Durham Light Infantry Museum
Richard Cavendish visits one of the most evocative regimental museums in the country.
North of the spectacular Norman cathedral on its great rock above the River Wear in the heart of Durham, a hideous 1960s building squats in pleasant parkland as home to a story of courage and comradeship. Asked if the building functions well as a museum, the Curator, Stephen Shannon, enigmatically declines to say, but he presides over one of the most evocative regimental museums in the country.
The Durham Light Infantry Museum opened in 1966, coincidentally the same year as the regiment's colours were paraded for the last time and laid up in the cathedral, and its long record on forgotten frontiers and in distant wars passed away at last with the sound of bugles into history. The building doubles as an art gallery with no permanent collection, but a programme of temporary exhibitions, which help to draw up to 40,000 visitors a year to the museum itself.
The museum, Mr Shannon says, has a loyal core of followers. About 600 people have season tickets and there is a regular programme of talks and lectures, which include reminiscences by old soldiers. Special exhibitions, band concerts and military vehicle rallies swell the numbers. Tourists come in the summer and there is a busy traffic in school parties now that the national curriculum includes the two World Wars. The school programme is object-based, involving handling real pieces of the past.