A SCHOOL project on the Battle of Hastings saw nine year old Dawn Champion give William the Conqueror Cuban heeled boots in a fetching shade of blue – and provided her with the inspiration for a career steeped in history, which now sees her in her dream job as the new area manager for English Heritage in the South East, based at Battle Abbey.
Twenty years on, Dawn is unsure quite what prompted her to give Duke William and his army such a colourful fashion accessory, but she still treasures the project she completed on a school trip to Battle Abbey and vividly remembers the impact of standing on the battlefield for the fist time.
She said: “That experience has never left me and is certainly something that drives me in my role now – we are so lucky to have such a rich heritage in this part of the world.
“I remember every single day of the trip my class from Burwash Primary School took and we covered the history of the battle and of the development of the abbey and the town.
“I’ve still got the whole book I produced, which also features drawings of the gatehouse, which is now my office.”
Dawn, who lives at Peasmarsh, went on to study history at the University of Kent and spent some time as a manager in the retail industry before joining English Heritage as visitor operations manager at Dover Castle eight years ago.
She was appointed head of visitor operations for Kent four years ago, with responsibility for managing 28 historic sites in the county.
In a year which see Battle Abbey host a packed season of events, including a massive replay of the Battle of Hastings on its anniversary in October, Dawn has now taken on the stewardship of historic properties and collections within an area that covers from the Isle of Wight up to Buckinghamshire and across to Kent.
She leads the teams at key English Heritage sites like Pevensey Castle, Portchester Castle and Lullingstone Roman Villa as well as Battle Abbey, which is the biggest and most visited property in her remit.
She said: “I work with internal and external partners to ensure that our visitors, the local community and nation as a whole get the most out of the sites in our care, inspiring them to enjoy, understand, appreciate and care for their historic monuments.
“Everyone should take the time to come and see these remarkable places, to walk in the footsteps of kings and conquerors – and hopefully be as inspired as I was as a schoolgirl and continue to be.”
1066 Battle of Hastings, Abbey and Battlefield is one of the most prestigious and most-visited properties within the National Heritage Collection of Historic Sites and Monuments.
The National Heritage Collection, under the care of English Heritage, tells the story of England and Battle Abbey is one of the Collection’s key sites – founded as it is on the site of the conflict which changed the course of England’s history forever.
An important tourist attraction and contributor to the region’s economy, it attracts 130,000 visitors a year – including 17,000 schoolchildren like Dawn.
It ranks as the National Heritage Collection’s fifth most popular site after Stonehenge, Dover Castle, Osborne House and Tintagel Castle.