Cestrians and tourists became ‘guerilla archaeologists’ by following a treasure trail which launched last weekend turning the city centre into a giant open air museum.
Unseen ancient artefacts have been hidden at key locations for people to tick off as they follow an old fashioned-style map in an initiative aimed at promoting the city’s heritage as well as its retail offer.
Chester Unlocked is the imaginative vision of the CH1 Chester Business Improvement District (BID), North West-based heritage social enterprise Big Heritage and Chester’s Grosvenor Museum.
For the first time in history, 30 unseen artefacts have been unearthed from the vaults of the Grosvenor Museum to be proudly showcased in the shop windows of city retailers on what is being called Hoot’s Route in reference to the owl that sits on the shoulder of the Roman goddess Minerva, carved into the rock at the old Roman quarry in Handbridge.
“We are going to bring the museum to you. This is guerilla archaeology,” Dean Paton, founder of Big Heritage, told the press launch.
And Tim Edwards, owner of The Hat Place on Northgate Street, whose shop features a 1920s hat, says Hoot’s Route is already proving popular.
He said: “There’s been a real wave of excitement across the city centre building up to this launch and we’ve seen notable increase in footfall as a result since the weekend – it’s been a massive success. It’s a wonderful project to be part of and as well as helping to showcase the history of Chester, it’s making our shop visible to a whole range of new people that may never have stepped foot inside before.”
The partnership with city retailers aims to increase footfall in the city centre – and especially The Rows – as a fight-back against increased competition from of out-of-town shopping centres and online shopping.
Another aspect of Chester Locked, beginning next month, will be Deva Codex – a challenge to crack an ancient code and find buried treasure by solving riddles and mysteries. More details will be released later, but Deva Codex I is entitled ‘Boar Quest’ and runs between July 1-22.
There will be also be fringe events including ancient wine tasting sessions at Cork’s Out in Watergate Street and the opportunity to sample menus from the Roman, Viking and medieval periods at Chez Jules in Northgate Street.
‘Darkaeology’ will be ‘archaeology in the dark’ to see, for example, how people in the past would have understood the original cathedral church of St John’s ‘literally in a different light’. There will also be an educational element with children encouraged to visit Chester on school trips and then return with their parents at the weekend.
Drone footage, showing Chester from the air, will be used to support the project.