Monday, 10 June 2013

5 fun facts about County Durham

Firstly, apologies I haven't put up anything in a while, been very busy in other countries and completing the three peaks challenge! More on those in another article, but since how the first set of facts went down a treat, I thought I would put up some more, this time about the Palatinate of County Durham:

1. Palatinate comes from the medieval days when the Prince Bishops ruled large parts of the North of England, a title given to them by William the Conqueror as a way of keeping a watch out on the Scots. It was known as the Palatinate because they literally ruled from their palace (according to wikipedia).

2. During the medieval period, Scotland and the Prince Bishops had an interesting and often hostile relationship. While Scotland owned large areas of land around county Durham from time to time, the Prince Bishops could invade Scotland on their own, and they could excommunicate the Scottish people! At one point the Scots were excommunicated, but then 2 years afterwards the Scots were given specail protection by the Pope in recognition for the fact that they were one of the most pious nations at the time (!)*

3. County Durham (as well as Northumbria and other parts of Northern England and Southern Scotland, for that matter) contain large amounts of Early Christian architecture and sculptures. Large stone crosses, early churches (such as Escomb, County Durham) and even books were all created in this area, containing wonderful examples of the flowing style of Irish christian art. Northern England became a religious melting pot between Irish and Roman Catholic christianity until the 660's AD, with the Synod of Whitby. Here the traditions of the Roman Catholic church (particularly concerning the dates of Easter and Christmas) were deemed to be correct over than the Irish ones, but that is not to say that is decision was agreed by all sides! Irish christian art survived nonetheless, and the most famous example is the Lindifarne Gospels, as Saint Cuthbert and others kept the Irish christian art tradition alive in the pages of the gospels. Viking art is also not uncommon on architecture around here. Many of these examples are now in the treasures of Durham Cathedral.

4. The Great Northern Coalfield extends under large parts of the county, and in the 19th century, this heavy, if erratic, industry (pits could be set up and closed down in the space of a few weeks!) was the staple of many parts of County Durham, particularly in villages, for employment, and mine closures was often led to dire consequences. This coalfield also extends under the North Sea, which led to the creation of some very peculiar landmarks, like the Seaham mine, but also led to sever enviromental damage, that until recently was very obvious. Fatalities from this industry were, and still are, unfortunately not uncommon around the world.

Some abandoned pit head machinery and other parts of the can still be seen around the county. Such was the state of some of these villages after World War 2, that some villages were demolished altogether and their inhabitants relocated^! No mines operate today, and the last one ceased operations in 1980's. For a good idea of what a small late Victorian one would have looked like, go visit Beamish Museum near Chester-le-Street. Until recently as well the County Durham coast was notorious for coal pollution, but now large sections are nature reserves and areas of natural beauty``.

5. County Durham also prides itself on being the birthplace of the railway. In 1825, the Darlington-Stockton line was opened with Locomotion no.1 built by George Stephenson pulling carriages. Locomotion had just won the Rainhill trials, but railways, or waggonways, have a much longer history than that- horse-drawn carriages used for pulling coal out of the mines to the river boats on the Tyne were in use from the 17th century. This is reflected in the standing archaeology of the North Pennines, with bridges that contain grooves that would have been used for waggonways*. Railways and coal mines were intertwined, one providing a market for the other. Today, many abandoned railway lines are now public footpaths. Around Durham, there were 3 stations, of which two have now closed (one near Gilesgate and the other near Whinney Hill).

Map showing the exent of railways and waggonways across County Durham (and other neighbouring counties) (Copyright Waggonways,

Any comments are greatly appreciated, I will endeavour to respond to any questions!

*Information taken from Ross, D. 1998, "Scotland: History of a Nation"
^Information taken form Waggonways,
``Information taken from Durham Heritage Coast,

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