Bloody Mary is a hit with visitors
Visitor numbers to Winchester increased by as much as 24% during the year at some attractions as a result of a year-long programme of special events commemorating the 450th anniversary of the wedding of Mary Tudor to Philip II of Spain.
Entitled 'The Marriage of England and Spain' and converging on a magnificent exhibition of treasures held at Winchester Cathedral, the events have been hailed an overwhelming success by Winchester's tourism industry.
Co-ordinated by Winchester City Council's tourism service to boost both visitor numbers and media coverage during 2004, attractions, tourist guides, artists, musicians and historians from across the county took inspiration from the cathedral.
Working together, they staged all manner of Tudor-themed events, from specialist lectures and concerts of contemporary music to Tudor food tastings and Spanish treasure hunts, offering a fresh look at this turbulent period in England's history.
Commenting on the success Councillor Thérèse Evans, Portfolio Holder for Culture, Heritage and Sport at Winchester City Council, said that the compelling story of Mary Tudor's short but sad marriage seems to have captured the imagination of residents and visitors alike.
"I am delighted that this good example of partnership working between the District's visitor attractions, arts groups, tourist guides and the City Council has had such a positive impact on visitor numbers at a time when competition from elsewhere has never been greater," she added.
Thousands of visitors and residents enjoyed the exhibition at the cathedral, which was officially opened by the Earl and Countess of Wessex, and brought together a wealth of art treasures and artefacts from Mary and Philip's wedding. Visitor numbers at the cathedral are reported to be up by 16% on the figures for 2003, an increase which can be attributed in part to the exhibition. Likewise, the City Museum enjoyed an 18% rise in visitors as a result of the increased footfall in the city.
Smaller attractions such as Winchester City Mill also interpreted the Tudor theme with creativity and imagination.
Visitor Services Co-ordinator Bob Goodwin commented: "Winchester City Mill has had a great year, helped considerably by the Tudor theme. Visitor numbers were 24% higher than in 2003. Our Spanish treasure hunt for children at Easter was so popular that we repeated it during summer half term and again during our own Tudor Festival week in July, which we held to celebrate Mary Tudor's gift of the mill to the city in 1554. It was wonderful to be able to mark such a key date in the mill's history at a time when the whole city was commemorating the wedding anniversary."
Over at the Hampshire Record Office, workshops on subjects such as 'How to read Tudor documents' and 'Tudor seal-making' were well attended by people keen to find our more about the period, while a lecture on Tudor dress and pageantry by Alison Carter, Senior Keeper of Art with Hampshire Museums Service, was a sell-out.
Interest in all-things Tudor continued throughout the year: more than 8000 copies of Winchester City Council's specially-devised Tudor Trail leaflet were picked up within a four-month period, while 140 people joined in one of the Winchester Area Tourist Guides Association Tudor-themed walks.
Attractions further afield were also keen to play a part. The Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson near Fareham staged an 'eye witness' account of the wedding from expert re-enactor Tim Lowe, who repeated his performance at various venues around the city including Winchester Cathedral and the Westgate Museum.
Operating Officer Sean Mannie said: "Winchester's commemorations of the royal wedding provided the Royal Armouries Fort Nelson with an opportunity to add a completely new dramatic performance to its repertoire - one based not around battle, but a great royal event with all the colour and pageantry of the Tudor period.
"The added opportunity to get out and about performing in Winchester itself, and especially in the cathedral, made for a very special occasion for both our performers and the many visitors who came to watch."
Winchester Tourism now hopes to repeat the success of the Tudor year with a series of science-themed events and activities during 2005, marking World Year of Physics.