Land of the Prince Bishops
Few counties in England have as much variety as County Durham . From the high Pennines to the East Coast of the North Sea not much has changed on the landscape in the last two thousand years. With some of the best scenic views anywhere, it is no wonder County Durham is a favourite with walkers, and the area of Upper Teesdale with High Force, England 's largest waterfall, is typical of the regions beauty. The area of the North Pennines is officially recognized as an Area of Outstanding National Beauty.
The three rivers of the County, the Wear, Derwent and Tees, wind their way through the Dales to the North Sea, passing some of the Counties most historical places.
The First Settlers
The first to make a true impression on the area were to be the Romans, who brought culture to the regions small settlements. Around 80 AD the Romans conquered the native Brigantes and with their move through the region we saw the building of roads, with Dere Street their main supply route from York to the Firth of Forth. The road remained in continuous use throughout the Roman period and a number of forts were built along its length. These included sites at Ebchester, Piercebridge, Lanchester and Binchester in County Durham , and Corbridge in Northumberland.
The Romans, however, failed to subdue the inhabitants further north and were forced to consolidate their territory. In about 122 AD they built Hadrian's Wall, stretching 117 km (73 miles) from the mouth of the River Tyne in the east to the Solway Firth in the west. Having established this frontier, the gentler terrain of mid-Durham to the south became important for provisioning and leisure. Always hard pressed, the Romans eventually abandoned this northern outpost of their empire at the beginning of the 5th Century.
Angles and Saxons settled along the coast and, by the end of the 6th Century, the area became part of the Kingdom of Northumbria .
In 637 AD King Oswald invited St Aidan from Iona to establish a monastic community on Lindisfarne , a small island off the Northumberland coast. A rich Christian culture developed and Northumbria very soon became a leading centre of the Church in Britain . The beautifully illustrated Lindisfarne Gospels were produced during this period, as well as the Venerable Bede's Ecclesiastical History of the English People, the earliest surviving English history.
The introduction of Christianity heralded a new chapter in County Durham 's story. Escomb Church near Bishop Auckland dates from this time and, now restored, is one of the finest remaining examples of early Christian architecture in Northern Europe . The tomb of St Bede can be found in Durham Cathedral's Galilee Chapel.
One of the greatest influences on the early Christian tradition was St. Cuthbert, the North's most revered and best loved saint. Cuthbert's story is inseparable from that of the city and County Durham .
A former bishop of Lindisfarne , Cuthbert died in 687 AD and was buried on the island. His body remained there, miraculously uncorrupt, for two hundred years. During this time increasingly frequent and severe attacks by the Vikings eventually brought about decline of the kingdom of Northumbria . In 875 AD the monks were forced to flee Lindisfarne , taking St. Cuthbert's coffin with them.
They journeyed through Northern England for 120 years, settling for a while in Chester-le-Street and Ripon. Their travels came to an end in 995 AD when, according to the legend, the coffin became immovable and the monks were told in a vision to take it to "Dun Holm" the 'hill on the island'. Not knowing where this might be, they followed a milkmaid looking for her cow and she led them to the rocky peninsula of Durham . The monks built the " White Church " to shelter St. Cuthbert's body and this remained until it was replaced a century later by the new Norman cathedral.
In 1069, three years after landing in Britain , William the Conqueror finally subdued the North of England. William recognised the defensive potential of the rocky peninsula of Durham and a castle was founded there in 1072. Nine centuries later, Durham Castle remains one of England 's largest and best-preserved Norman strongholds and one of the grandest Romanesque palaces. Since 1836 it has housed the Foundation College of Durham University , England's third oldest university after Oxford and Cambridge .
In 1093 work began on a magnificent cathedral to house the shrine of St. Cuthbert. The original rib vaulted church, and architectural innovation of great importance, took 40 years to build. Since then the cathedral and St. Cuthbert's shrine have attracted pilgrims and travellers from around the world.
For over nine hundred years the castle and cathedral of St. Cuthbert have dominated Durham 's skyline. This dramatic panorama is widely regarded as one of the great visual experiences of Europe - a combination of outstanding architecture and a superb setting. Today the castle and cathedral are a World Heritage Site, officially recognising their exceptional quality and character.
