County Durham (/ˈdʌrəm/) is a ceremonial county and (smaller) unitary district in north east England. The county town is Durham. The largest settlement in the ceremonial county (in its own unitary Borough) is the town of Darlington. The county has a mixture of mining and farming heritage, as well as a heavy railway industry, particularity in the southwest of the county in Darlington, Shildon and Stockton. Its economy was historically based on coal and iron mining. It is an area of regeneration and promoted as a tourist destination.
Many counties are named after their principal town, and the expected form here would be Durhamshire. The county is commonly known as County Durham but was officially named Durham until at least 1997. The structural change legislation in 2009,however, referred to the county of County Durham. The former postal county was known as “County Durham” to distinguish it from the post town of Durham. Durham is the only English county name to be prefixed with “County” in common usage – a practice more common in Ireland.
Our town list is:
- Barnard Castle
- Bishop Auckland
- Tow Law
The territory that became known as County Durham was originally a liberty under the control of the Bishops of Durham. The liberty was known variously as the “Liberty of Durham”, “Liberty of St Cuthbert’s Land” “The lands of St. Cuthbert between Tyne and Tees” or “The Liberty of Haliwerfolc”.
The bishops’ special jurisdiction was based on claims that King Ecgfrith of Northumbria had granted a substantial territory to St Cuthbert on his election to the see of Lindisfarne in 684. In about 883, a cathedral housing the saint’s remains was established at Chester-le-Street and Guthfrith, King of York granted the community of St Cuthbert the area between the Tyne and the Wear. In 995 the see was moved again to Durham.
Following the Norman invasion, the administrative machinery of government was only slowly extended to northern England. In the twelfth century a shire or county of Northumberland was formed, and Durham was considered to be within its bounds.However the authority of the sheriff of Northumberland and his officials was disputed by the bishops. The crown still regarded Durham as falling within Northumberland until the late thirteenth century. Matters came to a head in 1293 when the bishop and his steward failed to attend proceedings of quo warranto held by the justices of Northumberland. The bishops’ case was heard in parliament, where he stated that Durham lay outside the bounds of any English shire and that “from time immemorial it had been widely known that the sheriff of Northumberland was not sheriff of Durham nor entered within that liberty as sheriff. . . nor made there proclamations or attachments”. The arguments appear to have been accepted, as by the fourteenth century Durham was accepted as a liberty which received royal mandates direct. In effect it was a private shire, with the bishop appointing his own sheriff. The area eventually became known as the “County Palatine of Durham”.
Sadberge was a liberty, sometimes referred to as a county, within Northumberland. In 1189 it was purchased for the see but continued with a separate sheriff, coroner and court of pleas. In the 14th century Sadberge was included in Stockton ward and was itself divided into two wards. The division into the four wards of, Chester-le-Street, Darlington, Easington and Stockton existed in the 13th century, each ward having its own coroner and a three-weekly court corresponding to the hundred court. The diocese was divided into the archdeaconries of Durham and Northumberland. The former is mentioned in 1072, and in 1291 included the deaneries of Chester-le-Street, Auckland, Lanchester and Darlington.
The term palatinus is applied to the bishop in 1293, and from the 13th century onwards the bishops frequently claimed the same rights in their lands as the king enjoyed in his kingdom.
At its historic extent, Durham included a main body covering the Catchment of the Pennines in the west, the River Tees in the south, the North Sea in the east and the Rivers Tyne and Derwent in the north. The county had a number of exclaves: Bedlingtonshire, Islandshire and Norhamshire within Northumberland, and Craikshire within the North Riding of Yorkshire. In 1831 the county covered an area of 679,530 acres (2,750.0 km2) and had a population of 253,910. The historic boundaries were used for parliamentary purposes until 1832, and for judicial and local government purposes until the coming into force of the Counties (Detached Parts) Act 1844, which merged most remaining exclaves with their surrounding county.
Until the 15th century the most important administrative officer in the palatinate was the steward. Other officers were the sheriff, the coroners, the Chamberlain and the chancellor. The palatine exchequer was organized in the 12th century. The palatine assembly represented the whole county, and dealt chiefly with fiscal questions. The bishops council, consisting of the clergy, the sheriff and the barons, regulated the judicial affairs, and later produced the Chancery and the courts of Admiralty and Marshalsea.
