Society featured in the ‘Darlington Together’ magazine, October 2014
The inaugural meeting of the Darlington Historical Society was held in the Council Chamber of the Town Hall on 16 February 1961 under the chairmanship of the mayor, Councillor Watson Cottam who later became the first president.
The aim of the society was “the collection, preservation and publication of information relating to the general history of Darlington and district”. Since then the society has held regular meeting monthly meetings at the Friends Meeting House in Skinnergate with guest speakers with occasional outings to local history venues in the summer.
When Darlington Civic Society closed into 2010 the society took over the responsibility of checking planning applications and where necessary requesting the applications be rejected or modified.
Since January 2004 volunteers from the society have recorded the details of over 11,000 headstones in the West Cemetery which has resulted in over 22,800 records for individuals recorded on the headstones. These records can be searched by going to the West Cemetery Headstone section of the society’s website at www.darlingtonhistoricalsociety.wordpress.com. On this website you will find more information on the society.
Article reproduced with permission of Darlington Borough Council from ‘Darlington Together’ magazine, October 2014
The following article is slightly outdated but we think it should be kept as it explains why we started recording the headstone inscriptions.
SCRABBLING around in the undergrowth of a cemetery peering at weather-ravaged centuries-old gravestones might not sound like everyone’s idea of fun.
But a group of North-East history enthusiasts has a good reason for doing just that.
Members of Darlington Historical Society have embarked on a project to record every inscription on every headstone in the town’s West Cemetery.
They have already collected 7,000 names from 2,300 headstones and intend to gather thousands more.
All the inscriptions are being put on a website where they can be searched by name.
The project was launched when society members noticed the poor state of many of the gravestones.
Sue Stahl, the society’s secretary, said: “With lots of them, you can only just, with great difficulty, pick out the words.”
“On one, the stone has worn away to the point that you can almost see through it. Some have been vandalised and some have toppled over. Others have been stolen.
“We became worried that the inscriptions would disappear and part of the town’s history would be lost forever.”
A group of 18 volunteers began to record the inscriptions in the oldest part of the cemetery, which was consecrated in 1857.
Mrs Stahl said: “It is a painstaking process but a fascinating one. A lot of the graves are very sad of course, whole families wiped out by cholera. But it is all so interesting.
“We have found graves for some of the town’s most famous residents of the past, and some unusual headstones, like the statue of a horse for a trapeze artist who died in Darlington.
“A lot of the cemetery was very overgrown but it is not an unpleasant pastime.”
The society has covered about half of West Cemetery and is considering whether to include the town’s other cemeteries in the project.
Inscription-collecting will begin again in April or May but, in the meantime, members have the task of inputting all those already gathered on to the website’s database.
Mrs Stahl said: “What we really need are more inputters. Even people who can just do ten minutes a day would be a huge help.”