6. Research Framework

6.1 Research Framework Objectives

The Durham World Heritage Site Research Framework has two primary objectives:

Objective 1: To place academic research at the core of future management, conservation, interpretation and investigation of the Durham World Heritage Site.

Objective 2: To explore and prioritise key avenues for further work, presenting a strategy through which this research can be taken forward.

Only through rigorous, academically informed research can our understanding and appreciation of the Cathedral, Castle and their environs be progressed. By advancing a robust framework, this document contributes actively to the improved appreciation of the rich archaeological, architectural and historical record of the WHS.

6.2 What is a Research Framework?

The notion of a research framework is an approach to the systematisation and contextualisation of research.

The need for a more structured approach to the management of World Heritage Site has arisen out of two parallel developments in the ecology of the UK heritage sector: firstly, the changes in the planning system over the last generation and secondly shifting perspectives about the management of World Heritage Sites. More information about these can be found in the complete report in the Documents and Research section of the WHS website:


Given the scale of the task, the initial work on the research framework has been focussed on the physical heritage above and below ground. However, the intangible heritage of the Durham WHS is equally important and further work will be undertaken to develop a Research Framework for the intangible elements, on which research will continue to be encouraged in the meantime.

Figure 6.1: Academic research lies at the core of the future management of the WHS

Figure 6.2: Durham WHS Research Framework

6.3 Research Framework Structure

A standardised model for the creation and structure of historic environment research frameworks has been used. This is derived from the model laid out in the English Heritage internal document Frameworks for our Past (Olivier 1996, 5).

This provides a simple tri-partite format consisting of:

Resource Assessment: (What we know) The current state of knowledge and understanding.

Research Agenda: (What we need to know) Gaps in knowledge, potential of resource, research topics.

Research Strategy: (How we plan to find out more) Priorities and methods for implementing the agenda.

The main assessment and agenda sections have been sub-divided into individual sections based on the main physical sections of the Durham WHS: Cathedral, Castle, College, Palace Green; Saddler Street/Owengate/North and South Bailey; riverbanks). The agenda uses these basic divisions but also begins to identify common threads and questions that link these areas together and thus also introduces a thematic aspect to the study. As the Strategy primarily tackles structural issues, it is arranged in an entirely thematic way.

Figure 6.3: Durham Riverbank Setting looking towards Framwelgate Bridge

6.4 Scope of the Research Framework

Chronological Remit:

The chronological reach is the least problematic definition of the World Heritage Site – the Cathedral, which is believed to be the first major structure on the peninsula, is of late Anglo-Saxon date, and its establishment marks a realistic terminus post quem for the emergence of city, although the extent and nature of earlier activity in and around the Peninsula is a valid question. At the other end of the timeline, it is important to bring an understanding of the WHS up to date rather than impose an arbitrary cut-off. The way in which modern groups and individuals engage and interact with the site is recognised as being a key part of the way in which the World Heritage Site functions as an entity, and it is clear that despite the extensive Listing and Scheduling of large areas of the peninsula, there is still continued work and development of research into the physical fabric of the Castle, Cathedral and their environs.

Spatial Boundaries:

Defining the spatial boundaries of the framework is a little more problematic. While it is clear that this document should cover all the remains within the current World Heritage Site boundary, essentially the Castle, Cathedral and the area in between (Palace Green) the land to the east of South and North Bailey are currently outside the WHS, as are the riverbanks on the north side of the Wear. However, as there are plans to investigate the feasibility of redrawing the boundary to incorporate these areas within the timeframe covered by this report, it was decided to include these here. Whilst there may be good managerial and research reasons for casting the net further, particularly southwards to the other side of the Wear or northwards into historic medieval marketplace of Durham or even beyond, the Research Assessment will limit itself to covering essentially just the historic peninsula itself. However, in an acknowledgement of the difficulties in drawing hard and fast boundaries, a consideration of the wider immediate local, regional, national and international context of the site will be a part of the Research Agenda and Strategy elements of the Research Framework.

