AS the home of five historic collections, including six miles of ancient archives and the entire Durham Light Infantry collection, The Story’s name could not be more apt. Durham’s new culture, heritage and registration attraction is packed with fascinating stories of the people, places and events that shaped the county.

At the heart of the venue – located within the Grade II listed Mount Oswald House on the outskirts of Durham City – is a free exhibition space showcasing objects from all five collections.

Rather than providing a chronological history of County Durham, the exhibition explores different themes to offer unique insights into the lives of everyday people from the 12th Century to the present day.

Digital displays and audiovisual devices, meanwhile, are providing new ways for people to engage with the collection.

Here we reveal the stories behind six historic items currently on display in the exhibition.


Maquette of Apollo Pavilion, Peterlee.

Apollo Pavilion maquette, 1967

Artist Victor Pasmore began work on his design for the Apollo Pavilion in Peterlee in 1963 and made this wooden maquette of the structure. It gave the opportunity to view the design of the structure from above. Pasmore even included his plans for murals, painting them on to the model.

Pasmore was one of Britain’s greatest post-war artists and a lecturer in the School of Fine Art at Durham University when he was called in to ensure that the new town of Peterlee became “the miners’ capital of the world”.

The pavilion was the centre piece of his plans. At its heart, it is just a bridge across a trickling beck linking two halves of a housing estate, but in its soul, it is a brutalist masterpiece from the space age, and ever since the maquette was made, the pavilion has divided opinion – an ugly, expensive eyesore that should be blown up, or a piece de concrete resistance that should be preserved?

The structure on the Sunny Blunts estate was completed in late 1969, and Pasmore named it the Apollo Pavilion after the craft that had landed on the moon on July 20, 1969 – the space mission was the spirit of the age, all about hope, optimism and adventure, just like Peterlee itself.

The Apollo Pavilion, Peterlee, under construction in 1969The Apollo Pavilion lit up for the Lumiere lightshow

First World War message in a bottle 

THIS bottle contained a message which took 80 years, a generation and 11,000 miles to deliver.

As Private Thomas Hughes, from Stockton, crossed the English Channel to fight in the trenches of the First World War, he dropped this message in a ginger beer bottle over the side of the ship.

The message was for his wife, Elizabeth, “just to see if it will reach you”.

Sadly, Thomas, of the 2nd Battalion Durham Light Infantry, 3rd Army Corps Expeditionary Force, was killed in action less than two weeks later near Rheims in northern France. It was his first day of action, and his body was never recovered.

And his last message never reached his wife.

But the bottle somehow survived. It was dredged up off the Essex coast 85 years later and delivered to his 87-year-old daughter in New Zealand, who gave it to the DLI collection in 1999.

Thomas included a request to any individual who found the bottle: “Would you kindly forward enclosed letter and earn the blessing of a poor British soldier, on his way to the front this 9th day of September 1914.”

In 1999, 87-year-old Emily Crowhurst flew from her home in New Zealand to present the bottle to the DLI collection

The oldest document, 1122

THIS 900-year-old deed was written in Latin in around 1122 and is the oldest document in The Story’s Archive collection. It is written on parchment made from animal skin.

In the deed, Bishop Ranulf Flambard of Durham grants to Papedy, his chief officer in Norhamshire and Islandshire, the town of Ancroft, which was between Berwick and Holy Island, in return for military service at Norham Castle.


Roman head pot from around 200-300 CE

DID you know there is evidence of African culture in the North East from more than 1,800 years ago?

North African ‘head pots’ like these probably came to Britain with troops and traders of Roman Emperor Septimius Severus in 208-211 CE. His family came from the city of Leptis Magna in what is now Libya. We believe that some workshops in Britain then started to create them.

This pot was cared for by a person, family or community for around 150 years before it was carefully buried. When it was found it was carefully restored and is a beautiful reminder of the people who lived in our region many years ago. A significant number of pots with human faces have been found at Piercebridge.

The hairstyle featured on the pot was very popular when it was made. Empresses and important women in the Roman Empire would have styled their hair like this.

Self-portrait of Sergeant William Pickles, from around 1840

PAPER was the best way for many soldiers in the past to stay connected to family and friends back home.

“Dear Sister I hope you will accept this gift as a token of good will. Although I may be far from you, I think of you still”, wrote Sgt William Pickles on this drawing of himself that he sent back to his sister in England nearly 200 years in 1840.

He was with the 68th Light Infantry – the forerunners of the Durham Light Infantry – which sailed in 1838 to Jamaica, where the regiment lost 100 men to disease in three years. In 1841, they sailed to Canada and did not return to England until 1844.

Colditz Castle album, 1939-1945

THE Colditz Castle Second World War record is one of The Story’s more unusual archive treasures. Reinhold Eggers was the German security officer at the castle. He compiled two remarkable albums about the building, the prisoners of war and their many escape attempts.

In 1973, Herr Eggers presented the albums to Captain Michael Farr, of the 2nd Durham Light Infantry, as a gesture of post-war reconciliation.

Capt Farr had been captured on May 27, 1940, along with many of 2DLI on their retreat to Dunkirk, and so began his wartime career as a prisoner and an escape artist.

After his first escape attempt, which also involved a raid on the Camp Commandant's wine cellar, he was sent to a special camp in Poland, where he was kept in a dungeon. He was then moved to Biberach POW Camp and again tried to escape.

In June 1943, he tunnelled out of another camp and made it across the River Danube before he was recaptured. This time he was sent to the notorious Colditz Castle, a high security prison. Here he joined the "hardliners" who worked on the construction of a glider on the castle's roof that was only abandoned when the war ended.

As he came from a Plymouth family of gin-makers, he also made wine and ran the castle's distillery.

Finally liberated in April 1945, he was awarded the MBE in January 1946 for his escape efforts. He returned to gin-making and died in January 1993.

In The Story. Picture: Tom Banks

The Story is open 9am to 5pm Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday; 9am to 7pm on Thursday; and 10am to 5pm on Saturday and Sunday. Entry is free. To find out more, visit and follow @TheStoryDurham on Facebook and X.

  • With many thanks to Lizzie Anderson