The recreation of historic traditions and special galleries of household memorabilia are just some of the ways the unique heritage of Bishop Auckland is celebrated through its Heritage Action Zone

Since 2018, Bishop Auckland Heritage Action Zone has been engaging its community with a range of public projects and events, all centred around the history of the County Durham mining town.

Supported by Durham County Council and Historic England, the initiative has already held over 40 events to date with more activities planned through to the programme’s completion in 2023. From “meet the crafts person” talks, school workshops, and the inaugural History and Heritage Festival in 2019, each activity explores how everyday life was lived in centuries past.

The History and Heritage Festival, held in September last year, involved 20 local and regional groups, which ran a variety of events during the 16-day period. More than 30 events took place with over 2,500 visitors who attended talks, walks, workshops, a history fair and an archive film screening.

The festival also worked with three local schools to help revive a peculiar 19th Century tradition, particular to Bishop Auckland.

In the 1800s, to celebrate the summer equinox, wooden stools topped with a layer of clay were placed on street corners across the town, for residents to press summer flowers into the clay and make what was known as a “midsummer cushion”.

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A cartoon by artist Langlands of members of the mechanics’ institute

This tradition was recreated by Woodhouse Community Primary, Escomb Primary and Victoria Lane Academy, whose students worked with artist Betty Barnett-Brown to modernise this tradition, using recycled materials to create cushions and flowers.

The Midsummer Cushion has returned this year with a creative twist from local organisation Daisy Arts, which has been commissioned to put together a cushion kit that can be made at home. The cushion is made from salt dough, and flowers can be pressed into this just like the clay in days gone by.

Jules Brown, historic places advisor for Historic England, said: “The Bishop Auckland Heritage Action Zone scheme is not just about regenerating the town’s historic centre, but involving the whole community in its rich and varied past. The festival is a great way to bring people together and celebrate what Bishop Auckland has to offer as a place to live, work and visit.”

Bishop Auckland’s History and Heritage festival will run this year from October 23 to November 1. Due to coronavirus restrictions, most of the activities will be held digitally.

There will be a range of engaging content including Facebook galleries, online talks, self-guided walks, socially distanced walks and craft activities.

The festival is also expanding and is working in partnership with the Stockton and Darlington Railway Heritage Action Zone to explore the history of the railway.

As part of the festival, organiser Annalisa Ward, Heritage Action Zone Project manager, is creating a “community museum” of pictures of memorabilia related to the town.

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Midsummer cushions made at last year’s History and Heritage festival

The Stockton and Darlington Railway Heritage Action Zone is also requesting submissions for the community museum and is interested in photographs of objects related to the railway and its branch lines, particularly celebrations for the 150th anniversary in 1975 and 100th anniversary in 1925.

One local resident, Derek Ward, has submitted photographs of promotional material from baking powder company Lingford’s, a household name from Bishop Auckland.

The business began when Joseph Lingford joined his brother, Samuel, after moving from Nottingham in 1861. The pair opened a grocery shop in Fore Bondgate and began selling their famous baking powder. The family also had an iron foundry in Railway Street, known as Lingford Gardiner, and a tobacco factory in Durham Street.

Ten years later, Samuel took on the retail business arm while Joseph kept the manufacturing side in a “model factory” in Durham Street. The list of products expanded and distribution grew worldwide to include liver salts, custard powder, blanc-manges, ice cream powder and many others.

Another photograph submitted to the community museum is a cartoon by artist Langlands, belonging to Dr Bob McManners, chair of the Heritage Action Zone Advisory Group, of snooker club members at the mechanics’ institute on Victoria Avenue in 1909.

Mechanics’ institutes, first established in 1821, were formed to provide adult education for working men. Often called “institutes” or, colloquially, “the tute”, they were mainly founded by local industrialists.

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Promotional materials from Lingford’s

Bishop Auckland was one of the first places to set up a mechanics’ institute in a house in Silver Street in 1825, due to the county’s coalfield activity. This was a time when the Stockton and Darlington Railway Company’s original line, starting from nearby Witton Park, was nearing completion.

Cllr Carl Marshall, Durham County Council’s cabinet member for economic regeneration, said: “Though we can’t bring people together to celebrate the town’s heritage, we hope people will participate in our programme of digital activities and contribute by sharing with us their very own bits of history.

“Whilst we have all been spending more time at home, people may have unearthed something they had forgotten about, or passed down through the family. The Heritage Action Zone would love to see these treasures.”

To submit a photograph for the community museum, or to share something interesting relating to Bishop Auckland’s heritage, email or, for the Stockton and Darlington Railway, Photographs of the items should be submitted by the end of this month, together with 50 to 100 words to describe the object and its link to the town.