Friday, 31 October 2014

#archiveselfie* George Brabazon Stafford

The Artist, by himself (George Brabazon Stafford) (D/DLI 7/662/2(55))
D/DLI 7/662/2(55) The Artist, by himself [George Brabazon Stafford]
George Brabazon Stafford was born in 1899 and educated at Dover College and Jesus College, Cambridge.  He joined the 3rd City of London Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps and in February 1915 was appointed to a temporary Second Lieutenancy with the 16th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.

The 16th Battalion was based at Darlington then at Rugely, Staffordshire.  In July 1917 Second Lieutenant Stafford went out to France serving with 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.  He was wounded in the knee in March 1918 and continued to serve with the Durham Light Infantry at home with the 3rd Battalion, garrisoned at South Shields

Pencil drawing of the head of an unidentified officer, 'the Judge Advocate', at an unidentified court martial, c.1918 (D/DLI 7/662/3(30))
D/DLI 7/662/3(30) Pencil drawing of the head of an unidentified officer, 'the Judge Advocate', at an unidentified court martial, c.1918

From our collection it seems that Second Lieutenant Stafford was a keen artist.  Many soldiers and officers would pass the time drawing and painting.  We hold a series of drawings from an unidentified court martial, possibly having taken place in 1918.  It is not clear from the style of the drawings whether they were done in an official capacity or not.  They are not caricature as some other drawings are but the fact that Stafford retained them suggests they were not an official record.  Although some identifying information is given, there is nothing provided for the accused, so it has not been possible to find out what this court martial might have been about.

Other drawings are more light-hearted in tone.  As well as the rather fantastic self portrait at the top*, it appears that Second Lieutenant Stafford and his friends played Consequences for a bit of fun. 

Outcome of a game of Consequences (D/DLI 7/662/2(105))
D/DLI 7/662/2(105) Outcome of a game of Consequences
After the war, George Stafford went on to found the Kingshott School at Hitchin in 1931, still in existence today, he was headmaster from its inception until his retirement in 1959.  He died in Surrey in 1966.

*This year’s Explore Your Archive campaign runs during the week of 10 November.  As part of the Twitter campaign, on 13 November, look out for the #archiveselfie hashtag.

Friday, 24 October 2014

First World War Education

This week we have a guest post from our Education Archivist, Dawn Layland, talking about the First World War workshops the Record Office offers.

It goes almost without saying that the First World War was a devastating conflict and the numbers of dead are staggering. Yet each one of those men was someone’s son, father or brother. Each one of those men had his own story and it’s these stories that are the focus of our soldier research workshops.

Soldiers resting in a trench in France or Belgium c. 1916 D/DLI 2/8/62(59)
D/DLI 2/8/62(59) Soldiers resting in a trench in France or Belgium c. 1916
I doubt it will surprise anyone that these are currently our most popular workshops. In a nutshell, we find a soldier from the right area, for whom we can find a good range of sources and present these sources to the children who then get a taste of real research as they use them to find out about that individual. Naturally, a lot of work and careful consideration goes into selecting the soldier. We make sure we can find sources about his civilian life (typically using the Census) as well as his military career (usually by means of a surviving and reasonably complete service record). We can then compliment that with sources held at the Record Office, such as absent voters’ lists or DLI records. Then of course, those sources have to be made accessible to the children, perhaps by using a transcript. Given the right sources and the right presentation, children as young as 5 or 6 can investigate a soldier.

We also run sessions for older pupils.  We recently held a workshop for Year 9 students from North Durham Academy, who came as part of the HLF funded South Moor Memorial Project run by Groundwork North East. The soldier they were researching was Thomas Dargue. By all accounts, Thomas was an ordinary soldier. He was a miner from South Moor who enlisted at 19 years old and was killed just over a year later during the later stages of the Battle of the Somme. Like so many others, he never rose above the rank of private. None of this, however, stopped him from being interesting to the students. He lived in the same town that they do and, though the area has certainly changed, they felt they could relate to him. They enjoyed finding out about his family and came to see him not just as a name on a memorial, but as a person.

South Moor Memorial Park gates, 2005, John-Paul Stephenson
South Moor Memorial Park gates, 2005, John-Paul Stephenson,_Co._Durham.jpg
As well as the workshops researching soldiers, we also offer a range of other First World War workshops for schools and other groups. These include a session on Remembrance Cards, with the chance to research a soldier and design a card to commemorate him, and our War Horse workshop, based on the story of George Thompson who worked with horses during the war. We also have more in depth investigation sessions for older students, including: Life on the Home Front; the Bombing of Seaham, 1916 and Germans in County Durham, 1914.

