Belmont Community Centre,
Sunderland Road,

Meetings on 3rd Wednesday in the month at 1.00 pm (no meeting in August – Summer Break)

Visitors are always welcome

Each meeting has a talk by an invited speaker followed by discussion and help


Date Subject of Talk Speaker
20th July 2022 Durham Indoor Market David Butler
17th August 2022 No meeting
21st September 2022 Durham City in Old Photographs Michael Richardson
19th October 2022 Peter Lee Mrs Win Coleman
16th November 2022 Family History Sources at Palace Green Library (tbc) Andrew Gray
21st December 2022 Christmas Lunch or Members Forum (tbc)

Reports of meetings

June 2022

The meeting on the 15th June was attended by 8 members and 5 guests.

June Guilliford Lowes, gave a fascinating talk, explaining how she had come to write her book “The Horsekeeper’s Daughter” after finding a box of mementoes left by her mother’s friend, an honorary “aunty” who lived in Seaham. The box included letters from Australia which led June to the story of Sarah Marshall born in West Rainton in 1863, who was recorded in the 1881 census in Seaham as a domestic servant. June set her life in the context of the problems and industrial unrest in the area at the time. However, Sarah left Seaham and travelled alone to the other side of the world arriving in Brisbane on a government scheme to address the “lack of women” in the predominant male society. Jane had been so intrigued by Sarah’s life that she had travelled to Australia to further her researches. She revealed how life had been equally tough there but Sarah had married and eventually the family had been able to purchase unpromising land near Brisbane. With the help of neighbours, they had cleared the land and established a dairy farm. Remarkably Brisbane library had photographs of the homestead from that time. Jane had been able to trace the lives of Sarah’s descendants and also visit the farm. The talk was much appreciated by the members who had many questions which could be answered by the story told in the book.

The chairman circulated the list of speakers up to the end of the year except for a possible Christmas lunch in December. He suggested this could become a farewell lunch if volunteers did not come forward to take on roles for the 2023 session, namely secretary and speaker coordinator. Fortunately, one member came forward to become involved in the speaker role if she could have support to get started. The chairman expressed his delight and said that he would give any support that was required. As a result, the branch meetings should be able to continue in 2023. However, the branch still needs someone to come forward to take on secretarial duties such as minute taking and circulation of the agenda.

May 2022

The meeting on 19 May 2022 was attended by 8 members and 3 guests. Unfortunately, due to family illness, the planned speaker had to cancel at short notice and there was not sufficient time to organise a replacement. A members discussion session was held instead and several members updated the group with stories from their own research.

The chairman reported that it had not been possible to arrange a visit to Durham Town Hall for the date in June. Members agreed that the visit should be rescheduled for a later date. Fortunately, the day’s scheduled speaker had agreed to give her presentation at the June meeting. The chairman reminded members of the need to fill the vacant branch positions.

April 2022

The meeting held Wednesday 20 April 2022 was attended by 7 members and 2 guests

Ben Haddon gave an illuminating talk on The Durham artist Norman Cornish, eldest of nine children born in Spennymoor in 1919. He was always interested in painting, winning an art prize at primary school. After leaving school at fourteen he began work as a coal miner at nearby Dene & Chapter Colliery. He also joined the Spennymoor Settlement of artists and writers which also included his friend, writer, Sid Chaplin. The talk was illustrated with Norman’s paintings demonstrating how he portrayed life around himself, both work in the colliery and social life. Despite his success as an artist, he remained a miner until his retirement. Norman died age 94 in 2014 leaving a record of working-class life in Co. Durham over eighty years. He remains Durham’s most well-known artist, a Norman Cornish trail has been created around Spennymoor to include many of the places he painted and a recreation of his studio has recently opened at Beamish Museum. Although members were aware of his work everyone learned much new information and thoroughly enjoyed the presentation which provoked much discussion and many reminiscences.

The chairman reported that he had now filled the speaker program up to and including the AGM in January 2023 but that a group June visit was to be arranged. He said that that he did not intend arranging meetings after the AGM date as he felt that it was now the time for someone else to step up to the role. Members discussed the June visit and agreed to try to arrange a visit to Durham Town Hall.

March 2022

Report of the meeting held Wednesday 16th March 2022 at Belmont Community Centre which was attended by 11 members and 5 Guests.

The Chairman, John Heckels, gave a talk on the use of DNA in family history. The talk began with an introduction to DNA and the interest generated by TV programmes such as “Long Lost Families”. The different tests that are commercially available were explained and how they are able to answer different questions, including the tests used to identify the skeleton of Richard III and confirm a great grandson of Sitting Bull. He discussed the reasons that might persuade people to take a test and suggested that most were interested in answering “where do I come from” rather than being interested in genealogy. This had implications in making successful contact with potential relatives. The speaker discussed the results that might be obtained from companies such as Ancestry with examples from his own experiences. Finally, he discussed some of the ethics of DNA testing and how it can reveal previously hidden family secrets which might be unwelcome to family members

After the presentation there was a general discussion of members’ own research. This included a member who reported on further research into her family history, particularly her 3g-grandfather. She had visited the Palace Green Library and found he had been baptised on the same day as eight of his children in Blanchland. The record showed he was previously a quaker. On the Blanchland History website she found his name on the Bounder Roll 1793 when he had attended both days of the Perambulation. The record confirmed that he was a Butcher. She read her notes about the Bounder Roll to the group. Another member noted the next month’s talk was on the art of Norman Cornish and reported his son in law was a relative of Norman Cornish. That led to discussion of the recreation of his house in the new 1950s village exhibit at Beamish Museum.

