Over the Bank Holiday weekend I went to Bosworth battlefield and found a new addition to my (imaginary, but not that long) list of really well interpreted places in the UK. It was a really ‘good day out’, and a demonstration of how careful interpretation planning makes that good day look effortless and obvious.
Which is fortunate because Bosworth needs top-notch interpretation. Battlefield sites are notoriously difficult to interpret: a field does not offer many clues to what happened here over 5 centuries ago. But battles do often make great stories – they have clear beginnings and endings, characters, drama , action, tension and conflict, many of the ingredients of great interpretive storytelling or interpretelling.
The interpretation at Bosworth makes the best of these ingredients.
These fields in the heart of England have a hugely significant but complex, long ago and much misunderstood story to tell. Shakespeare famously told it, for his times (and his Tudor patrons.). Remember “A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse”? That’s Bosworth, where the final Battle of the Wars of the Roses was fought in 1485 and where King Richard III died.
Two weeks ago I, like I suspect much of the British population, couldn’t have told you that. I don’t ‘do’ military history, and my knowledge of the Wars of the Roses could be broadly summed up as ‘too complicated to understand and a very long time ago’. I knew Bosworth was a ‘very important battle’. Not a very promising start to my visit. Now I know a great deal more and much of that comes down to really good on-site interpretation and fantastic use of interpretelling.
In this case, it was storytelling that took me there. I had just read Phillipa Gregory’s historical novel ‘The Red Queen’ in an attempt to get a basic handle on The Wars of the Roses. That had set me talking to my partner about Bosworth and somehow, quite quickly, that led to the decision to go and see where it all happened and find out more about it.
I still quite can’t put my finger on how we decided that ‘ being there’ mattered. But it did, immensely, both before, during and after the visit. We did want to learn, but books and the Internet, were not enough. It was not just factual information we wanted, we were looking for the experience of being there and the opportunity to talk to people who knew the story. We wanted it laid out for us in interesting, reliable and gripping ways.
We found all that …
… in a well designed site which, to a professional eye, showed great attention to detail at every part of the visitor journey
… in an introductory exhibition that showed the benefits of tight theming and the importance of creating simple powerful storylines to convey the essential information.
… and in excellent design throughout.
The more I think on it the more it feels like a masterclass. I could spend days pointing out how it exemplifies good practice. I highly recommend Bosworth to anyone who teaches, or would like to learn about, interpretive planning, script-writing, interpretive design, or guided walk planning and execution.
I also recommend it as a ‘must do’ to foreign visitors who would like to an insight into a key incident from our convoluted history and evolution as a nation.
Congratulations to Leicestershire Museums Service and everyone involved.