We offer these sessions at a cost of £100 for half a day of workshops. This can include several classes and the price is the same whether the session is delivered here or at school, though workshops delivered at the Record Office can use original records, which for security and preservation reasons we can’t take out of the building. All workshops can be tailored to the class and school in question and we can even build entirely new workshops if required.

More about the workshops can be found here and you can also download leaflets about particular sessions in PDF format

Friday, 17 October 2014

People Past and Present

Koppers Coke Ovens Easington People Past and Present, hord0293
Koppers Coke Ovens Easington People Past and Present, hord0293
In the mid 1970s, the internationally known artist Stuart Brisley launched a three part project named 'History Within Living Memory'. Six local people were employed to make tape recordings, transcribe them and collect photographs to provide a statement of life in the villages pre-First World War to the present. Unfortunately, the second and third parts of the project were never completed.

When the Development Corporation ceased to exist, the local people, under the direction of John 'Pop' Porter, completed their work under the auspices of the former District of Easington Council, creating what is known today as the People Past and Present Archive

Many of the interviews conducted include tales of the home front during the First World War.  We plan to increase access to this resource by putting these stories on the Durham at War website.  

Already up is the story of Lizzie Holmes of Horden, the first woman in the village to wear trousers.  As the Durham at War website allows us to use short audio clips, we can put extracts of the original interviews online, along with a transcript.  Follow this link to hear Lizzie Holmes talk about playing football and what happened to her kit when her husband returned home from the war: 

Friday, 10 October 2014

British Prisoner of War Camps

Map showing the huts of Stanhope prisoner of war camp, Durham OS sheet 24.SW (1923)
 Durham Ordnance Survey sheet 24.SW showing the huts of Stanhope prisoner of war camp

When thinking about prisoners of war, most people think about British men in German camps but there were in fact at least three camps for enemy combatant prisoners on our doorstep in County Durham.  So far, you can read about two of these on the Durham at War website, Castleside and Stanhope.  At the Record Office we have an auction sale catalogue from 1919 for the surplus hutting and fitments of the camp.  It includes all sorts of things from the actual huts to toilets and ‘death line fencing’. 

The third camp, still to be added, was at Harperley.  John Ruttley produced a book, ‘Prisoners in the North. The Forgotten Deaths at Harperley Camp’, in which he intended to write about the Second World War camp.  He applied for some documents from Switzerland and was surprised to discover they were inspection reports from the First World War.  The prisoners at Harperley seemed to be in good health until the Spanish Flu epidemic hit the camp in November 1918.  27 men died, the majority on, or after, the armistice was declared.  They were buried at St James church, Hamsterley, before being moved to the German cemetery at Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, in the 1960s. 

We would be interested to know if any combatant prisoners stayed in the area after their release. If you know of any occurrences of this, please let us know at

Friday, 3 October 2014

Michael Heaviside VC

The above video © IWM (IWM 1179), is available courtesy of the Imperial War Museum under their non-commercial licence.

Michael Heaviside was born in Gilesgate, in 1880. Whilst still a boy, Michael moved with his family from Durham to Kimblesworth, where his father worked in the colliery as head keeker [inspector] and Michael went to the local Council school. Later, the family moved to Sacriston.

Following the death of his mother, Michael Heaviside joined the Army and served as a stretcher bearer in the Royal Army Medical Corps in South Africa during the Boer War. After he left the Regular Army, he joined the Army Reserve and found work as a miner at Burnhope colliery. About 1913, he began work as a hewer at Oswald Pit and moved with his wife, Elizabeth, to Craghead, near Stanley.

On 7 September 1914, Michael Heaviside re-enlisted in the Army and joined the 15th (Service) Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, and went with his battalion to France in June 1915, and, once again, served as a stretcher bearer.

On 6 May 1917, during the Battle of Arras, Private Michael Heaviside crawled across No-Man’s-Land under heavy rifle and machine gun fire to take water and first aid to a wounded soldier lying in a shell hole. Later that night Michael Heaviside led two other stretcher bearers to the wounded soldier and carried him back to safety. For his bravery, Michael Heaviside was awarded the Victoria Cross.

On 12 July 1917, Michael Heaviside returned to a hero’s welcome in Craghead, where he was presented with a gold watch. After the presentation, he told the crowds that he had only done his duty and that he was proud to have brought honour to Durham and to Craghead. A few days later, Private Heaviside travelled by train to London and was presented with his Victoria Cross by King George V. There is a newspaper report of this return to Craghead here, read it, then view the video.

After the war, Michael Heaviside returned to work as a miner at Craghead. On 26 April 1939, he died at his home at Bloemfontein Terrace, aged just 58 years, his health damaged by his years underground and his time on the Western Front. His funeral was at St Thomas’s Church, Craghead.

This text was produced by Steve Shannon, a longer version can be found at

If anyone knows who the Stanley Nobblers were, as mentioned in the newspaper article, let us know at