The Prince Bishops
Durham Cathedral and Castle are striking symbols of the spiritual and secular power of the Prince Bishops. For many years the Prince Bishops of Durham held ecclesiastical and political sovereignty over the palatinate of Durham - the area between the rivers Tyne and Tees, together with land in Northumberland and Yorkshire . Their influences touched all aspects of County Durham life and left a fascinating legacy which can still be traced today.
The story starts in Norman times when the king, recognising the power and prestige already held by Durham 's Bishops, conferred on them a special blend of civil and religious authority. In all but name they were kings, a strong political force designed to deter Scottish incursions into England 's border country. The Prince Bishops had their own armies, minted their own coins, levied their own taxes and had their own courts. Whatever the King could do outside the county, the Bishops could do within.
The Bishops' principal seat was at the castle at Durham , although their country residence was at Bishop Auckland . From Norman times onwards, local lords built additional castles throughout the county. Some, like Barnard Castle , are now impressive ruins. In contrast, Raby still remains today as one of the country's finest medieval castles.
The Prince Bishops continued to flourish throughout the middle ages. The Bishops themselves were men of many talents and often renowned as local benefactors and energetic builders. They were important landlords, controlling much agricultural land as well as forests such as those in Weardale, which became the bishop's hunting ground. The Palatinate was also well endowed with valuable mineral resources, including lead, silver, iron and coal, and these made major contributions to the Bishops' wealth.
After the Middle Ages the Prince Bishops' power gradually declined. In 1536 Henry VIII drastically curtailed their independence, withdrawing much of their secular authority. Although the Palatinate Courts were to survive until 1971, Henry's action effectively brought an end to a remarkable chapter in County Durham 's history.
The Industrial Revolution
From the 17th century onwards, farming techniques improved and agricultural production increased. The face of the countryside started to change as land was progressively enclosed. Where previously landowners had signalled their powers with the defensive might of their castles, they now demonstrated their wealth through attractive country houses, with the emphasis on comfort, not protection. Gradually, as standards of living improved, better housing became generally more widespread and fashionable. Many of the towns and villages started to take the form we know today - an attractive blend of simple but elegant buildings, often around the market place or village green.
In the 18th century, Northern England was a world leader in industrial innovation and enterprise and County Durham was at the forefront of these dramatic changes. The county's industrial development was based on coal and iron. Coal was first worked in the shallower seams of West Durham , in drifts where it outcropped the surface. Shafts were later sunk to reach the deeper seams. Mining communities rapidly developed across the coalfields, which at its peak in 1913 had over 200 working pits.
The need to carry coal to markets led to major innovations in transport. With advances in technology the earliest wooden wagonways and horse-drawn wagons were replaced by iron rails and stationary steam engines and, finally, by steam locomotives. Railway pioneers included renowned engineers such as George Stephenson and Timothy Hackworth . Both helped to develop the Stockton and Darlington Railway, the world's first public passenger steam railway, which was open in 1825. The region became known as 'the cradle of railways' and developments pioneered here revolutionised transport throughout the world.
With its coal and ironstone, County Durham quickly developed an important iron and steel industry. Innovatory techniques, developed in the Derwent valley, helped place County Durham at the centre of British steel making. By the mid 19th century the county had nearly 60 ironworks and blast furnaces which made a major contribution to the region's growing ship-building and engineering industry.
Lead was mined in the Durham dales and numerous lead mines and processing plants were scattered throughout the rugged landscape. By Victorian times the North Pennines was the world's leading lead ore field.
County Durham 's industrial past plays a key role in the county's growing tourism industry. Lead mining and other industrial heritage sites are now fascinating visitor attractions, whilst Beamish, the North of England Open Air Museum , authentically recreates Northern life in the early 19th and 20th centuries. County Durham is promoted to tourists as "The Land of the Prince Bishops", a fitting reminder of its remarkable history. A wide range of attractions, from the Bowes Museum to the state of the art county cricket ground at Chester-le-Street Riverside, reinforces the county's role as a quality visitor destination. In recent years, major investment has helped to regenerate and diversify the county's economy. Significant investment elsewhere in the north-east has further boosted confidence in the region. The University of Durham , one of the UK 's leading research universities, particularly in science and technology, plays a key role in serving the needs of inward investors as well as local companies.
Much has already been done to transform the environment and economy of the county, but the drive for further achievements remains as strong as ever. County Durham is confident that its rich legacy from the past will provide the platform and inspiration for a bright and successful future.