Three new personalities join Durham’s historic Freemen’s Guilds


Three personalities from diverse backgrounds, but all connected to Durham, are the latest “recruits” to the ranks of the city’s freemen.

A recently retired dishwasher, priest and plumber were welcomed into the Durham Freemen on Martinmas Guild Day at City Hall.

Underwater archaeologist and TV presenter Gary Bankhead has been sworn in as the Gentleman Freemen, while the Reverend Deborah Robinson and Stephen Kitson have both followed in the footsteps of family members.

Mr Bankhead, a founding member of the Freemen’s History Group, became known for his dives in the River Wear around the city centre, recovering more than 13,500 historic artefacts dating back to the late medieval era.

Read more: Diver Gary Bankhead films the River Wear in Durham City

Among his notable finds are rare souvenirs associated with the pilgrimage to St Cuthbert’s holy shrine, Durham Cathedral, and 28 hammered silver coins from the reign of Edward III.

He made his first exploratory dive in the River Wear in the spring of 2007 and his exploits have since been broadcast on national television and radio, playing a key role in Sky History’s River Hunters as an underwater archaeologist from the show, which launched its third series earlier this year. .

The 57-year-old former firefighter’s dives and subsequent scientific research, supported by Durham University‘s Department of Archeology, led to the award of a master’s degree in philosophy in 2016.

Guardians Chairman John Booth said: “Gary’s admission as a Gentleman Freemen is, in our view, a fitting recognition of his enormous contribution to enriching our knowledge and understanding of the trade guilds of the city, in particular dyers, weavers and drapers, between the 16th and 19th centuries. »

Read more: Secrets of Durham’s past in new exhibition

During his induction as a freeman, the Reverend Robinson, director of care at St Teresa’s Hospice, Darlington, said: “My heart belongs to Durham.”

She closely follows her 78-year-old father, Charlie, who was admitted into the Plumbers Company in February this year.

His professional life consisted of maintaining and improving the cathedral, castle, churches and university buildings, including the replacement of a copper dome over the observatory.

Ms Robinson, 49, went to school in Durham and obtained a degree in theology from St Andrew’s University before undertaking postgraduate studies in social work in Hull.

Her 25 years as a social worker began in Stockton, followed by service as a Macmillan social worker covering Teesside, before moving to St Teresa 15 years ago, first as a social worker and head of family support team prior to appointment to his current position.

She was ordained in Durham Cathedral in 2008 and has since served as an associate priest, on a voluntary basis, alongside her hospice role.

As Anglican Minister for Secular Employment, she supports the work of clergy at St Edwin, Coniscliffe, and St Mary’s Church, Piercebridge.

She is married and has an eight-year-old daughter.

Sixty-year-old Mr. Kitson began his working life as an apprentice plumber for a company in the city known for its custom casting and molding work.

The job gave him the chance to work alongside his older brother and fellow countryman Geoff, tackling contracts at Durham Cathedral, numerous churches in the area and high-value homes in South Street.

There followed a 30-year stint “behind bars”, with the works team in charge of the maintenance of HMP Durham, which dates from the Napoleonic era.

After retiring last December, he spent some free time working as a volunteer ranger with Durham County Council’s Campaign Department, helping with the upkeep and upkeep of public walkways.

But his fine metalworking skills haven’t been put aside, as he regularly retreats to a unit in his back garden where he produces tables, plant stands and garden climbers to order for relatives and friends.

Read next:

Darlington Council and St Teresa’s Hospice run bereavement program for children

Firefighter turned diver turned heritage expert: The remarkable story of Gary Bankhead

Brother and sister join the Freemen of Durham in memory of their father

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