The Culture 24/7: History and Heritage highlights for April 2012

By Ben Miller | 30 March 2012
A photo of a historic fortress on a grassy hill under a blue sky
Find out more about some dramatic Roman history at Housesteads in Cumbria, which reopens to the public this month
If you know your history, you'll know that York and Hadrian's Wall are two of the best places to head to on a warm spring day. There's good reason to visit both this month, but palaces, ships and Medieval halls are also among a stupendous seven we've spotted for your delectation...

Memories of Childhood, The Farmland Museum and Denny Abbey, Cambridgeshire, from April 1

Nostalgics Anonymous reneges on The Farmland museum for an interactive throwback full of toys, games, old TV shows, nursery rhymes, so-long satire, furniture and relentless reminiscence.

There’s a listening post to hear oral histories and an old-fashioned wooden toy box full of games to keep the Easter holiday masses amused.

Life and Death on Hadrian's Wall, Housesteads Roman Fort, Northumberland, from April 1

Housesteads – a kind of Roman version of a feisty estate, domiciling barracks in a colony known as “the place of effective fighters” on one side, and a tough civilian encampment on the other – was added to Hadrian’s Wall 2,000 years ago.

After a six-month spruce-up, English Heritage is reopening its amazing collection of artefacts, ranging from an ancient winged statue of Victory (returning for the first time since the 19th century) to interpretations of the on-site hospital, building tools, devotional altars, drinking cups from France and shoes. Dramatic living history.

The Wild, the Beautiful and the Damned, Hampton Court Palace, London, from April 4

A seething cauldron of lust and jealousy at the magnificent Hampton Court, where all eyes are on the mistresses at the centre of the oft-adulterous Stuart Court of the late 17th and early 18th centuries.

In the exotic Restoration Court, beauty was exploited and used to gain power. Portraits of Charles II’s “principal mistresses”, including Neil Gwyn, could seduce you when they are brought together at the palace for the first time.

1212: The Making of the City, Yorkshire Museum, York, from April 7

It’s 800 years since York was granted a Royal Charter, and it’s probably taken the Yorkshire Museum almost as long to assemble this mighty display of objects, paintings and original manuscripts from a list of majestic venues including York Minster and the Mansion House.

Their contributions will complement Anglo-Saxon sizzler the York Helmet, gothic gem the Middleham Jewel, two shrines dedicated to William, York’s patron Saint, and a special film revealing the surviving Medieval corridors of the city and the ways in which groups and individuals are helping to conserve them for new audiences.

King John's Palace: The Favoured Hunting Lodge of the Plantagenet Kings, Mansfield Museum, Mansfield, until April 28

Just off the Mansfield Road, the 12th century royal residence and hunting lodge of King John’s Palace has enjoyed a tumultuous line of visitors and events since being built by Henry II.

Time Team pitched up there to find out more last year and, to coincide with the TV screening of the episode, Mansfield Museum hosts an exhibition of objects found in the grounds on previous archaeological digs, some of which have never been seen before.

Royal River: Power, Pageantry and the Thames, National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, from April 25; Cutty Sark reopening, Maritime Greenwich, April 26

The River Thames is as much a symbolic route of power as a physical one, and the National Maritime Museum’s new exhibition is certain to win plenty of digital and printed column inches thanks to having David Starkey as guest curator.

Another British institution, the Cutty Sark, also returns, allowing the public an elevated view of the beautiful three-mast clipper. All in all, it’s a wonderful month for a trip to Greenwich.

Dragon Hall reopening, Dragon Hall, Norwich, from April 3

Robert Toppes, the four-time Lord Mayor of Norwich and MP for the city during the 15th century, also found time to build a crown roof in 1430 for the city’s celebrated Dragon Hall, a Medieval merchant trading hall on a site with signs of human habitation thought to date from 1,000 years ago.

It reopens with tours of the building voiced by actress Diana Quick, whose thespian tones tell tales of the history, features, architecture and stories behind this hidden survivor of the Middle Ages.
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