Nearly 1000 years of turmoil, conflict and warfare have been experienced at Durham Castle, yet the walls have never been breached and the Castle has never been taken by force. In the early years of its existence, the Castle was fundamental to protecting Durham from the threat of Scottish attacks. Over the following 750 years, it stood as the symbolic seat of power of the Prince Bishops.
It now houses a unique collection of arms and armour, which represent many of the conflicts in English history over the last 500 years. The collection is varied and includes objects from the English Civil Wars and Napoleonic War, as well as items associated with the First and Second World Wars.
In the 1920s, 28 sets of Cromwellian armour from the English Civil Wars were transferred from Brancepeth Castle. Many of these hang above the Minstrel’s Gallery in the Great Hall, along with nearly 70 Georgian flintlock Baker Rifles. The Wallsend Volunteer Rifle Corps originally used these rifles, and as the local regiment of militia, their equipment and training was the responsibility of the Prince Bishops.
There are also some rare and unusual objects, including five 17th century saddles, a 17th century German siege shield and pole arms thought to have been part of Bishop Cosin’s 17th century armoury.
More recent objects include a First World War swagger stick belonging to former University College student, Geoffrey Harrison Grimshaw, along with photographs from the Durham University Officer’s Training Corps, led by officers drawn from the University’s staff. During the Second World War, the castle became the home of cadets from the Durham University Air Squadron, who undertook short courses that lasted six months, before being called up by the Royal Air Force (RAF).