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Durham City Wall

Also known as, or recorded in historical documents as;
Promontory Wall

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: NZ270420
Latitude 54.77039° Longitude -1.57717°

Durham City Wall has been described as a certain Urban Defence.

There are masonry ruins/remnants remains.

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


The earliest peninsula defences were possibly of Anglo Saxon date, although no firm evidence of these Saxon defences has yet been found. Although the city had resisted three sieges by the Scots in 1006, 1012 and 1040 the defences were rebuilt by Bishop Flambard (1099-1128). From the motte the wall ran east to the North Gate, the principal entrance on the peninsula, then south around the river gorge, along the edge of the higher ground with gates to the east and south. Flambard also built a wall between the keep and the cathedral, having cleared Palace Green of houses to establish his adminisrative centre. The walls along the east side were rebuilt, and presumably strengthened, in 1173-4. Later, a wall was constructed from the east end of the cathedral down Bow Lane to Kingsgate to divide the civil and ecclesiastical precincts. Scottish incursions into northern England in the early C14 led to the strengthening of the castle and defences at Durham. In 1315 the townspeople sucessfully petitioned the King for permission to protect the Bishop's Borough around the Market Place with walls. The military importance of the castle's peninsula walls declined during C16 and some gates had gone by 1595; the city was gradually opened up during the C17 and C18. The North Gate, the last of Durham's gates, was taken down in 1820. Only fragments of the defences now remain, some of the walls visible and dislocated parts of other structures incorporated in later buildings. One of the best stretches of wall is that at the south end of the peninsula. North of the Castle C14 town walls have almost completely vanished. (PastScape)

The walls were probably first built in the early 12th century. There were three gates in the outer wall. After an attack in 1312 the walls were made larger and surrounded the north of the town. The walls were neglected from the 16th century and have now disappeared. In total there was over one mile of wall, twenty towers and seven gates. (Keys to the Past)

Besides the castle fortifications the city of Durham was protected by and inclosing wall. Indications of earthworks on the east and south sides of the peninsula may represent pre-Conquest earthen defences; any defences of this date on the north side are now obliterated. It is to Bishop Ranulf Flambard (1099–1128), however, that the inclosure of the city with masonry walls must be attributed. (This wall has been attributed to Bishop Pudsey, but as it is described in the poem about Durham by Prior Laurence, who died in the year of Pudsey's consecration, he cannot have referred to work of Pudsey's time.) These walls followed the lines of the banks of the peninsula on all sides, except on the north. Here was an outer moat within which was a wall of great strength which varied from 30 ft. to 50 ft. in height. In places where good foundations could not be obtained for the walls, relieving arches were used to carry them, which were filled up to make the wall solid. The walls were strengthened with square and octagonal flanking towers, and round the sharp southern bend there appear to have been a series of buttress turrets between the greater towers both to give increased strength and a better defence. Some of the lower portions of these towers remain, but most of them have been destroyed. Prior Laurence describes three gates, the King's Gate at the bottom of Bow Lane, the Water Gate or Porte-du-Bayle, at the south end of the Bailey, and the North Gate, which stood at the top of Saddler Street. (Laurence of Durham, Dialogi (Surtees Soc.), p. 10) What little is known of these gates has already been described. Flambard further inclosed the space called the Palace or Place Green by a wall running from the east end of the Norman cathedral church northward to the keep, thus forming an outer ward. Another wall went from the Kingsgate along Bow Lane and Dun Cow Lane with a gateway spanning the North Bailey. This wall divided the civil from the ecclesiastical part of the hill. The gateway crossing the North Bailey was later annexed to the church of St. Mary le Bow until it fell in 1637. The burgesses of the Borough or those living around the Market Place and the streets leading out of it, although subject to Scottish raids, had no protection until after 1312, when Brus sacked the town. This disaster led to the building of the wall inclosing the Market Place from the tower on Framwellgate Bridge round the Market Square to the tower on Elvet Bridge, with gates on the northern line of the wall opening on to Claygate and Walkergate. This later wall probably did not possess any great military value, but was merely of sufficient strength to keep off raiders. The city walls became neglected in the 16th century and were allowed to fall into disrepair and so have gradually disappeared. (VCH 1928)

Murage grants in 1315 and 1337. The defences of Durham were split between the bishop, based at the castle, and the burgesses, who still required some degree of consent from the bishop for their works.
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This record last updated 26/07/2017 09:20:08

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