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UNESCO World Heritage Sites in Northen England

Updated on April 2, 2019
John Welford profile image

John is a retired librarian who writes articles based on material gleaned mainly from obscure books and journals.

Hadrian's Wall
Hadrian's Wall | Source

The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) has, for more than fifty years, recognized the importance of preserving the cultural and natural heritage of regions and nations across the world. One way it does this is by maintaining a World Heritage List of sites of outstanding universal value. To date, some 1000 sites in around 150 countries have been included on the list, and more are added every year.

Within the United Kingdom there are listed sites in all the constituent countries, and the northern half of England contains seven.

Hadrian's Wall

Hadrian's Wall was granted World Heritage status in 1987 as part of the "Frontiers of the Roman Empire" (together with the "Roman Limes" in Germany). The qualifying criteria were "interchange of values; testimony to cultural tradition; significance in human history".

In the year 122 AD Emperor Hadrian (reigned 117-38 AD) visited Britain and decided to mark the northern extent of the Roman Empire by building a wall across northern England. Much of the wall survives to this day and can be visited at various points along its 73 miles between the Solway Firth to the west and the River Tyne to the east. The most spectacular stretch is where the wall runs along the top of the volcanic outcrop known as the Great Whin Sill. Also of interest are the remains of Roman camps and fortresses at intervals along the wall, particularly Housesteads and Chesters.

Durham Castle and Cathedral

Durham Castle and Cathedral were granted World Heritage Status in 1986, the critera being "interchange of values; significance in human history; heritage associated with events of universal significance".

The castle and cathedral stand next to each other on an incised meander of the River Wear, which gives them natural protection and one of the most dramatic settings for a medieval cathedral anywhere. Durham Cathedral was built in the 11th/12th centuries and is the largest and finest examples of Norman architecture in England, although its innovative vaulting is evidence of the approach of Gothic style. The castle was Norman in origin but has seen many changes during its existence. It was used as the bishop’s palace for many years before, in the 19th century, becoming part of Durham University.

Durham Cathedral
Durham Cathedral | Source

Studley Royal Park including Fountains Abbey

Studley Royal Park including the ruins Fountains Abbey was granted World Heritage status in 1986, the criteria being "human creative genius; significance in human history".

Fountains Abbey was founded by Cistercian monks in 1132 in a stunning setting that was later incorporated into the estate of Studley Royal. The abbey had become the richest in England by the time of the dissolution of the monasteries in the 1530s, and the partially ruined but still magnificent buildings bear witness to this fact. Among the abbey buildings is the corn mill, which has survived intact from the 12th century. The estate contains landscaped grounds, temples and follies, a deer park, a canal, and an 18th century water garden.

Fountains Abbey
Fountains Abbey | Source


Saltaire was granted World Heritage status in 2001, the criteria being "interchange of values; significance in human history".

Built by Thomas Salt on the banks of the River Aire in Yorkshire, this is a 19th century industrial village that was designed to provide mill workers with healthy and fulfilling living and working conditions. Salt not only built a mill that offered a safe work environment but more than 800 houses that had their own sanitation and water and gas supplies, public baths and wash houses, a hospital and dispensary, schools, a church, and recreational facilities. Saltaire offers a view of how some Victorian industrialists could get rich and yet still treat their employees as human beings.

Saltaire Mills
Saltaire Mills | Source

Liverpool – Maritime Mercantile City

Liverpool's Maritime Mercantile City was granted World Heritage status in 2004, the criteria being "interchange of values; testimony to cultural tradition; significance in human history".

The site comprises a stretch of the Liverpool waterside from Albert Dock in the south to Stanley Dock in the north and includes the three buildings that stand next to each other and typify Liverpool’s past glory as a major port, namely the Liver, Cunard and Docks Board buildings. There is a wealth of history represented here, bearing witness to Liverpool’s role in the formation of the British Empire including the less than salutary part it played in the slave trade. Liverpool has seen millions of people arrive and depart to start new lives, whether as immigrants from Ireland or emigrants to North America and other parts of the world. The site also includes many cultural attractions such as Tate Liverpool, the Maritime Museum and the Beatles Story.

Liverpool Waterfront
Liverpool Waterfront | Source

Derwent Valley Mills

Derwent Valley Mills were granted World Heritage status in 2001, the criteria being "interchange of values; significance in human history".

The site comprises a 24km strip along the Derwent Valley from Matlock Bath to Derby, commemorating the fact that this was the birthplace of the modern factory system. Richard Arkwright (1732-92) developed the village of Cromford, near Matlock Bath, to house the workers in his cotton mill in which whole families worked, the children spinning yarn on the lower floors while their parents wove calico upstairs. Many of the original workers’ houses remain, all along the valley, thus affording a glimpse of the development of the world’s first industrial towns.

Cromford Mill, Derwent Valley
Cromford Mill, Derwent Valley | Source

Ironbridge Gorge

Ironbridge Gorge was granted World Heritage status in 1986, the criteria being "human creative genius; interchange of values; significance in human history; heritage associated with events of universal significance".

The world’s first cast-iron bridge still spans the River Severn, as it has done ever since 1779. The bridge thus symbolises the start of the Industrial Revolution, as the iron was cast at the nearby Coalbrookdale blast furnace owned by Abraham Darby (1750-91). The site has many features of interest as well as the bridge and the blast furnace. For example, there is the open-air museum at Hay Brook valley with the remains of blast furnaces and brickworks and an inclined plane which enabled goods to be transferred from canal to river. Jackfield is a former mining town and Coalport, famed for its china works, has a porcelain museum.

Ironbridge | Source


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    • Eurofile profile image

      Liz Westwood 

      18 months ago from UK

      Many of these are familiar to me. As we have relatives in Yorkshire I shall put Studley and Saltaire on my list of places to visit. Whenever we are travelling I look out for Unesco world heritage sites, as they are well worth visiting. Prague Castle in the Czech Republic and Porto in Portugal spring to mind.

      I noticed a weather report from the Liverbird building yesterday morning on BBC Breakfast. I might have misheard, but I got the impression that the building is going to be open to the public.

    • Guckenberger profile image

      Alexander James Guckenberger 

      18 months ago from Maryland, United States of America

      These areas look gorgeous.


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