King Richard III Visitor Centre opens in Leicester

Leicester’s new King Richard III Visitor Centre opened on Saturday. The £4 million ($6.8 million) museum was built in the former Alderman Newton Boy’s School, a Victorian brick building that over the years has housed a boy’s school, a girl’s school and most recently the Leicester Grammar School which closed in 2008. The building has been empty since then, but location is everything in real estate, and it just happens to be adjacent to the council parking lot under which the remains of King Richard III were discovered in September of 2012. Three months later, the city council providently bought the school building.

The inside of the school has now been transformed into a voyage through the life and death of Richard III, and of the archaeological excavation that against all conceivable odds, found the king’s mortal remains. The ground floor is dedicated to Richard III’s life, his controversial rise to the throne at the expense of the nephews he declared illegitimate and locked up in the Tower of London never to be seen again, the three decades of conflict between the Lancaster and York branches of the Plantagenet dynasty known as the Wars of the Roses, and Richard’s death at the Battle of Bosworth in 1485.

The story is told through high tech audio-visual displays where video projections recreate the places where Richard lived and died in an atmospheric, stylized manner. A digital reconstruction of Grey Friars Church shows visitors what the medieval church that used to stand where they are standing looked like. It includes a virtual visualization of Richard’s tomb as it would have looked after Henry VII had a proper tomb built a few years after Bosworth.

The second floor focuses on the excavation and takes an unusual approach that makes the quotidian elements of the dig into artifacts for exhibit. The boots worn by Richard III Society’s Philippa Langley at the dig site are on display, as are the hard had and neon yellow vest Mathew Morris was wearing when he first unearthed King Richard’s bones on the first day of the excavation. The highlight is a 3D-printed replica of the skeleton. The original will be buried at Leicester Cathedral next year. The cathedral is just across the street from the former school, so people will be able to make an easy day of it and see the tomb then walk over to the visitor center.

The best part of the new center is that the site of Richard III’s Grey Friars grave has been integrated into it. It’s a minimalist space, no glowing blue neon or elaborate set pieces, as it should be given that it was a king’s grave for 500 years, with clear plexiglass over the burial site. The only video element is a subtle projection of the skeleton in the position it was in when the archaeologists found it.

There is very little information on the center’s website. Right now it’s all about directions and ticket bookings, but I hope they flesh it out further in the days to come. You can get a glimpse of the King Richard III Visitor Centre in this video:

I don’t want to judge without seeing, but it looks a little low-information for my taste. Lots of video projections, few period artifacts, boots and hazard vests from the dig, but not much about the science (DNA, osteological analysis, radiocarbon dating) that actually identified the king. Or about the 3D printing process, for that matter, a subject I am completely obsessed with, especially in regards to archaeological and museum applications. I’m glad they didn’t just repave the burial site and keep it a parking lot, which was the original plan, let’s recall, so at the very least the center has that going for it, and that’s quite a lot.

I’d love to hear an eye witness report, so please do share your impressions should you visit the center.

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12 Comments »

Comment by Countess
2014-07-28 23:39:46

Hummm. Not that I could make out anything the man was saying ,but that could just be my speakers. Not sure I like the flickering on and off Richard a bit to neon light/Vegas for me.I too was underwhelmed with the vest and shovel display. In the whole thing the biggest question I had was… Was his armour realy white? And what had Churchill to do with it? Mabey it will improve with age. Museums rarely stay stagnet..not good ones.

 
Comment by MICHAEL HILL
2014-07-29 10:07:05

I WATCHED THE VIDEO,FIRST OF ALL IT LOOKS LIKE
I JUST WENT TO SEA WORLD,ALL THEY WANT IS TO SELL ANYTHING WITH RICHARD ON IT.
THE MAYOR WOULD LOOK LIKE HE REALLY MEANS WHAT IS SAID IF HE TOOK HIS HANDS OUT OF HIS POCKETS.
THE PLACE OF THE DIGGING SHOULD BE UP CLOSER AND
LIT UP BETTER,AND ALL THE OTHER STUFF ABOUT EVERYONE ELSE SHOULD BE REMOVED,IT WAS TO BE ABOUT RICHARD,NOT A HISTORY LESSON ABOUT THE OTHERS,I HAVE DONE MY FAMILY TREE AND I MAYBE RELATED TO RICHARD’S FAMILY,IN ANY CASE HOW WOULD YOU LIKE YOUR ANCESTOR DEPLAYED??

 
Comment by John A
2014-07-29 18:30:33

According to The Daily Mail, the professionals of the dig are unhappy with this. Seems they did manage to stop an exhibit which would have had blood dripping from a throne, but there are other gaucheries – like painting armor white.

 
Comment by Countess
2014-07-29 21:45:26

Thanks then the armour was not white as I expected it wasn’t. It makes me think of Star Wars and the storm troopers. The shop thing is pretty standered at least in America. I realy did expect that. Mr Hill I too am decendsed from Richards family he being in closetest desent my umpteen[I’d have to check the family tree to get the # excact] times great uncle. And yes it does interest me how my relitives are “displayed” altho I don’t care for the word. Prehaps presented is a better term. But I’m more interested in how he will be re-laid to rest and when. If this display can lead more people to the truth of What happened and which side is ‘right’ I think I might sanction an electric skeleton jumping around in it’s knickers..ummm no.

