Thomas Bewick celebrations at NT Cherryburn

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Cherryburn © David Gill

This weekend marks the anniversary of the birth of the wood-engraver Thomas Bewick at Cherryburn in Northumberland on 10 or 12 August 1753 (see ODNB). The property is now owned by the National Trust.

Further information is available from the Thomas Bewick Society and the Natural History Society of Northumbria.

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Cherryburn © David Gill

From experience to transformation – enterprising heritage sites

The business of running a heritage site has got ever more complex as new ideas, drivers from the wider tourism industry, changing visitor expectations, and commercial pressures on conservation organisations have increased. The range of ‘touchpoints’ between visitors and heritage sites often combine aspects of intellectual, commercial or experiential interaction, and have the potential to move the site from having a passive to an active relationship between the managing organisation for the site and its users.  This is particularly useful for heritage organisations which want to develop customers into stakeholders and supporters of a conservation cause.

The growth in the range of income streams for an individual site lead to complexity for leadership of both the site and wider organisation, which means a site needs to be considered as a particular form of enterprise.  A recent publication by Bruce Dearstyne, Leading the Historical Enterprise (Altamira 2014) considers usefully considers this.

The different contexts and relationships are neatly illustrated at Anglesey Abbey, near Cambridge, run by the National Trust. Illustrated is one of a number of similar information boards at various key visitor gathering points around the site. The information frame is headed by a strapline variant of ‘One Time..’ which is used across the site to bring together the interpretative theme based around Lord Fairhaven’s creation of the estate and landscape gardens. An explanation is provided of the new live interpretation which is being deployed at the site by costumed volunteers (called ‘engagers’), designed to provide an ‘immersive experience’, as if the house owners were still in residence. Further notices suggest that the visitor could ‘Start a fresh story here’, by visiting the second-hand book shop, purchase tickets for the Winter Lights evening opening, or purchase a raffle ticket which will support the restoration of the Rose Garden.  Visitors are also encouraged to ask questions about the plants in the garden by taking a card from a small wooden box and writing their queries on them for passing to garden staff, who will then feed back information.

The various notices therefore bring together aspects of brand creation; diversity in income streams; innovation in interpretation through immersive experience of the site; after-hours special events which stretch the hours of site utilisation and which have developed a level of exclusivity given popularity (tickets being sold in July for November, almost 6 months in advance); knowledge development through being able to quiz the gardeners about plants; and sating of competitive tendencies via a raffle with prizes with the added bonus of doing something good for the site.  In a single location we can therefore see a sophisticated range of visitor engagement, and consider this against the context of Pine and Gilmore’s ideas on the Experience Economy and developed notions of the Transformative Economy, whereby a heritage visit can now affect a person visiting in a number of ways.

Ringlet at Cherryburn

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Ringlet at Cherryburn, 2017 © David Gill

Today, 14 July 2017, marks the start of the Big Butterfly Count. Keep an eye out for butterflies when you are visiting heritage sites.

This ringlet was in the meadow behind NT Cherryburn in Northumberland, the birthplace of Thomas Bewick.

Summer Solstice at Sutton Hoo

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Sutton Hoo © David Gill

There are preparations underway at Sutton Hoo for the ‘Summer Solstice’ weekend. One of the displays includes (reconstructed) material from Switzerland that was contemporary with the Sutton Hoo burial.

Spring at Ickworth

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Ickworth © David Gill

Spring has arrived at NT Ickworth. New-born lambs abound, and there are stunning lines of tulips in the walled garden, and swathes of daffodils in front of the rotunda. The woodpeckers were active and added to the atmosphere.

Castlerigg Stone Circle

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Castlerigg Stone Circle © David Gill

Castlerigg stone circle in Cumbria was placed in state guardianship by General Pitt-Rivers in 1883 along with a number of other prehistoric monuments (e.g. King Arthur’s Round Table; Mayburgh Henge; Nine Ladies in Derbyshire). This decision came in the wake of the Ancient Monuments Act (1882).

The site is now managed by the National Trust.

Tattershall Castle

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Tattershall Castle © David Gill

Tattershall Castle in Lincolnshire is in the care of the National Trust. The present brick tower was constructed by Ralph Cromwell, Third Baron Cromwell, in 1434; it was completed in 1446. It has six levels, and from the very top there are clear views over Lincolnshire.

The castle was purchased by Lord Curzon of Kedleston, the former viceroy of India, in 1911 and subsequently given to the National Trust. The castle had faced demolition and the removal of its architectural features for export to the USA after it had been sold in 1910; the case had been a spur to (Sir) Charles Peers in his preparion of the Ancient Monuments Act (1913).

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View from Tattershall Castle © David Gill