shop. Three panels down either side of the room examine both Richard III and Henry Tudor’s deaths. I forgot to take a photo but the choice of panel colour for each of the two men was well chosen. To me it was a classy finale. You’ll have to visit yourself to see if you agree.
After a quick bite to eat we headed out onto the 1.25 mile Battle of Bosworth Trail. There are a couple of nice viewing points, framed with oak and an artists’ impression of what the scene would have looked like in 1485. Supporting panels give a nice concise overview, but the audio tour via a QR code was a non-starter as I had no reception (vodafone).
In addition there are a dozen or so small interpretative points. The advantage of these in my opinion is that because there are small there isn’t too much text. As a result the theme for that point is covered with brevity e.g. providing concise detail about the main protagonists. My favourite point interprets the lead cannonballs used during the battle. A cluster of replicas sit on top of a wooden post and the reader is directed to look at a white fence back along the path you have walked. You are told that a cannonball shot from there would easily kill you whilst you stood here – and probably anyone standing behind. 25 words that paint a really vivid picture in the mind. Fantastic!
Ultimately, we really enjoyed our visits to both sites. For me the take away tips would be:
- – Highlight tricky words and provide explanations in creative ways
- – Some things don’t need interpreting directly, especially if you’ve already set the scene
- – Think carefully how different audio interpretations will work in the same gallery
- – Add progress bars to films so visitors know how long they are – to decide whether they want to invest – and how long is left – so they know how long they need to wait to watch from the start
- – Hierarchy of text (done well) provides soundbites for scanners and more detailed info for those who want to read on
- – Don’t link to digital content if there is no mobile reception (one of my bugbears!)
- – Less is more
- – Use local landmarks to highlight distances relevant to the interpretation