Oliver Cromwell’s House

Oliver Cromwell’s House, Ely

Visitor attraction within Cromwell’s historic family home.

We are extremely grateful to the Maltings for the creative and inspiring design concept they have developed with us.

(Manager, Oliver Cromwell’s House)

Oliver Cromwell’s House is the historic family home of the Cromwell family, where he last enjoyed a normal life before his infamous rise to be Lord Protector. His journey from relatively humble beginnings to being “King in all but name” is inexorably linked with the English Civil War and the march of the New Model Army. Presently owned and maintained by the local council, the house has become a much used Tourist Information Centre and visitor attraction. Despite such a rich and remarkable history, the visitor attraction was somewhat low key – displays were dated and it did not offer an immersive and powerful interpretation of events. Our brief was a challenging one – to totally refurbish and reinvent the Civil War room interpretation whilst ensuring it remained in keeping with the wider existing visitor experience. Lost revenue during closure was an issue, so the entire installation also had to take place within a 5 day timeframe across a school half term break.

The initial brief called for a complete replacement of showcases within the Civil War room. However we felt that this was an unnecessary allocation of funds and suggested that a far greater proportion of the budget should be spent on re-writing the interpretive material and creating an improved visitor experience. Our proposal was to simply up-cycle the existing showcases with new graphics, a new paint scheme and modern, efficient LED lighting throughout. This released a significant proportion of the available budget, allowing us to create a fresh and much more dramatic delivery of the stories that needed to be told. We proposed creating audio visual interpretation featuring a newly filmed Civil War battle story and soundscape (Our thanks to the English Civil War Society), a graphic timeline of Civil War events, a children’s dressing-up area within a soldier’s camp, extensive illustrated wall vinyls, up-cycling of several existing children’s interactives with new graphics, and a bespoke ‘gun barrel’ voting device on exit. Cromwell was a famously divisive character, and visitors would be presented with a musket ball upon entry and asked to vote for him as ‘Hero or ‘Villain’ when they had learned more about his life and achievements. Our proposals were so well received that additional funding was subsequently found to refresh and improve two other rooms, together with the main entrance to the building. Our visual language was developed to sit comfortably with the original areas of the visitor journey through the rooms that were to remain untouched. A particularly effective intervention was in the last room visited – the addition of animated ‘ghost’ writing in the haunted bedroom, which magically appears across the headboard as the dramatic narration builds to its eerie climax.

The final scope of work was agreed, and we developed all resources with our specialist team members over a period of 6 months. We were ever mindful of the need to co-ordinate multiple installations and works during the 5 day half-term closure of the house. It was a very smooth and successful installation, on time and on budget, and we handed the museum back for re-opening on the following Monday – ensuring as little revenue was lost as possible. Visitor numbers and positive feedback grew over the following weeks, culminating in the official relaunch of the house by Earl Charles Spencer, himself a noted Civil War and Cromwell historian.