We’re delighted to have the National Trust on board as a partner in the Museums at Night campaign this year! Thanks very much to Sarah Staniforth, who invited Nick and I to run a Museums at Night information stand at the Bringing Properties to Life conference a few months ago. We had a great time talking to representatives from all kinds of historic properties – some had run Museums at Night events in the past, others wanted to have a go for the first time, while many more were already familiar with showing off their houses and grounds in a different light.
It was good to meet Jennifer Richardson, the House Steward at Castle Ward, a National Trust property in County Down, Northern Ireland. She has a fascinating story to tell about the spectres from the past who appeared at their Pumpkinfest event.
This is my fifth year at NT Castle Ward where I manage the house and the collection. I have always been interested in built heritage (architectural background) and I consider myself fortunate to live on this beautiful Irish estate. I love my role and the house I help care for, and I want house visitor numbers to grow so that this heritage can be shared with everyone. Offering fun ways of visiting the house seems a great way to attract new audiences.
Without holding a candle to any of the other Museums at Night events I can see on Culture24’s website, here is an outline of the spooky event that Castle Ward presented in October last year.
I saw the opportunity to attract visitors to the house when families attended the popular annual seasonal event Pumpkinfest. This is held a little before Halloween as a neutral event to fit in with local religious sensitivities: it’s about the pumpkins and the carving. However, many costumed little witches and wizards are coming along now and that gave me the idea to create something in the basement for the children to visit. One idea led to another and with only a week to go, we hit on the idea of Spectres in the House as an adult attraction.
While Castle Ward house is not usually considered to be haunted, the idea to have four of its former inhabitants appear as ghosts seemed appropriate enough. The showrooms were darkened with all the shutters tightly closed, and the effective lighting was simply table lamps strategically placed at low level – all enhancing the spooky scene.
Castle Ward Opera Company donated the costumes, and theatrical face paint ensured the performers had suitably ghostly complexions. The guides excelled themselves in their roles, while staff and volunteers dressed in black to usher the groups quietly around the four rooms.
We did not deviate too much from the stories we know from the lives of four members of the Ward family – we merely made the most of these stories to suit the event. It was so popular that visitors were queuing up for “seconds” – and the spectres will be returning for our Museums at Night event on Friday 13th May!
Jennifer Richardson is House Steward at Castle Ward (http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-castleward), which you can follow on Twitter here @NTCastleWard and become a fan of on Facebook here: http://www.facebook.com/#!/nationaltrust1