If you were a Time Traveller where would you transport to? A new App. 878 AD launched this week and aims to re-create a significant moment in English history. After years of repeated attacks by the Vikings, in 878 AD King Alfred finally defeated the Great Heathen Army at Edington in Wiltshire, close to his army’s winter quarters. His success would mark the beginning of a strategy to position himself as not only ruler of Wessex but a united England. The rest, as they say, is history.
Imagine Anglo Saxon Winchester, the capital of King Alfred’s kingdom on the eve of battle where the people await news from the battlefield that will impact their daily lives (already devastated by years of Viking attacks) and the destiny of England itself. 878 AD features two parts; a new physical experience – a mini-museum – featuring live performances by actors, displays of rare Anglo Saxon objects and video imagery. Secondly, an interactive App. to download with a special code to access an immersive tour of the city using geo tracking. Create ‘memories’ from different locations and be rewarded with more content.
878 AD is a collaboration between Hampshire Culture Trust, Ubisoft, the creators behind the highly sucessful game Assassin’s Creed®, and Sugar Creative, a leading UK tech innovation studio. Advisor to the project is Ryan Lavelle, Professor of Early Medieval History and advisor to Netflix blockbuster, The Last Kingdom.
Part one: the 878 AD mini-museum
Winchester was a major city in Alfred’s Wessex”.Paul Lavelle, Professor in Early Medieval History and advisor to Netflix series The Last Kingdom.
Modest in square feet the museum is nonetheless packed with live performances, interactive screens and Anglo Saxon objects all coming together to bring history alive, telling the stories of the people of Winchester from reeve to slave to soldier. On launch day these performances didn’t feature any women’s stories but this was a snapshot visit and presumably performances vary throughout the day.
The Winchester Reliquary. (Late Saxon, about AD 800-920). Photo Hampshire Culture Trust. The relic remains inside the casing as revealed by an X radiograph. It has never been opened but is thought to contain human bone, and possibly a container for a small quantity of hair, or a tiny piece of the (supposed) One True Cross.
Was Alfred really that great?
Who hasn’t heard the story of the burning of the cakes? More recently lively academic debate questions the validity of some of the claims made historically for the great king of Wessex. For many years the main source has been Asser’s biography, Life of King Alfred, commissioned by the king himself so probably subject to hyperbole. In adition, Alfred-mania develped in Edwardian and Victorian times and continues unabated so that facts become blurred. I asked Professor Ryan Lavelle what is it about King Alfred that endures today? Watch the interview (around 1.40 minutes) on Instagram grid @hashtagtravelin.
There’s a sense of vision in terms of the the way Alfred ruled Wessex, a sense of a grander strategy moving from being king a small kingdom to something with a larger vision”.Professor Paul Lavelle, Early Medieval History, Winchester University
Part two: the 878 AD App.
Winchester featured heavily in the Assassin’s Creed world of Valhalla and 878 AD draws on imagery and assets. The Winchester Revealed tour takes around 90 minutes or, if local, complete in your own time. Begin from wherever you happen to be and geo tracking will direct your steps to 8 key points where you can create and store ‘memories’ through activities like practising archery skills (a lot of fun) or making a piece of pottery or a shield, placing it in the real world for a photo and sharing on social media. Walk down to the pretty River Itchen and summon up on screen a simple boat into which you load barrels one at a time from the path to deck to complete the memory fragment. As a note of interest here, Jason Veal, Managing Directorof Sugar Creative admitted that he was keen to include a Viking ship for even more authenticity but budget didn’t allow for more detailed graphics. However, he did mention (ahem, confidentially) that there are plans to increase the locations and memory opportunities.
Correction: “The decision to omit the longship was down to historical authenticity as opposed to graphical ability. Historical accuracy was of utmost importance for the project and we felt a trading boat was a far more accurate representation of the history of the area (as much as we all think longships are cool!).” Jason Veal, MD, Sugar Creative.
The aim is to gather together pieces of the legacy map to reveal the city street plan that Alfred is accredited with designing. Collect fragments along the route and, once completed, the memories will unlock a ‘rare’ Assassin’s Creed Valhalla in-game, the Hearthweru Pack. We didn’t get that far as there wasn’t enough time.
Some key points featured on the App. and others in the city relating to King Alfred. All photos hashtagtravelling.uk. Clockwise from top left: Hyde Gate the former site of Hyde Abbey and the re-burial site of King Alfred, his widow and their son, King Edward the Elder; statue of King Alfred in Winchester; the magnificent Winchester Cathedral where you can see medieval sculptures, wall paintings, mortuary chests, and traces of the Anglo-Saxon Old Minster; Apothecary House; Kings and Scribes exhibition at Winchester Cathedral sculptured heads of historical figures re-discovered in the buildings foundation. [Click to enlarge photos].
Winchester’s history dates back to even earlier times, pre-Roman, and it is impossible to walk the city streets without stumbling across some reminder. There is always something new to discover even if you are local, or have visited previously. It is one of its charms as a destination. Sadly, Hyde Park Abbey was destroyed during Henry VIII’s Dissolution and, unbelievably the location of the remains of the King and his family were lost.
Overall 878 AD offers a fascinating glimpse into Anglo Saxon life and history and the opportunity to see some stunning objects from the trust’s collection.
The actors were all excellent and remained in character throughout as they mingled amongst the visitors. It is quite dark inside and that, coupled with the level of noise from action on the screens, can be distracting when reading display boards. The atmosphere is rather like being inside a video game which on reflection may well be the intention. The Brooks Shopping Centre is an interesting choice of location although once inside you could be anywhere and at least it utilises empty retail space which has to be good in today’s economic climate.
With regard to accessability on the App. the graphics are excellent. It offers a dyslexic font option and actress, Sarah Parrish, narrates the text which appears on-screen, especially helpful for the hard of hearing. You will need your earphones or buds for your phone to hear the narration against background noise and take note of a reminder to be aware of your surroundings when walking the streets and alleys.
Naturally, there are a few glitches which will no doubt be ironed out. The sound track when scrolling is rather like the repetitve striking of a monastery bell. It may be authentic but after a while it is slightly irritating especially if you are super-sensitive to sounds. To mute go to ‘settings’.
Downloading the App. via a QR code presented a problem for some of us at the launch, possibly down to the internet signal. Later there were difficulties loading barrels into the boat at the river as mentioned above. Sometimes the navigation is a little clunky. For instance, there doesn’t appear to be a ‘back’ button to a previous screen once you start the route and you have to go back to the beginning to recap.
I’m looking forward to picking up the trail again and discovering more about this historically significant city. 878 AD is a fun App. and a good way to encourage visitors and locals to explore. Adult £15, child £8.50. Unlimited visits for a year. 878 AD https://878ad.co.uk