Warwick Castle Chopping Block (Rod Fitzpatrick)
Interview Words : Peter Moore | 28 March

Making history horrible at Warwick Castle

Head of Historical Interpretation at Warwick Castle Adam Busiakiewicz on making history more palatable by making it horrible

Without any government funding to fall back on, Warwick Castle is always on the lookout for ways to draw people through its medieval gates. As well as its popular jousting events and Bird of Prey displays, this year the castle has opened its grounds to the Horrible Histories team, bringing the gruesomely popular antics of the books and TV series to life in an atmospheric setting.

Adam Busiakiewicz, Head of Historical Interpretation at  the castle, talks to Peter Moore about the challenges – and delights – of bringing history to life at one of the UK's favourite historical monuments.

What does your role at the castle entail?

My role is to show that history isn’t all about dusty manuscripts, but rather something you can experience and immerse yourself in. It involves finding new, exciting and interactive ways of bringing history to life, which can be quite a task. 

How do you achieve this?

Essentially, I work closely with all the attractions' teams to develop ways to get young kids interested in history. We come up with the sort of new and exciting tours that more boring museums wouldn’t do. 

So your focus is mainly on kids?

No, not at all. One of my initiatives was to give all our tour guides a tablet with all our archive material on it. It's a great way to bring to life the history of the castle in a way that’s never been done before. With all our archive material at their fingertips, the guides can quickly and easily show visitors what the castle used to look like in centuries past. A picture speaks a thousand words. And it’s instantly accessible.

I guess that technology transcends language barriers as well.

That's right. Just the other day, I had a group of Russian guests visit. I can’t speak Russian. They couldn’t speak English. But I was able to lead a whole tour of the castle by just pointing at pictures.

Anything else on the drawing board?

We're looking at putting up a series of new signs that will make interesting facts from history literally jump out at people. And, of course, we've got the Horrible Histories people here over Easter and the summer holidays, which which will certainly bring things to life!

Is this the first time Horrible Histories have set up camp in the castle grounds?

Yes. We’re very excited. It's all part of the celebrations of the 20th anniversary of the first Horrible Histories book being published. 

We’ve teamed up with Scholastic, the publisher of the Horrible Histories books, and Terry Deary, the author, to create five different interactive areas based on five different books. It's a great way to bring history to life, to make  people feel they are in the Medieval world.

What are the five areas?

We've got the Vicious Vikings, out near the Birds of Prey, bringing to life the stories of all the horrible marauding vikings. Warwick Castle was first built in the 10th century to protect the Anglo Saxon people from vicious Vikings, so we have a really nice link there. It goes right back to our early history.

Then we have the Nasty Normans on the top of the mound. We built them a special semi-wooden fort up there. Their focus is the story of William the Conqueror. Again, there's a nice link because castles like Warwick were extended to help establish Norman rule.

Measly Middle Ages will be set up on the east front, with a barber surgeon prescribing lots of nasty medieval cures to all kinds of weird and wonderful ailments.

In the Rose Garden we have King Henry VIII and his executioner, rapping about his assorted wives and encouraging kids to play the fun game of toilet tipping. Henry is one our most famous and well-known kings of England, so that's sure to be popular.

And then finally, in the Mill and Engine House, we have the Vile Victorians. We’ve set it up as a workhouse, with a school master and mistress teaching kids the way they did in Victorian times. We're hoping the kids will get a real idea of what it was like in a Victorian school, which wasn’t always nice.

Do you find that modern people, modern kids, need all this stuff to encourage them to visit a castle?

Funnily enough, Warwick Castle has always been a place where people came to imagine what it was like in medieval times. Even when they first opened it up, centuries ago, people would walk around the walls and towers, getting a feel for times past. We’re just a continuation of that. 

Indeed, it never really stopped. In the late 19th century, the Earl and Countess used to do the odd tour. Tourism has always been a big part of  Warwick Castle, but the underlying motivation is to try remember our history, to always have a lesson. It’s edutainment.

It’s also important to remember that we don’t get any funding from the government. It all comes from visitors. We’re also incredibly committed to conservation, spending a minimum of £250,000 a year on keeping the building standing, we have a ten year conservation plan and we have our visitors to thank for it. If there weren’t people coming here, there probably wouldn’t be a Warwick Castle.

Warwick Castle’s Horrible Histories Foul Fayres – to be held at Awesome Easter (23 March – 14 April), Wicked Whitsun (25 May-2 June) and Stormin’ Summer (20 July-1 September. Warwick Castle has frozen entry prices at 2012 prices so visitors can revel in
the Foul Fayres – as well as everything else on offer at the attraction – at great value prices. For more details visit the official Warwick Castle website.