The Story Durham | A Free Day Out in Durham

AD - This is an advert for June 2024 and is based on a visit in June 2024. Any edits / shares after this date have not been asked or paid for. Please always check info with venue direct before heading out, especially regarding opening hours and events as these can change at the last minute. 

The Story Durham | A Free Day Out in Durham

  • The Story Durham is a brand new visitor attraction in Durham 

  • Free to visit and open daily (closed Bank Holidays)

  • Packed with fun interactive exhibitions and activities for all ages from tots to teens and adults too. We loved designing our own banner, using a photo challenge to transform ourselves into a character from the past and using the interactive digital displays to select the story we wanted to discover more about next  

  • The Story shares over 900 years of County Durham's history and the county's stories

  • ......and is also a place to discover your own story through state-of-the-art research facilities, registration services and you can even get married here 

  • There's a cafe, toilets, free on-site parking and The Story is easily accessible by public transport 

  • The building brings together 600+ tonnes of historic material, 9km of historical documents, 900+ years of records and 5 County Durham collections. 

    Find out more:

The Story is spread across three floors:

  • The ground floor is where you can learn the story of Durham from across the years through fun and interesting hands on activities

  • Then on level one you can discover your own story using state-of-the-art digital archives and access historic material and records 

  • Level two is a learning space where schools and groups can delve into County Durham's stories and where classes, workshops and events are held

You'll also find a wedding space, registration services, a small gift shop, cafe and toilets plus a lovely open space outside with picnic tables. 

The Five Collections at The Story Durham

These full collections are all accessible to the public to view, simply ask a member of staff. Some objects / items do need to be prepared before viewing so notice may need to be provided. 

  • County Durham Archives
    900 years of history from the earliest parchment document in 1122 up to modern day digital records). Expect a range of letters, maps, diaries, plans, photos, deeds and more. You can use the digital search tools to explore more and place a request to view any item of interest.

  • Historic Environment Records 
    Information acquired through excavation, surveys, aerial photography, metal detectors and more.....

  • Durham Light Infantry 
    This collection includes uniform, badges, medals, stories, diaries, records and more spanning over 300 years of history. 

  • Local Studies 
    This collection can assist research and family history projects through books. 

  • Historic Registration 
    You can access all birth, death and marriage registers in County Durham from 1837. 

    I love this video by North East Nostalgic which shares how you can discover more about your family history using these records. 

Find The Story Durham 

Address: The Story. Mount Oswald. South Road. Durham. DH1 3TQ 

The Story is two miles outside of Durham City Centre (near the University and Botanic Gardens) and signposted from the road. It should take around 40 minutes to walk from Durham Train Station or there are traffic-free cycle paths from the station with a covered bike shelter available. 

There is a free on-site visitor car park (70 spaces, 5 accessible spaces, 11 EV spaces)  and bus number 6 and 42 stop at the end of The Story's driveway. 

If you'd like to make a day of it and combine a visit with a few attractions, Durham Botanic Gardens and the Oriental Museum Durham (also free) are both around a 3 minute drive / 15 minute walk away and both worth visiting. Make sure you check opening hours! 

Access at The Story Durham 

The Story aims to be accessible to all. You can read their full access statement here. 

Key points: 

  • Lifts to every level 
  • Flat access to all public areas 
  • Free wheelchair hire available 
  • Induction loops in place in most rooms 
  • Fixed seating throughout 
  • Breastfeeding welcome, nappies available if required and baby changing facilities are available 
  • Accessible toilet on ground and first floor (although I have to point out, there is not a Changing Places facility. The closest is Durham University). 

The Story Durham : Exhibition Space 

The ground floor is mostly taken over with permanent and temporary exhibitions which are all free to visit. The exhibitions are interactive and whoever curated this area has really made the most of the space - there is a lot of info to absorb but it's all in manageable bitesize pieces you can dip in and out of. 

I visited as part of an adult and teen group but the exhibitions are suitable for all ages. They're a good example of somewhere to enjoy with a mixed age group and there are tactile, visual and audio aspects to enjoy. 

The focus is on the story of County Durham. I won't share everything but here are a few highlights.....

With this digital display you can select a person's story and then learn more about them. We were interested to read more about Will Lawther, a Labour politician and activist who even supplied the suffragettes with explosives to try and blow up Durham Cathedral. 

Declassified documents have since revealed that William was paid by the British Government to promote anti-communist propaganda material as part of a secret Cold War propaganda department. 

There are various objects from County Durham's past and this teapot (on loan from Beamish) really captured my attention. It was owned by Mary Ann Cotton who allegedly used it to poison eight of her children, seven step-children, three husbands and her mother with Arsenic! 

I left with a desire to learn more and discovered there is a three part TV drama about this case (Dark Angel on Prime) and have just finished watching it. I loved it! Especially as it was mostly filmed at Beamish and Seaham beaches. Thanks to The Story for inspiring me to dig a little deeper and learn more about our region's history (even if this story is a bit sinister). 

It's not just Durham's people either, Dee enjoyed learning more about Durham's horses below. There are also several puzzle type activities which younger children will enjoy. 

The kids (and Steve) also had fun creating their own banner. You get to design it using the digital display and then watch it appear as part of a parade on the screen in front of you. 

