Explore Beckford’s Myth Manor
Relive The Past
Experience a forgotten piece of history as you become Lord Horatio Nelson or Lady Emma Hamilton, guests of mysterious Lord Beckford. You will have the rare privilege of entering secluded Fonthill Abbey and meet its extravagant owner, but will you make it out alive?
Find Your Path
Choose your own path and explore Fonthill Abbey to learn more about its mysterious past. With more than a 100 decisions and over 20 different endings, this dialogue-based adventure will lead you on an introspective journey to challenge society’s norms.
Explore The Long-lost
Plunge into the gothic atmosphere of that fateful night as Virtual Reality brings back to life the destroyed estate. Find yourself surrounded by the eccentric architecture of Fonthill Abbey and the enigmatic characters inhabiting it.
Drag the image to the right, to see around the main hall of Fonthill Abbey, in panorama view.
Also known as Beckford’s Folly, Fonthill Abbey was a large Gothic revival country house in Wiltshire, England, where William Thomas Beckford lived in isolation for years.
In 1796 Beckford hired James Wyatt, successful architects, to lead the project, beginning with the central tower. Standing 90 metres (300 ft) tall, it soon collapsed but was rebuilt in the following six years, only to follow the same fate. Obsessed, Beckford commissioned Wyatt to build it a third time, using a cement of his own invention. Seven years later, the tower satisfied Beckford’s ambition; four long wings radiated from it, decorated in silver, gold, red and purple.
The Abbey was declared finished in 1813, however in 1825 the tower collapsed and destroyed the western wing of the building, the ruins of which were demolished around 1845. Nowadays, only small remnant of the north wing stands a as reminder of the grandiose estate.
Below is a pinpoint on the google map of where the Fonthill Abbey used to stand, and what’s remained of it at present time.
This is what remains of the Fonthill Abbey, after it’s fall almost 200 years ago from today. There sit today mainly the Lancaster Tower and attached ranges, partly rebuilt.
Christmas Eve, 1800
Despite living as a recluse for years, in 1800 Lord Beckford opened the doors of Fonthill Abbey to three notable personalities of British society: Sir William Hamilton, Scottish diplomat, Lady Emma Hamilton, his wife, and Lord Horatio Nelson, naval officer and Emma Hamilton’s lover. The enigmatic invitation constitutes the only time Fonthill Abbey hosted any guests, which makes it all the more intriguing. Why did Beckford suddenly decide to invite somebody? Why precisely these three people? Why on Christmas Eve? The Fonthill VR project explores these questions and turns them into the fascinating premise of the game.
William Thomas Beckford
Novelist and art collector, William Thomas Beckford was “the richest commoner in England”, eccentric and mysterious. Born in 1760, he developed a passion for architecture and writing. In 1783 he married but soon had to choose exile when his affair with William Courtenay was revealed. He traveled across Europe, writing about his journeys and producing his renowned gothic novel “Vathek”. Finally, he returned to England and started building Fonthill Abbey, where he lived until 1822. Then he moved to Lansdown Crescent, Bath, where once again his obsession led him to build a tall tower. He died in 1844.
Horatio Nelson, born in 1758, rapidly became an officer in the British Royal Navy led a number of decisive naval victories, particularly during the Napoleonic Wars. He wounded in combat, he lost the sight in one eye in Corsica and most of one arm in the unsuccessful attempt to conquer Santa Cruz de Tenerife. He was shot and killed during his final victory at the Battle of Trafalgar near the Port City of Cadiz in 1805, becoming one of Britain’s most heroic figures, bound to duty and honor.
Emma Hamilton, born Amy Lyon in 1765, worked as a maid and then as a model and dancer until, at fifteen, she was hired by Sir Harry Fetherstonhaugh and became his mistress, conceiving a child that was removed from her care as soon as she was born. She changed her name to Emma Hart at the request of Charles Greville, her new lover, who introduced her to painter George Romney. The artist became fascinated with his new muse, whose portraits made Emma a well-known personality of Bristish society.
