For keeps

The Keep at Norwich Castle.
Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

The Keep at Norwich Castle. Picture by SIMON FINLAY. - Credit: Archant Norfolk

Norwich Castle’s historic keep is in line for a major redevelopment, and your views could help shape its future, as chief curator Dr John Davies tells Angi Kennedy.

Dr John Davies readily declares his job “one of the very best in the country”. As chief curator and keeper of archaeology at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, it’s easy to see how such a position is fascinating and fulfilling for the archaeologist and expert in ancient coins who joined the castle in 1991. John’s present role is an extraordinary and challenging mixture of leading a team of national experts; helping to develop a multi-million pound project to take our castle’s keep back to its Norman roots; establishing creative and economic partnerships across the city, county and country, and harnessing the huge enthusiasm that the people of Norfolk have for its archaeology and history. Then there is the writing of a new book on Anglo-Norman castles, the buying of fine examples of archaeological finds, plus his own research into “the interface period between the dark, mysterious prehistoric people and the Romans”. . . It is an all-consuming job where, he says, the biggest hurdle is time.

“What makes me happiest every day is the extraordinary interaction we have with the community,” says John, as we talk over coffee in the castle’s bustling Rotunda, filled today with young students and visitors to the galleries and collections. “There is no other service quite like ours in the rest of the country and we do play a significant role within the community and with the people in Norfolk. It gives me the greatest satisfaction. We have developed a great relationship with the metal detectorists, and are 20 years ahead of the rest of the country in this confidence in each other. And through this we are getting so much information coming in through finds across Norfolk.

“However, that has not been reflected in the museum’s holdings - people thought our collections would be massive because we have such a wealth of finds in Norfolk, but we were handing things back to the people who brought them in to us for identification. So in recent years we have been undertaking strategic aquisitions that will gradually fill in the gaps in our collections and in our knowledge and understanding of the past.”

A strong and developing relationship with the British Museum, as well as the Arts Council and locally the University of East Anglia and Norwich University of the Arts are also strengthening Norwich Castle’s national position as a hub of specialist knowledge, a great venue for major exhibitions and an important resource for future generations. Now, with proposals for a major redevelopment of the historic keep, John believes the castle has the potential to become an even more important attraction for Norfolk.

Have your say: If you would like to join in the consultation on the future of Norwich Castle keep or share your thoughts on the project, write to Dr John Davies, Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery, Norwich, NR1 3JU.

Castles and The Anglo-Norman World, edited by Dr John Davies and Angela Riley (Oxbow Books), priced £40 is published this autumn.