Norwich, UK

Being locked in and asked to solve mysteries in order to escape is not what you expect to experience when visiting a cathedral, but at Hereford Cathedral this is exactly what's on offer. 

Tucked away in a corner of the cloisters is the first ever immersive clue cracking and decoding escape room to be opened in a UK cathedral. It originated as a result of a National Lottery Heritage Fund-supported Eastern Cloisters Project which started in 2019 with the aim of restoring the ancient cloisters and opening them up for multi-purpose use, including offices for members of the cathedral staff. 

Uk Hereford Cathedral

Hereford Cathedral. PICTURE: Simon (licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Events manager Jess Stallwood explains: "During the Eastern Cloisters project research into the Vicars Choral who used to live here, we found details of a vicar who embezzled funds. We decided an Escape Room would be a great idea. It is such an exciting thing to introduce into our events programme. We believe this is a unique offering, and one which the team here at Hereford are proud to own.”

Each session can cater for between two to six people and costs £45. On arrival, visitors are greeted by a guide at the entrance to the cloisters and taken to the escape room where they are informed that it is the year 1890.

"You have been accused of embezzling money from the funds of the Vicars Choral. The police have been called and are on their way. You have been shut in the Old Chapel until the police arrive, and you have just one hour to work out who has committed the crime.  If you can successfully convince your guard that you are innocent, you will be released before the police arrest you…Can you prove that you are innocent?”  

They then have to solve puzzles, find keys and combinations to unlock boxes and decode manuscripts constantly overseen by a guard dressed in Victorian costume and sitting in a corner of the room.  When the group think they know who did it, they tell the guard their solution.  If wrong, and there is still time remaining, they have to continue trying.

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Part of the set-up in the Hereford Escape Room. PICTURE: Dominique Finnegan/Courtesy of Hereford Cathedral.

One participant, Hereford-based Nicky, had never encountered escape rooms before.

“I had no idea what to expect," she said. "The staff were so welcoming and quickly directed us to dive into the clues and resources in order to pierce together the puzzle of information and artifacts. I was fascinated that we were investigating real people who lived and worked in the Cathedral over a hundred years ago. It was quite a brain teaser of a challenge and luckily we managed to work out the story more or less within the hour.”

The concept has proved extremely popular.

“We launched it at Easter and it was fully booked," said Stallwood. "We are running it at least once a month at the moment, and are seeking volunteers so that we run it more often. People are already asking if we are going to do another room."

Although an unusual way to explore a cathedral, the Hereford Escape Room fits within the cathedral’s aim to widen community engagement. It utilises hidden histories that were only came to light during the Eastern Cloisters Project, encouraging visitors to appreciate the complexities of the cathedral history and its role within the lives of Hereford people.

Based on the initial response, the Hereford Escape Room looks set to be a popular long term feature at the cathedral, joining existing attractions such as the medieval map known as the Mappa Mundi, an 800-year-old copy of the Magna Carta, and the famous Chained Library.