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A digital window into the past


Technology is being used to bring one of Northumberland’s historic houses to life in an exciting new visitor experience.

Developed by Newcastle University, the new game encourages families to explore the 19th century Belsay Hall in a whole new way, bringing to life the mythical Wild Man of Belsay who features in the Middleton family’s coat of arms.

With location beacons hidden around the rooms, the experience is played through your mobile phone, the voice of the Wild Man guiding you through challenges and responding to the players’ actions as they explore the old hall.

The app takes you into a different time and place where wild creatures roam the rooms of Belsay Hall challenging you for example, to creep carefully through the halls to surprise the Wild Man – who listens and feels your every move. 

Designed by PhD student Gavin Wood and Dr Simon Bowen, part of the Digital Interaction Group in the School of Computing Science at Culture Lab, the game – which is played via a free iPhone app – is being launched this week in time for the summer holidays.

Developed in collaboration with English Heritage, Newcastle University’s School of English Literature and Northumbria University’s School of Design, the project was funded through the Arts and Humanities Research Council’s Creative Exchange knowledge exchange hub.

Simon explains: “Typically visitors get their information via audio headsets or information boards but these are very isolating and don’t encourage people to engage either with each other or their surroundings.”

“The aim of the Wild Man Game is to get people to look beyond the mobile phone and explore their environment in a way they wouldn’t otherwise, immersing themselves in the history rather than simply looking at it from a distance.”

Gavin adds: “This game is all about learning through play.  You don’t have to follow a set route around the house or look at things in a certain order.  Instead it’s about exploring in your own time and in your own way as the game develops around you.”

“Following the theme of the Wild Man, we use the app to bring the wildness indoors and give families an interesting – and surprising – new way of exploring our past.”

The Wild Man of Belsay

The Wild Man was adopted as a symbol of Belsay Hall in the 15th century and for the last 600 years, he and his wife have watched over and protected Belsay's famous Middleton family. 

Appearing on a crest on the family’s coat of arms, the Wild Man features throughout the house, in wall paintings, as a carved stone statue and even stamped into 20th century cutlery.

Julie Spowart, Territory Marketing Manager, English Heritage, said: “English Heritage is always looking for new and exciting ways to bring history to life and we have been thrilled with the result of this partnership with Newcastle University .

“This is a completely different and innovative way of experiencing Belsay Hall and in particular the Wildman installation and we are looking forward to some fun interaction with families over the Summer weeks ahead."

The Wild Man App is available for free download on iPhones (4s and above) on the iTunes App Store. 

published on: 30 July 2014