Straight off, Winchester is full of great interpretation. Seriously. The museums, the mill, and even the city walls. It was a pleasant surprise. So this post is full of good examples of site interpretation, hands on activities, and community involvement.
The big surprise of the day was the Winchester City Mill, which is a National Trust site with over 1000 years of history, and the oldest working water mill in the country. A mill maybe doesn’t seem the most exciting or obvious site to visit, but we were exploring the city, and I love basically anything related to history. This could have been quite short visit- walk in, take a quick look around- but we spent at least an hour exploring the mill. Walking in you are hit first by two things- the smell of flour and bread, and the sounds of the mill working. You then start to notice all of the signs and activities, and want to start exploring! First you are directed to watch a film about the history of the mill and its restoration. It is a good film, but perhaps goes into too much detail in some areas, and is a tad long, running 15 minutes in length (or maybe we were just distracted by the smells of baking…). It does set the site in context, which is nice, as does the nicely laid out timeline on the wall nearby. To the left of the film watching area was another video- archival footage of the last time otters visited the mill, along with a live feed, chalkboard listing the last sightings, and information about them. Very cool! Although we didn’t see any otters.
After watching the video and read the timeline, we went on to keep exploring. The site is full of great hands on activities, signage, games, and demonstrations, which really make the mill come to life. You can learn about the mechanics of the mill, and watch them- grain coming from the bin, being ground on the wheel, and turned into flour, as well as the water wheel and the gears turning.
Try your hand at grinding grain, learn about wheat and bread, listen to stories, complete special trails, and maybe even best, watch staff baking, and then try some tasty treats made from the flour! You can also take home recipes, and even buy the flour from the mill in the shop. Everything was really well done, and made a site that many may not appreciate or think about quite interesting and interactive, using a variety of different techniques, which may appeal to different types of visitors. These photos show only a handful of the activities and interpretation techniques.
Other sites in Winchester also had a variety of good hands on activities, including the Winchester City Museum, Westgate Museum, and Great Hall. These hands on activities were relevant to the artifacts on display, were fun to do, and we learned something from doing them! There were also a variety of dress up stations, with fairly accurate clothes, and who doesn’t like the possibility of dressing up?
In certain instances- such as the Roman bath mosaic, and the Victorian pharmacy- these in situ type of displays also made it easier to imagine what they had originally looked like- and then reinforced by the nearby activities.
Throughout the City Museum there were also modern art projects from the community, which was great to see, showing the impact the museum has from the community, with real stakeholder interest.
The Great Hall also had good, colourful signs, including one with an activity to identify symbols and family crests in the stained glass, and what each animal or symbol meant.
Finally, there were also signs throughout the city which talked about the history of that particular spot, such as where the Roman walls were, or a medieval gate house. These were like bonus pieces of history scattered around that were interesting to come across. It’s a great idea, particularly for a city which you know must have so much history, but maybe it isn’t always immediately obvious.
Overall, Winchester made great day trip from London, with a lovely visit to the Cathedral-particularly with the medieval paintings in one of the chapels, and the story of diver William Walker- a visit to the William Walker pub, a stroll along the river and city walls, the museums, and the City Mill. Seriously, if you’re in Winchester, definitely stop here! Even if it’s just to try the bread…