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History of Durham Castle Museum

Durham Castle Museum is not a typical museum with objects in cases or in stores. As a living and working Castle, many of the objects are on open display and sometimes, like our 17th century organ, are in use.

The collection has developed gradually and reflects the changing use and purpose of Durham Castle over the last 500 years. It is made up of collections relating to the Bishops of Durham, Durham University and University College, and there is a strong emphasis on the links between the Castle and Durham City.

From 1837, the collections begin to reflect the developing role of University College within the University. Paintings and decorative arts were created to celebrate important events or objects gathered to be used for everyday life. Over time, the amount of material inside Durham Castle grew, and from the 1960s, a group researched, develop, and shape the collection.

In 1986, the Durham World Heritage Site was inscribed on the World Heritage List by UNESCO, recognising the significance of Durham Castle and Cathedral. This was further enforced in 1989, when Durham Castle became part of the Museum Registration Scheme, now known as the Accreditation Scheme. The first curator was appointed in 1998 and since then, Durham Castle hasn’t looked back. The focus of the Museum is to preserve the historic fabric but also to tell some the stories of those who have come before, but also record what we do now as we very much still writing the history of Durham Castle.

Today, we still use the castle for teaching, is home to hundreds of students who are part of University College, and it welcomes over 30,000 visitors and school children.

An oil painting of the Victorian Postman at University College.

An oil painting of the Victorian Postman at University College.

A coloured photograph of the courtyard at Durham Castle. At the front of the image of two medieval soldiers, in the background is a tent and the Tunstall Gallery of Durham Castle.

Reenactors at Durham Castle during one of our joint student and museum community days.