As Tamworth Castle prepares to reopen after the lockdown on Tuesday 18th May, we popped over for a look at their brand new Battle and Tribute exhibition, and let me tell you, we were not disappointed!

If you are a fan of tech, history, Tamworth, or Staffordshire in general, you are going to love this!

The idea for the Battle and Tribute exhibition, to celebrate Tamworth's Anglo-Saxon heritage and create an exciting, family-friendly day out, was first conceived in 2016.

Five years of hard graft - and one global pandemic - later, this long-awaited attraction, funded by The National Lottery Heritage Fund, Tamworth Borough Council, Arts Council England, and Friends of Tamworth Castle, opens to the public for the first time on Tuesday 18th May.

Here's what we discovered...

Tamworth AR Explorer

On arrival, we downloaded the Tamworth AR Explorer app from the App Store and made our way through the ancient courtyard, which is where our tour began.

There are 22 markers dotted around on the floors and walls, each offering an immersive experience, like a historical character worrying about the imminent arrival of the king, or a 3D artefact from the castle's collection appearing in front of you, with narration from the Memory Keeper, an all-knowing, Siri-like companion.

You follow the trail of markers around the castle, learning about Anglo-Saxon weapons, and taking selfies with a virtual helmet, hat or wig.

It's great fun and it really brings the history of the castle to life.

To download the app, search for Tamworth AR Explorer on the App Store (or Google Play if you have an Android phone).

Tamworth Touchtable

Another innovative addition is the hugely impressive Tamworth Touchtable, which you will find on the top floor, revamped to be the home of the Battle & Tribute exhibition.

It's a unique and interactive way to explore the people, places and battles of Anglo-Saxon England, which pitted the Mercians against enemies like the Vikings of Denmark and Norway.

As well as the snippets of history, which appear on the screen and open with a double tap, there's state-of-the-art fun to enjoy with friends, family or other visitors.

There's Mercia! The Game, where you play as the original settlers of Mercia, and help them expand their borders by winning challenges. But beware! If you become too big and powerful, you could come under attack from other kingdoms!

It takes about 15 minutes to complete, using the information around you, with the help of the interactive buttons on the walls, and an audio character as your guide.

The Legend of Aethelflaed

No visit to Tamworth would be complete without a look at the incredible story of our 10th Century warrior queen, Aethelflaed.

Daughter of Alfred the Great, Aethelflaed came to the throne and became Lady of the Mercians in 911, after the death of her husband Aethelred.

She ruled the huge Kingdom of Mercia, of which Tamworth was the capital, until her death in 918, becoming a formidable and respected leader who was known for her shrewd military tactics and heroics on the battlefield - particularly at Tettenhall where she defeated the Danes.

Through a series of colourful interpretation panels, Battle & Tribute reveals all about Aethelflaed's life, and how she vanquished the Vikings while protecting ancient settlements like Worcester, Chester and Stafford. 

The Staffordshire Hoard

Another highlight of our tour was the display of The Staffordshire Hoard, and the fascinating recreated Mead Hall which surrounds it.

It's an incredible collection of jewellery, armour and other items from the largest-ever find of Anglo-Saxon treasure, which was discovered in a field in Hammerwich near Lichfield in 2009 and is now cared for by Birmingham Museums Trust and the Potteries Museum & Art Gallery.

Take a closer look at the amazing craftsmanship with the magnifying glasses supplied, before designing your own Saxon sword, and exploring the Mead Hall, with its fire, chair and artefacts - which you'll be able to handle when it's safe, after we emerge from the pandemic.

You can also watch The Story of the Sword, a short film on the origins of the Hoard, produced specially for the exhibition.

And there's more too!

Enjoy a breath-taking look at Tamworth from the ramparts, including the stunning Church of St Editha, as well as a birds-eye view of the historic 900-year-old courtyard. Later in the summer, the tower will be open to visitors too, offering even better sights.

Alongside the stories of former Castle residents, like The Ferrers' and Townshend families, and The Black Lady, who is said to haunt the Lady's Chamber, you'll soon be able to explore new displays celebrating local finds and local people.

If you're unable to visit in person, the virtual offerings will be revamped too, with a new virtual tour of the 15 rooms, while work is also ongoing to digitise the huge collection of 40,000 items in the castle archive.

And from the end of May, there will be an online learning programme, suitable for Key Stages 1-4, available to purchase from the Tamworth Castle website.

Thank you to Tamworth Borough Council and Rob Holder, Project Lead at the Castle, for organising our tour.

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