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Waterfront Festival

Interview: Dave Green from Nottingham Castle

1 August 09 interview: Frances Ashton

"I think it’s really important to remember that not everything in a museum has to have a high value in terms of finance"

Nottingham Castle, the legendary home of the Sheriff of Nottingham, has been featured in hundreds of books, films and TV programmes over the years. In truth, the building itself looks more like a stately home  than an actual ‘castle’, as we’ve pointed out at various times over the years here at LeftLion. However, an afternoon exploring the beautifully-kept castle grounds is one of the best things you can do in the city this summer - and if you live or work here it’s free to get in on weekdays!

Can you fill us on in a bit of the Castle’s history?
We’re proud to say that Nottingham Castle has been a museum since 1878, when it was opened as the first municipal art gallery and museum in the country. Before that Nottingham didn’t have a museum or an art gallery of such a grand nature and it was inspired by the local creative industries. That’s why our collections are predominantly of the nature of decorative art, fine art and textiles all linking in with lace textiles, which were the main industries here at the time. Thankfully the collections have grown both in quantity and quality since that day on an ongoing basis.
As well as the art side, we very much look after the history and some of Nottingham’s real treasures in terms of the development of the city. The site itself goes back to 1068, the time of William the Conqueror. It’s called ‘the Castle’ even though it’s actually a ducal palace - it isn’t the building you think it’s going to be because there was a great fire in the 17th century which destroyed the inside of the building. This, however, paved the way for Thomas Charles Hine to do the work and create the museum you see today.
The history galleries on the lower floor go right the way through from the Viking origins of the town to tell stories about the Civil War and all the way up to the present day as well. A lot of people don’t realise that it started just over the road on Standard Hill, where King Charles raised his standard and declared war on the nation.

What do you think attracts most visitors to the Castle?
The Castle gets around 330,000 visitors a year and the Brewhouse Yard Museum gets an additional 70,000. We’ve got the family audience in for some events and also we draw very much from the two universities. Then we’ve got the tourists, who principally come for blockbuster exhibitions - anything from the Pre-Raphaelites, to Andy Warhol, or the exhibition we did on the props and costumes made for the recent Robin Hood TV series.
The other thing the tourists come for is the history of Nottingham because when people are in a town they do like to find out a little bit about it.
Also last year we held the Nottingham Beer Festival for the first time, which brought another 17,000 people into the Castle grounds. So, I see us as being rather more than just a museum. It’s about making sure we attract people to the city, to the site and there is literally something for everyone.

You also put on plays during the summer…
We’ve been doing outdoor theatre for about twelve years. We changed it about six years ago to make it more affordable, accessible and contemporary. So now we’ve got a childrens’ play, a contemporary classic and some Shakespeare later on in the season. It gives us a chance to invite different audiences in again. It’s important that all of Nottingham’s residents feel there is something for them here.

It’s a very large and historic site, with many mentions of ghost stories...
The stories have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Different people have had different experiences here. We’ve done ghost nights in the past, which have led to some rather strange stories being told. The only one I ever really experienced was down in David’s Dungeon, which is one of the underground caverns. We were in there with a professional ghost hunt group and one of the tables did appear to move. Myself and a colleague were down there and are both quite healthily cynical about it, but to this day I go down there and press on that table and think: ‘How did it move’?
There are also all sorts of stories connected with Mortimer’s Hole. In the fourteenth century, Roger Mortimer, who was Queen Isabella’s lover was famously carted off from here to the Tower of London where he was hung, drawn and quartered.
There are also the very common sightings of a young girl and boy playing upstairs which is thought to relate back to the time when there was the fire here which destroyed the inside. There were rumours that a little boy and girl had burnt to death in there.

You mentioned there being a lot of artefacts in the collections which relate to Nottingham and its history. Can you pick out some highlights?
Up in the Collection of Decorative and Fine Art we’ve got some real gems and pieces that are extremely rare. For example, up in the Long Gallery we’ve got Arthur Spooner’s painting of Goose Fair from 1926. Someone made the comment to me the other day that ‘My dad could have been in that crowd’. It’s things like that really bring a collection to life and make it worthwhile.
Also, a lot of the real highlights are down at Brewhouse Yard, which is very much part of the Castle these days. You can get in on the same ticket and they’ve got little street scenes set up of what Nottingham was like throughout different eras. I took a group of elderly people there recently who were completely taken back to the 1940s and 1950s because there are some real nostalgic gems down there. I think it’s really important to remember that not everything in a museum has to have a high value in terms of finance. A lot of it is about social value and how much people enjoy seeing and remembering things.

What’s the best thing about working at the Castle?
Whilst my job does involve a fair amount of risk assessment and balancing budgets, there can’t be many jobs with such a varied workload. I get involved in some serious stuff but some quite crazy stuff as well, like when 17,000 people came to the beer festival last year, we set the world record for the most amount of Robin Hoods in one place at one time.
Ever since I was a little lad I really liked L.S.Lowry paintings and to think that I now manage a place that has a couple in the collection is a real honour. Sometimes it can take quite an effort to get pieces even up onto the wall. Some of the pictures in the North Hall had to be lifted by eight of us. When I see school parties in the galleries enjoying themselves, it really inspires me and makes me think that my job is worthwhile.

Nottingham Castle is open free to Nottingham residents and people who work in Nottingham from 10am-4pm on Monday to Friday. Take proof of your status (such as a Citycard, library card, council tax statement, employment ID badge or letter from your employer). It costs £3.50 for adults and £2 for concessions on weekends, which also includes access to The Museum of Nottingham Life at Brewhouse Yard.

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