Durham city was captured by a Norman army in 1069. There was a rebellion against the new Norman earl Robert de Comines, who was killed. However, County Durham largely missed the Harrying of the North that was designed to subjugate such rebellions. The best remains of the Norman period are to be found in Durham Cathedral and in the castle, also in some few parish churches, as at Pittington and Norton in Stockton. Of the Early English period are the eastern portion of the cathedral, the churches of Darlington, Hartlepool, and St Andrew, Auckland, Sedgefield, and portions of a few other churches.
The prior of Durham ranked first among the bishop’s barons. He had his own court, and almost exclusive jurisdiction over his men. There were ten palatinate barons in the 12th century, the most important being the Hyltons of Hylton Castle, the Bulmers of Brancepeth, the Conyers of Sockburne, the Hansards of Evenwood, and the Lumleys of Lumley Castle. The Nevilles owned large estates in the county. Raby Castle, their principal seat, was rebuilt by John Neville, 3rd Baron Neville de Raby in 1377.
Edward I’s quo warranto proceedings of 1293 showed twelve lords enjoying more or less extensive franchises under the bishop. The repeated efforts of the Crown to check the powers of the palatinate bishops culminated in 1536 in the Act of Resumption, which deprived the bishop of the power to pardon offences against the law or to appoint judicial officers. Moreover, indictments and legal processes were in future to run in the name of the king, and offences to be described as against the peace of the king, rather than that of the bishop. In 1596 restrictions were imposed on the powers of the chancery, and in 1646 the palatinate was formally abolished. It was revived, however, after the Restoration, and continued with much the same power until July 5, 1836, when the Durham (County Palatine) Act 1836 provided that the palatine jurisdiction should in future be vested in the crown.
During the Wars of the Roses, Henry VI passed through Durham. On the outbreak of the Great Rebellion Durham inclined to support the cause of the Parliament, and in 1640 the high sheriff of the palatinate guaranteed to supply the Scottish army with provisions during their stay in the county. In 1642 the Earl of Newcastle formed the western counties into an association for the kings service, but in 1644 the palatinate was again overrun by the Scottish army, and after the Battle of Marston Moor fell entirely into the hands of the parliament.
In 1614 a bill was introduced in parliament for securing representation to the county and city of Durham and the borough of Barnard Castle. The movement was strongly opposed by the bishop, as an infringement of his palatinate rights, and the county was first summoned to return members to parliament in 1654. After the Restoration the county and city returned two members each. By the Reform Act of 1832 the county returned two members for two divisions, and the boroughs of Gateshead, South Shields and Sunderland acquired representation. The boroughs of Darlington, Stockton and Hartlepool returned one member each from 1868 until the Redistribution Act of 1885.
The municipal boroughs of Durham, Stockton on Tees and Sunderland were reformed by the Municipal Corporations Act 1835. In 1875 Jarrow was incorporated as a municipal borough, as was West Hartlepool in 1887. At a county level, the Local Government Act 1888 reorganised local government throughout England and Wales. Most of the county came under control of the newly formed Durham County Council in an area known as an administrative county. Not included were the county boroughs of Gateshead, South Shields and Sunderland. However, for purposes other than local government the administrative county of Durham and the county boroughs continued to form a “county of Durham” to which a Lord Lieutenant of Durham was appointed.
Over its existence, the administrative county lost territory, both to the existing county boroughs, and also due to the municipal borough of West Hartlepool becoming a county borough in 1902 and Darlington in 1915. In 1967 the former area of the borough of Hartlepool was removed from the administrative county when it merged with West Hartlepool to form a new county borough of Hartlepool. The county boundary with the North Riding of Yorkshire was adjusted: that part of the town of Barnard Castle historically in Yorkshire was added to County Durham, while the portion of the Borough of Stockton-on-Tees in Durham was ceded to the North Riding. In 1968, following the recommendation of the Local Government Commission, Billingham was transferred to the county borough of Teesside, in the North Riding. In 1971 the population of the county including all associated county boroughs (an area of 634,000 acres) was 1,409,633 and the population outside the county boroughs was 814,396.
In 1974 the administrative county and the county boroughs were abolished by the Local Government Act 1972 and County Durham was reconstituted as a non-metropolitan county. The reconstituted County Durham lost territory to the north east (around Gateshead, South Shields and Sunderland) to Tyne and Wear and to the south east (around Hartlepool) to Cleveland. At the same time it gained the former area of Startforth Rural District from the North Riding of Yorkshire. The area of the Lord Lieutenant of Durham was also adjusted by the Act to coincide with the non-metropolitan county (which occupied 745,995 acres (3,018.93 km2) in 1981).
