Tuesday, 25 June 2013

5 fun facts about Durham University’s history

As a final one in the mini-series of the "5 fun facts: Durham", here are 5 fun facts about Durham University’s history:

Durham Castle, from the top of Durham Cathedral Tower. The tower arguably provides the best view of the entire city and University (except for Stockton campus!) (author's own, June 2013).

       1. The University was founded not only to prevent the Cathedral from losing it's property as a result of parliamentary reforms, but also to provide a sound but cheaper alternative to Oxford and Cambridge Universities for the "great and increasing population of the North of England".* However, later on in the 19th century, there was a large influx of wealthy northern students, which, coupled with cheap train travel across the country, meant that even at an early stage, Durham's students have always appeared to spend lavishly! Hatfield College was founded in 1846 for "men of limited means" to study at Durham.^ Speaking of colleges, there was a "Cosin's College" which only lasted for 13 years, in the mid 19th cenutry, due to lack of demand.^

2. The Dean and Chapter at the time was made up of a number of bishops from aroud the country, including the Bishop of Exeter, who was actually opposed to the University's creation on several grounds, including mistaking the University's creation to be a school, of which there was a grammar school already on palace green!* 

3. Hatfield’s Keep was originally going to become an observatory and a museum, but it became student accommodation by 1840. The students originally lived in the Archdeacon's Inn (Cosin's library), today part of the Palace Green Library on Palace Green.*~

      4. The Bishops of Durham kept the lease of Durham Castle until 1906. They had separate rooms and servant’s quarters for themselves, away from the rest of the students! The change occurred because of an Act of Parliament.*

      5.  The first subjects taught at Durham University included Geek, Divinity and Oriental Literature, Moral Philosophy, Classical Literature, Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, History, English Literature, Anatomy and Medicine, Law, Natural History, Chemistry and Geology.*

I apologise that I didn't use many sources for this post. Until next time! Next mini-series of 5 fun facts: Warwickshire/Northamptonshire.

Comments always appreciated!!

*Whiting, C.E, 1932, "The University of Durham, 1832-1932" Sheldon Press, London

~ Roberts, M., 2003, "Durham: 1,000 Years of History", Tempus, Stroud

^Brickstock, R., 2007, "Durham Castle: Castle, Palace, Fortress", Jeremy Mills Publishing for the University College Durham Trust, Durham

Saturday, 22 June 2013

A bit more about my archaeological interests (archaeological information should be free for all!)

So the other day I gave a tour to some good friends of mine around Durham Castle. As students they all live in the college (some even live in the castle!). Usually tourists pay to go around the castle but students of the university get on these tours for free. However, I decided to give a private tour anyway since I had nothing better to do. By the end of the tour they were very surprised by just how much information they had learned!

That got me thinking about what they had learned, and what I had got out of it. It wasn't just because I had impressed my friends with my (admittedly impressive) knowledge of the Castle, but they had enjoyed it so much, that they kept asking questions, which were informative and challenging, something that normal tours don't usually do. Admittedly throughout the year I have adapted my tours based on new research and information that I have picked up from various sources (I completed a module which included surveying part of the outer wall of the North hall of Durham Castle), and even now I am aware that my knowledge is not fully complete; one guy completed his phd on the history of the Castle! So I am not the authority on the castle, but I do enjoy talking about the Castle (my friends will certainly testify to this).

While I feel that the college doesn't do enough to teach students about the history of the castle and why it is so important, my friends can now go around and tell everyone else around them about the Castle and why it is so important, not just on a local level, but also on a national level! I won't go into detail about the history of the castle here (if you would like to know then please contact me!), but as archaeologists and one of the many stewards of heritage, I believe that it is our duty to disseminate (or distribute) information about our heritage as much as possible. So by giving this tour for free, it accomplishes two things: my friends have ticked something off their "bucket-list" before they graduate, and I can do the tour, knowing that more people now know more information about the castle. For free.

Of course, you can argue that I am doing this to the detriment of the castle. Because it is a free tour, it means that the castle is getting no benefit out of this in the short term- walking around the castle causes damage to the property, regardless of intention. My friends are not paying a single penny into its conservation; this comes from charity donations, often for big projects rather than general upkeep. However, if you want to be cynical, then I reply that I can now rely on my friends to tell their friends and families about the Castle, and inspire them to come to Durham and pay to go on the Castle tours. Even if they don't, a few more people now appreciate one of Durham's best loved icons, if they didn't before.

What I am trying to say is that information should be distributed more freely, but generally there is a culture of selfishness, even in academia; I saw a graduate friend of mine refuse to give her lecture notes to the lecturer (despite the fact that it was brillant and I am sure that the work would be referenced in future), simply because it was her property. Likewise, another friend would lend her notes to her college daugther, only on the basis that because she owned them that she would give them back, as it was her intellectual property. Yes, these scenarios are very different from distributing information about a national monument, but  if we hoard information and take it to our graves, particularly in the case of my former example, where it was pioneering work in North Yorkshire that would have shown evidence for pre-Roman activity, then it defeats the point of being a steward of heritage. Basically, we need to stop being hypocrites.