Beyond the physical landscape:

The final and most challenging aspect of defining the remit of this project is in defining what is relevant beyond the physical (upstanding and buried) landscape. The Cathedral, Palace Green Library and the Castle all house important collections of artefacts and major archives. Some of these collections have no direct relevance to the World Heritage Site itself, having only arrived in their present locations relatively recently. However, there is clearly much here that has the potential to shed light on the physical nature of the WHS, for example (building accounts; monastic records; records of renovation and conservation; financial and tenurial records. Also, moving beyond the purely physical, there are collections that comprise and record the wider, intangible elements of culture that are so important to Durham, particularly the role of the Cathedral as a living place of worship and the existence of a medieval monastery for 450 years. While it is absolutely clear that this material is central to an understanding of the past and interprets communities that have resided in and visited the historic peninsula, it is necessary to recognise that there are practical and conceptual challenges to encompassing and exploring this material within the scope of a document that uses a format taken from the management and curation of the historic environment.

At this initial stage, the decision has been made to focus the resource assessment on archives and collections that have a direct relevance to the physical historical environment of the Word Heritage Site. There is a wider acknowledgement of the important role of this material at the Research Agenda and Research Strategy stages. Consideration and engagement with appropriate formats and methodologies for developing this kind of research framework which tackles this material must be a high priority for future iterations of the framework.

Figure 6.4: Durham Cathedral Library

Figure 6.5: Student research into Durham as a living WHS

6.5 The Development of this Document

The Framework is intended to be a dynamic and open-ended document, subject to on-going revision on a regular cycle. This revision will involve revisiting existing context, but also further exploring and expanding other facets of research into the Durham WHS.

6.6 Research Agenda and Key Research Priorities

This section of the Research Framework builds on the information derived from the Research Assessment to identify key areas for future research in an attempt to clarify and prioritise future research directions. These priorities are not intended to be limited or prescriptive but to highlight the potential for future research within the World Heritage Site area. Whilst some of these topics and themes identified below are focused on individual elements, aspects or periods of the WHS, others are more thematic and cross-cutting.

6.6.1 Research Priority 1: Understanding the WHS today

The World Heritage Site is the centre of a living community- it contains a living and worshipping cathedral, much of an internationally important University and a school. It is the home of the students, academics and cathedral staff; it is the workplace for many more. It is also an internationally known tourist attraction. For many it is also an important place of commemoration, such as during the Miner’s Gala or on Remembrance Sunday. These groups and individuals all react and engage with the landscape and buildings in different ways, bringing different pre-conceptions and leaving with new understandings. A key question is how these attitudes and understandings can be better understood.

The living nature of the WHS also brings many practical issues, concerning managing and conserving buildings, managing the movement of people and providing educational and interpretative resources.

There is a key need to understand better how the WHS operates as a living community. There has already been some work carried out by Sarah Semple (Department of Archaeology), Ana Pereira Roders (University of Eindhoven and in 2013 an IMEMS Senior Research Fellow) and Simon Woodward (Leeds Becket University), who worked with MA students on the International Cultural Heritage Management course to record public perceptions of the WHS. The on-going conservation plans and the WHS management plans also raise many important issues linked to the practical management of the area.


There is clear scope for bringing together scholarship and researchers in Durham to better understand the living WHS.

6.6.2 Research Priority 2: Understanding the Built Resource

The majority of building recording on the Peninsula has been ad hoc and usually responding to development or construction requirements. However, there is clear scope for a more strategic and formal programme of building recording including drawing, laser scanning, and photography.

Major individual projects might include a holistic survey of the Castle, and there are elements of the Cathedral that might benefit from (re-)recording. Key buildings on Palace Green that would benefit from further work include the Music School and the Exchequer.

