National grant allows new DLI stories to be told

Durham Record Office volunteer Bridget Cox and principal archivist Gill Parkes examine paintings and drawings from DLI soldiers which will be catalogued as part of The DLI: A Whole New Story project.

More fascinating stories and images from one of the UK’s most extensive regimental archives will be revealed to the public thanks to a major funding boost.

Durham County Record Office has received an Archives Revealed grant totalling almost £39,000 for an ambitious project to bring to light uncatalogued material from the Durham Light Infantry (DLI) Archive.

The archive, currently based at County Hall in Durham, has grown significantly over the years, as more material is discovered and donated. The DLI: A Whole New Story project will see archivists and volunteers document the 39 per cent of the collection yet to be catalogued. This will not only reveal fresh perspectives on historic events but enthralling tales that have never been told before.

The grant announcement comes a week after Durham County Council launched a consultation on designs for Durham History Centre.

Based at Mount Oswald Manor in Durham, the centre is due to open in 2022 and will provide a new home for the DLI Archive, where people can explore this and other internationally significant collections.

The DLI: A Whole New Story project will play a pivotal role in modernising and relocating the service. It will allow new and existing catalogued material to be brought together in an interactive way, with easy online access 24 hours a day. Detailed descriptions, digitised images and digital storytelling will offer an insight into all aspects of military life from the 1750s to when the DLI disbanded in 1968.

The project, which has benefited from an additional £11,000 grant from the Army Museums Ogilby Trust, will also involve work to promote the newly available material, as well as the exhibitions and workshops taking place at the history centre.

Archives Revealed is supported by The National Archives, The Pilgrim Trust and the Wolfson Foundation, and aims to transform access to archives for a wide range of users. Durham County Record Office was one of nine successful applicants from across the UK.

Councillor Joy Allen, Cabinet member for transformation, culture and tourism at Durham County Council, said: “The extensive DLI Archive is of international significance and cataloguing this material will enable us to shed further light on our rich and varied past and ensure that the DLI’s history and heritage is not lost.

“We would like to thank the Archives Revealed panel for awarding this grant, which also offers a fantastic opportunity to enhance our exciting plans for a new Durham History Centre.”

The uncatalogued material provides intricate descriptions of regimental life, with personal accounts, photographs and paintings portraying the realities of war, revealing lost worlds and shining a light on unfamiliar landscapes and architecture.

Among the documents included within the grant application was a detailed black and red ink drawing of the battlefield at Ginnis in the Sudan. The drawing is dated 30 December 1885 and is from one of the sketchbooks of Lieutenant, later Captain, Alfred William Baker of the 2nd Battalion DLI.

Another example is a watercolour of Abbs Battery at Sunderland, from the records of Lieutenant General Horatio Harbord Morant from the 68th Light Infantry. The painting depicts Roker Pier lighthouse and is dated 1874, when Morant was in command of the 3rd Brigade Depot in Sunderland.

Colonel James Ramsbotham, chairman of the DLI Trustees, said: “The DLI is much-loved and respected by the people of County Durham, and its outstanding archive is already used daily by people across the world. The trustees are extremely grateful to the Archives Revealed panel and we are delighted that remaining regimental archives can be made accessible, and so tell a whole new story.”

The Durham History Centre consultation runs until Sunday, 28 July. As well as having their say on how the centre will look, residents are being asked to comment on the layout, exhibition plans and digital access to services. Views are also being sought on the relocation of Durham Register Office to Mount Oswald Manor from Aykley Heads.

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