It’s fair to say that I found history lessons at school a bit dull. Learning the dates of wars in far flung places just didn’t resonate with me in the same way the works of Shakespeare did, or indeed, excited me in the way that taking part in a protest march against the Poll Tax did (my Sociology teacher’s hands-on approach to teaching ‘collective action’).
Skip forward 25 years and I’ve been getting lost in history books, poring over old parchments in Nottingham Archives and getting excited over old maps. The reason for this new-found interest has been a wonderful opportunity to work on the King and Miller to Kingfisher project led by Ashfield District Council in north Nottinghamshire and funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF).
Pending second stage HLF funding the project, (which focuses on King’s Mill Reservoir, Hermitage Ponds and Sutton Pleasure Lawns), will attract visitors to a new heritage centre that will principally tell the story of the mills that once stood around the Reservoir and along the River Maun towards Mansfield.
The brief was to produce the content for a compelling and interactive visitor experience, as well as to create two initial education packs – working with Red Stone design agency – to help local teachers engage pupils with the industrial heritage of the site.
As an experienced communicator I knew that simply churning out facts and figures, would be a sure-fire way of turning people off – as it had me, many years before. What I needed to do was to bring to life the people at the centre of the historical narrative; provide visitors with an opportunity to reflect on the pivotal moments in history that have changed industry and society forever and above all make it fun!
Desk research into what makes a good visitor experience revealed a common thread: creating an emotional experience and allowing people to draw personal connections with what they see increased their satisfaction.¹ Increasingly, people also expect to be able to personalise their visit using APPs, audio guides, multi-media kiosks and podcasts².
The boundless enthusiasm of local heritage groups was infectious and invaluable in terms of mining for historical records, as well as learning about local folklore and traditions. A medieval play, The King and Miller of Mansfield; the gruesome beheading of local Luddite leader, Jeremiah Brandreth; and speculation about whether Hamilton Hill, an escarpment overlooking the site, was once a burial ground or a place for delivering speeches were all absolute gifts.
So, what is the vision for the heritage centre in Sutton-in-Ashfield? Well it’s certainly more than simply describing the historic mills. It’s about how the pioneers of the past heralded the beginning of the factory system and effectively, the introduction of a new working class; the importance of social justice and last, but not least, an insight into the Sutton spirit – combining a work ethic, integrity, a passion for sport and humour. We hope a visit to the site will get people thinking, make them feel good and hopefully, they’ll come back again.
With the architectural plans and interpretation for the site all prepared, we’re now waiting with bated breath for news that the project can be taken through to fruition.
To find out more about our research and interpretation services click Heritage research and interpretation or get in touch via email: firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07866 762401
Image courtesy of Wikipedia circa 1817. Jeremiah Brandreth (1790 – 7 November 1817) was an out-of-work stocking maker who lived in Sutton-in-Ashfield, Nottinghamshire who was hanged for treason. He was known as “The Nottingham Captain”. He and two of his conspirators were the last people to be beheaded with an axe in Britain.