There are also a series of buildings on Saddler Street and North/South Bailey deserving of further work. For these secular buildings a detailed list of priorities was collated in the 2010 Durham Medieval Secular Buildings Project (Archaeological Services 2010).


Ideally, such a strategic project, whether conceived as a single large-scale initiative or a series of smaller tasks should agree on a consistent methodological approach.

Figure 6.6: HBA for Durham Castle, part of the programme to understand the built environment

Figure 6.7: Department of Archaeology, Scottish Soldiers Excavation

Figure 6.8: Department of Archaeology, Scottish Soldiers Analysis of Remains

6.6.3 Research Priority 3: Mapping the Archaeological Resource

The sub-surface archaeological deposits of the Durham WHS are often well-preserved and widely spread. In some places towards the lower end of Saddler Street, deposits up to 6m deep may survive whilst in other places there may have been large-scale destruction in later period.

The City of Durham archaeological survey effectively collated details of all known archaeological interventions and observations up until 1990 (Lowther 1993). 

However, data collection stopped just at the point when new planning regulations transformed the character of urban archaeology.


There is major need to collate and map all archaeological research carried out since 1990 and to integrate it with the earlier survey results. This should include all planning-driven archaeology and also all archaeological work done at the Cathedral. In practice, any such project should not limit itself to the WHS boundaries, but should instead use the same boundaries as the City of Durham survey.

Although there has been some geophysical survey on Palace Green and in the Cloister Garth, there are other areas of open space that might be surveyed, particular the Castle courtyard and the area to the west of the gatehouse and the Master’s Garden, also College Green and gardens to the south of the College and to the east of North and South Bailey.

In practice, the development of Geographic Information Systems, 3D deposit modelling software and LiDAR topographic data means that any new survey of the archaeology could be much more sophisticated than the 1993 survey and some form of digital 3D deposit model could be developed.

This would also require a cellar survey – the results of the excavations on the site of Chad’s College Dining Room in the early 1960s demonstrated the potential of cellars both to destroy and preserve archaeological deposits.

Any such project would require significant resourcing- potentially via Historic England or a University funded post-doctoral project.

Figure 6.9: Religious life has continued on the site for over 1000 years

Figure 6.10: Turner Sketch for a View of Durham

6.7 Research Strategy and Strategic Priorities

The aim of the Research Strategy is to explore the practical issues related to bringing forward and developing many of the research ideas that have been outlined in the Research Agenda. The Agenda highlights possible partners and potential ways in which research projects might be packaged. Some aims are ideal small-scale initiatives suitable for undergraduate dissertations, others might work most successfully as major collaborative grant-funded projects – the scale of research varies widely.

At this stage it is possible to outline several strategic priorities for the Durham WHS to address:

6.7.1 Strategic Priority 1: Assessing the Intangible Heritage

The Durham World Heritage Site is far more than the sum of its parts. Whilst the Outstanding Universal Value of the WHS is based on the physical legacy of the Community of St Cuthbert and the Prince-Bishops it is clear that there is more to Durham than its historic environment.

The Cathedral has a rich legacy of non-tangible or at least non-structural traditions and practices and is also the focus of an active and engaged community today. The role of liturgy and hymnody is central in the modern life of the Cathedral, but has its roots in the past. There is also a rich intellectual legacy of scholarship. Home to important early historians such as Simeon of Durham and Reginald of Durham, the Cathedral has been the centre of an important community of scholars whose work transcends the boundaries of the WHS. These intangible aspects of the WHS are not just confined to the Cathedral - the University is nearly 200 years old and has generated its own legacy of traditions, ‘rites’ and intellectual output. These too are worthy of better understanding.

Finally from the work of Walter Scott and JMW Turner to modern artists and writers, the physical landscape of Durham has been a source of inspiration, but the resulting output and its importance is not easily captured or assessed.

