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notable names in durham

Durham's Notable Names

Durham City and its neighbouring towns and villages have links with many well known and innovative people that helped to put the area firmly on the map of the rich and famous.

The city is particularly noted for its literary connections, with one of the most famous female poets, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, being born here.

After anonymously publishing a book of poetry and a translation of Aeschylus' Prometheus Bound, Elizabeth published The Seraphim and Other Poems in 1838 under her own name. Its success drew the attention of poet Robert Browning and they fell in love, marrying in secret in 1846 before moving to Italy, where they lived until her death in 1861. Elizabeth’s most famous work is Aurora Leigh, which was published in 1857.

Durham also has strong religious connections as the Cathedral houses the shrine of the 7th century Saint Cuthbert and also St Bede, who is famed for his Ecclesiastical History of the English People.

These days there remain a number of literary connections, with nearby Barnard Castle being home to children’s author Anne Fine, whose best-known book was made into the hit Hollywood movie Mrs Doubtfire. In addition, Pat Barker, who now lives in the city of Durham, won the 1995 Booker Prize for Ghost Road.

Even Charles Dickens has got a connection to the area. He used the William Shaw Academy, located on the outskirts of Durham at Bowes, as the basis for the notorious Dotheboys Hall in Nicholas Nickleby.

If you’re interested in folk music then the name Bonnie Bobby Shafto may ring a bell, and you’ll be interested to learn that he came from Spennymoor. His former home, Whitworth Hall [map], is now a luxury hotel.

Durham has also produced many sporting stars, including test cricketer Colin Milburn, who first played the game for Chester-le-Street Cricket Club. The town was also the childhood home of footballer Bryan Robson, and former England rugby union star Rob Andrew went to school at Barnard Castle.

As for the silver screen, comic Stan Laurel, from the famous duo Laurel and Hardy, is the connection there as he went to school in nearby Bishop Auckland.

Finally, Durham is also known as the birthplace of one of Britain’s most infamous murderers, Mary Ann Cotton, who was convicted of poisoning 17 friends and family, including many of her children and several husbands. She was hanged in 1873.


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