In a first for Norfolk Museums Service, curators at the Museum of Norwich have teamed up with historical escape games experts, History Mystery, to develop a new game that allows players to experience history hands-on in the atmospheric setting of the museum’s 14th century undercroft.

An uncertain fate awaits players in The Merchants’ Vaults, trapped in the past with no money and facing the horrors of debtor’s prison. Thankfully, Norwich has a long history of thriving industries and it’s up to the team to find a way to use them to survive and make it back to the present.

Teams of between 2 and 8 players have exactly one hour to master the secrets of Norwich’s industrial past before time runs out. A series of puzzles and challenges are scattered through four evocative underground rooms, each focused on a different industry, reflecting the themes of the museum above. Fantastic settings and authentic looking props add to the atmosphere and intrigue.

Escape games are a new form of entertainment being enjoyed by more and more people every day. Everyone loves a puzzle: whether you are still at school, enjoying your retirement or anywhere in-between, this game is guaranteed to be great fun and players might even discover what made Norwich the prosperous city it is today!

The Merchants’ Vaults – which opens to the public on Friday 8th June – is unusual among escape games as Jenny Caynes, Curator at the Museum of Norwich explains:

“While there are plenty of games which use historical settings, what makes The Merchant’s Vaults unusual is that heritage interpretation experts have teamed up with curators and collections to create, not just an exciting game, but one that is historically accurate. We’ve so enjoyed working with History Mystery – it’s been a fascinating experience advising on aspects of our collections and seeing how the team at History Mystery have used these to create inventive storylines and brain-teasing puzzles. This is a first for Norfolk Museums Service, opening up exciting new commercial opportunities while enabling members of the public to see spaces which are not routinely accessible. Our existing popular monthly tours of the undercroft will continue to run as usual: we’re delighted The Merchants’ Vaults will enable more people to enjoy this amazing space.”

Alasdair Willett, Managing Director of History Mystery says:

“We’ve already developed very successful games in heritage settings at the Guildhall in Norwich and in collaboration with the Church of England at Blickling Church in Norfolk. It’s a logical next step to work with Norfolk Museums Service to develop new games, based on their fascinating collections. We believe The Merchants’ Vaults offers an intriguing new experience to regular games players and a wonderful opportunity for escape games novices to give the concept a go in the evocative surroundings of the largest undercroft in the City. We’ve thoroughly enjoyed developing the game with staff at the Museum and know that players will have a great time playing it.”

Margaret Dewsbury, Chair of the Norfolk County Council’s Communities Committee comments:

“Our Museums Service prides itself on its innovative approach and this is a welcome example of our staff’s entrepreneurial spirit. This expansion into a new sector for the Service offers visitors a different way of encountering our collections and spaces, opening up new audiences. History Mystery and the staff at Museum of Norwich are to be congratulated on combining historical authenticity with brilliant puzzle-setting.”

At 300m square, the undercroft at Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell is the largest in the City. Norwich has a wealth of undercrofts from the Medieval period; this is because the city had a burgeoning merchant class, who traded wool and cloth in particular. Merchants traded from where they lived, and so their homes were built with secure, fire resistant spaces to display their goods.

The undercroft at the Bridewell was constructed in 1325 when the house currently on the site of the museum was owned by a wealthy merchant, Geoffrey de Salle. By 1386, the house was in the ownership of William Appleyard, who was to become the first mayor of Norwich under the 1403 Charter. It’s believed that William extended the undercroft at this time. From then on, although the existing building has been modified many times, and has witnessed a serious fire, the undercroft has remained the same.

The creation of The Merchants’ Vaults is the latest in a long series of evolutions in the building’s history, and one we think the original merchant owners of the Bridewell would have approved of.

Escape games are a visitor attraction that started in Japan, grew in continental Europe, and are now rapidly taking hold in the UK. History Mystery adds to this popular format by creating history-based live escape games. This is an exciting new way to enjoy a uniquely fun experience with friends and family, based on the real stories of people and places and played in the historic locations where those stories actually happened.

History Mystery is a registered trademark of Captivate Heritage Ltd. Established in 2015 Captivate Heritage are experts in the devising and delivery of heritage-themed escape games. Based in Norwich, their current games include Archived Alive! and Body of Evidence at Norwich’s historic Guildhall, and The Queenmaker at Blickling Church. Over 18,000 players have already enjoyed their games.

Museum of Norwich is part of Norfolk Museums Service which comprises museums, collections study centres and countywide services relating to archaeology and education. The Service remains a unique partnership between Norfolk County Council and Norfolk’s district councils, funded through council tax, earned income and grants. NMS is now regarded as one of the leaders in the museum sector and in 2017 was successful in its bid for continuing major investment from Arts Council England. Since April 2018, NMS is a National Portfolio Organisation for Arts Council England, one of only 45 out of 845 heritage and arts organisations in England to be awarded the highest level of support.


The Merchants’ Vaults: Booking details
The Merchants’ Vaults opens for booking to the public on Friday 1st June.
The first games will commence on Friday 8th June.
Visit: or call 01603 327515 to book your slot.
The Merchants’ Vaults is suitable for 2 to 8 players, aged from 10 years.
Prices vary depending on how many people are playing the game – please check the History Mystery website for full booking details.