In a Durham mining village, the story of John Buddle, an 18th century Mining Engineer involved in the pioneering Davy Lamp, should come as an inspiration rather than a revelation to local folk.Few, though, might have associated David Horsley – the man who opened Holywood’s first movie studio in 1911, having emigrated from the north-east as an 11-year-old – with West Stanley.
Horsley, who set up the Nestor Motion Picture Company on Sunset Boulevard with his brother, David, is one of the figures positioned as a figurehead for a major community local history investigation, overseen by the Beamish Museum and uniting six primary schools.
“We learned about World War Two and made a gas mask,” says Gemma Wilcox, an eight-year-old from Beamish Primary School, calling the Celebrate Stanley idea “interesting and fun”.
Adele King, the mum of a fellow eight-year-old helping out, also reckons the series of workshops, resulting in an exhibition on the High Street’s Stanley Library, has been “amazing”.
For their part, the museum has seized the chance for a spot of rewarding outreach, telling tales of Mark Henderson, a pit worker credited with saving 26 lives after crawling to the bottom of a shaft and phoning for help during the gruesome West Stanley Pit Disaster of 1909.
Tommy Armstrong, a man who fathered 14 children before becoming known as The Pitman Poet, has also won new fans after 164 years as a folkloric hero.
“This project has been a really great opportunity to build links with families and schools on the doorstep of the Museum,” says Helen Barker, the Head of Community Participation at the Beamish.
“It’s been wonderful to see the families working together to explore their local history and we’ve had a lot of fun working with them.”
The exhibition is on show at Stanley Library until February 8 2013.