In 1783, Greville sent Emma to Naples to become Sir William Hamilton’s mistress and, in 1891, wife. There, she became famous for her “Attitudes”, performances during which she posed as classical figures. In 1893 she met Nelson and, when he returned to Naples five years later, began a long affair with him, bearing two daughters, the youngest of which died soon after birth. After Hamilton’s and Nelson’s deaths, Emma fell into debt and, after a year and prison, escaped to France, where she died in 1815.
William Hamilton was a nobleman and diplomat born in 1730. After a quick military career, in 1764 he became ambassador at the court of Naples, a role he would maintain until 1800. He developed an interest in art and antiquities, as well as volcanoes and earthquakes. In 1782 his first wife died and in 1791 he married Emma Hart, a young English woman met through his nephew, her lover Charles Greville. When events in Naples became more turbulent due to France declaring war on Britan, the couple fled to Palermo, Sicily, following the court. In 1800, Hamilton retired and returned to Britain, until his death in 1803.
Bringing Fonthill Abbey
Back to life
The Fonthill VR project originated as we came across the intriguing story of Lord Beckford and its architectural endeavors. As we investigated Fonthill Abbey and its creator, a story begun to take shape, a tale of exile, isolation and madness.
These themes guided the creation of a storyline, first developed as a text-based adventure using Twine. At the same time, our research underlined the uniqueness of the long-lost but well-documented monument, making it apparent that it would constitute a perfect candidate for an experiment in interactive conservation.
Thanks to the historical drawings and engravings, we could accurately model a detailed digital reconstruction of Fonthill Abbey, which became the main location for the game, developed with Unreal Game Engine.
Lastly, we choose to take advantage of Virtual Reality and offer users the chance to truly immerse themselves in the world we had created. Through all these elements we aimed to create an experience that could transport players and engage them from both a sensory and emotional point of view.
Down below we listed some images of the model of Fonthill Abbey used in the game.
Dr. Christoph Bartneck is an associate professor and director of postgraduate studies at the HIT Lab NZ of the University of Canterbury. He has a background in Industrial Design and Human-Computer Interaction, and his projects and studies have been published in leading journals, newspapers, and conferences. His interests lie in the fields of Human-Computer Interaction, Science and Technology Studies, and Visual Design. More specifically, he focuses on the effect of anthropomorphism on human-robot interaction. As a secondary research interest he works on bibliometric analyses, agent based social simulations, and the critical review on scientific processes and policies. In the field of Design Christoph investigates the history of product design, tessellations and photography.
Elettra La Duca
Historical Reconstruction, Game Design, 3D Art
As a Ph. D. candidate in History and Art at the University of Granada, I am especially interested in applying new technologies such as Augmented and Virtual Reality to the cultural heritage, creating an engaging and enriching experience for visitors. This project gave me the opportunity to explore the possibilities of interactive conservation and to manage the entire process of digitally reconstructing an historical building, from researching the documents to architecture modelling. Moreover, collaborating on a game, I could help the team create an experience through which users establish an emotional bond with Fonthill Abbey and its history, hopefully determining a higher involvement in its valorization.
I am in my undergraduate program of Cognitive Science at the University of Osnabrück, Germany. I was fascinated by the mysterious lifestyle of William Beckford as well as the artistic challenge to design a storyboard to capture an evening in the 1800. The project gave me the possibility to look into the process of game development and the art of game design. For my professional life, my goal is to be able to combine my creativity with a future- oriented work that has an impact on daily life.
Interaction Design, Web Design
Being a VR designer, I’ve been working on games and creativity tools for VR, focusing on finding proper UX and way of presenting contents on this entirely new platform of Virtual Reality. Fonthill Abbey project is different from the other games or tools I joined. It has a long history back into the past, has characters whose fate are tighted to some point, has a magnificient gothic building that captures my attention from the very beginning. Reviving such historical event through game play, through VR, can be challanging and of many fun. It’s a good chance to implement interaction patterns unique to itself, and try out various ways to drag players back into that night of 1800.
Each New Step
Got any great ideas of the project? Write us an email: