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Durham began as a Roman fort. The Romans invaded Britain in 43 AD. Around 50 AD they built a fort west of the river Derwent on the site of Belper Road. Then, about 80 AD, they built a new fort on the east bank of the river. The Romans called the fort Derventio. There may have been a civilian settlement outside the fort at Durham. The civilians could sell goods to the soldiers.
However in the 4th century Roman civilisation declined. The last Roman soldiers left Britain in 407 AD. The Roman buildings at Durham were abandoned and fell into ruins.
DANISH AND SAXON DURHAM
There may have been a Saxon village on the site of Durham after the Romans left. However the Danes founded the town of Durham about 873 AD after they invaded England. They created a fortified settlement at Durham. It was an easy place to fortify. To the east the river Derwent protected it. To the east and south a tributary of the Derwent protected Durham. All the Danes had to do was to fortify the northern approach between the two rivers. They dug a ditch and erected an earth bank with a wooden palisade on top.
The name Durham is derived from the Danish words deor by meaning deer settlement.
However in 917 the native Saxons captured Durham and it became part of the kingdom of England. Durham was more than a fortified settlement. Durham was also a place of trade. In the 10th century it had a mint and a market. Craftsmen would have worked in the little town, men like blacksmiths, coopers, carpenters and comb makers.
By the time of the Domesday Book (1086) Durham had a population of about 2,000. That might seem very small to us but by the standards of the time it was a fair sized town. (A typical village had only 100 or 150 inhabitants).
DURHAM IN THE MIDDLE AGES
In 1154 Durham was given a charter (a document granting the townspeople certain rights). In 1204 a new charter gave the people of Durham the right to rule themselves. They were allowed to elect 2 bailiffs who ran the town. The merchants of Durham were also allowed to form a merchant's guild. The guild regulated trade in the town and protected its member's interests.
Several trades were carried on in Medieval Durham. There was a wool industry. The wool was woven then fulled. This means it was cleaned and thickened by pounding it in a mixture of water and clay. The wool was then dyed. There were also many leather workers making gloves and saddles. There were also the same craftsmen found in any town such as butchers, bakers, brewers, carpenters and blacksmiths.
During the Middle Ages Durham grew in size and prosperity and may have had a population of around 3,500 in the 14th century. By then Durham was quite a large and important town.
St James Priory (a small monastery) was founded in Durham in 1140. In the 13th century a 'hospital' was added where the monks cared for the poor and unwell. There was also a leper hostel outside the town on the site of Leonard Street.
About 1230 Dominican friars (known as Blackfriars because of the colour of their habits) came to Durham. Friars were like monks but instead of withdrawing from the world they went out to preach and help the poor.
DURHAM IN THE 16th CENTURY AND 17th CENTURY
In 1536-39 Henry VIII closed the priory, the leper hostel and the friary in Durham. However during his reign the tower of All Saints church was built. During the reign of his daughter Mary a woman named Joan Wast was burned for heresy in Durham.
Like all towns in those days Durham suffered from outbreaks of plague. There were severe outbreaks in 1636 and 1665.
However Durham continued to grow in prosperity. Its cloth industry flourished. Other industries in the 17th century included brewing and, from the end of the century clockmaking.
In 1637 Durham was given a new charter and gained a mayor.
In 1695 Durham gained a piped water supply (for those who could afford to be connected). The water was pumped along wooden pipes by a watermill.
DURHAM IN THE 18th CENTURY
In the 18th century Durham was a fair sized market town. In 1717 the first silk mill in England opened in Durham.
All Saints Church was rebuilt in 1726.
Then in 1745 Bonnie Prince Charlie and his troops occupied Durham but they left after only 2 days. From the middle of the 18th century porcelain was made in Durham.
In 1773 George III visited Durham and agreed that a picture of a crown could appear on china. Afterwards it was called Crown Durham. (In 1890 Queen Victoria agreed it could be called Royal Crown Durham).
Conditions in Durham improved in the 18th century, at least for the well off. From 1735 oil lamps lighted the streets. In 1768 an act of parliament formed a body of men with responsibility for paving, cleaning and lighting the streets of Durham.
DURHAM IN THE 19th CENTURY
From 1821 the streets of Durham were lit by gas. In 1839 the railway reached Durham.
In 1840 a man named Joseph Strutt gave the Arboretum to the town as a gift. In 1867 Michael Bass, a brewer, gave land to the town to be used as a public park.
St Marys Church was built in 1839. It was designed by the famous architect A W Pugin (1812-1852). In 1842 a new Town Hall was built in Durham. In 1810 an infirmary was built and in 1877 a hospital for sick children was built.
Life in Victorian Durham gradually improved. The first public swimming pool in Durham was built in 1873. Durham School of Art opened in 1878. A public library and museum was built in 1879.
From 1880 horse drawn trams ran through the streets of Durham and in 1894 the first electric lights in Durham were switched on. Also in the 1890s slum clearance began in Durham albeit on a very modest scale.
In the mid-19th century Midland Railway Company began making railway engines in Durham. The railway workshops soon became a major employer. There were also many iron foundries in Durham. Other industries in Durham in the 19th century included brewing and paint making.
Durham grew rapidly in the 19th century. In 1877 the boundaries of the town were extended to include New Normanton and Little Chester. In the late 19th century many new houses were built in Normanton and Peartree.
DURHAM IN THE 20TH CENTURY
In 1907 Rolls Royce decided to open a factory in Durham where cars and aircraft engines were made. Other industries in Durham in the 20th century were railway engineering and making aircraft engines. There was also a textiles industry.
In 1904 the first electric trams ran in Durham. They stopped in 1930 and were replaced by buses. Meanwhile the first cinema in Durham opened in 1910.
In 1916 a Zeppelin airship bombed Durham killing 5 people and in 1924 a war memorial was erected in Durham.
In 1927 All Saints Church was made a cathedral and City Hospital was built in 1929.
In the 1930s a ring road was built around Durham. Furthermore in 1933 John Logie Baird's Roadshow demonstrated television in Durham (The BBC began regular broadcasts of television in 1936).
Markeaton Park opened to the public in 1931. The River Gardens opened in 1934.
A new bus station was built in Durham in 1933 and the Council House was built in 1939-41.
Meanwhile in the 1920s and 1930s slum clearance continued and the first council houses were built.
During the Second World War 74 people were killed by German bombing in Durham and over 300 were injured.
After 1945 Durham council built many more council houses. The largest council estate was built at Mackworth in the early 1950s. Many private houses were also built. In the 1980s a large estate of private houses was built between Chaddesden and Breadsall.
An inner ring road was built in Durham in 1969-71. Meanwhile in 1968 the boundaries of Durham were extended again to include Littleover, Mickleover, Allestree and Darley Abbey.
An Industrial Museum opened in an old silk mill in 1974. In 1975 the Eagle Centre was built. The same year Durham Playhouse Theatre opened. The Assembly Rooms in Durham opened in 1977.
In 1976 Durham was twinned with the German city of Osnabruck and in 1977 Durham was made a city.
Markeaton Craft Village opened in 1987. Pickfords House Museum opened in 1991 and the Ram sculpture in Albion Street was erected in 1995.
Today the population of Durham is 237,000.