RED BOOK: Jonathan Peacock and Dr Janette Garrett, who are working on the project
RED BOOK: Jonathan Peacock and Dr Janette Garrett, who are working on the project

PEOPLE might soon be able to take a virtual-reality tour of Barnard Castle at any point in its 900-year history as part of a broader project to record the history of Teesdale.

The ambitious plan is part of Durham Victoria County History Trust’s endeavour to produce a “Big Red Book” covering the history of the part of Teesdale that lies north of the River Tees – an area not including land formerly in Yorkshire.

“Big Red Book” is a phrase given to the volumes produced by Victoria County History (VCH) trusts since they were established in the 19th century and are considered to be the definitive history of the areas they cover.

Although predominantly academic in nature, the volume that will reflect the history of north Teesdale will feature smaller projects that are more accessible to everyone, including the 3D tour of the ancient castle.

Durham VCH chairman Jonathan Peacock said other aspects to the project could include two or three paperback “shorts”, which would be a “layman’s guide” to the history of parishes in the area.

Dr Janette Garrett, who has been taken on part time to produce the Red Book for North Teesdale, added: “In addition to the published material, we want to develop the content in other media formats. It is in this context that the project hopes to show how Barnard Castle has changed over the years. By rebuilding it virtually, it would be possible to stand at any spot in the castle and see what it would have looked like at a particular moment in time, which no one has seen for many years.”

Dr Garrett is working under the direction of Dr Diana Newton of Teesside University. She said the project, which is co-funded by the university, will draw on its renowned computer department to create a small-scale pilot of the castle project, which can then be taken to funding agencies to get a grant for the larger project. Mr Peacock added that English Heritage had granted free access to its experts and archives to help create the virtual castle.

Another part of the scheme is to take the history of north Teesdale into school classrooms, as has already been done at Middleton-in-Teesdale Primary School.

Dr Garrett said pupils took part in activities such as looking into information reports of what children did at the leadmines. They also enjoyed fancy dress and an exhibition.

Dr Garrett said: “The children adored it. They were so keen that after the exhibition they wanted to create a children’s village trail guide and put it in the tourist centre.”

Mr Peacock added that children learn more when they are enthusiastic.

A report back on the Red Book project will be given during Durham VCH’s annual meeting at St Mary's Parish Hall, in Barnard Castle, at 5pm on October 20.

Tickets are £10 and include a meal and a talk by former vet Neville Turner. Tickets are available from David Blair on 01325 316749 or email