THE MERCHANTS’ VAULTS at The Museum of Norwich is now open! – History Mystery

News & Views

THE MERCHANTS’ VAULTS at The Museum of Norwich is now open!

THE MERCHANT’S VAULTS opened on 8th June 2018 in the medieval undercroft under The Museum of Norwich on Bridewell Alley. This unique partnership from Norwich based History Mystery and Norfolk Museums Service is a highly innovative use of the museum’s spaces. This stunning setting for the game also allows people to enjoy a part of Norwich’s heritage that isn’t widely open to the public, through what is the UK’s fastest form of live entertainment.

In a first for Norfolk Museums Service, curators at the Museum of Norwich have teamed up with historical escape games experts, History Mystery, to develop a new game that allows players to experience history hands-on in the atmospheric setting of the museum’s 14​th ​century undercroft.

An uncertain fate awaits players in The Merchants’ Vaults, trapped in the past with no money and facing the horrors of debtor’s prison. Thankfully, Norwich has a long history of thriving industries and it’s up to the team to find a way to use them to survive and make it back to the present.

Teams of between 2 and 8 players have exactly one hour to master the secrets of Norwich’s industrial past before time runs out. A series of puzzles and challenges are scattered through four evocative underground rooms, each focused on a different industry, reflecting the themes of the museum above. Fantastic settings and authentic looking props add to the atmosphere and intrigue. Escape games are a new form of entertainment being enjoyed by more and more people every day. Everyone loves a puzzle: whether you are still at school, enjoying your retirement or anywhere in-between, this game is guaranteed to be great fun and players might even discover what made Norwich the prosperous city it is today!

The Merchants’ Vaults is unusual among escape games as Jenny Caynes, Curator at the Museum of Norwich explains: “While there are plenty of games which use historical settings, what makes The Merchant’s Vaults unusual is that heritage interpretation experts have teamed up with curators and collections to create, not just an exciting game, but one that is historically accurate. We’ve so enjoyed working with History Mystery – it’s been a fascinating experience advising on aspects of our collections and seeing how the team at History Mystery has used these to create inventive storylines and brain-teasing puzzles. This is a first for Norfolk Museums Service, opening up exciting new commercial opportunities while enabling members of the public to see spaces which are not routinely accessible. Our existing popular monthly tours of the undercroft will continue to run as usual: we’re delighted The Merchants’ Vaults will enable more people to enjoy this amazing space.”

Alasdair Willett, Managing Director of History Mystery says: “We’ve already developed very successful games in heritage settings at the Guildhall in Norwich and in collaboration with the Church of England at Blickling Church in Norfolk. It’s a logical next step to work with Norfolk Museums Service to develop new games, based on their fascinating collections. We believe The Merchants’ Vaults offers an intriguing new experience to regular games players and a wonderful opportunity for escape games novices to give the concept a go in the evocative surroundings of the largest undercroft in the City. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed developing the game with staff at the Museum and know that players will have a great time playing it.”

Margaret Dewsbury, Chair of the Norfolk County Council’s Communities Committee comments: “Our Museums Service prides itself on its innovative approach and this is a welcome example of our staff’s entrepreneurial spirit. This expansion into a new sector for the Service offers visitors a different way of encountering our collections and spaces, opening up new audiences. History Mystery and the staff at Museum of Norwich are to be congratulated on combining historical authenticity with brilliant puzzle-setting.”

At 300m square, the undercroft at Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell is the largest in the City. Norwich has a wealth of undercrofts from the Medieval period; this is because the city had a burgeoning merchant class, who traded wool and cloth in particular. Merchants traded from where they lived, and so their homes were built with secure, fire resistant spaces to display their goods. The undercroft at the Bridewell was constructed in 1325 when the house currently on the site of the museum was owned by a wealthy merchant, Geoffrey de Salle. By 1386, the house was in the ownership of William Appleyard, who was to become the first mayor of Norwich under the 1403 Charter. It’s believed that William extended the undercroft at this time. From then on, although the existing building has been modified many times, and has witnessed a serious fire, the undercroft has remained the same. The creation of The Merchants’ Vaults is the latest in a long series of evolutions in the building’s history, and one we think the original merchant owners of the Bridewell would have approved of.

Games last an hour and will initially be run during Museum opening hours Tuesday-Saturday with further times added in the near future. Advance booking recommended.

Find out more about the game and book here.