The visitor centre at Postbridge, built to share and celebrate Dartmoor’s incredible Bronze Age heritage, opened its doors on Wednesday, 19th August, after closing last September for refurbishment.
Double in size, the state-of-the-art, energy-efficient centre features the latest technology to bring history to life in amazing detail, giving people a unique and special experience. Unfortunately, due to COVID restrictions, many of the interactive interpretation activities within the centre remain out of bounds for the moment, but it is easy to see how one could spend at least an hour immersed in the feature story of the centre – Whitehorse Hill.
Dartmoor is the most important area for Bronze Age archaeology in Western Europe. There are more than 1,500 burial cairns on Dartmoor and more than 4,000 hut circles.
In 2011, a cist was excavated at Whitehorse Hill when one of the stones fell out of the peat mound covering it. Due to the unusual environmental conditions, amazingly, cremated human remains and other organic material had been preserved for thousands of years.
It is believed the remains were those of a high-ranking young woman. She was buried with a number of personal items including a woven basket containing beads (probably a necklace), a leather and textile band and a finely woven bracelet with tin studs. There were also four finely turned wooden studs that may have been worn in the ears or lip.
The centre tells the story of who she was and how she lived, through her own eyes. A video of the woman explaining about her life and why she was buried in such a manner plays on a loop, and is engaging and intriguing. Replicas of the items found buried with her are on display alongside a handcrafted roundhouse.
Dartmoor National Park Authority’s Head of Communications and Fundraising Sam Hill said: “Our vision for Postbridge was to create
a visitor destination where people could immerse themselves in Dartmoor’s story and feel inspired to look after it in the future. We are so excited to be able to show it off and help people understand why this National Park is such a special place.”
More than 135,000 people visit the Postbridge area each year with 58,000 using the visitor centre. It’s popular for coach tours, including overseas operators. Staff at the centre said that so far, visitor numbers have been steady, and many have said how much they have enjoyed the exhibition.
The building can now accommodate events, activities and school visits; encouraging people to stay longer and visit local shops, cafes and pubs, supporting the local economy. Exhibitions and displays link seamlessly into
the landscape helping people to confidently explore the surrounding area’s amazing cultural heritage.
The centre closed its doors last September and building work started the following month. Incredibly, the modernisation project only needed an extra six weeks to complete despite work being significantly impacted by measures limiting the spread of the pandemic.
It is testament to the team involved that Postbridge is now able to welcome its first visitors. Fifield Construction’s Jack Wayland said: “Fifields Construction have thoroughly enjoyed working on this exciting project. It is a very interesting build; using a mixture of traditional and modern materials gives the building a beautiful aesthetic as well as great durability and longevity.
‘Despite the many challenges of working in the middle of Dartmoor through some extreme winter-weather conditions, the project was completed within budget and to a very high quality thanks to the collective effort of all involved.
‘We hope Dartmoor National Park staff and their visitors enjoy the new building and exhibition space for many years to come!”
Linking with the government’s 25 Year Environment Plan, as well as the 2019 National Landscapes Review, this is the next step in Dartmoor National Park Authority’s long-term plan to connect people with Dartmoor’s incredible history, heritage and habitats.
DNPA secured £500,000 from the Rural Development Programme for England (https://www.gov.uk/rural-development-programme-for-england) to fund the building works; this helped expand on the already improved offer at Postbridge that was funded, in part, through the National Lottery Heritage Fund Landscape Partnership, ‘Moor than meets the eye’ (https://www.moorthanmeetstheeye.org/) [MTMTE].
In line with COVID-19 secure measures, the centre has one-way systems in place, face masks are required and limited numbers of people are allowed in the centre at any one time. This will help everyone socially distance and keep staff safe too.