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University professors reveal the history behind city’s multimedia Saxon visitor experience

University professors reveal the history behind city's multimedia Saxon visitor experience

A unique event will give the public a chance to pick the brains of University of Winchester experts who helped set up a new visitor attraction in the city.

878AD is the name of the venue which recreates a key moment in Winchester’s Anglo-Saxon history when the Viking invaders are advancing on the city and the Anglo-Saxon way of life is under threat.

Visitors are taken back to the ninth century through the world of the video game franchise Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, cinematic audio-visual projection and live performances by actors.

Next month a special evening –  878AD: King Alfred, Winchester and the English Language – goes behind the scenes of the 878AD experience which was opened by Hampshire Cultural Trust in November 2022.

Taking part will be a trio of University professors, who are members of the 878AD advisory board – Ryan Lavelle, Bill Lucas and Christopher Mulvey.

They will be joined by Jaane Rowehl, Director of Collections and Programming at the Hampshire Cultural Trust who will explain how the exquisite Winchester Reliquary, the only known Anglo-Saxon one to have been found in England, has been incorporated into 878AD.

The event, on 20 June, will be in two halves with an interval for refreshments. The first half will offer an overview of ninth century life in Winchester and an exploration of the influence of Alfred on our culture and language. In the second half the audience will have the chance to ask the panel questions and talk to others who have been involved in creating and running 878AD.

Prof Bill Lucas said: “This will give the public a chance to go behind the scenes and explore how the history, archaeology and language of ninth century Wessex have been brought together to create this experience.”

Bill, director of the University’s Centre for Real-World Learning said the university’s role in developing 878AD demonstrated “how academic research can be used to make a difference in the real lives of Winchester residents”.

Winchester is the ancient capital of England but its residents might all be speaking a form of Danish today if King Alfred had not been victorious in the crucial battle of Edington fought in 878AD.

And Alfred’s success can still benefit the area claims Bill, who is the chair of The English Project.

“Winchester is the Anglo-Saxon city. It is because Alfred insisted that learning throughout his kingdom be in English – even the monks at the monasteries were to learn English along with Latin – that the language of Winchester in the ninth century, West Saxon, evolved into the English language we use today.

“I hope we can build a larger attraction to explore our Anglo-Saxon past  and the birth of the English language in the way the city of York has explored its Viking heritage.”

There is a great interest in this period of history and that has been boosted by the success of the Saxons vs Vikings TV drama The Last Kingdom, on which his colleague Ryan Lavelle acted a historical adviser.

Ryan’s involvement in the show also led, in part, to the creation of 878AD.

Off the back of The Last Kingdom, Ryan was recruited as an historical adviser by Ubisoft, makers of Assassin’s Creed, at the same time as the Cultural Trust came to him for help with their plans to make more of Winchester’s Anglo-Saxon heritage.

Ryan was able to bring the two parties together and the result is visitor attraction which combines history-based education with the excitement of video games.

878AD: King Alfred, Winchester and the English Language, which is jointly organised by English Project, Hampshire Cultural Trust and the University of Winchester, takes place at The Arc in Jewry Street, Winchester on 20 June from 7.30pm. Tickets, priced £15 including drinks, are available from 878AD: King Alfred, Winchester and the English Language Tickets, Tue 20 Jun 2023 at 19:30 | Eventbrite

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