A BRAND-NEW interactive Civil War experience opened at The Commandery on Saturday.
Observer reporter Aaron Wise visited to the historic landmark to find out what has already drawn in more than a thousand visitors following the launch of ‘Worcester’s Civil War Story’.
MOST residents from Worcester like myself know The Commandery is a significant part of the city’s rich history, but some do not know the full extent, also like myself, of how the building played a part in the Battle of Worcester, in 1651 – the final battle of the English Civil War and the birth of democracy.
That is what this new interactive visitor experience offers, a fully immersive story on the fight between the Royalists and Parliamentarians through sight, sound, touch and even smell.
Upon passing through the gates of the 1085 timber building, you are instantly transported back to one of the most significant periods of Worcester’s history, from the initial skirmish at Powick in 1642 to the final clash at the Battle of Worcester in 1651, during which The Commandery became the Royalist battle headquarters.
Starting in the Great Hall of the Grade I listed building, you begin to discover the stories of intriguing characters, divided families, betrayal and military tactics that changed the course of the next 350 years of history.
Throughout my tour I was immersed in the atmosphere of the 17th century, surrounded by the smells of gunpowder, atmospheric film scenes, the sound of arguing Royalist and Parliamentarian voices and the sights of opulent aristocratic life.
One of the highlights was the Presidents’ Rooms, which mark the visit of US Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who visited Worcester in 1786.
Such is Worcester’s importance in the story of democracy that Adams stood on Fort Royal Hill and proclaimed “this is holy ground, much holier than that on which your churches stand. All England should come in pilgrimage to this hill, once a Year.”
And you can look out at Fort Royal Park from the rooms, where the UK’s oldest re-enactment society, The Sealed Knot, will provide a glimpse into life in the midst of the Civil War with their August Bank Holiday weekend experience, ‘The Storming of Fort Royal’, supported by Worcester Re-enactors.
David Nash, The Commandery manager, said: “This project has taken about two years to put together. Worcester had a very important role in the Civil War and it happened in and around The Commandery, so we wanted to represent that. We’re very passionate about what we’ve created.
“Audience research showed people wanted to see paintings and weapons so that’s what we’ve given them. The display is quite dramatic.
“The entertainment factor is just as important as the educational factor. We’ve put things into the exhibit that are not only fun for families with young children to discover, but there’s also a deeper academic experience on offer.
“No matter what your angle is, there’s something here for you.”
Overall, the visit proved to be a highly entertaining and educational experience, and one that has been so finely researched to offer the very best insight into the City’s history during the Civil War, that even the relatives of Oliver Cromwell helped out with the project.
And the experience will soon be extended further, as visitors will soon be able to explore Civil War stories throughout the whole City as part of the Civil War City trails.
Worcester City Council invested £380,000 towards the project, in addition to £96,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund and further funding from Worcestershire County Council, Arts Council England, the Friends of Worcester Museums and Art Gallery, Worcestershire Ambassadors, Worcester Re-enactors, The Sealed Knot, Worcester War Games and Raise Partnership.
If you pay your council tax to Worcester City Council you can sign up for a special Worcester residents’ year-long ticket for just £5 – bring your Council Tax bill as proof of residency.
The Commandery is open from February to December, Tuesday to Saturday from 10am to 5pm and 1.30pm to 5pm on Sundays.
Visit www.museumsworcestershire.org.uk for more information.