However, as noted previously this Research Agenda has focused primarily on the more tangible aspects of the historic environment. Indeed as currently conceived the existing structure of Research Frameworks whilst well suited for auditing and understanding physical aspects of the landscape is less well suited to tackling these more intangible aspects of the World Heritage Site’s importance


A key priority must be a parallel assessment of the intellectual and social resources of the World Heritage Site. Some thought will be required to create an appropriate format or template for such a project. This may involve consulting with UNESCO, canvassing amongst the regional, national and international research communities, and wider engagement across the heritage and research sector. Nonetheless, the strong body of expertise within Durham, with interests in researching and capturing heritage value, will provide a solid starting point for any such initiative. The MA in International Cultural Heritage Management course taught in the Department of Archaeology at Durham University may also provide groups of students able to carry out research into potential methodologies for capturing this intangible heritage.

Figure 6.11: Tapestries in Castle Senate Suite

Figure 6.12: Collections on Display in the Castle

6.7.2 Strategic Priority 2: Assessing the Collections

The World Heritage Site also houses many collections of objects and artefacts of historical value. For example, there are important collections of textiles held by the Cathedral, including those from the Shrine of St Cuthbert (the only pieces of surviving Anglo-Saxon embroidery in England), four late medieval velvet copes and a cope bought for the visit of King Charles I. There are also important 17th century tapestries in Castle.

The Cathedral also has a major collection of ecclesiastical and liturgical plate and other metalwork, whilst the Colleges, particularly University College, have important collections of metalwork, ceramics and other items (e.g. the collections of armour and weaponry). There are also major collections of pictures, paintings

and other images in the Cathedral and University buildings. These include views and images of Durham, many of which are not on Pictures in Print. Other key resources include the Anglo-Saxon sculpture and later medieval stone fragments held in the Cathedral and the range of artefactual material held by the University Museums (particularly the material held in the former Old Fulling Mill Museum).

Durham has strong expertise in museum and collections management through the University Museums, and students working on the MA Museums and Artefact Studies as well as Cathedral library volunteers provide a source of volunteers keen to get involved in cataloguing and collating information. Students from across the academic spectrum and members of the local community have also been involved in cataloguing and caring for collections.


The recent re-organisation of the curatorship of University College and changes in the structure of the University Museums provide an important opportunity for this material to be assessed. There is already an inventory of the Durham Cathedral collections, but public access is restricted for security reasons. There may also be a need for individual colleges to be approached to assess the material and collections they hold outside the University Museums system.

Figure 6.13: Cataloguing of Collections—A Key Element of the WHS Research Strategy

6.7.3 Strategic Priority 3: Resource Enhancement

It is clear from Resource Assessment that there is much important information about the Castle, Cathedral and other parts of the WHS that is not easily publically accessible or usable for research. There is a clear requirement for this important body of research information to be made accessible if many of the research projects listed below are to proceed effectively.


1. Cataloguing and enhancement

There are a number of important collections of material that require further cataloguing if they are to be of further use. These including in particular the Red Box files at the National Monuments Record offices, the photographic archive held by the Heritage and Planning Department at Durham County Council and the Gilesgate Photo Archive. Some, such as the NMR files are easily accessible, others, such as the Gilesgate Photo Archive, are private collections and may pose political issues. All this work has some resource implications, whether in terms of time, travel costs or work space. Ideally, a unified catalogue, perhaps with entries for each property or building element would be created to allow the collations of material references from multiple collections for ease of cross-referencing would be developed. However, again this would have resource implications and would require a body to take ownership of the project.

Other resources whilst useful have scope for enhancement. For example, there are images of Durham in Peter Clack’s Book of Durham (1985) that are not on Pictures in Print and there are inconsistencies between the Historic Environment Record and the City of Durham Archaeological Survey which need resolving.