In 1996, as part of the 1990s UK local government reform, Cleveland was abolished and its districts were reconstituted as unitary authorities. Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees (north of the River Tees) were returned to Durham for the purposes of Lord Lieutenant. In 1997, Darlington became a unitary authority and was separated from the shire county. The change in area for Lord Lieutenant to include all these places was reconfirmed by the Lieutenancies Act 1997. Cleveland was adopted as a postal county in 1974 and by the time of its abolition, Royal Mail had abandoned the use of counties altogether; the County Durham former postal county therefore has not been adjusted to the new ceremonial boundary.
As part of the 2009 structural changes to local government in England initiated by the Department for Communities and Local Government, the seven district councils within the County Council area were abolished. The County Council assumed their functions and became a unitary authority. The changes came into effect on 1 April 2009.
The proportion of the population working in agriculture fell from around 6% in 1851 to 1% in 1951; currently less than 1% of the population work in agriculture. There were 15,202 people employed in coal mining in 1841, rising to a peak of 157,837 in 1921.
The economic history of the county centres round the growth of the mining industry, which at its heights employed almost the whole of the non-agricultural population, with large numbers of pit villages being founded throughout the county. Stephen possessed a mine in Durham which he granted to Bishop Pudsey, and in the same century colliers are mentioned at Coundon, Bishopwearmouth and Sedgefield. Cockfield Fell was one of the earliest Landsale collieries in Durham. Richard II granted to the inhabitants of Durham licence to export the produce of the mines, the majority being transported from the Port of Sunderland complex which was constructed in the 1850s. The port was the largest in Durham and the fourth biggest in Britain. Among other early industries lead-mining was carried on in the western part of the county, and mustard was extensively cultivated. Gateshead had a considerable tanning trade and shipbuilding was undertaken at Sunderland, which became the largest shipbuilding town in the world – constructing a third of Britain’s tonnage.
The chart and table summarise unadjusted gross value added (GVA) in millions of pounds sterling for County Durham across 3 industries at current basic prices from 1995 to 2004.
|Gross Value Added (GVA) (£m)|
|Agriculture, hunting and forestry||45||33||48|
|Industry, including energy and construction||1,751||1,827||1,784|
The culture of coal mining found expression in the Durham Miners’ Gala, which was first held in 1871, developed around the culture of trade unionism. Coal mining continued to decline and pits closed. The UK miners’ strike of 1984/5 caused many miners across the county to strike. Today no deep-coal mines exist in the county and numbers attending the Miners’ Gala have decreased significantly over the period, although recent years have seen numbers increase, and more banners return to the Gala as former collieries restore former banners.
The University of Durham is based in Durham city.
Places of interest include:
- County Hall
- Apollo Pavilion, Peterlee, controversial piece of concrete art designed by art designed by Victor Pasmore in 1969.
- Auckland Castle, Bishop Auckland
- Barnard Castle
- Beamish Museum, in Stanley
- Binchester Roman Fort
- Bowes Museum, in Barnard Castle
- Castle Eden, a castle with adjoining village, famous for the Castle Eden Brewery.
- Castle Eden Dene, Nature reserve with coal mining heritage.
- Causey Arch, near Stanley
- Crook Hall and Gardens
- Durham Cathedral and Castle, a World Heritage Site
- Durham Dales
- Durham Light Infantry Museum, Aykley Heads, Near Durham
- Escomb Saxon Church, near Bishop Auckland
- Finchale Priory, near Durham city
- Hamsterley Forest
- Hardwick Hall Country Park, near Sedgefield
- High Force and Low Force waterfalls, on the River Tees
- Ireshopeburn – oldest Methodist chapel in the world to have held continuous services. Site of the ‘Weardale Museum’
- Killhope Wheel, part of the North of England Lead Mining Museum in Weardale
- Longovicium Roman Fort, Lanchester – ruined auxiliary fort.
- Oriental Museum, Durham City – Asian artifacts and information.
- Raby Castle, near Staindrop
- Seaham Hall
- Sedgefield – St. Edmund’s Church has notable Cosin woodwork. Home to Sedgefield Racecourse.
- Locomotion railway museum, in Shildon
- Tanfield Railway, in Tanfield
- Ushaw College, Catholic Seminary of great religious heritage.
- Weardale Railway, at Stanhope, County Durham, Wolsingham and Bishop Auckland