A HISTORIC building which has been at the heart of life in Durham for more than six centuries is proving a popular visitor attraction since opening its doors to members of the public.

Durham Town Hall is now offering people the chance to discover its rich and fascinating history every Saturday with no admission charge.

Audio guides, interactive information points and short films have been introduced to help visitors find out more about the stunning building in the city’s Market Place.

Culture operations officer Robert King said: “The town hall has not been open to members of the public in recent memory.

“The response since we opened it as a visitor attraction has been overwhelmingly positive. We had nearly 600 visitors in the first three weekends we were open, which is above expectations.

“The hope is that we offer something to the visitor offer of Durham. Durham Cathedral and Castle are obviously the big draws, but we would like to add an extra 30 minutes to an hour on to their stay here.“But then we have local people coming to it as well, because it’s their heritage we are preserving. There are elements of the town hall they may not be aware of.

“People who have been in the town hall probably know the Great Hall. But what we are doing is opening up parts that are normally locked to the public, such as the Guildhall which dates from the 16th century and the Mayor’s Chamber.”

He added: “Visitors will not only get the chance to take a look around but, thanks to new facilities such as interpretation panels and audio guides, they can find out more about the history not just of the town hall but also the city of Durham.”

New displays also tell the story of colourful local characters such as Joseph Boruwlaski, a 3ft 3in tall 18th century celebrity known as the Little Count. Born in Poland in 1739, Boruwlaski spent his life performing at the Grandest Royal Courts of Europe, before retiring to Durham where he eventually died at the age of 98. There are also two specially made short films. One tells details the town hall’s history as a courtroom and the often grizzly nature of crime and punishment in the 1800s. The other is a short documentary by local amateur film-makers Hill Valley Creative and featuring the music of the local band the Whisky Priests.

The town hall is open every Saturday from 10am to 3pm on Saturdays. For more information call 03000 267 955 or email DurhamTownHall@durham.gov.uk.