2. Dissemination

There is much research that has been carried out which is of some importance that would benefit from further dissemination. For example, there a number of important PhD and MA theses that could usefully be made more readily accessible. Most PhD theses are available digitally, but it might be possible, if there is agreement with the authors, to develop an E-library

element of the WHS webpage which collates such documents. MA theses tend not to be digitised, so they would need to be scanned in, which has resource implications.

Other important works that deserve greater dissemination include Peter Ryder’s Durham City Building Survey, Linda Drury’s research on the 15th and 16th century episcopal building accounts and the highly important work by Norman Emery within the Cathedral precincts.


6.8 Research Communities and Partners

Currently, the ownership of the vast majority of the World Heritage Site is divided between Durham Cathedral, and the University. Both bodies have research resources and individuals with interests in researching the WHS and its tangible and intangible legacy.

6.8.1 Durham Cathedral

The Cathedral has its own archaeologist, currently Norman Emery, who has carried out extensive research in the cathedral and its precincts and it is a fund of important knowledge about its standing architecture and sub-surface archaeological remains. There are also numerous others within the cathedral with detailed knowledge about particular aspects of its holdings and history. The Head of Collections is in charge of the non-built aspects of the Cathedral’s Heritage, while stewardship of the built fabric itself is under the jurisdiction of the Cathedral’s Head of Properties and the Cathedral Architect. There is also an HLF –funded oral history project, a Friends’ Lecture Series, liaison with IMEMS and work on the archives by volunteers and visitors.

6.8.2 Durham University

The University houses a large number of scholars whose work engages with the WHS, particularly within the Department of Archaeology and the Department of History. There are also many others within the University who potentially have research interests or practical skills that might coincide with potential work on the site; this includes full-time academics, post-doctoral researchers, post-graduates and undergraduates. Most of these individuals are brought together under the aegis of the University’s Institute for Medieval and Early Modern Studies (IMEMS). Within IMEMS the responsibility for leading research and engagement with the World Heritage Site is that of one of the two Associate Directors, currently Dr David Petts. There are also bodies with a key interest and involvement with the WHS, most particularly the University Museums and libraries, which have major relevant holdings of archives and artefacts, and are also responsible for curating the collections in the Castle (University College). The individual colleges on the peninsula, University, Hatfield, Chad’s, St John’s and St Cuthbert’s Society all also have

vested interest in the areas heritage, both as academic bodies but also as key occupants with their own pressures to utilise and develop the limited space available. A similar, but more strategic role in managing the many other properties is taken by the University Estates and Buildings Department.

Finally, the University and Cathedral employ a World Heritage Site co-ordinator who occupies a key position in bringing together interest groups and partners and particularly helps to connect the University with the Cathedral in relation to the WHS.

6.8.3 External Scholarship

Durham has also attracted much work by those outside the employment of the University and Cathedral. The Cathedral and Castle, in particular, have attracted research by international scholars. There are also local interest groups representing the wider local community who have an interest in the heritage and history of Durham City. Based on the peninsula itself is the Durham Heritage Centre and Museum and its Friends Group who have the most focused interest in the history and heritage of the city. The Heritage Centre itself has the potential to act as a useful focus for wider community activity. With a wider county-focus, but still with potential for great involvement are the Archaeological and Architectural Society of Durham and Northumberland (AASDN) and the Durham County Local History Society- both have lively memberships and extensive expertise in many useful research skills including achieve work and building recording.


Any major research project should capitalise on existing research resources and strengths; the Department of Archaeology already has close working relationships with the AASDN and is keen to develop such links.

6.9 Funding Landscape

Inevitably, given the current economic climate, funding streams for major research projects are increasingly competitive. Many bodies that previously might have been looked to for support, such as Historic England, have had their own funding slashed and no longer provide viable grant programmes.


Research the funding environment to support the action plan for the Research Framework. Consideration should be given to the fact that most funding partners now expect that project proposals should involve collaborative and partnership working. For the academic sources of funding, community involvement/impact activities are increasingly important. There are also often expectations of match funding and support in kind.