Research Reports

England - Durhamshire



DURHAMSHIRE (Durham) has been described topographically as a, “maritime county in the north-east of England; bounded, on the N, by Northumberland; on the E, by the German ocean; on the S, by Yorkshire; on the W, by Westmoreland and Cumberland. Its boundary line, along the north, is chiefly the. rivers Derwent and Tyne; along the south, chiefly the river Tees. Its outline is somewhat triangular; one side extending east-north-eastward, another south-ward, another west-north-westward. Its greatest length, from east to west, is about 40 miles; its greatest breadth, from north to south, about 35 miles; its circuit, about 140 miles; its area, 622, 47 6 acres.” 1

Historically, and with consideration for the study of deep ancestry, “The territory now constituting Durhamshire was inhabited by the Brigantes or “hill people;” afterwards formed part of the Roman Maxima Cæsariensis; and afterwards was included in the Saxon kingdom of Northumbria. It mainly lay for a time between the Northumbrian provinces of Deira and Bernicia, being then for the most part a forest; yet belonged more properly to Deira than to Bernicia. These two provinces were first separate, then united, then again separate; and they precipitated upon the Durham territory much of the evils which arose both from their own vicissitudes and from Danish invasion. Two bishoprics were founded in Bernicia, toward the close of the 7th century, -at Hexham and at Lindisfarne; while the bishopric of York included Deira; yet both of the Bernician bishoprics became extinct, or rather transferred their seat, through Chester-le-Street, to Durham, with the effect of making that city the permanent centre of prelatic rule over all Durhamshire and Northumberland. The new bishopric, as noted in our article on the city, acquired extraordinary powers during the Norman period, became a county-palatine, and maintained itself very much in the manner of a kingdom. The bishops suffered calamity most by frequent incursions of the Scots; but they convoked parliaments, raised armies, maintained fortalices, and levied taxes very much as if they had been sovereigns, and were able generally to repel the enemy or to subdue him. But, in 1640, during the parliamentary war, a Scottish army took possession of Northumberland and Durham, obliged the then bishop to flee to Stockton, thence to York and London, never to return; and drove all the affairs of the diocese into a state of abeyance till 1660.-The Roman Watling-street went northward, through the county, by way of Wolsingham; and sent off a branch from Lanchester, through Chester-le-Street, to South Shields. Roman stations were at Brandon-camp, Pierce-bridge, Binchester, Lanchester, Ebchester, Castle's-camp, and Maiden-castle. The chief architectural antiquities are Barnard-castle, Auckland-castle, Brancepeth-castle, Evenwood-castle, Hilton-castle, Lumley-castle, Raby-castle, Ravensworth-castle, Whilton-castle, Durham-castle, Durham-cathedral, Auckland church, and remains of Jarrow priory, Finchale priory, and Nesham nunnery.” 1 For a more current assessment of Durhamshire archaeology see RESOURCE(s) below. (Local archaeological organizations can benefit by your support and in turn you can keep abreast of the latest discoveries and the education to be derived from them.)

Durhamshire evolved and became one of 40 early ancient English counties. These formed when “the Normans introduced the ‘county’ to England as territorial divisions with administrative, political and legal functions, superseding the Anglo-Saxon ‘Shires’ dating from the tenth century, each governed by an Earl.” 2 There were twenty inland and twenty maritime counties, one of which was Durham. This distinction was no longer of official use when new administrative counties were created in 1889. 2

Ecclesiastical and administrative units in Durhamshire during the late 1800s have been conveyed in one gazetteer as follows: “The county comprises 73 parishes or parochial chapelries, parts of two others, and 5 extra-parochial places; and it is divided into North and South for parliamentary representation, and into the wards of Chester, Darlington, Easington, and Stockton for civil administration. A detached tract formerly belonging to it, near Easingwold, is now included in Yorkshire; another detached tract formerly belonging to it, around Bedlington, is now included in Northumberland; and a large detached tract formerly belonging to it, near Berwick, and divided into Norhamshire, Islandshire, and Holy Island, or Fern Islands, is also now included in Northumberland. The registration county is considerably more extensive than the political or electoral county; comprises 754, 183 acres; and is divided into the districts of Darlington, Stockton, Auckland, Teesdale, Weardale, Durham, Easington, Houghton-le-Spring, Chester-le-Street, Sunderland, South Shields, and Gateshead. The boroughs in it are Durham, Gateshead, Hartlepool, South Shields, Stockton, Darlington, and Sunderland; and other towns are Barnard-Castle, Bishop-Auckland, Chester-le-Street, Darlington, Houghton-le-Spring, Seaham-Harbour, West Hartlepool, Wolsingham, Staindrop, Stanhope, Sedge-hill, Middleton-Teesdale, and Consett. The number of minor towns, villages, and hamlets is upwards of 300. The principal seats are Raby Castle, Auckland Castle, Wynyard, Gibside, Lambton Castle, Lumley Castle, Ravensworth Castle, Oxwell Park, Twizel, Truir, Wilton Castle, Whitburn, Blackwall Grange, Bedburn, Bradley, Brancepeth, Castle Eden, Cocken, Coxhoe, Croxdale, Eggleston, Elemore, Greenwell, High Barns, Hilton Castle, Redworth, East Morton, Newton, Shincliffe, Stanhope, Trindon, Walworth, Whitehill, Whitworth, and Windleston.” 1

Applying this information for family history purposes will vary depending on the time frames in which you are searching and the type information and associated records your are seeking. The sources from which the above details were derived have additional information of value in conducting research. See SOURCE(s) below to learn more.

Durhamshire Records

Cemetery/Funeral | Census | Church | Civil | Court/Legislation | Employment/Trades | Family Records | Genealogies | History/Research | Immigration/Emigration | Institutions/Societies | Land/Property | Manuscripts | Military | Periodicals/Directories | Probate | Taxation | Other

Research Overview



  1. IMPERIAL GAZETTEER OF ENGLAND AND WALES. Wilson, John Marius. London and Edinburgh: A. Fullarton and Co. 1870-1872. A VISION OF BRITAIN. THROUGH TIME



Durham County Record Office


Northumberland and Durham Family History Society


Durham County Local History Society


Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland

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