As part of our 50th Anniversary Celebration, we are featuring guest blogs from various researchers and project partners that we have worked with over the years, discussing some of our best research collaborations. Today’s blog post is from Dr Chris Tuckley, Head of Interpretation for York Archaeological Trust.
In late summer 2021, York Archaeological Trust (working in association with Heritage 360) began to carry out a programme of community engagement in and around Northallerton. The aim was to inform the development of a new heritage trail app for the town on behalf of Hambleton District Council. As we near the end of this phase in our work, it’s time to look back at what we’ve learned from speaking to local people, and to reflect on what they’ve told us about living and working in Northallerton.
Since we began we’ve encountered challenges, in particular the advent of omicron and the disruption it caused to travel and meeting plans, but we’ve also had unforeseen opportunities. Chief amongst these was the chance to set up a dedicated ‘heritage hub’ on the High Street, which opened in mid May, where staff from Hambleton District Council have been able to discuss with visitors what heritage and history mean to them. We’ve also been able to work alongside Virginia Arrowsmith, who will be well known to anyone with an interest in local history thanks to her many community-focused projects, and have enjoyed support from a number of specialists locally, not least the members of Northallerton and District Local History Society and staff and volunteers at North Yorkshire County Record Office.
In the course of seven workshops and 16 interviews we’ve identified a number of common themes in how local people think and feel about Northallerton and its history. Some have already featured in written histories of the town, as well as in trail maps and guided walks in Northallerton. Others are perhaps more unexpected, and offer alternatives to what we might think of as ‘the authorised histories’ of the area. Unsurprisingly, two of the sites identified as holding great significance for community members in all age groups are the prison and All Saints church. These were included in our original brief from HDC, so will undoubtedly feature prominently in the app. In addition, per our instructions from HDC, the yards and the High Street have provided the focus for several of the workshops. Conversations with older residents and history enthusiasts, however, have highlighted other locations that might merit closer attention: some, like the Carmelite friary, racecourse, tanneries, horse pond, corn exchange, World War I trenches and a chantry chapel near All Saints are no longer in existence. Conversations with Years 5 and 6 pupils from Alverton Community Primary and the All Saints youth group have demonstrated how important Northallerton’s green spaces are to local families, and the Applegarth and Target Wood have been identified as being of particular importance. So too are its cafes and restaurants, with the town’s pizzas especially highly rated! The importance placed by participants on opportunities for eating out and shopping in Northallerton accords with its long history as a centre for trade, commerce and long-distance travel.
We will continue to collate data in the months to come, ensuring that the app reflects the priorities and values of the Northallerton community with regard to its local heritage.