So that is it for now; this time next week I will out of Durham, and I will miss it. Don't worry, I will put my focus on my "homeland" of west Northamptonshire (a village just outside of Chaventry Daventry) and the midlands (as defined by the government). As always, comments appreciated!

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Public and the Past: What do YOU want from your heritage?

As a tour guide for Durham Castle, I have noticed a strange thing with the public (and myself) when they are on a tour. They are a mixture of young and old, local and foreign tourists (and the occasional inquisitive Durham student), but what unites them all is the "wow factor": that feeling of the extraordinary and uniqueness of a particular feature, something that does actually make you say "wow!". So what is my problem with this?

It is one of "too many wows". Durham Castle has far too many items of brilliance, rarity and uniqueness for tourists, leading to an overload of information. Let me give an example from my tours- the statement "England's largest Great Hall in the 14th century" is soon followed by "this beautiful 17th century late renaissance style door" and that precedes  "England's oldest working kitchens", and this is all before the oldest stone building in the castle, which contains the oldest depiction of a mermaid in Northern England! This leads to a delicate balance of giving out selected information, and 45 minutes is not enough for all of the Castle's history, and I give the latter proviso at the start of the tours I give. While I do not dictate the tour times, some places, such as the Fengate excavations near Peterborough, have been able to experiment with their tour lengths and they found that the average tourist is best suited to an hour long tour; long enough to give a lot of information about the site, but also not so long that they don't forget the important bits!

Hatfield's keep (author's own image, November 2012).

However, what sometimes annoys me is when I give any information I give about the University's involvement, and the students in particular. This seems to be what they have come for; if anything, the students are more likely to be destroying than appreciating this building! Furthermore, any mention of Harry Potter in Durham Cathedral and everything I have just talked about feels, like Hedwig, as if it has flown out of the window, in favour of a modern cultural phenomenon which happened to be filmed across the road. is this because the Castle's history pales in comparison to the film about "the boy who lived?"

My problem, you could argue, is moot; I provide a service, and nothing more. I am not entitled to force people to enjoy things that they do not; after all, they are paying my wages. The public enjoys these tours, so I shouldn't need to give them more "boring" information about the Caernarvon arch leading to the Undercroft. Furthermore, if I provide this huge variety of information to the public, then the chances are that everyone will enjoy it and maximise their return out of their £5 investment. I have tarred people with the same brush; some will enjoy the history, some will enjoy the fleeting "Hogwarts" feel of the Castle, and some will enjoy the stories about the students. Not everyone will have come for the history, some will have interests in the Castle that date from very recently (some are alumni of University College!), and some are even prospective students.

However, the archaeologist's and heritage industry's job is to provide much more than a service. They are stewards of the past; its stout defenders, who present the story of these monuments while preserving them at the same time. A steward by definition is someone who looks after or manages another's affairs. Moreover, different cultures (or even different people), will tell different stories about the past, usually involving different stories about the same monument. So this raises the question; is the best custodian the one who can preserve the monument the best, or those who can tell the best story? This is not a simple divide between economic benefit and trying to preserve the past as an expense, as some people might have you believe. Many sites can provide an educational benefit too. Lots of school groups regularly visit Durham Castle, but sadly not enough sites can or will provide this important service to allow local/ national heritage to be appreciated for more than just a tourist attraction.

Perhaps I am just enjoy the past too much; after all, the students have not destroyed any of the treasures within the castle; in fact, the University appealed to save the Castle back in the 1930's when part of it was going to fall into the river Wear! This is part of the Castle's more modern history, but it can just as easily be argued that this preservation of the Castle shows that back then, as today, the vested interest of the University is to preserve the past; to know where we came from and to understand why it was done.

A tourist come up to me and ask about the architecture of the Castle in more detail, particularly the Norman arches (you won't believe how many styles of arches there are...)! It turns out that he was an engineering lecturer from Canada, and gave me a priceless quote; "ET had the technology, but without the knowledge to fix his craft, how could he get home?" What he meant by this was that people today don't realise how important it is to learn where their heritage comes form, as this is where innovation and new ideas come from. The vaulted arches in Durham Cathedral, as well as many of the architectural features in Durham, were innovations in their day, unrivalled except for the cathedrals of central France; even then, Durham independently began building their magnificent arches. If we don't appreciate this, then where will our innovation come from?

My personal perspective is from academia, which does scare people off with lots of jargon, which means they won't enjoy the history so much, where my main interests lie. I have been lucky that the University allows the tours to be reflexive (or to reflect and improve with each time). So my tours have evolved to explain the jargon as much as possible without compromising the quality of the complex architecture of the Castle (which was why it was given a world heritage site designation in 1986-http://whc.unesco.org/en/list/370). Therefore, my tours do give an eclectic mix of every part of the Castle's life, and their owners, who had even more eventful lives than the Castle! I also have copies of old maps to pass around the tourists, so they can understand the layout of the Castle in a more in-depth way (which is my way of putting my landscape perspective across to the tourists). I even have a map from the 1950's which shows how the University originally turned the Norman Chapel into an entrance for the keep! You coulod argue this may be too much information, but so far tourists have very much enjoyed the maps, and make it much easier to explain the Castle's development. This is one way in which academia can be used successfully to inform and inspire the public.

