Wardown House Audio Visuals

Audioscapes and film exhibits on which we worked with Imagemakers are present throughout Wardown House to create atmosphere and deliver personal histories.

The Porte Cochere

A soundscape, triggered by a sensor, greets visitors at the porte cochere – the coaching gate – setting the scene for their historical exploration. A female visitor arrives and is greeted by Frank Scargill, owner of the house, “Welcome, friend, to our spacious house,” he enthuses. Frank and his family will address visitors again throughout their tour of the house.

The hardware we have specified and installed is external grade to stand up to the effects of the weather and is unobtrusive so that it does not distract from the striking Victorian architecture or the ambient experience of the greeting.

Meet the Museum Makers

The Museum Makers of Wardown House are a team of volunteers who contribute to the day-to-day running of the museum and who have also played an important part in its interpretation. In the Entrance Hall and Cloakroom a scrolling slideshow introduces them to visitors and encourages them to get involved too.

The Changing Face of Luton

In the Smoking Room, a customised Victorian magic lantern projects film onto an ornate screen, allowing visitors to see first-hand how Luton has changed over the last century. The film is presented in the style of a historic silent movie and includes compelling archive footage from 1926 through to 1976. Visitors can often be found chatting and reminiscing about the content of the films.

Talking Heads Portraits

In the Library, the visitor sees a digital portrait. The picture frame and crackle paint effect suggests they are historical portraits but the occasional slight movement of the sitters gives the game away. The portraits come to life – Harry Potter style – as a motion sensor is triggered and the characters share their own perspectives on the history of the house.

TW Bagshawe was the very first curator of the museum back in 1931. He talks about the origins of the museum, his own background and how he came to be the curator. Lady Keene became Luton’s first Lady Mayor in 1944 and she talks about the role that Mrs Elizabeth Scargill played in fund raising for the town’s first public library, a building that held the museum’s first displays before the Council bought Wardown Park and moved the museum there.

Welcomed by the Owner

Elsewhere in the house, there are more talking portraits. Owner, Frank Scargill, welcomes visitors, talks about the history of the house and activities that the area is known for such as straw plaiting. Frank is accompanied by Ellen, one of Wardown House’s Museum Makers who compares modern life with that of the Victorian age and encourages visitors to enjoy some more traditional pastimes and games.
In each case the initial attractor screen – designed to look like a portrait but with the character moving just slightly and with the occasional audio element such as a cough – repeats continuously until the audiovisual film is triggered by the touch sensor. Spoken word audio accompanies the film when the character comes to life.

Customised gramophone

In the music-themed morning and drawing room an original gramophone has been customised so that the needle appears to be playing a rotating record. In fact the exhibit creates atmosphere for the room playing from a list of 35-40 songs played on a continuous loop – all themed around Luton’s famed industry, hats! A speaker is hidden within the gramophone’s horn to provide an authentic sound.

The Lace Lady

The Lace Lady has long been a popular, if slightly scary, figure at Wardown House as a mannequin who has occupied various locations around the house sporting different costumes and poses. Now, as well as embracing Twitter, she appears as a ghost, fading in and out as she walks the landing creating a spooky, atmospheric effect and making visitors wonder whether they really have seen her or whether their imagination is playing tricks.

As visitors trip a motion sensor on the dimly lit landing, one of a number of very short films play at random. She fades in, walks a little, her footsteps sounding in the corridor, and disappears again. The sound of a match striking announces the lighting of a paraffin lamp, the Lacy Lady is spotted briefly before she blows out the lamp and disappears again. The sharp sound of a book slamming shut startles her; again she disappears. The Lace Lady is oblivious to visitors, engrossed in her own activities.

We provided a turnkey solution, planning the filming and audio, and specifying the hardware used to project the video in a restricted space to create the most atmospheric effect. This allowed the film to be shot to fully create the desired atmospheric impact.

Talking mirrors

In the bathroom, the visitor could easily overlook the mirror above the sink until they spot the semblance of a figure fading in and out. Turn on one of the sink taps and Nurse Nellie Hobbs appears in the mirror. Nellie cared for injured soldiers when Wardown House served as a hospital during the First World War. She recounts her experiences of the time.
In the bedroom the appearance in a mirror of Eliza Herbert, ladies’ maid to Mrs Scargill, is triggered by lifting an antique hairbrush. Eliza’s previously quiet murmuring becomes clearly audible through a speaker in the customised brush as she talks about her life and her work for the Scargill family.
In each case the initial attractor screen – where the character moves slightly, fading in and out – repeats continuously until the audiovisual film is triggered by the touch sensor. The attractor film is styled to function as a mirror reflecting the room and the visitor whilst giving that hint of the character who will be brought to life by the sensor.

Fashion on Screen

In the dressing room a picture frame exhibit presents fashion plates from Wardown House’s collection of historic women’s magazines. Images stored locally are each displayed in turn as a slideshow, fading into the next. Beautiful period items, these images illustrate women’s fashion from throughout the house’s history.

Funding Credits

Luton Borough Council
Friends of Luton Museum
Murry Barford Trust
Garfield Weston Foundation
Steel Charitable Trust
Community Covenant
Betty Robinson Trust
Bedfordshire & Hertfordshire Regiment Trust
Rotary North Luton
DCMS Wolfson Foundation