The Durham Light Infantry Collection is now part of The Story. Over 300 years of uniforms, medals, archives and records. Some are on display in the exhibition space and others are archived - you can place a request to view a particular item if you wish. 

One interactive element of the exhibition Jack enjoyed was the chance to step back in time and transform himself into a local character from the past. You take your photo on the screen then swipe along to choose an outfit. 

Once you're pleased with the result, the display then travels back in time and shares the story of your chosen character. You can take a photo of yourself too. 

Jack transformed himself into a Bishop Auckland Football Player and we learned that they are the only amateur team to be turned into a Subbuteo set. 

As well as the interactive elements, there are places you can just sit and chill reading little snippets of County Durham's history spanning 900 years. There are even artifacts from Roman times. 

What I really like here is that everything is easy to digest, you're not reading loads of info. Then if you are inspired to learn more, you can do via the Collections, through speaking with a member of staff or even by just doing your own research / being inspired to watch a TV show or listen to a podcast as I was. 

The current temporary exhibition is 'The Forgotten Battle' which should be on display until the end of October 2024. It shares the story of the 2nd Battalion of the DLI who were sent to 'Destination X' and would see them involved in one of the most brutal battles of WWII. 

No other division suffered as many losses of men during WWII than the 2nd Infantry Division in which 2 DLI served.  

The Story Durham : Discover Your Own Story 

Where the ground floor is all about discovering more about the stories of County Durham, the first floor is more focussed on learning more about your own personal story. 

There are 16 free to use computer terminals where you access digital content and access the collections database with records such as church registers and historic newspapers available to search and view digitally using 'Search and Discover'. 

Perhaps you're researching your family tree, maybe you want to learn more about the history of a business in Durham or the town you live in?

Or you might want to check school registers or research famous Durham residents. Discover who lived in your house? The opportunities to create your own story are endless and I think it's kind of like a domino effect. You uncover something which leads to you discovering something else and so on.....

There are staff on hand to assist and if there is anything that appears digitally that you'd like to examine closer in person, you can request to view any item in the collections room.

Some larger / specific items may require a few days notice but many are available to view on demand - again, just ask. 

You can access historical maps, both real life versions and digital versions. The first image below is an interactive map which shows how Durham has changed over the years. You can pinpoint any location and pinch the map to check it out for yourself. 

If you live in Durham, it would be pretty cool to see how your street / town has changed over time or how it looked when your parents lived there compared to present day.

I think The Story is a brilliant spot to visit with grandparents and will no doubt prompt them to share a few stories of their own. 

You'll also find historical maps sharing the older boundaries of Durham. 

Do take time to speak to staff, they're full of practical, interesting and useful info. For example they shared this photo of the Pit Disaster Survivors with us and pointed out Kevin Keegan's grandad. Not that he really needs pointing out, he's his double! 

The collection really is vast and definitely somewhere you could spend a long time down a rabbit hole. 

I really appreciated that there were business archives too. For example, did you know that the carpets in Westminster Library and Caesars Palace were made in Durham? 

I eavesdropped into a conversation and heard a family sharing with their child that their grandad used to work at Hugh Mackay Carpet Factory and might have helped to design these.

If your grandparents worked in Durham, why not pop along and see if you can uncover more of their story? 

The Story Durham : Learning Studio 

The Learning Studio on the top floor is a wonderful space where community groups, schools and the public can learn more about County Durham's stories with a range of activities. 

Upcoming events in this space include: 

  • Under 5s Group every Thursday (£2 per family - book ahead) 
  • 21 July - FREE Drop In Mini Archaeologists 
  • 18 August - FREE Drop In The Forgotten Battle Family Activity 
  • 15 September - FREE Drop In Back To School Victorian School Room 
  • 20 October - FREE Drop In Durham Folk Tales 

With more events to be announced soon including lots of plans during school holidays. Check the events page for more info and sign up to The Story's newsletter to keep up to date. 

The Story Durham : Cafe, Gift Shop and Outdoor Space 

There is some lovely outdoor space to enjoy at The Story and it's a nice spot for a picnic or to let the kids run about while you enjoy a coffee. 

The on-site cafe is open 10am-4pm daily and serves a simple menu with local produce where possible. There was a queue/wait on the day of our visit but it was opening weekend so to be expected. The staff were lovely and coped with demand well. 

Cash or card is accepted - order at the till and you'll be provided with a buzzer which will beep when your order is ready for collection. Perfect if you need to supervise kids. 

I really enjoyed the views and how light and airy the space was. We would definitely recommend the Coronation Chicken Sandwich which was freshly prepared on a soft poppy seed roll and packed with filling. No pre-made sandwiches here! 

There is also a small gift shop at the building entrance specialising in Durham gifts. We picked up some Durham Coffee to try. 

Did you know that mustard originates from Durham? I had no idea. 

The Story Durham : Weddings & Registrations 

The Story Durham is now the new home for county birth, death, marriage and civil partnership registrations and certificate issues. You can also hire The Story as a stunning venue for weddings, civil partnerships and other events. 

What a place! I love that this venue is so versatile and is a place you can get lost in discovering stories from across Durham or as a place you can create your own story. It's also a place you can simply meet a friend for coffee and cake and catch up / share stories. 

And this is only the beginning! Watch this space for lots of upcoming exciting events and exhibitions and future stories still to come.... 

Find out more:

Read next: 20 Things to do in Durham City 

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