SPECIAL behind the scenes tours of an historic civic building in the heart of a city are being staged on coming Saturdays.

They will mark the end of the successful first year since regular visitor tours of the Town Hall, in Durham, were launched.

It has seen 11,000 visitors taking a peek into part of the city’s rich history since the Grade II-listed building opened its doors for regular public visits.

The free Saturday tours of the 650-year-old building, standing prominently in the Market Place, have proved popular with tourists, other visitors to the city as well as local residents.

Visitors can cast an eye over the many treasures displayed in the Town Hall and gain an insight into the bodies regularly using it, including the Freeman’s Guild and the Mayoral Bodyguard.

It is hoped that with the festive break, the forthcoming open days, on Saturdays December 28 and January 4, even more sightseers will take up the chance to tour the historic building.

Robert King, cultural operations officer at Durham County Council, said: “People have taken a real interest and pride in the Town Hall and we are so pleased that so many visitors have come to enjoy our history.

“If you have friends or family visiting Durham over the festive season and want to share our city’s history, or you’re looking for a family activity over the holidays, our historical tours offer a free, fascinating trip out.”

Visitors can browse the impressive rooms and hear about unique characters such as the Little Polish Count, Jozef Boruwlaski, who, at 3ft tall, retired to Durham in 1790 after a career performing in the grandest courts of Europe.

Displays and interactive information points include stories of the powerful Prince Bishops, the evolution of local government and the historic and ongoing roles of the Mayor and members of his or her bodyguard.

Reference is also made to the hall’s role as an early criminal court in the city, with adjoining cells for the detention of defendants

Audio guides for people who would like a deeper insight into the hall’s history are also available.

It is open virtually every Saturday, from 10am to 3pm, with free entry, but will be closed between Saturday January 11 and 18.