Laser Technology Helps Visually Impaired Enjoy Thornton Abbey

By 24 Hour Museum Staff | 21 August 2008
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a photo of a man walking on a grass lawn in front of a large brick and stone gatehouse

Custodian Kimberley Royce at Thornton Abbey Gatehouse. Courtesy English Heritage

Thanks to the latest laser technology, visually impaired and partially sighted people are being given the chance to get to grips with history at Thornton Abbey in North Lincolnshire.

English Heritage has been working with Visually Impaired Media Access Consultants (Vimac) to create a range of Braille and tactile displays, including a replica of a medieval carved stone and a section of the magnificent 14th century gatehouse.

The latest laser scanning technology developed at Hull University, has been used to record for the blind and partially sighted part of the intricate façade of Thornton Abbey’s famous multi-storied gatehouse .

“Scanning technology has the potential not just to create tactile exhibits, but is also being investigated as a way of recording our historic fabric for conservation purposes,” said Kevin Booth, Senior Curator with English Heritage.

“We have also produced Braille guides and a large tactile plan of the monastic complex at Thornton, giving insights into the fascinating history and sheer scale of this amazing monument.”

The Abbey Gatehouse at Thornton is one of the most impressive and intact in England. It has formed the gateway to the abbey for centuries since it was founded in 1139 by Augustinian canons. While many monastic buildings were plundered for stone centuries ago, the gatehouse stands almost complete as an astonishing survivor.

The data used to bring this magnificent monument alive was manipulated using computers. The information was then fed into a machine to produce a tactile model made of plastic. This has been inset within a stylised relief of the building so people with little or no sight can now visualise the grand architecture using touch alone.

Thornton Abbey is open daily, 10am to 5pm and from Wednesday to Sunday during September. Winter opening times (October until March) are Friday to Sunday, 10am to 4pm. Admission is £4 adults, £3.20 concessions and £2 children. English Heritage members are admitted free. Visitor information on 01652 632516 or visit

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