Culture and communication
Curator of Rebellion puts Nottingham Castle on the map
When Dr Richard Gaunt was asked to become Nottingham Castle’s Curator of Rebellion, he didn’t need to think twice.
The image above, taken by Tracey Whitefoot, shows how digital screens bring the Rebellion Gallery to life.
“You have to hand it to them for making an arresting proposition,” he said. “It’s not an offer you get every day of the week.”
An Associate Professor of History, specialising in the late 18th and early 19th century, Dr Gaunt already had a close connection to the city’s castle, having worked with the team there to set up a ‘Riot Gallery’ in 2014, so when the opportunity came to be part of the multi-million pound transformation of the site he could not wait to get involved.
"For an academic who spends most of his time researching the historical roots of authority and rebellion it was too good an offer to resist."
“It represented a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” he said. “For an academic who spends most of his time researching the historical roots of authority and rebellion it was too good an offer to resist.”
In his three years as Curator of Rebellion, Dr Gaunt played a key role in helping to secure the castle’s status as an international heritage destination by focusing on its historic connection with acts of rebellion, shaping how visitors and locals will perceive the history of Nottingham and its legacies for decades to come.
His expertise was crucial in helping to secure a £14m Heritage Lottery Grant, which helped fund the transformation of the castle – one of the most significant heritage regeneration projects to take place in the UK in recent years. As the Chief Executive of Nottingham Castle Trust explained, his involvement provided the “academic rigour and credibility required by local stakeholders and national funders”.
Working with colleagues from the worlds of museum and heritage design and interpretation, as well as local stakeholders, museum curators and Nottingham City Council staff, he shaped and curated the Rebellion Gallery, one of the centrepieces of the new visitor experience which opened in June 2021.
The image above, taken by Tracey Whitefoot, shows The Rebellion Gallery tapestries.
The gallery focuses on seminal moments in Nottingham’s rebellious history, and helps to explain to visitors why the castle no longer looks like the traditional castle, often depicted in TV and film versions of the Robin Hood story.
It tells the story of then castle owner the 4th Duke of Newcastle, whose ultra-Conservative views were in stark contrast to the reformist attitude of Nottingham’s governing Corporation and the city’s rapidly expanding population - a story which ultimately culminated in the castle being burnt to the ground in October 1831 during parliamentary reform protests.
Gaunt’s in-depth research into the life of the Duke – he was the first academic to produce a scholarly edition of his diaries - gives a unique insight into his relationship with the Nottingham authorities, revealing much about the motivations for his actions at the time.
Through the story of these clashes the gallery aims to tell a wider story about rebellion, politics and the motivations of those who rail against the prevailing system. Dr Gaunt explains: “The Rebellion Gallery positions Nottingham’s post-1600 history within the fight for fairer political representation and the attempt to secure better working conditions. “These remain resonant issues today and the gallery provides a major focal point for engaging with them. It also offers a space for considering the many contemporary causes of protest and their consequences.”
"Through his research and skilful advocacy [Gaunt] ensured that the gallery tells the stories of real people, with first-hand accounts and evocative objects."
The CEO of Nottingham Castle Trust explains: “Through his research and skilful advocacy [Gaunt] ensured that the gallery tells the stories of real people, with first-hand accounts and evocative objects’. He helped our staff think more critically about the role of rebellion in modern society, encouraging visitors to reflect on the consequences of taking up arms, the alternatives to violent forms of resistance, and the causes which provoke modern rebellion today.”
Whilst his Curator of Rebellion role officially ended in 2018, Dr Gaunt continued to work with colleagues to deliver the gallery during the build and installation phase, and has helped develop a model for collaborative partnership working between Nottingham City Museums and Galleries (NCMG) and the university which has since been adopted at Newstead Abbey and Wollaton Hall.
Dr Richard Gaunt, Associate Professor, Faculty of Arts.