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Durham History

Durham History Durham can trace its history back a thousand years to when a religious community looking for permanent resting place for the body of St Cuthbert of Lindisfarne arrived in town.

They first built a wooden church, followed by a stone church, on top of a rocky hill protected by the River Wear, as a shrine to their saint.

Following the Norman conquest of 1066, King William decided the site was an ideal location to rule Northumbria and defend the region against the Scots.

So, the community of Cuthbert gave way to Benedictine Monks and a bishop appointed by the king, who consequently began building Durham Cathedral and the city’s famous castle.

Described as ‘one of the finest architectural experiences of Europe’, the view of the cathedral has become an image from which Durham is instantly recognisable.

During the Medieval era, the Bishop of Durham was given the power to govern the North on the king’s behalf and subsequently was granted the title of Prince Bishop. As well as living in the (relative) luxury of the castle, the bishop had supreme jurisdiction over both civilians and the military and the power to raise taxes and mint coins.

The prosperity of the city developed around the cathedral with St Cuthbert’s shrine attracting pilgrims from all over the country, which resulted in Durham becoming one of the richest areas in England.

A series of charters were granted permitting a market to be held every week and a three-day fair once a year, which soon established Durham as a thriving market town.

In the 19th century, the University of Durham was founded, with the castle being the first university college, while nearby Auckland Castle became the bishop’s new residency.

The city continued to expand throughout the 1800s but it was the dawning of the Industrial Revolution that really gave prominence to County Durham, which was at the heart of the vital coalfields.

In 1825 the world’s first passenger railway was built and nearly every village around Durham boasted a coalmine, although many of these have since disappeared.

After a thousand years of welcoming pilgrims, it’s no wonder that Durham has won a reputation for hospitality, with some of the friendliest traders, restaurateurs and hoteliers in the country.

Compared to other modern cities of the 21st century, Durham is somewhat compact yet it offers a wide range of facilities for locals and visitors alike, especially if you love to learn about our Great British history.


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