Can you imagine yourself as a Tudor merchant? Living in a busy port town, supporting a family and a house full of servants? If not then I know just the place to get your imagination going.Tudor Merchant’s House is a National Trust managed property in Tenby. In 2014 they underwent an exciting project to rejuvenate the small property and give visitors a whole new experience. Article written by Anna (Communication Intern) 2014.
The staff and volunteers at Tudor Merchant’s House are passionate and informative, but back in 2013 the house was a hotch-potch of interior furnishings from different styles and periods. In 2014 funding was secured to re-present the property and reinvigorate the visitor experience.
To kick start the project the team set about re-presenting the ground and middle floors of the house. They worked with local crafts people and skilled tradesmen commissioning replica furniture and colourful wall hangings. There was excellent attention to detail throughout the process, an example being the Tudor style frieze they had painted in the hall featuring fish and mermaids copied from the roof bosses in the local church used by the merchant and his family.
Once the interior works were complete Heritage Insider started working with the Tudor Merchant’s team to help update the interpretation. When we arrived the information about the history of the house was crammed onto sheets of A4 laminated paper.
We helped the team to create something new and more imaginative in the form of; ‘Tudor Family Fortunes’. Tudor Family Fortunes involves 13 characters ranging from Master Merchant to Jak the Water Carrier. Each visitor is given a character when they enter and then explore the house as if they were that character.
The characters are all based on research by history expert Dr Charles Kightley about life in Tudor Tenby. This personalises the experience for each visitor, so they feel immersed in the busy streets of Tudor Tenby. It is a fun activity aimed at the whole family, made more enjoyable as staff give the cards out randomly so the adults could be children and vice versa.
Visitor feedback was extremely positive and people were engaging more with the property and the stories. Initial evaluation revealed that some adult visitors wanted more detailed information. Although they found it enjoyable and engaging, some visitors felt that Tudor Family Fortunes was targeted at a primarily family audience.
We put our thinking caps on, and worked with the staff and volunteers at Tudor Merchants House to come up with something that was interactive, would provoke discussion, blend into the Tudor surroundings and be achievable on a very limited budget. It was a tough brief but together we found a solution; the intriguing world of Tudor superstitions.
Scrolls were created in keeping with their Tudor surroundings, and each one details a Tudor superstition. On each scroll there is a question, for example; ‘What should you use to cure a headache?’ When you open the scroll there is the answer; ‘Perhaps a Hangman’s Rope’ and more information about the basis for this.
Getting the facts straight
‘We undertook some interesting research to find out what local superstitions would have been; it was tricky as it was difficult to find primary sources that date back to 1500’ Kate Measures on the research process.
We sourced information from a range of resources, including some beautiful illuminated manuscripts from the Royal Courts which detail the Royal family’s use of astrologers and the kind of advice they were given. We also drew heavily on a book written in 1572 documenting beliefs from earlier on in the century about witchcraft, female persecution, and spells and charms that were believed to have been used.
One superstition led us to the Museum of London to find a coin hidden under the mast of a Tudor boat. We searched high and low to make sure the information we were providing visitors with was factual and backed up with historical evidence.
Check out our Flickr Gallery of new improved Tudor Merchants House.
“The feedback from visitors to the changes we’ve made have been overwhelmingly positive. People love being able to sit on the furniture and take in the atmosphere and because everything in the house can be touched and used, we’ve also been able to expand our work with schools”, Sue Hicks of the National Trust.
Since the work was carried out Tudor Merchant’s House has seen great improvements in visitor feedback. The sites Tripadvisor rating has increased to 4 ½ stars and they received a Tripadvisor Certificate of Excellence 2014.
‘Very well done restoration of the house of a well to do merchant. Several interactive areas for children and adults. Close to the town centre and the beaches’.
Tripadvisor review by Justwentthere June 2015.
‘The Trust has done remarkably well to bring the property ‘back to life’. Artisans have done a remarkable job of recreating furniture and fittings in the property which now provides an excellent look back into the past’.
Tripadvisor review Ratho099 May 2015.
‘There is much interesting information to absorb as you walk round and many fascinating objects to study.’
Tripadvisor review by StAlbansLady 11/06/2014
‘We loved every minute of our visit and came away feeling we had a real insight into the life of a Tudor Merchant and his family’
Tripadvisor review by WorldStar44 22/05/2014