Local legend states that the city was founded in 995 AD by divine intervention. The 12th Century chronicler Symeon of Durham recounts in his Libellus de exordio atque procurso istius, hoc est Dunhelmensis that after wondering in the north, Saint Cuthbert’s bier came to a miraculous halt at the hill of Warden Law and, despite the effort of the congregation, would not move. Aldhun, Bishop of Chester-le-Street and leader of the order decreed an holy fast of three days, accompanied by prayers to the saint. Saint Bede recounts that during this fast Saint Cuthbert appeared to the monk Eadmer with instructions that the coffin should be taken to Dun Holm.
After Eadmer’s revelation, Aldhun found that he was able to move the bier, but did not know where Dun Holm was. By chance later that day the monks came across a milkmaid at Mount Joy who stated to she was seeking her lost dun cow which she had last seen at Dun Holm. The monks, realising that this was a sign from the saint, followed her. They settled at a: "wooded hill-island formed by a tight gorge-like meander of the River Wear When they arrived at the destination they erected the vestiges of Durham Cathedral, a "modest building none of which survives today having been suplanted by the Norman structure. Symeon states that this was the first building in the city.
In mediaeval times the city found spiritual prominence because it was the final resting place of Saint Cuthbert and Saint Bade the Venerable. Before the Reformation 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.
Saint Cuthbert was famed for two reasons: Firstly, the miraculous healing powers he had displayed in life extended into death with many stories of those visiting the saint’s shrine being cured from all manner of diseases. This lead to him being known as the “wonder worker of England”. Secondly, after the first translation of his relics in 698 AD, his body was found to be incorruptible. Despite a brief translation back to Holy Island during the Norman Invasion the saint’s relics remain enshrined to the present day. Saint Bade’s bones are also entombed in the cathedral, drawing the mediaeval pilgrim to the city.
Durham’s geographical position has always given it an important position in the defence of England against the Scots. The city has played an important part in the defence of the north and Durham Castle is the only Norman castle keep never to have suffered a breech. The Battle of Neville’s Cross which took place near the city on October 17, 1346 AD between the English and Scots is the most famous battle of the age.
Every Bishop of Durham from 1071 to 1836 was a Prince Bishop except for the first Norman-appointed Bishop Walcher who was styled an Earl-Bishop. Although the term prince bishop has been used as a helpful tool in the understanding the functions of the Bishops of Durham it is not a title they would have recognised. The last Prince Bishop of Durham Bishop William Van Mildert credited with the foundation of Durham University. Henry VIII curtailed some of the Prince-Bishop's powers and, in 1538, ordered the destruction of the shrine of Saint Cuthbert.
The castle suffered considerable damage and dilapidation during the Commonwealth due to the abolition of the office of bishop who’s residence it was. Cromewell confiscated the castle and sold it to the 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 1616, 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 and the Black Staircase in the castle. Other renovations were carried out to both the city and cathedral by his successor Bishop Lord Nathaniel Crewe.
In 1832 the University of Durham was founded, which has several buildings on the peninsula and on Elvet Hill on the other side of the river. The 19th century also saw Durham grow as a centre of the coal mining industry. The first Durham Miners' Gala was held in 1871, and remains a popular annual event.
The Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham, commonly referred to as Durham Cathedral was founded in its present form in AD 1093 and remains a centre for Christian worship today. It is generally regarded as one of the finest examples of a Norman cathedral in Europe and has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site along with nearby Durham Castle, which faces it across Palace Green, high above the River Wear.
The Cathedral houses the shrine and related treasures of Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, and these are on public view. It is also home to the head of St Oswald of Northumbria and the remains of the Venerable Bede. One can also climb the 325 steps to the top of the tall tower to enjoy an outstanding view of Durham and the surrounding area.
Durham won the Large Town award in the Britain in Bloom awards of 2005.
The county town of County Durham, Durham is located in the City of Durham local government district, which extends beyond the city, and has a total population of 87,656, and covers 186.68 square kilometres. The unparished area of Durham had a population of 29,091, whilst the built-up area of Durham had a population of 42,939.
The centre of Durham sits on a peninsula created by the River Wear. At the base of the peninsula is the Market Place, which still hosts regular markets; a permanent indoor market is also situated just off the Market Place. The Market Place and surrounding streets are one of the main commercial and shopping areas of the city. From the Market Place, The Bailey leads south past Palace Green: The Bailey is almost entirely owned and occupied by University and Cathedral.
There are three old roads out of the Market Place. Saddler Street heads South-Easterly, towards Elvet Bridge, The Bailey and Prebends Bridge. Elvet Bridge leads to the Elvet area of the city, Durham Prison and the South; Prebends Bridge is smaller and provides access from The Bailey to South Durham. Heading west, Silver Street leads out of the Market Place towards Framwellgate Bridge and North Road, the other main shopping area of the city. From here, the city spreads out into the Framwelgate, Crossgate, Neville's Cross and viaduct districts, the other main shopping area of the city. Beyond the viaduct lie the outlying districts of Framwellgate Moor and Neville's Cross. Heading north from the Market Place leads to Claypath. The road curves back round to the east and beyond it lie Gilesgate, Gilesgate Moor and Dragonville.
Many of the inner city areas are now inhabited by students living in shared houses. In some roads as many as 70% of the dwellings are occupied by students.
The old commercial section of the city encompasses the peninsula on three sides, following 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 mediaeval city was made up of the cathedral, castle and administrative buildings on the peninsula. The outlaying areas were known as the townships and owned by the bishop. The most famous of these being Gilesgate (which still contains the mediaeval Saint 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 in tact 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.
The table below gives the average temperature and rainfall figures taken between 1971 and 2000 at the Met Office weather station in Durham:
This is a chart of trend of regional gross value added of County Durham at current basic prices published (pp.240-253) by Office for National Statistics with figures in millions of British Pounds Sterling.
|Year||Regional Gross Value Added||Agriculture||Industry||Services|
Durham railway station is situated on the East Coast Main Line between Edinburgh and London; rail travellers coming from the south enter Durham over a spectacular Victorian viaduct high above the city. By road, the A1(M), the modern incarnation of the ancient Great North Road, passes just to the east of the city. (Its previous incarnation, now numbered A167, passes just to the west.) Newcastle Airport lies to the north, and Durham Tees Valley Airport to the south, both being about 25 miles away. The Market Place and peninsula form the UK's first (albeit small) congestion charging area, introduced in 2002.
A park and ride service is also available.