Philip Simpson was commissioned in 2014 to develop the interpretation design for Whitehall, bringing the stories of this building, its village and community to life. His resulting scheme works in sympathy with the unique character of this historic house, one of the oldest of its kind in London, harnessing the qualities of each room in such a way as to create an atmosphere of intimacy and discovery. The layers of interpretation are designed to reinforce the key storylines and clarify the relationship between the narrative threads and the building itself, as well as allow all different target audiences to tailor their visit in ways that are meaningful and interesting to them.
The narratives unfold in distinct layers as the visitor progresses deeper into the building. For example, the ground floor introduces the visitor to the story of Cheam, up to and including Whitehall’s construction. The first floor explores the fortunes of the village of Cheam and its community, up to and including the first world war. The attic space is where the presence of Whitehall’s past residents is conjured, through a sequence of ethereal and atmospheric installations. In this way, Whitehall becomes a historic portal - a time machine for exploring Cheam’s evolution and that of the nation and citizens around it.
Sound and light installations and audio visuals have been placed at strategic points in the visitor’s journey, to enhance both comprehension and emotional engagement.
Says Philip: ‘Everything about this scheme is bespoke, from the attic’s evocations of the people who lived at Whitehall to the freestanding furniture, which has been hand built by local craftsman based in Nonsuch park, using fallen oak from trees which may well have been saplings at the time Henry VIII was constructing his Palace there.’
‘Our whole design strategy has been aimed at generating pride in and affection for Whitehall as a real community asset, and a sense of ownership for current and future generations.’