The chairman reported that he had filled the speaker program up to the summer break (with the exception of a possible Group Visit in June). He hoped soon to complete the programme up to the end of the year. After that he would no longer be able to sustain the multiple responsibilities he had taken on and that he did not intend to continue as speaker finder in 2023. He again asked for a volunteer to come forward to take on this role.

February 2022

Report of the meeting held Wednesday 16th February 2022 at Belmont Community Centre. The meeting was attended by 9 members and 5 Guests.

Sabina McGing & Rob King (Durham CC) gave a talk on the Durham History Centre under construction at Mount Oswald, Durham City. The house was currently being greatly enlarged by new buildings which would bring together several collections currently dispersed around different locations in the county. These would include the County Records Office, Registrar’s Office and DLI records and other historical records. The plan was to provide a “one stop shop” and an integrated website. The site would provide convenient access by public and private transport.

A feature would be permanent and temporary exhibitions relating to Co. Durham’s history including both digital and artefact displays. A particular feature would be the digital room which would include the use of AI to link records from disparate sources. It was envisaged that access to records, such as parish records, would no longer be possible by microfilm but that these records would be available digitally.

The presentation showed a floor plan of the centre and the current state of progress in the building work.

The talk prompted a good discussion and a number of questions from members. In response to a question on the timescale, it was “hoped” to be open during 2023, although seemed to be some doubt whether this would be achieved. Some DLI records would be integrated into the exhibitions but it was not planned to feature them in a stand-alone display. Of particular concern to members was the plan for digitisation of parish records. It was pointed out that many of the current microfilms were of poor quality and if simply digitally photographed this would not be improved. Would the existing parish record books be re-photographed (a huge task) and what would be the situation with microfilms of records not held by Durham CC? The presenters were not able to address these issues.

The chairman thanked the presenters proving an interesting insight into the plans for the centre and an update of the current situation.
After the presentation there was a general discussion of member’s own research. This included two members who had the unusual first name Osyth(e) in their families. There were only 51 birth registrations of the name between 1840 and 1920. There was general discussion of how workers from far afield, including Cornwall and Ireland, were attracted to work in industries in Co. Durham. One member reported how specific advertising was used to attract workers from Ireland. His grandfather had been attracted by such an advert to work in the colliery at Consett but had soon been attracted to work in the new Consett Iron Works.

January 2022

Report of the meeting held Wednesday 19 January 2022 at Belmont Community Centre) The meeting was attended by 9 members and 2 Guests The meeting began with the 2022 AGM. The Treasurer’s and Chairman’s annual reports were tabled. No nominations had been received for the position of any of the branch officers. As a result, John Heckels continued as Chairman & Trustee Representative and agreed to continue temporarily acting as Secretary and Events Coordinator. The chairman reported that David Hook, who had given his apologies, had agreed to continue as Treasurer and to act as Deputy Chairman. He emphasised the urgent need for nominations for the vacant positions, particularly Events Coordinator, as without a future speaker programme meetings would not be possible.

Talk by Dave Shotten: 2000 Years of Childhood. Member Dave Shotten gave an informative and entertaining talk on attitudes to children over time and contrasting the changing sexual attitudes of the Brigantes, Romans, Saxons, Normans, Medieval times and Victorians. He suggested that attitudes to children had often been governed by “supply and demand”. When births were frequent, deaths were more accepted. He pointed out that Mrs Beaton had warned women to expect a pregnancy every 18 months and a funeral every 2-3years.

Family History Research. Members discussed their first impressions of the 1921 census. Several had attempted to find close relatives and most reported difficulties and problems with indexing and transcription. There was also concern for the high cost of obtaining images and transcripts. One member reported that she had been prompted into researching the occurrence of the given name Osythe in her own family and had traced it back several hundred years.

Future meetings. The chairman reported that speakers had been confirmed for the February and March meetings and that he would investigate speakers for the meetings before the summer break. Members also discussed reintroducing the annual visit. The chairman said that he would investigate the possibility of a visit to the National Glass Centre.

December 2021

No Branch meeting was held in December as Members decided not to meet for the traditional Christmas lunch this year. It had been hoped to arrange a members meeting as a replacement but the Community Centre was not available for booking on the relevant date.

The Chairman circulated members with this news and gave advance notice of the AGM in January and the speakers list for the first quarter of 2022. The Chairman again reminded members that the branch still had several unfilled positions and there was an urgent need for volunteers to come forward at the Branch AGM in January.

Last updated 29th June 2022