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Durham Castle

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Dunelm; Dunhelm; Dunholm

In the civil parish of Durham.
In the historic county of Durham.
Modern Authority of Durham.
1974 county of County Durham.
Medieval County of County Palatinate of Durham.

OS Map Grid Reference: NZ27394235
Latitude 54.77538° Longitude -1.57560°

Durham Castle has been described as a certain Timber Castle, and also as a certain Masonry Castle, and also as a certain Palace.

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains.

This is a Grade 1 listed building protected by law*.


Early motte and bailey castle. Chapel of 1080 survives. Parts of Constables Hall of 1170, much altered Great Hall of 1300 and other fragments of medieval masonry also survive in much altered and continuously reused building which still follows ground plan of the original castle. Palace of the Prince Bishops of County Durham.

Located on a rocky butte overlooking a bend in the Wear River, the monumental array constituted by the cathedral and its outbuildings to the south, and by the castle which inhibits the main access to the peninsula, to the north, makes up one of the best-known cityscapes of medieval Europe. The architectural evolution of the castle, taking place over eight centuries, is even more complex. Of the original Norman foundation, there remains essentially the typical layout comprising a motte to the east and a large bailey to the west. The construction was begun in 1072 by Waltheof, Earl of Northumberland. It was an effective fortress which regularly faced the onslaught of Scottish troops; in the 17th century the military role of the castle gave way to a more residential character which was further accentuated when the castle became part of Durham University in the 19th century. The present castle is a veritable labyrinth of halls and galleries of different periods, and in its north wing it houses various vestiges of the Romanesque epoch, include the castral chapel, built in 1080. (World Heritage Site 370bis)

The castle of Durham stands on the neck of a peninsula which was unapproachable by the engines of siege of ancient times, and from the very fact of its impregnable strength played a comparatively small part in military history. It was founded purely as a fortress, but before long became the chief residence or palace of that long line of Prince Bishops whose history has been told elsewhere. Selected first as a refuge for the venerated body of St. Cuthbert, the peninsula must have received some artificial addition to its natural defences at an early date, and by the beginning of the 11th century was strong enough to stand a siege by Malcolm of Scotland. (Simeon of Durham, Op. Hist. (Rolls Ser.), i, 215) It is unlikely that the protective walls of Durham at this time were more than earthen banks crowned with palisades, nor is it probable that any part of the keep mound had been thrown up before the Conquest. The castle is recorded to have been built by Earl Waltheof about 1072, though some masonry in the Norman chapel is possibly of an earlier date. Waltheof's work was continued after his death in 1075 (Ibid. ii, 199) by Bishop Walcher, his successor in the Earldom of Northumbria. The keep mound, then covering a much smaller area than at present, was probably raised at this period, but would not for some years be sufficiently stable to be crowned with a masonry tower. Bishop William de St. Calais, who planned the present church, probably strengthened the castle, which, after a brief siege, he was compelled to surrender to William Rufus in 1088. (Anglo-Sax. Chron. (Rolls Ser.), i, 358; ii, 193) But his successor, Ranulph Flambard, was, there can be little doubt, the designer of the Norman fortifications, as they can be traced to-day and as Laurence described them in the 12th century, although they have been usually credited to his successor Hugh Pudsey. Flambard cleared away the houses from the ground, now the Palace or 'Place' Green, between the castle and the church, (Simeon of Durham, op. cit. (Rolls Ser.), i, 140) and built a wall from the east end of the church to the keep. (Ibid. i, 140; ii, 260) The whole of the plateau of the peninsula was thus appropriated by the castle, the church and monastery. Whatever were the individual shares of the early bishops in fortifying their stronghold, it is pretty clear that by the middle of the 12th century the fortifications had developed upon the lines then laid down. (VCH, 1928)
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:08

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