We stumbled into the glories within Durham Town Hall by chance, attracted by an art exhibition in the foyer.
A leaflet on the counter prompted us to ask whether the Town Hall was open to visitors. Not such a daft question as this is still very much a working building. We were fortunate that a meeting had just finished and the staff had started clearing the Main Hall of the furniture and buffet.
Yes, came the response, we could view the building. Better still, the staff would assist us with any questions we might have.
It turns out that the Town Hall is open to visitors but because it is still very much a working building, hosting Council meetings and events, it is not open all the time. Nevertheless the Visitors book suggests that it does attract a small but regular number of people to view this wonderful old building.
We ventured first into what is known as ‘The Crush’, where visitors would crowd before being admitted to the Main Hall. Amongst the exhibits on display is what at first you think is the clothing from a large doll. This turns out to be the real life clothing and artefacts of a person called Count Joseph Boruwlaski – a 3’3”, violin-playing celebrity of the courts of Eurrope who ended his days aged 98 in Durham!
Then into the Main Hall with its impressive wooden panelling, plaques commemorating former Mayors, Chief executives, Clerks and those who have been granted the Freedom of the City, the latter including military figures such as Montgomery, but also such people as Desmond Tutu and Bill Bryson. The Main Hall is dominated at one end by the impressive Great West Window but look out also for the window commemorating the Durham Light Infantry.
At this point one of the staff clearing the area took us under his wing. Although professing not to know as much as his colleague Norman, Shaun was full of interesting insights and took us into places not always open to visitors including the Mayor’s Chamber and the 14th century Guildhall.
We learned about the Mayor’s bodyguards - the Mayor of Durham is the only one outside of London to have a bodyguard – and even got to view one of their magnificent (and heavy) black capes. We learned about how the tax collectors of old used to use their halberds to remove the tiles and thatch off the roof of those reluctant to pay (literally stopping them from keeping a roof over their heads). And we viewed the magnificent silver collection of the Guilds.
Thanks to Shaun what had originally been a quick foray into an art exhibition became a trip back through over 500 years of history. Wonderful!
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