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Gallery/Video: Rebirth of Colchester Castle will ‘blow people away’ and ignite tourism drive in historic town

PUBLISHED: 18:52 20 March 2014 | UPDATED: 18:52 20 March 2014

Princess Anne arrives at Colchester Castle during a visit to the town on Thursday, March 20.

Princess Anne arrives at Colchester Castle during a visit to the town on Thursday, March 20.

The multi-million pound rebirth of Colchester Castle, today given the royal seal of approval by Princess Anne, will “blow people away” and attract more than 100,000 visitors every year.

Princess Anne exits Colchester Castle with Lord Lieutenant Petre after receiving a tour by local officials on Thursday, 20 March. Princess Anne exits Colchester Castle with Lord Lieutenant Petre after receiving a tour by local officials on Thursday, 20 March.

Business leaders made the defiant claims as royal fever gripped the historic town when Her Highness The Princess Royal visited for a guided tour of the site, which dates back to the first century and is one of Europe’s largest Norman keeps.

She was greeted by a string of dignitaries, including Lord Petre, Lord Lieutenant of Essex, and Colchester MP Sir Bob Russell, as well as a warm reception from around 150 people who flocked to one of the town’s signature tourist attractions.

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The castle has been closed since April 7 last year. But following the £4.2million refurbishment – funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, various EU grants and other donations – that has been five years in the making, the grand reopening is set to take place on May 2.

Tim Young, portfolio holder for community and culture at Colchester Borough Council, said the castle, ordered by William the Conqueror about a decade after his 1066 invasion and designed by Gundulf, Bishop of Rochester, will be a combination of both old and new.

Visitors will be given iPads as they enter; a portable, talking tour guide. The new state of the art museum will use the latest technology to include an interactive hub, a full-size burial reconstruction, audio and visual character stories and video projections.

Brand-new displays will tell the 2,000-year story of Colchester and a new glass lift will provide access to wheelchair users.

“It will have the x-factor,” Mr Young insisted. “It will blow people away and I’m sure will be one of the best, if not the best, castle experience in the country,

“News of the castle will spread across the country and people will flock to see it. We want to get visitor figures back up to 100,000 and beyond.”

He added: “We are very proud of our town’s historical heritage and the royal visit highlighted what an important national attraction Colchester Castle is.”

Tom Hodgson, development manager for the castle, was bestowed the honour of guiding The Princess Royal around the castle.

She was given an overview of the redevelopment project, viewed artefacts and was shown the technology that will complement the collections.

“She was genuinely fascinated by the castle, asked a lot of questions – it was an honour for me,” Mr Hodgson said.

Sir Bob said Princess Anne bestowed a royal seal of approval to the castle, which originally dates back to AD 54.

“It is still a work in progress but you can see it is going to be an incredible tourist attraction with a new dimension,” he said.

“Colchester was the first capital of Roman Britain and its Roman heritage is without equal. She gave the castle the royal seal of approval.”

Princess Anne was following in her family’s footsteps with this visit – her great- grandmother Queen Mary visited the castle in 1938.

Meanwhile, Her Royal Highness, who toured the castle for around 45 minutes, had earlier visited Colchester builders’ merchant Kent Blaxill who celebrated 175 years in business.

“She was extremely friendly with everyone she met and struck up numerous conversations on all manner of topics. We were truly honoured,” said Simon Blaxill, managing director of the company.

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