Now, having worked in Chepstow Castle, and spent most of my early years in the town, I was familiar with the fact that a silent film had been shot in the Castle, featuring an American actor of the name King Baggot, but that was about all I knew. One hundred years on from filming, Chepstow Castle staged a unique event, screening the film in its place of creation for two nights - and so finally, after one hundred years of existing, and having known about it for some fifteen years, I finally had the opportunity to watch Ivanhoe.
The evening was split into two parts, the first hour or so being led by various local singing groups, who regaled the audience in faux medieval garb, before the film was screened, accompanied by multi talented opera star [‘star’ might be strong, but I know Karl, so I’ll indulge him the title] Karl Daymond, performing a newly assembled score. Entertainment was very much the theme of the evening, aided by the film itself. I think there was a collective effort from the audience in attempting to maintain straight sober faces for the first thirty minutes of the film, but ultimately dramatic over, and at times plane awful, acting saw the audience break into fits of amusement – but yet all there enjoyed the film, and however ludicrous the film might have been, and regardless of the dramatically baffling plot (which seemed to revolve around hoards of men running in and out of Chepstow Castle, again and again and again), I would love to see it again.
However the point of all this, and you’d be excused for thinking that there wasn’t one, is that a century separated the filming and screening of Ivanhoe. Yet from that point in 1913, to 2013, the castle was consistently an important landmark, attractive to audiences and a key attraction in the local community. Many of the faces in the audience were ones I recognised from the local community, just as many of the extras to perform in the film were at the time of production. Whether it be for the filming, or for the enjoyment of the final product, the community was central to the success of each event, and to the sustained importance of the heritage site in the locality. It’s an important thing for us to keep in mind, and thankfully as a sector we are increasingly wise and respondent to this need. It’s all very well and good maintaining a heritage site, but without connecting with the surrounding and local community, the relevance and justification for its conservation is much harder to justify. A decade or so on from working there, Chepstow Castle seems to be doing a good job of just that.