Portland breathes life into Battle of Hastings exhibition

English Heritage will open a £500 000 exhibition on the site of the Battle of Hastings later this week. It is designed by Portland Design.

English Heritage will open a £500 000 exhibition on the site of the Battle of Hastings later this week. It is designed by Portland Design.

The consultancy was appointed to the project at the beginning of last year following a Europe-wide tender that attracted pitches from groups across the Continent and the US, according to English Heritage interpretation manager Dirk Bennett. Three UK consultancies were shortlisted for the final round of the pitch, although Bennett declines to name the two unsuccessful groups.

The exhibition will act as an introduction to the Norman Conquest and the battle, which took place on 14 October 1066. It is housed in a new visitor centre at Battle Abbey, designed by Dannatt Johnson Architects. The building sits against the steep slope that runs up to the abbey built by William the Conqueror to commemorate the Norman victory.

Portland Design was allocated a budget of £425 000 to create the 200m2 visitor exhibition, as well as redesign the signage across the whole ‘1066 Battle of Hastings, Abbey and Battlefield’ site.

‘The centre is the starting point, chronologically, and sets the scene. Visitors then move through the battlefield site and gradually relive the events of the day. The consolidation is the existing exhibition in the Gatehouse,’ says Bennett.

The exhibition space is divided into two areas dedicated to the two warring parties. Each zone is given its own colour and lighting treatment – purple for the English and green for the Normans. ‘The exhibits highlight the differences in culture and background of the two sides in the battle,’ adds Bennett.

Andrew Wood-Walker, head of cultural attractions at Portland Design, describes the exhibition as an ‘interpretive space’ with hands-on interactive installations, but no historical artefacts. At the entrance, a graphic timeline runs along the walls, taking visitors back from the present to 1066, where they enter between the English and Norman zones.

Portland Design commissioned digital group Newangle to produce the screen-based interactive exhibits, as well as a ten-minute film running in a theatre area. Using a panoramic projected map, visitors can also virtually navigate the march to battle from either Normandy or Stamford Bridge, where King Harold’s army was amassed.

Graphics and information panels, designed by Portland Design graphic designer Jo Moore, have a contemporary style, using grayscale and red accenting to reflect the nature of battle. Main images use illustrations and are supported with details from the Bayeux Tapestry, a document of the conflict.

According to Wood-Walker, the previous information panels and signage were ‘very outdated’, employing a soft, watercolour style, inappropriate to the site’s history, while the new panels take ‘the tone befitting of such grave and brutal events’.

• Visitor centre opens on 9 February
• Located at Battle Abbey in East Sussex, the exhibition chronicles the 1066 Battle of Hastings between King Harold and William of Normandy
• Designers: Portland Design – exhibition, signage, information panels; Newangle – touch-screen interactives and ten-minute film; Dannatt Johnson Architects – visitor centre building

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