Elizabethan House reopens as an immersive audio-visual experience

Jun 01, 2021

Plymouth’s Elizabethan House will reopen on Tuesday 20 July following a major restoration as part of Plymouth’s Mayflower 400 commemorations.

The historic property, which dates from the late 1500s, has survived the slum clearances of the early 1900s and the Blitz of World War Two. After undergoing vital structural and strengthening works, it’s been reinterpreted as an immersive visitor experience, shining a light on some of the people who’ve lived in it over the past 400 years.

Elizabethan House, part of The Box family, opens this summer after a six-year, £1.7m restoration. The Grade II* Listed historic building has stood almost unaltered until now, while the fortunes of those living and working around the Barbican have risen and fallen.

The new attraction takes visitors on an immersive yet authentic journey through its history, as well as offering an insight into the history of Plymouth’s Barbican area, and introduces them to some of the people who have lived in the House since it was built 400 years ago. 

Now one of Plymouth’s oldest buildings, Elizabethan House was built as a letting house and has been lived in by many people whose lives and livelihoods were based around the waterfront. It’s a rare, surviving example of its time with centuries of stories to tell.

The new multi-sensory audio-visual tour of the building lasts for around 45 minutes and is led by the ‘voice’ of the House. Acting as a narrator, she shares her memories with visitors as they are led through each of the carefully restored rooms. You meet the first owner, a washerwoman, a wig maker, get a glimpse at the House’s architecture and see what life was like for the rich and the poor. Projections, images and smells all add to the experience.

Each room is dressed with a series of carefully selected props to enhance the stories even more – from a dreidel to represent the Jewish owner of the House to a fishing rod to symbolise a fisherman lost at sea. Other objects, some of which have been specially commissioned, include Wedgwood pottery, clay marbles and a christening dress, in memory of the babies who sadly died in the House.
Local actors have been used to voice the different characters visitors meet. June Marlow, the voice of the House, is a 90-year-old Plymothian who was actually born on New Street.

Councillor Nick Kelly, Leader of Plymouth City Council said: “This transformation not only safeguards one of the city’s most historic buildings, but also creates a brilliant new addition to our visitor offer. The development of the characters, the voice of the House itself and the overall visitor experience are the end result of many hours of hard work combined with some painstaking research. I can’t wait to experience for myself how it all brings the story of the House and this historic part of Plymouth to life.”

Councillor Tudor Evans, Shadow Leader said:
“This is a great new visitor experience that will really take people on a journey. Elizabethan House is a survivor which, thanks to this restoration and reinterpretation, will stand the test of time. Best of all, it’s telling real stories about real people, some of which are being shared for the first time in centuries.”

The restoration of Elizabethan House has been led by a project team from Destination Plymouth and Plymouth City Council working with specialist heritage architects Dittrich Hudson Vasetti. The restoration has been funded by Plymouth City Council, Mayflower 400, the National Lottery Heritage Fund, Coastal Revival Fund, Historic England and The Pilgrim Trust.

Work has included internal and external structural repairs, the strengthening of the floors and foundations, a new two-storey extension to the rear of the property and authentic decoration of all the rooms.

The House is managed and operated by The Box – Plymouth’s major new museum, art gallery and archive which opened to great acclaim in autumn 2020. Tickets for Elizabethan House will be available to book later in June from www.theboxplymouth.com and in person from Plymouth’s Tourist Information Centre. Tickets are £10/£7.50 concessions/£5 5-17 year olds/free for under 5s and must be booked in advance. On arrival at the House, visitors will be guided around in groups of up to 12 people. Due to the age of the property and the length of the audio-visual experience, visits are most suitable for adults and children aged 8+.

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