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Durham, city of

Durham, city of. Though small, Durham is one of the great cities of Britain. It is best seen from the 1857 railway viaduct to the west of the town, which looks down on the great loop of the river Wear, which offered a fine defensive position, and across to the cathedral to the south and the castle to the north on the rocky promontory. The first settlement was probably at Elvet, east of the peninsula, where Pehtwine was consecrated bishop of Whithorn in c.762: the church is dedicated to St Oswald (d. 642), suggesting a 7th- or 8th-cent. foundation. But the arrival of the remains of St Cuthbert in 995 drew pilgrims to the spot and the diocese was transferred from Chester-le-Street. A new church was begun at once and Durham seems to have been visited by Cnut in the early 11th cent. After the Norman Conquest, building of the castle was ordered by William I in 1072 and the foundation stone of the cathedral laid by William of St Carilef in 1093. The congested peninsula may have prevented much expansion and Leland commented in the 1530s that ‘the town itself within the peninsula is but a small thing’. But it developed into an important regional capital and administrative centre. Many of the houses in the north and south bailey were built or refaced in the 18th cent., and Prebends' bridge dates from the 1770s. The university, after several false starts, was founded in 1832, occupies the castle, and has its administrative headquarters at Old Shire Hall in Elvet.

J. A. Cannon

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