Durham, England


Durham, 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, and on the W by Westmorland and Cumberland. Its boundary line along the north is chiefly the rivers Derwent and Tyne, along the south the river Tees. Its outline is somewhat triangular, one side extending east-north-eastward, another southward, another west-north-westward. Its greatest length from east to west is about 45 miles, its greatest breadth from north to south about 35 miles, its circuit about 140 miles, its area 647,281 acres. The surface for the most part is either mountainous, hilly, or undulated. The western angle is crossed by the chain of uplands known as the backbone of England, and presents a bleak, moorish, and barren appearance. The tract next to that angle is traversed by ribs from the backbone— lateral and lower ranges of hill spreading in various directions, and it shares much in the sterility of the extreme west, yet has strips of good land and fine scenery along the courses of the principal streams. The central tracts are pleasantly varied with hill and dale, and include some beautiful and fertile valleys. The eastern tract is more champaign, yet abounds in swells, vales, and dells, and embosoms many a picturesque spot. The coast or seaboard is generally bare and tame—much of it destitute of any Interesting feature— other parts redeemed from dreary monotony mainly by the outbreak of ravines and glens, and It presents no considerable headland except the bold and nearly insulated one at the town of Hartlepool. The main streams are the Tyne, the Wear, and the Tees; the chief tributary streams are the Derwent to the Tyne, and the Skerne to the Tees; and the secondary or minor affluents are the Urpeth, the Browney, the Sleekburn, the Gaunless, the Bedburn, and many brooks or becks. Magnesian limestone forms the coast from South Shields to Hartlepool, new red sandstone extends thence southward to the Tees, and westward up the lower part of the Tees valley; a coal formation connected with the coalfields of Northumberland and Yorkshire occupies a space of about 25 miles by 10 in the central and northern parts of the county, and constitutes the most important coal-field in the British Islands; and millstone grit, shale, sandstone, and carboniferous limestone severally or variously occur in the west. Dykes of basalt or greenstone cross the coal measures and extend to the sea, and these in many parts have charred the contiguous coal into cinder, and effected much change on sulphur and other minerals. The limestone is 70 feet thick near Sunderland, and fully 400 feet deep at Hartlepool, and it serves to be quarried, to be calcined, for polishing as marble, and yields galena and a few fossils. The coal presents no fewer than about 40 beds from 3 to 10 feet thick, and is worked in one place near Painswick to a depth of 1800 feet.

The chief mineral product of Durham is coal, of which it is normally the largest producer of any single county in the kingdom. Perhaps the most striking proof of this was given in 1892, when, notwithstanding the miners' strike, which practically brought work to a stand for some months, the production was 23,834,000 tons, valued at £7,398,480. The production of coke from Durham coal is a large industry. Salt is produced to the extent of 180,000 tons per annum, and pig-iron manufactured in this county with Northumberland exceeds 600,000 tons, though the quantity of iron ore mined is only some 3500 tons. Another mineral product is lead ore, of which the output exceeds 6000 tons.

A stiff loam, very fertile, extends from the mouth of the Tees toward Hartlepool; a poor thin clay extends thence along the coast to within a few miles of Sunderland; a loamy or a rich clay lies along much of the sides of many of the streams; a dry friable loam, sometimes shallow and poor, sometimes deep and rich, covers many of the hills across the whole county west of Bishop-Auckland and north of Barnard Castle; and other soils, ranging through all sorts of clay, loam, sand, and gravel, on to sheer, thin, moorish peat, occupy other parts.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England and Wales, 1894-5
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Archives and Libraries

Durham County Record Office
County Hall,
Tel: (+44) (191) 383 3253 or 383 3474
email: record.office@durham.gov.uk

Church Records

We have some of the County Durham Parish Registers transcribed in fully searchable collections. See what we have available on the Births & Baptisms, Marriages, Deaths & Burials pages.

Civil Registration

For general information about Civil Registration (births, marriages and deaths) see the Civil Registration page.

List of Registration Districts in Durham from 1837 to 1974.

Directories & Gazetteers

The Historical Directories web site have a number of directories relating to county Durham online, including:
Kelly's, Pigot, Slater, etc.

Historical Geography

A listing of the Wards in County Durham, with the parishes contained in them.

Land and Property

The Return of Owners of Land in 1873 for County Durham is available to browse.


Old map of Durham circa 1848 (Samuel Lewis)

Old map of Durham circa 1895 (Gazetteer of England and Wales)

Newspapers and Periodicals

The British Newspaper Archive have fully searchable digitised copies of the following newspapers covering county Durham online:

Parishes and places

The towns and parishes have now been moved to a separate page.


The population at the several censuses of the administrative county and county boroughs of Gateshead, West Hartlepool, South Shields and Sunderland was: 1801, 149,384; 1811, 165,293; 1821, 193,511; 1831, 239,256; 1841, 307,963; 1851, 390,997; 1861, 508,666; 1871, 685,045; 1881, 867,258; 1891, 1,016,562; 1901, 1,187,474; 1911, 1,369,860.