Back to Index Durham

Durham is a historic city and the county town of County Durham in North East England.  The city sits on the River Wear and is well known for its Norman cathedral and 11th century castle, both designated a World Heritage Site by UNESCO in 1986.  Archeological evidence suggests a history of settlement in the area since roughly 2000 BC.  The present city can clearly be traced back to AD 995, when a group of monks from Lindisfarne chose the strategic high peninsula as a place to settle with the body of Saint Cuthbert, founding a church there.  During the medieval period the city gained spiritual prominence as the final resting place of Saint Cuthbert and Saint Bede the Venerable.  The shrine of Saint Cuthbert, situated behind the High Altar of Durham Cathedral, was the most important religious site in England until the martyrdom of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury in 1170.  

Durham's geographical position has always given it an important place in the defence of England against the Scots.   The city played an important part in the defence of the north, and Durham Castle is the only Norman castle keep never to have suffered a breach.  The city remained loyal to King Charles I throughout the English Civil War but the castle suffered considerable damage and dilapidation during the Commonwealth due to the abolition of the office of bishop whose residence it was.  Cromwell confiscated the castle and sold it to the Lord Mayor of London shortly after taking it from the bishop.  A similar fate befell the cathedral, it being closed in 1650 and used to incarcerate 3,000 Scottish prisoners.  Graffiti left by them can still be seen today etched into the interior stone.  At the Restoration in 1660, John Cosin (a former canon) was appointed bishop and set about a major restoration project.  This included the commissioning of the famous elaborate woodwork in the cathedral choir, the font cover and the Black Staircase in the castle.

The historical city centre of Durham has changed little over the past 200 years.  It is made up of the peninsula containing the cathedral, palace green, former administrative buildings for the palatine and Durham Castle.  This was a strategic defensive decision by the city's founders and gives the cathedral a striking position.  The old commercial section of the city encompasses the peninsula on three sides, following the River Wear.  The peninsula was historically surrounded by the castle wall extending from the castle keep and broken by two gatehouses to the north and west of the enclosure.  After extensive remodelling and "much beautification" by the Victorians the walls were removed with the exception of the gatehouse which is still standing on the Bailey.  The medieval city was made up of the cathedral, castle and administrative buildings on the peninsula.  The outlying areas were known as the townships and owned by the bishop, the most famous of these being Gilesgate (which still contains the mediaeval St Giles Church), Claypath and Elvet.  The outlying commercial section of the city, especially around the North Road area, saw much change in the 1960s during a redevelopment spearheaded by Durham City Council, however, much of the original mediaeval street plan remains intact in the area close to the cathedral and market place.  Most of the mediaeval buildings in the commercial area of the city have disappeared apart from the House of Correction and the Chapel of Saint Andrew, both under Elvet Bridge.  Georgian buildings can still be found on the Bailey and Old Elvet, most of which make up the colleges of Durham University.

At the moment I only have photographs of Durham city but this section will eventually include other areas of the county of Durham.




· Home Page · Site Map · What's New ·