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The beautiful city of Durham

Updated on May 21, 2012

Farewell Durham town (Roger Whiticker)

Durham City

A mere twenty five miles from my home town of Newcastle is the beautiful city of Durham. No matter what the weather, what the season, vegetable vendors in the ancient Market Place ply their trade, while bankers, barristers and undergraduates go about their dally business, pushing past strolling tourists and shoppers.

I love Durham town. For me it is a 'Sunday' or 'bank holiday' city, its charm unlike any other.On these days it can offer a haven of peace where in many of the quieter places, time seems to stand still. Many who visit Durham arrive with a totally false idea of what the city will be like. They seem to expect large terraces and a ball of industrial smoke enveloping everything beneath it. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is extremely beautiful, fascinating and interesting and very charming. A Cathedral, castle, university, ancient schools, bridges,churches, a prison, a Market Place and also some fine public buildings make up the City of Durham.

Durham cathedral
Durham cathedral

Durham Cathedral

Durham city is rich in history and its cathedral is said to be the finest example of Norman architecture to be seen anywhere. It stands on a rocky plateau high above the River Wear and presents as one of the most beautiful views possible.

St Cuthbert, England most famous saint was moved here after his career ended on Lindisfarne (Holy Island). Cuthbert was buried in the monastery on Lindisfarne but then in 875 after continued Viking attacks against Lindisfarne the monks left their monastery to transport Cuthberts body to a more secure resting place. This was to become a peninsular of land which became the City of Durham. The body was housed in a specially built Saxon church called 'White Church' and then later in the new Norman Cathedral. From the arrival of Cuthberts body, it was visited by kings, noblemen, Knights and pilgrims.

Sanctuary knocker
Sanctuary knocker

Durham Cathedral

Durham Cathedral is an architectural masterpiece and a tribute to those who built it. Everything about it is massive and its sheer vastness is difficult to absorb. The entire building stretches 470 ft from the east wall to the west wall.

The main entrance to Durham Cathedral is the great north door. Fixed to the door is a sanctuary knocker where fugitives and criminals could find temperary refuge and protection from prosecution.

Fugitives

A fugitive would knock on the door and would be admitted to the church only if he were carrying no weapons. He would then be taken to a grilled alcove and given a bed and food. Durham was a popular place of sanctuary because it had its own Paletine coroner who could and would resolve matters quickly. While in sanctuary, the fugitive would be made to wear a black gown with a large yellow cross of St. Cuthbert on the left shoulder and was able to attend services and wonder about the church. In 1624, the entire system was abolished by king James 1.

Today Durham Cathedral is a living, working church which has long been a focus for the people of the City. No visitor should leave the Cathedral without visiting the treasury and seeing St. Cuthbert's own possessions, his altar, his comb and his pectoral cross. Through these items St. Cuthbert seems to reach across the centuries and Durham Cathedral has always been and will always be Cuthbert's church.


The Palace green
The Palace green

Durham castle and The Palace Green

Before anything else Durham was a fortress. The long journey of St. Cuthbert begun because of vulnerability to attack. They found that Durham was as site naturally protected by the river gorge.

The building of the castle began around 1072 and by the middle of the twelfth century the castle at Durham covered an extensive area. In 1155 the west side of the town suffered a serious fire which badly damaged the castle. It was subsequently rebuilt by Bishop Hugh (1153-95). After the major additions to the castle, successive thirteenth century bishops saw no reason to enlarge or improve on his work. It was not until the arrival of Bishop Bek (1284-1311) that once again major work began.

In the early years of the 16th century the bishops decided that there was no longer a need for the building to serve as a major fortress and that it could be converted into lodgings. It was used by subsequent bishops for hospitality and to demonstrate their wealth and power.

The Palace Green

Developments in education in Durham revolved around the Palace Green. In 1414 Bishop Langely founded two schools for teaching music and grammar on the east side of the Palace Green which were destroyed by the Scots in 1640. In 1661 a grammar school was built on the south west corner of the Palace Green.

