Bowes Local History Group: Cliff Brown

Our Heritage Open Days

Bowes village (not to be confused with the Bowes Museum, by the way, which is in Barnard Castle) is in many ways a typical Dales village of about 300 people. Our Local History Group stages a themed exhibition at Bowes & Gilmonby Parish Hall, and I give walking tours of the village. The exhibition centres around two episodes in Bowes' past life: the story of Edwin and Emma, our own true-life Romeo-and-Juliet romance, and the connection with Charles Dickens and Nicholas Nickleby.

How Heritage Open Days made a difference

Over the last six years, the profile of the village has slowly increased, both in Teesdale and in the wider area, which enabled us to make new links. For example, 2012 is the 200th anniversary of Dickens's birth, and the organisation Dickens in Teesdale (DiT) is putting on a series of events throughout the year to celebrate Dickens's visit. Our Heritage Open Days on 8 and 9 September form part of this, and we expect a good turnout. I have done several of the tours of the village to support other DiT events, such as the recent international conference at The Bowes Museum, which featured author Claire Tomalin.

Favourite Heritage Open Days moments

At last year's final walk for Heritage Open Days, I was a little dismayed at first to find there were only two participants. But then I discovered that one of the ladies had done the walk with me the year before and had enjoyed it so much she had brought a friend to do it with her again, both travelling from Tynemouth! Okay, they had Bowes ancestors, who are buried in the churchyard, but a hundred-mile round trip was still very impressive!

Advice to first-time participants

Actually there are three bits of advice to pass on:

Firstly, don't do anything over-elaborate that would make it difficult to keep momentum going in subsequent years. I spent a lot of time on my story-boards for the first year, but I use the same ones each year, so preparation time is minimal. Events where costumes are hired-in etc. look great but are expensive and time-consuming to reproduce in subsequent years. Think about the legacy you want to achieve.

Secondly, find somewhere that doesn't cost much to hold your event in, and then find somebody who's prepared to pay for it (your local parish council, town council, etc.). We use part of our village hall, and it costs about £30 a day.

Thirdly, learn your stuff! If you're taking people on guided walks, you should know the topic inside out and should not be having to refer to books, etc.