Phase one in the development of Housesteads museum has finished and a brand new museum has opened at the ancient Roman Ford on Hadrian’s Wall.
The museum includes an exhibition and opened for the first time to the public this weekend, just in time for Easter. The museum celebrates Roman life at the fort and presents and interprets the vital history that the Romans left behind in this part of England.
In addition, exciting news is that the exhibition includes the statue of Victory, a winged piece of art which was removed from the site more than 100 years ago. It is the first time that Victory has returned to Housesteads since the 19thCentury. English Heritage presned this important cultural artifact this weekend and it is now on public display.
The Senior Curator for English Heritage in the North is Kevin Booth. He describes Victory’s story by saying that “When the Romans inhabited the fort, Victory is likely to have once stood on either the gateway to the fort or in the headquarters, conveying the military might of the Romans to all who saw her.
“Today, English Heritage is extremely proud to have her on loan from the Great North Museum. Returning to her original home at Housesteads, she will stand at the entrance to the new museum greeting visitors to the fort, just as she did thousands of years ago.”
The statue Victory is an artistic representation of the conquest of the North of Britain by the Romans. It is important and valuable because it is considered by classicists to be one of the best ever examples of Roman sculpture from Hadrian’s Wall during the Roman occupation.
Victory was originally historically noted in 1725 by William Stukeley, an antiquarian and illustrator. Amazingly, the statue was lying in the ground near the fort. In the 1800s the landowner, a man named Gerge Gibson, took Victory to the Society of Antiquarians in Newcastle.
Most recently, Victory has been in stores at the Great North Museum: Hancock. Following surface cleaning and conservation work out by Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums conservators, Victory returned to its original location 1000s of years ago – Housesteads.
The Historic Properties Director for English Heritage in the North, Liz Page, said: “This marks the first phase of our commitment with National Trust and Northumberland National Park Authority to improve the experience our visitors get when they come to Housesteads on Hadrian’s Wall.
“As the most complete example of a Roman fort in Britain, Housesteads is one of the most important places on the Hadrian’s Wall World Heritage Site. These new and future developments will really do this iconic place justice. The new museum will serve as an ideal introduction to the fort, with visitors able to wander through the remains of the barracks and with the help of new interpretation, imagine what life would have been like in the fortress 2,000 years ago. I can’t wait for visitors to come and experience it”
In Roman Britain Housteads was called Vercovicium, which is the fort’s Latin name. The word Housesteads means ‘the plage of the effective fighters and is a translation of Vercovicicum.
Housesteads dates back to about 124 AD, when it was added to the wall. Today, people who go to the fort and museum will be able to see examples of day-to-day objects used by the Romans, such as devotional altars, shoes, cups and jet beads. There is also an informative audiovisual show as well as interactive exhibits.
British actor Bernard Hill, known for his roles in Titanic and Ghandi, is part of the production of a new film which gives a virtual tour of the fort. Bernard narrates the digitally-enhanced film, which is a dramatic and exciting production. It includes aerial footage and a virtual tour of the buildings around the fort and the Housteads itself.
These new additions bring the fort firmly into the 21st Century for the modern-day visitor. New interpretation panels outside take visitors on a journey around the fort. Access to the museum for disabled visitors has been improved, and the museum shop refurbished.
The project is phase one of the improvements to the visitor facilities at Housesteads. The National Trust has also been granted planning permission for Phase 2 of the project, with work due to take place towards the end of 2012. This will include improving the welcome for visitors by remodelling the visitor centre, toilets, shop and café.
Northumberland National Park Authority is improving the visitor infrastructure: improvements to the car park and access points will ultimately provide 40 additional car park spaces and better access for visitors.
Housesteads Roman Fort opening hours
Housesteads will re-open daily to the public from 31 March 2012. Housesteads admission prices: Adult: 6.00 / Concession: £5.40 / Child: £3.60. Under 5s, English Heritage and National Trust Members go free.
For further information on Housesteads Roman Fort and Museum visit www.english-heritage.org.uk/