Durham university
Durham university

University of Durham

The major event in Durhams' educational history is the foundation of the university in 1832. For centuries there had just been two universities in England, Oxford and Cambridge. However, they were expensive institutions and did not always serve their students well. There was at that time a growing mood which advocated better education at all levels for the 'masses', despite opposition by some for such revolutionary ideas.

The church was left to foot the bill for setting up the university, but students at Durham still had to meet the heavy expenses as much as those attending Oxford and Cambridge. Most students today are resident in one of the colleges while receiving their education in various parts of the university which are scattered throughout the city, some in the very heart and others in the more leafy suburbs. Durham University boasts one of the most comprehensive ranges of teaching and research facilities available in Britain and new developments are always in evidence while still retaining old values.

The Londondery statue
The Londondery statue

The Market Place

Although the most famous parts of Durham are the cathedral and the castle, the main hub of the city is in the market place.

Durham market place was created by Bishop Flambard in the early 12th century. The focul point of the market place is an equestrian statue of Charles William Stewart in the uniform of a hussar. He was connected to the monarchs of Scotland and is remembered today as the founder of Seaton harbour. Nearby is a covered market, open to shoppers three days a week and selling articles of every description. The outside market predominantly sells fruit, vegetables, flowers and fabrics.

Durham is a beautiful bewitching town and in the quote of one intellectual,

'When a man is tired of London he is tired of life' then perhaps man should travel to new pastures, in fact to Durham to further his knowledge of England and rekindle his love of life in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

The Market Place

The Market Place
The Market Place

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    • nishlaverz profile image

      nishlaverz 5 years ago from N.E England

      Durham is a beautiful place. One thing you did not mention is the river that runs through the centre of the city, it is like a piece of the countryside cuts through the hustle and bustle of the old yet modern city.

    • cherriquinn profile image
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      cherriquinn 5 years ago from UK. England. Newcastle upon Tyne

      Hi nishlaverz Yes Durham is beautiful. You have mentioned the river for me now! thankyou. I will add. I see you are from north east too. We have some really lovely places here on our doorstep. I feel priviledged to live in the North of England. Thanks for reading.

    • nishlaverz profile image

      nishlaverz 5 years ago from N.E England

      I live less than 20 miles south of Durham City on the Counties border with Yorkshire and Teeside. Even though I live in the independent borough of Darlington I have always felt that I belong in Durham. My Dad came from a Pit family and worked along side his Dad for a short time in Thornley Pit. I like to visit the Cathedral and light a candle for him as it is classed as the pitman's church. The one thing I would like to get to is the Durham Gala.

      What a lot of people don't realize though is that although our accents sound the same they are not and Pitmatic is a dialect of its own. A lot of Durham resedents cannot often understand full on Geordie. I'm lucky in that I can just about understand Geordie, Pitmatic and Yorkshire dialects and accents. You need to with a family like mine.

    • cherriquinn profile image
      Author

      cherriquinn 5 years ago from UK. England. Newcastle upon Tyne

      Hi there nishlaverz. you are lucky that you don't have too much trouble with the Geordie accent. I live here and I sometimes struggle with it!! I wasn't aware that the Cathedral is classed as the pitman's church. You see I'm learning even more! I am aware however of the Durham Gala. County Durham has alot of interesting history. Its nice that you go to the Cathedral and light a candle in memory.Can't think of a place more special to do that. Thanks for sharing.

    • nishlaverz profile image

      nishlaverz 5 years ago from N.E England

      The Cathedral is the High Church of the North East and it has a connection to the Gala. If I remember right it does have a memorial to those lost to pit disasters.

    • cherriquinn profile image
      Author

      cherriquinn 5 years ago from UK. England. Newcastle upon Tyne

      Thanks for the additional info!

    • christopheranton profile image

      Christopher Antony Meade 5 years ago from Gillingham Kent. United Kingdom

      I've never been to visit any of the great cities in the north of England. Neither Durham nor York has felt my footfall. That is an omission in my life that I should make good. Your fascinating account of the beauties of Durham inclines me to want to do so sooner rather than later.

    • cherriquinn profile image
      Author

      cherriquinn 5 years ago from UK. England. Newcastle upon Tyne

      Thankyou for your kind comments and here's hoping you have the opportunity one day to visit. Best wishes.

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