Friday 11th December saw a group of volunteers come together from across County Durham at Beamish Museum. With representatives from Beamish Durham Cathedral and The Bowes Museum, the subject of the day was simply to explore the role of volunteers within a multi-faceted cultural organisation / museum – considering best practice, initiatives and how, across the region we can look to support each other both as organisations and as individuals.
As all three organisations move forward into unchartered territories – with the rebuild of Beamish, the creation of the Hidden Treasures galleries at Durham Cathedral and this year seeing The Bowes Museum host its largest ever exhibition and series of events for YSL – there is great opportunity to examine and explore the dynamics of each work force, to identify the true value of our volunteers (because we certainly couldn’t do it without them!)
The day was a fantastic opportunity for our volunteers to share their experiences, and for us as staff members to sit in on the discussions, as well as getting some fantastic ideas for how to work more effectively as the WW1 Project (as example) continues to develop and grow. Most importantly, there was a resounding decision that more of this was needed (!) by staff and volunteers alike – and we’re now looking at some really exciting prospects including shared training and development, an idea of establishing cultural ambassadors between organisations and for further ways for us to continue to contribute to the value and worth of our amazing volunteers.
A community’s sorrow and support for a Teesdale First World War widow is witnessed in the story of a New Year’s Day football match in honour of Barnard Castle soldier George Stout.
A popular Teesdale football player, a football match was organised in George’s honour as a means of supporting his widow and three young children.
Corporal George Stout of the 13th Battalion Durham Light Infantry was born in August 1887. He lived in Thorngate, Barnard Castle, in what is now The Blue Bell Inn and worked as a miner. Although just 5 foot 3 inches tall, he was also one of the stars of Barnard Castle’s football team.
Stout lost an arm in 1916 and was discharged from the army on the grounds of “being no longer physically fit for war service”. George’s discharge card can be seen below (Thanks to David Charlesworth, Teesdale postal historian)
George took a job as a postman, but his injuries unfortunately caught up with him. Sadness was felt in Barnard Castle on Christmas Day 1918 as George, affectionately known as “Pompy”, passed away after a short illness.
Hoping to avoid destitution for George’s widow and children, the local community rallied to create a fitting tribute to George: a football match. Local people were said to be “anxious to give a helping hand” to George’s widow and their “kindness of heart” was praised in the Teesdale Mercury. Local players worked speedily to organise a match, which took place on New Year’s Day 1919 in Barnard Castle. The Teesdale XI played against soldiers from the York and Lancaster Regiment, who were fitter and stronger and ran out 4-0 winners.
As the final whistle blew, the community were able to gift Mrs Stout and her children the sum of£15 from a well-attended event organised at short notice. George Stout’s name can be seen on the Bowes Museum’s war memorial.
On Tuesday 1st December, I was lucky enough to accompany a trip to Yorkshire Sculpture Park to see the installation ‘Wave’. The trip was organised as part of the museum’s First World War Commemoration Project, ‘To Serve King and Country’.
‘Wave’ is one of the iconic poppy sculptures that were erected at The Tower of London for the centenary of the outbreak of the war. The trip was particularly poignant for me, not only because of my connection with the project at Bowes, but because I volunteered to plant the poppies at The Tower last summer. It was an experience that I will treasure for a lifetime. I found it almost impossible to fathom that each brittle ceramic poppy represented an equally fragile human life, and that the beautiful expanse of red in front me symbolised a much darker reality.
While the poppies at YSP only constituted a small fraction of those at London, I was so impressed by the impact of ‘Wave’. The bright uniformity of the poppies at The Tower was more naturally arranged at YSP, where they beautifully complimented the rustic Yorkshire countryside. Despite being a flash of red on an otherwise grey and drizzly winter’s day, the poppies seemed a perfectly natural part of the landscape, since they were partially submerged in water and surrounded by wild vegetation. This seemed fitting, given that ‘To Serve King and Country’ is a project designed to explore the local impact of the War in Teesdale. It was, therefore, particularly special to see ‘Wave’ looking so natural as it poured into my own Yorkshire landscape.
By Sarah Boddy