 
Comment by Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer
2014-07-29 22:40:41

The Richard III wallahs have been going ape-doo about the whole thing. http://www.annettecarson.co.uk/357052365/2085370/posting/richard-iii-visitor-centre-leicester

 
Comment by AndrewLeics
2014-07-30 14:01:35

I am sorry to see that people do appear to be commenting on the Visitor Centre without actually seeing it. Living not too far away I was fortunate to be able to go on the opening day and can therefore report first hand that it truly exceeded all the expectations of my group of 7 adults. There is actually too much to take in during a single visit and I already have tickets for another next week. The standard of the presentation is as high as it gets and thankfully the ‘story’ of Richard III is presented in a balanced way with no biased judgements. There are a number of highlights; the battle section, the temporary exhibition of paintings, the digital ‘fly through’ of the Grey Friars Priory (what the place where you exactly standing would have been like at the end of the 15th century) and of course the archaeological site itself come to mind immediately and not forgetting the science surrounding the identification of the remains which is fascinating. The grave itself is simply and respectfully displayed in a new, simple and very respectful structure – a quiet place with seating along the walls. The ceiling slopes gently towards the grave leading you to bow your head slightly as you approach – a nice touch. Overall this is a ‘world class’ Visitor Centre which will never get the approval of the Anti Richard in Leicester Brigade but warmly recommended. Along with the Cathedral close by where RIII will be reburied in the spring.

 
Comment by Susan H
2014-07-30 19:35:42

Michael, my sentiments exactly. There is more than enough history about King Henry to fill this … ahem … micro museum, and then some. What’s the mentality behind this for the off-topic showcasing of unrelated public figures. Churchill? Seriously? Huh?

 
Comment by Countess
2014-07-30 19:50:52

Dear Mr. Andrew Leics Your correct I have not and most likely will never get to see it in person. So I’m glad to here it IS better then the little preview tape make it out to be. Also Roger Mortimer,thank you for posting the link you did.I guess I’m not the only one who thinks the armour looks like a Storm trooper.or the’light bright’skelton. I also think it’s ironic that with out even having seen what you linked to that other Richard ‘fans’for lack of a better word at the moment. have the SAME problems with the whole thing that I do. also once again I assure you I am not in either camp Leicester or York, I am not a Richard 3rd socity member.I’m speaking my own mind not,anyone elses. oh and thank goodness someone with a bit of common sence had the brains to put the breaks on the blood dripping throne. That’s to P.T Barnum,Hollywood wax museum isn’t it.

 
Comment by Lapinbizarre/Roger Mortimer
2014-08-01 18:16:49

Annette Carson states that “we find especially offensive their ghoulish display of a projected image of the king’s remains lying in his grave”. From the scan you link of this portion of the exhibit, this is clearly strikingly done. I recall reading that Philippa Langley was pretty perturbed when she saw that the spine of the skeleton is malformed, it having been a near article of faith of the Richard III Society that the humped back was the invention of Tudor detractors. I wonder if the Society’s objection to this, to me, unobjectionable display, is the very obvious curvature of Richard’s spine. By itself, the roughly-dug, empty hole in the soil illustrates next to nothing: with the projected image it shows how roughly, with how little ceremony, the king’s corpse was slung into the ground. And yes, indeed it shows that his spine was malformed.

 
Comment by Countess
2014-08-01 20:39:41

Not that I can or would even consider speaking for Ms Langley, or her learned companions. But my problem has nothing to do with Richards handicap, which dosent seam to have been much of a handicap to him..if you look at what he could and did do. Hopefully in this day and age people have out grown having a problem with handicaped people. The only truly handicaped person is the one who lets their handicap rule their life and define them as a person.Richard did not do that. My problem with it is it’s very Hollywood horror film. Neon light up glow-in-the dark Richard skeletons. How did they miss it in the gift shop. How about bendable spine pencils? That’s my problem with it. Not THAT they displayed his bones but HOW they displayed his bones. He’s a King not a haunted house prop.

 
Comment by Suburbanbanshee
2014-08-27 12:09:43

IIRC, “white armor” in the Middle Ages was armor that wasn’t painted, etched, blued, or otherwise ornamented and personalized.

For example, St. Joan of Arc famously wore “white armor,” ie, just plain armor. It wasn’t ostentatiously austere, but usually knights did personalize their armor. A king wearing white armor would be a bit plain, but serviceable.

 
Comment by Anne
2016-08-16 20:45:07

I have watched with great interest the program regarding the search for and identification of King Richard III. It was gratifying to see the forensic reproduction of the bust of the King. Is it possible that a life-size model of the King might be produced and displayed at the visitor center and/or Madame Tussaud’s? Is it possible to have computer generated animation to show his walk given his physical attributes?

Thank you for your attention to this inquiry.

Anne

 
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