The largest Norman Keep in Europe will reopen to the public on 2 May 2014 after a £4.2 million redevelopment programme.
Colchester Castle, which was ordered to be built by William the Conqueror in 1076, has been closed since March 2013 to undergo major renovation works. It will be re-opened officially to the public on 2 May, with a special event being held to mark the completion of the works to be held on 7 June.
The renovation works have been made possible through a £3.2m Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) grant, and further support coming from the EU Norman Connection, Colchester Borough Council, Arts Council, Roman Wall Society and the friends of Colchester Museums.
Standing at 152×112 feet the keep is the largest ever built in Britain and the largest surviving example in Europe. It took over 50 years to complete and was completed around the year 1100. The Castle is considered to have been the blueprint for the tower of London and served as the Royal Palace for William the Conqueror, who made Colchester itself the first capital of Roman Britain.
The Castle is now a museum, and thanks to the investment, its’ colourful history will be brought alive through digital technologies and interactive displays. Stories contained in the walls of the building can be unlocked through a mobile and tablet app, which are available to hire inside the museum. A gigantic son et lumiere projection that will fill an entire internal wall will also be on show in the museum. This will dramatically evoke key moments from the 2,000 year history of this site and recreate the lost internal structures of the Castle.
Tim Young, Portfolio Holder for Planning, Community Safety and Culture, Colchester Borough Council, added: “We are so pleased that Colchester’s jewel attraction will be welcoming visitors back in May. The new-look museum will benefit the local community of Colchester and is vital to the town’s tourism economy. It will be one of the best museums and tourist attractions in the country and will put Colchester back on the map. I’m sure the Castle will once again be as important as it was when it was built for by the Normans in the 11th century.
Robyn Llewellyn, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund for the East of England, said: “Colchester Castle is one of the finest surviving Norman buildings in Britain, a Scheduled Ancient Monument and Grade I listed. We are delighted to see the opening of the refurbished museum in sight, and look forward to the reinterpretation of some the most fascinating stories in our Island’s history.”
On 7 June, as part of a medieval festival to celebrate the re-opening, six teams representing the Roman, Iceni, Saxon, Norman, Cavalier and Roundhead eras will go head to head racing chariots around the Colchester Castle in a Battle of the Ages event, across a fast and frenzied obstacle course. Local schools, community groups and businesses are being asked to design the chariots and bring alive some of the characters from the Castle’s history, with prizes on offer for the best designs.
A special website has also been launched to mark the re-opening of the Castle, with more information about the Battle of the Ages even on 7 June. This can be found at www.battleoftheages.co.uk