Exploring Durham Castle

For the last two years I have been exploring Durham Castle. In 2015 I was awarded the University College Durham Trust Scholarship which gave me the opportunity to work as a volunteer, assisting the curator with the collections whilst undertaking an MA in Museum and Artefact Studies, all kindly funded by the Durham Castle Trust. I am now nearly at the end of my scholarship and beginning to reflect on what has been a fascinating two years of exploration of Durham Castle.

Revealing a hidden world

Durham CastleI have discovered that Durham Castle is an extremely special place, not only a Grade I Listed Building, but also an Accredited Museum and part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site. In addition, it is the home of University College, the oldest college at Durham University and with the Tunstall Gallery even has a 500 year old display space. The collections are really varied: from the coats of arms and objects relating to the Prince-Bishops of Durham, (whose semi-regal status made them some of the most powerful and wealthy men in the country) to sketches done in the 1840’s by former student, the Rev. Edward Bradley, depicting student life at University College.

Visiting Durham Castle

Durham Castle family tourThe Castle is always busy, large numbers of people pass through the Gatehouse of Durham Castle each year. Many are students or members of the University visiting for events or study, but there are also thousands of members of the public and schoolchildren on day trips. Some of the most interesting and enjoyable occasions I have been involved in are the self-guided days when visitors can wonder around the Castle at their own pace (Wednesdays and Thursdays during August this summer). These are special days as the Castle Guides and volunteers turn into room stewards, enabling the visitors to truly explore. I have been involved with some of the work behind the scenes to make these days possible, from checking rota’s and being a room steward to writing the text panels placed around the castle and designing a children’s trail.

Wide variety of projects

Durham CastleThere is always a list in the office of projects or activities which are imminent, so entering each morning is exciting – one day I can be cataloguing the collection, another writing a large print guide, or volunteering with Palace Green Library Conservation Department and learning how to clean silver.

Castle without borders

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time at Durham Castle, finding out exactly what it takes place to preserve the Castle whilst making it more accessible to as many people as possible. There are constantly new projects and innovative ways for people to engage with this historic place and so I hope that the work I have done to this end physically, and even on social media, will help visitors explore.

Find out more about Durham Castle and plan your visit

Sophie Ridley

Sophie Ridley

Sophie Ridley is studying part MA Museum and Artefact Studies at Durham University, she graduated BA Archaeology & Anthropology from University of Oxford. She has volunteered in a number of museum including Shrewsbury Museum and Art Gallery, Kelmscott Manor, Oxfordshire and Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford. Her interests include traditional crafts including spinning, dyeing and weaving.
Sophie Ridley

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