St. Davids and Bishop’s Palace, Wales
Interview with Amanda Canby-Lewis, Lead Custodian
Wales, a wild and mysterious place. My first travels through the country was back in my university days. I remember some amazing mountains and terrain, very strange signs, and people with a fun, odd sense of humor I enjoyed. In doing research for historic sites interviews, I started looking back into Welsh sites and found that they certainly weren’t lacking. There are so many castles, ruins and grounds to clamber around, not to mention lovely villages and sign posts with Welsh on them to try to learn how to pronounce.
St. Davids and Bishop’s Palace is a ruin that is quite spectacular, in Pembrokeshire. It’s a family friendly place with plenty of climbs for you. The grounds offer a lot to see and just relax. Soak in some history. It’s not just a place to hang out, in the summer there are a series of events. Hopefully if you can, catch a performance.
St. Davids and Bishop’s Palace
Opening hours can vary so please contact the site for up to date information on 01437 720517. Last admissions 30 minutes before closing.
Hours of operation: Daily 9.30am – 5.00pm , July and August until 6 pm
To learn a little bit more about the site, I asked Amanda Canby-Lewis, Lead Custodian
To let us know a bit more about the site. Here is her interview below.
How long has this historic site been in operation and how did it get it’s start?
The site has been open to the public and charging an admission fee since at least the early 1960’s. It was put in the care of the Ministry of Works in 1932 who did basic consolidation, conservation and excavation. As Pembrokeshire developed into a tourist area in the 1960’s it was opened as an historic tourist attraction by the Department of the Environment although I believe that prior to that visitors could just come in and walk around. Since 1984 it has been in the care of Cadw.
Due to some recent film work and television series, some of the historic sites have seen a huge increase in visits. How has this been beneficial and challenging to the heritage site?
Very little impact has been felt here as it has been only minimally used – the BBC series ‘Antiques Roadshow’ was filmed here and then the BBC series of ‘Hollow Crown’ (the Shakespeare histories) filmed parts of ‘Richard II’. I believe that any filming and publicity for the built historic environment is mainly beneficial as it raises their profile and may attract visitors who may not otherwise visit. It is also a good revenue stream.
With revenue increase, will you be able to expand upon some projects for the site?
As Cadw is currently part of the Welsh Government we have to work within given budgets. However, Cadw are continually looking to improve both interpretation and facilities at all their sites to improve the visitor experience and meet and exceed their targets.
What is the biggest challenge that you have in running a site like this?
The maintenance and conservation of the building is paramount as it is a scheduled ancient monument. Therefore when work needs doing we have to shut areas which may impact on the public. To combat this we have found ways to make it part of the visitor experience through explanation and interpretation of what we’re doing, how and why. This has had an impact on repeat visits as people very often return to see what we’ve done and what the next phase is. There is also the competition for the tourist £ which is ever increasing with more and more attractions opening up. Looking at ways to increase our profits is also a challenge. Health and Safety presents a challenge as we aim to keep as much of the monument open to the public as possible – to do this we have to assess issues such as warning signage and look at ways of making visitors aware of potential issues.
Do you have interpreters and reenactments at your site and what is involved in running some of these programs?
We occasionally use re-enactors. This is never an issue to run as we use companies/groups who are used to working in an environment such as this and have researched fully. They are also responsible for their own risk assessments etc. The main impact is that it can draw larger visitor numbers in a small period of time so staffing has to be in place to deal with this. I have done costumed interpretation training and this is something we aim to increase over the coming year.
Does your site have exhibits or host special exhibits on occasion?
Due to the nature of the building it is difficult to house special exhibits for the following reasons: it is difficult to secure the site so any exhibits are vulnerable overnight when the site isn’t staffed. Also the covered areas of the building are damp so this impacts some kinds of special exhibits. The site however has interpretation through the building in various formats. In the past we have had exhibitions of local sculptors work throughout the building and this adds another dimension to the site and attracts visitors who may not usually visit – or encourages a repeat visit.
If you get hired by a film company, how do you manage the site and what gets changed around? Because it is heritage, things must be maintained and safe, how do the film companies work around it?
On occasion it is necessary to close the site or close areas of it. However, we do try to stay open – it is good publicity for both us and the film company. We will always look to work with the company so that we have a complete plan in place long before filming takes place. It is up to the companies to put their risk assessments in place taking into account the nature of the building.
Do you have any funny behind the scenes stories?
There is nothing more unpredictable than working in tourism and most days see something unusual! We deal with people from all over the world (the most unusual visitor I’ve had here was a Sherpa from Nepal), we deal with an historic building and we deal with wildlife which uses the building as it’s habitat – badgers stuck down holes, bees nests, bats! We also deal with people who can ask very strange questions – my personal favourite was a visitor who arrived and asked me why we’d moved the building as they were convinced that the last time they visited the site it was on an island! I tried various sites that I thought they had maybe got it confused with but they were not to be persuaded – they were right and I was wrong!
In 1995 Queen Elizabeth visited the site which obviously necessitated a high level of security with security personnel on site throughout the night before the visit. I arrived on site very early to find a sniffer dog handler sitting on a wall alone – his dog had disappeared to go chasing rabbits! Something funny happens nearly every day!!