So this leads me to the conclusion- what do you want from your heritage? It is a personal question, and there is no right answer. I personally would enjoy these tours more (not that I don't!!) if I was given more freedom to talk about the stories of Scottish invasions of Durham in more detail during the Middle Ages, but this would mean losing bits of information elsewhere which are arguably just as important, since I would then be fired for making the tours simply far too long. But the most important thing I want you to take away from this article is to be inquisitive, and not to just sit there and accept statements as fact. Be proactive about your experience. Ask these questions the next time you are on a tour of a historic monument, or even a museum  "But why?" or "What was is used for?", "Why build this building here at all?", "Did Kings visit this Castle?" and "What's that?" Basically I'm asking you to test your tour guides about information they should know. It's our job, after all!

Please leave comments below, and I will endeavour to respond!

N.B. unfortunately I will no longer be doing tour guiding of Durham Castle after June 2013, since I will be moving to Southampton University!

Monday, 10 June 2013

5 fun facts about County Durham

Firstly, apologies I haven't put up anything in a while, been very busy in other countries and completing the three peaks challenge! More on those in another article, but since how the first set of facts went down a treat, I thought I would put up some more, this time about the Palatinate of County Durham:

1. Palatinate comes from the medieval days when the Prince Bishops ruled large parts of the North of England, a title given to them by William the Conqueror as a way of keeping a watch out on the Scots. It was known as the Palatinate because they literally ruled from their palace (according to wikipedia).

2. During the medieval period, Scotland and the Prince Bishops had an interesting and often hostile relationship. While Scotland owned large areas of land around county Durham from time to time, the Prince Bishops could invade Scotland on their own, and they could excommunicate the Scottish people! At one point the Scots were excommunicated, but then 2 years afterwards the Scots were given specail protection by the Pope in recognition for the fact that they were one of the most pious nations at the time (!)*

3. County Durham (as well as Northumbria and other parts of Northern England and Southern Scotland, for that matter) contain large amounts of Early Christian architecture and sculptures. Large stone crosses, early churches (such as Escomb, County Durham) and even books were all created in this area, containing wonderful examples of the flowing style of Irish christian art. Northern England became a religious melting pot between Irish and Roman Catholic christianity until the 660's AD, with the Synod of Whitby. Here the traditions of the Roman Catholic church (particularly concerning the dates of Easter and Christmas) were deemed to be correct over than the Irish ones, but that is not to say that is decision was agreed by all sides! Irish christian art survived nonetheless, and the most famous example is the Lindifarne Gospels, as Saint Cuthbert and others kept the Irish christian art tradition alive in the pages of the gospels. Viking art is also not uncommon on architecture around here. Many of these examples are now in the treasures of Durham Cathedral.

4. The Great Northern Coalfield extends under large parts of the county, and in the 19th century, this heavy, if erratic, industry (pits could be set up and closed down in the space of a few weeks!) was the staple of many parts of County Durham, particularly in villages, for employment, and mine closures was often led to dire consequences. This coalfield also extends under the North Sea, which led to the creation of some very peculiar landmarks, like the Seaham mine, but also led to sever enviromental damage, that until recently was very obvious. Fatalities from this industry were, and still are, unfortunately not uncommon around the world.

Some abandoned pit head machinery and other parts of the can still be seen around the county. Such was the state of some of these villages after World War 2, that some villages were demolished altogether and their inhabitants relocated^! No mines operate today, and the last one ceased operations in 1980's. For a good idea of what a small late Victorian one would have looked like, go visit Beamish Museum near Chester-le-Street. Until recently as well the County Durham coast was notorious for coal pollution, but now large sections are nature reserves and areas of natural beauty``.

5. County Durham also prides itself on being the birthplace of the railway. In 1825, the Darlington-Stockton line was opened with Locomotion no.1 built by George Stephenson pulling carriages. Locomotion had just won the Rainhill trials, but railways, or waggonways, have a much longer history than that- horse-drawn carriages used for pulling coal out of the mines to the river boats on the Tyne were in use from the 17th century. This is reflected in the standing archaeology of the North Pennines, with bridges that contain grooves that would have been used for waggonways*. Railways and coal mines were intertwined, one providing a market for the other. Today, many abandoned railway lines are now public footpaths. Around Durham, there were 3 stations, of which two have now closed (one near Gilesgate and the other near Whinney Hill).

Map showing the exent of railways and waggonways across County Durham (and other neighbouring counties) (Copyright Waggonways, https://sites.google.com/site/waggonways/railways-durham)

Any comments are greatly appreciated, I will endeavour to respond to any questions!

*Information taken from Ross, D. 1998, "Scotland: History of a Nation"
^Information taken form Waggonways, https://sites.google.com/site/waggonways/history-durham
``Information taken from Durham Heritage Coast, http://www.durhamheritagecoast.org/DHC/usp.nsf/pws/Durham+Heritage+Coast+-+The+Coast