Hidden vaults brought to life at Peterborough Museum

Jonathan Latchford  in the Priestgate Vaults, Peterborough Museum EMN-151021-175102009
Jonathan Latchford in the Priestgate Vaults, Peterborough Museum EMN-151021-175102009

Few places can boast such a rich and varied history as Peterborough Museum, and for the first time colourful characters from the museum’s past are set to be brought to life. Literally.

Because from Saturday the 500-year-old museum will begin offering regular tours for the first time into its spooky underground vaults where visitors will be greeted by characters who used to work there centuries ago.

Stuart Orme in the Priestgate Vaults, Peterborough Museum EMN-151021-175149009

Stuart Orme in the Priestgate Vaults, Peterborough Museum EMN-151021-175149009

Now of course, Vivacitywhich operates the museum, has not created a machine to bring people back from the dead, but laser imaging will project images of real people from the past onto the cellar walls who will then inspire the tours with their life experiences.

The characters are played by actors from Peterborough’s Lamphouse Theatre Company and range from a mysterious medieval monk to a young girl experiencing a bombing raid in the Second World War which destroyed nearby buildings in Priestgate.

In the past five centuries the museum has been a Tudor mansion, a Georgian magistrate’s home, a Victorian hospital and an air-raid shelter, which tour-goers will learn more about in the cellars.

According to historian Stuart Orme, interpretation manager for Vivacity Culture and Leisure, the vaults will bring the past to life through sights, sounds and even smells, with the museum using smell projectors to add an even greater sense of realism.

He said: “We’ve been thinking about this for a long time but the really nice thing about the project is it turned out as good, if not better, than it was in my head. It’s really nice to see it come to fruition and it’s a great addition to the attractions of the museum.”

The vaults have rarely been opened to the public, but the new tours will change all that.

During half-term next week tours will run every hour before being spaced out afterwards. Separate versions of the tour will also be available for school groups and wine tasting in the wine cellar is also being planned.

The bringing to life of the vaults was made possible thanks to £150,000 of funding from Arts Council England, and the money will help the museum play on its reputation as a haunted building.

The ghostly goings on are nothing new to Stuart who was working late there two years ago when something unexplainable happened -“It was 9.30 at night and a woman walked past the door. She looked like a normal person but was wearing a dark blue Victorian dress,” he said.

“I rushed to the corridor and nobody was there. It’s an old building and it has memories.”

There are a few fun surprises lined up for the tours, so anyone brave (or foolish) enough to venture into the vaults should brace themselves for what comes next.

To book on a tour, call the museum on 01733 864 663.