I’m very keen on visitor participation, I’m happy about high visitor numbers and I think a busy museum is a vibrant museum. But sometimes I just really love to be alone in a quiet empty museum. I think the most special moments can happen when you’re alone with a museum. It doesn’t mean the whole museum needs to be empty, just the space you’re in. Especially when they’re historical sites.
When I was travelling in the UK I visited a National Trust site in Northern Wales with some friends. It was ‘Tŷ Mawr’ or ‘Big House’ translated from Welsh. This lovely historic site was nestled in an isolated part of the country side and manned by a keen and knowledgeable guide. The site had an old magic to it, which the guide helped bring to life.
Tŷ Mawr’s main claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of Bishop William Morgan, the first translator of the Bible into Welsh. But it is the reality of the day-to-day lives of the inhabitants that was the most remarkable. And even better when described with passion.
Tŷ Mawr had fought to keep their original copy of William Morgan’s Bible (it’s old and damp host building surely makes most conservators cringe). I’m glad they did though, the Bible was much more special, significant and real in the context of this 16th century farmhouse.
After our short guided introduction to the site we were left to wander around at our leisure. We were the only visitors there, and it was easy to be the alone in any part of the house. It was wonderful.
Then as we left our keen host showed us the collection of over one hundred different bibles in nearly as many languages. Many of these had been sent from previous visitors: people no doubt as enchanted by Tŷ Mawr as I was.
Tŷ Mawr may have been small and isolated, but the magic it offered can surely be found in big city museums. I believe that having spaces in a big and busy museum for quiet time alone with the history is one of the most magical experiences we can offer our visitors. Perhaps they all have such spaces, but finding them is part of the fun…