Talks on the following topics can be arranged, and can last from 'tasters' of just 15 minutes, to 1 hour, most are illustrated. Please contact us for further details.
Ghosts and Grisly Death in Durham City
Durham has many stories of ghostly and grisly happenings: let your imagination run free as you listen to some of them. No responsibility is taken for subsequent nightmares!
Dirt, Death and Disease in Durham City
In the mid-19th century Durham was over-crowded, disease-ridden and filthy. Its streets were covered in animal dung, blood and mud, and the smells would have been almost unbearable. Explore that Durham through the words of its inhabitants of the time and the government official who inspected the town.
The 'Guests' of Queen Victoria, 1851
In Durham the 1851 census lists 226 inhabitants who, probably, wished themselves almost anywhere else than within the grim walls of Durham prison. This talk explores the system of justice which led to their imprisonment, looks at the crimes they had committed, and examines one or two of their stories in detail.
The 1851 Census in Durham City
Durham in 1851 was home to 13,188 individuals, living in conditions ranging from great luxury to deep poverty. This talk discusses the mechanism of taking the census and what the results can tell us; it also identifies some of the more unusual details collected by the enumerators.
The Battle of Neville's Cross, 1346
The battle of Neville's Cross was fought on 17 October 1346 between English and Scottish armies on the outskirts of the city. This talk looks at the events, national and international, leading up to the battle, and unfolds the story of the fighting, from the initial manoeuvres to the celebrations of the English victory.
Drunken Midwives and Common Strumpets: Parish Registers and their contents
Church of England parish registers begin in 1538, and give details of the baptisms, marriages and burials which took place in the local church. However, besides the bare registration details many other fascinating snippets of information were recorded, from curses and recipes to the story of star-crossed lovers.
Carpet-weaving in Durham City
In the nineteenth century carpet-weaving was the major factory industry in Durham City. Starting in a small way in 1814, it grew to employ a large proportion of the labour force. Although the archives of the industry have disappeared it is still possible to piece together the story of the industry and some of its workers.
Cholera in Durham City
In June 1849 cholera arrived in Durham, and, before it disappeared six months later, it claimed 86 victims. Based on documentary sources, this talk looks at the events of 1849/1850 and how Durham coped with the disease.
Sir Walter Scott's "Rokeby"
In 1812 Sir Walter Scott wrote his poem "Rokeby" which contains everything Hollywood could require - battles, love interest, pirate gold, a castle in flames, a long-lost heir, and the cavalry riding to the rescue. This talk is largely a dramatised reading from the poem, but also seeks to explain its context.
'... this poor ruinated county': The Civil Wars in Durham through parish eyes
Durham was not the site of any major battles during the Civil Wars, but was traversed by armies from both sides. It was also the last part of England to be under foreign military occupation. This talk uses information from parish registers to illustrate the course of the Wars throughout the county.
'Grave and Commanding Beauty': Visitors to Durham and their views of the City
Most visitors to Durham have been overawed by the sight of the cathedral and castle on the rock, but in some cases, their comments on other aspects of the town have not been complimentary. Listen to the comments of visitors to the city, from pope to pitman, over the last nine hundred years.
'This famous and remarkable wall': Impressions of Hadrian's Wall over sixteen centuries
People have visited Hadrian's Wall ever since it was built, and this talk uses their words to describe their 'Wall experience'. You will hear their thoughts about the scenery, the weather, the accommodation and the local inhabitants, and discover the stories of a suspected spy, the greatest vandal in history and a duke's mistress.
'A Bit of An Historian and a Philosopher': The Teesdale Hermit
This is the story of Frank Shields, 'The Teesdale Hermit'. Born in 1815, he occupied the ruins of Barnard Castle and acted as a self-appointed guide, guardian of the castle and restorer of the buildings. After leaving the castle he spent a period in the workhouse, before resuming his eccentric lifestyle at Egglestone Abbey.
'...two cows and a very handsome dairy maid': The story of Aykley Heads House
Aykley Heads House is a country house, once on the outskirts of Durham. The estate was acquired by the County Council for its County Hall, and the house passed through a number of uses, before being restored in 1995. This talk examines the physical development of the house and its surroundings.
'Great Pains and a Large Amount of Labour': the Building of Durham Viaduct
Durham had a railway station from 1838, but the 'Old Main Line' bypassed the city, trains did not run over the magnificent viaduct until 1857, and it was not until 1872 that main-line expresses reached the city. This talk looks at how this state of affairs arose and how the problems in constructing the viaduct were overcome.
A level crossing on a branch-line was the site of a girl's death in 1893, leading to the construction of a bridge three years later. The story behind the accident, the construction of the bridge and its eventual demolition are examined in this talk, which blends human interest with local and railway history.
'A nice bit of garden and a very fine prospect ...': Hollingside - House and Tune
Hollingside House was a large house built to the south of Durham City after 1773, and its grounds now form part of the University Botanic Gardens. This talk looks at the origins of the house and the various families who have occupied it, including John Bacchus Dykes, who named his famous hymn tune after the house.
'A Plan so replete with advantages ...': The Building of Durham's North Road
North Road, running from Framwellgate Bridge to St. Leonard's School, is now so much an integral part of Durham's road network that it is difficult to imagine it not existing; yet it is a comparatively late addition to the city's roads. Why was it built and what were the problems which the project faced?
Highwaymen and striking miners: Letters to George Bowes
A series of letters to George Bowes of Gibside from his cousin in London give fascinating insights into the problems of life (including unwanted wedding presents and awkward travelling companions) in the eighteenth century.
Gibside in the Derwent valley
The estate of Gibside is associated with the Bowes and Bowes Lyon families. This talk looks at its development over 800 years, some of the individuals associated with it, and its eventual acquisition by the National Trust.