Portchester Castle sound installation reveals uncovered stories of French-Caribbean prisoners

A recently uncovered part of Portchester Castle’s history has come to life today - as a sound installation reveals French-Caribbean prisoners’ stories.

Friday, 5th July 2019, 9:42 pm
Updated Monday, 8th July 2019, 9:02 am
(l to r) Artist Elaine Mitchener used the research of Professor Kate Astbury, from University of Warwick, to produce the sound installation.

The installation, produced by experimental multimedia artist Elaine Mitchener, sees hidden speakers play the stories of French and French-Caribbean prisoners of war held in the castle during the 18th and 19th centuries.

Portchester Castle served as a prison during all the major conflicts of the 18th century, holding more than 2,000 prisoners from the Caribbean during the Napoleonic War.

Dr Dominique Bouchard, Head of Learning and Interpretation at English Heritage, said the work is the result of ‘extraordinary’ research.

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(l to r) Professor Kate Astbury (University of Warwick), Elaine Mitchener (artist), Jessica Freeland (English Heritage).

She said: ‘The research was undertaken by the University of Warwick, where academics found more than 2,000 prisoners' names and details, including women and children.

'It's a unique piece of research.'

'It's quiet extraordinary to have names of prisoners of war from this period.

'We wanted to give visitors an enveloping sense of who these people were.’

The stories were recorded by artist Elaine and a team of contributors from France and Guadalupe.

Elaine, who has staged worked across Europe, said she had ‘never worked in a space’ like Portchester Castle before.

She said: 'It’s a very special place - the views from the top of the castle are incredible.’

‘It’s not only a happy place - it was a fort, a place of power.

‘It holds a lot of mysteries and secrets.

'But Portchester Castle has never housed an installation on this scale before.'

One story unearthed by the research reveals that a group of actors among the Caribbean prisoners were given permission to build and perform in a theatre within the prison.

Elaine said: ‘A very forward thinking prison warden allowed them to set up a theatre.

‘They were doing things we struggle to do now.’

‘Speaking With Shadows’, a new podcast series from English Heritage, will feature the project in its first episode later in the year.

The installation, titled 'These Walls Bear Witness', will be at Portchester Castle until the end Saturday November 30.