County Durham (/ˈdʌrəm/ (listenDURR-əm) is a ceremonial county in North East England.[2] The county town is Durham, a cathedral city. During the Middle Ages, the county was an ecclesiastical centre, due largely to the presence, of St Cuthbert‘s shrine in Durham Cathedral, and the extensive powers granted to the Bishop of Durham as ruler of the County Palatine of Durham.

The historic county’s boundaries stretched between the rivers Tyne and Tees. Historic borders were shared with 4 counties: Northumberland to the north, now along with the county of Tyne and Wear; North Riding of Yorkshire to the south, now North YorkshireWestmorland and Cumberland, latter two to the west and both now Cumbria.

Within the Durham County Council area, the largest settlements are DurhamPeterlee and Newton Aycliffe. The largest ceremonial settlement is Darlington, closely followed by Hartlepool and Stockton-on-Tees. The North East Combined Authority region includes the towns of GatesheadJarrowSouth Shields and the city of Sunderland. The ceremonial and combined authority overlapped roughly correspond to historic boundaries.[3]

The county has a mixture of mining, farming and heavy railway heritage, with the latter especially noteworthy in the southeast of the county, in Darlington, Shildon and Stockton.[4] In the centre of the city of Durham, Durham Castle and Cathedral are UNESCO-designated World Heritage Sites.

The ceremonial county of Durham is administered by four unitary authorities. The ceremonial county has no administrative function, but remains the area to which the Lord Lieutenant of Durham and the High Sheriff of Durham are appointed.

  • County Durham (governed by Durham County Council): the unitary district was formed on 1 April 2009 replacing the previous two-tier system of a county council providing strategic services and seven district councils providing more local facilities. It has 126 councillors. The seven districts abolished were:[7][8]
    • Chester-le-Street, including the Lumley, Peltonand Sacriston areas
    • Derwentside, including Consettand Stanley
    • City of Durham, including Durham City and the surrounding areas
    • Easington, including Seahamand the new town of Peterlee
    • Borough of Sedgefield, including Spennymoorand Newton Aycliffe
    • Teesdale, including Barnard Castleand the villages of Teesdale
    • Wear Valley, including Bishop AucklandCrookWillington, Hunwick, and the villages along Weardale
  • The Borough of Darlington: before 1 April 1997, Darlington was a district in a two-tier arrangement with Durham County Council.[9]
  • The Borough of Hartlepool: until 1 April 1996 the borough was one of four districts in the relatively short-lived county of Cleveland, which was abolished.[3][10]
  • The part of the Borough of Stockton-on-Teesthat is north of the centre of the River Tees. Stockton was also part of Cleveland until that county’s abolition in 1996.[10] The remainder of the borough is part of the ceremonial county of North Yorkshire.[3]

After renovations by the Auckland Project, the castle re-opened on 2 November 2019, operated by the Auckland Castle Trust, started by the owner of the castle, Jonathan Ruffer. In 2012 Ruffer had purchased the property and all of its contents, including the artwork, with works by Francisco de Zurbarán.[55][56][57]

Other projects in the town include the Mining Art Gallery, which opened in 2017 (thanks to support provided to the Castle Trust by Bishop Auckland and Shildon AAP and Durham County Council),[58] a viewing tower, an open-air theatre show (Kynren) depicting “An Epic Tale of England”, and the Bishop Trevor Gallery at the Castle (which started displaying the National Gallery‘s “Masterpiece” touring exhibit in October 2019). In a few years[when?], other attractions were expected[by whom?] to open at or near the Castle: a display of Spanish art, a Faith Museum, a site that will feature the works of Francisco de Zurbarán, a boutique hotel and two additional restaurants.

Reports suggest that the revival of the area, dubbed “the Auckland Project”, will eventually cost a total of about £150m.[59][60] According to The Guardian,[60]

“The aim is to make the town – the heart of the abandoned Durham coalfields – a tourist destination that holds people for a day or two rather than just a couple of hours. The scheme will create hundreds of entry-level jobs in a county that suffers high unemployment and has some of the most deprived areas in northern Europe”.

Financial Times report in early November 2019 stated that “Kynren [theatre] has attracted 250,000 people and the Auckland Project, even with the castle closed, welcomed 35,500 visitors in the past year” to this community.[61]

A September 2019 report identified Bishop Auckland as one of the towns designated to receive up to £25 million in funding from a new Towns Fund intended “to improve industrial areas that have not benefitted from economic growth in the same way as more prosperous areas”. Durham County Council’s Cabinet member for economic regeneration said that the funds would help the partners in Bishop Auckland to regenerate the town centre area

Green belt

County Durham contains a small area of green belt in the north of the county, surrounding primarily the city of Durham, Chester-le-Street and other communities along the shared county border with Tyne and Wear, to afford a protection from the Wearside conurbation. There is a smaller portion of belt separating Urpeth, Ouston, Pelton, and Perkinsville from Birtley in Tyne and Wear. A further small segment by the coast separates Seaham from the Sunderland settlements of Beckwith Green and Ryhope. It was first drawn up in the 1990s.

North Pennines

The county contains a sizeable area of the North Pennines, designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, primarily west of Tow Law and Barnard Castle. The highest point (county top) of historic County Durham is the trig point (not the summit) of Burnhope Seat, height 746 metres (2,448 ft), between Weardale and Teesdale on the border with historic Cumberland in the far west of the county. The local government reorganisation of 1974 placed the higher Mickle Fell south of Teesdale (the county top of Yorkshire) within the administrative borders of Durham (where it remains within the ceremonial county), although it is not generally recognised as the highest point of Durham. The two main dales of County Durham (Teesdale and Weardale) and the surrounding fells, many of which exceed 2,000 feet (610 m) in height, are excellent hillwalking country, although not nearly as popular as the nearby Yorkshire Dales and Lake District national parks. The scenery is rugged and remote, and the high fells have a landscape typical of the Pennines with extensive areas of tussock grass and blanket peat bog in the west, with heather moorland on the lower slopes descending to the east. Hamsterley Forest near Crook is a popular recreational area for local residents.

Changes in the 1900s

Since the Local Government Act 1972 historic county boundaries now lie within other administrative counties. These include:

Tyne and Wear

South TynesideCity of Sunderland and metropolitan borough of Gateshead

administratively removed in 1974

North Riding of Yorkshire

Small number of settlements south of the Tees, such as Startforth,

administratively added to county control in 1974.

Cleveland county

Hartlepool borough

administratively removed from historic county control in 1974, added to ceremonial county control in 1996.

Cleveland county

Stockton-on-Tees (North Tees) borough

Two previous separate administrative partial removals from historic county control in 1968 and 1974, added to ceremonial county control in 1996.


The proportion of the population working in agriculture fell from around 6% in 1851 to 1% in 1951; currently less than 1% of the population work in agriculture.[23] There were 15,202 people employed in coal mining in 1841, rising to a peak of 157,837 in 1921.[23] As at 2001, Chester-le-Street district has the lowest number of available jobs per working-age resident (0.38%).

Boosting tourism

An October 2019 article in The Guardian referred to town of Bishop Auckland as a "rundown town ... since the closure of the mines" but predicted that the re-opening of Auckland Castle would transform the community into a "leading tourist destination".[84] The castle re-opened on 2 November 2019 after renovations by the Auckland Project, operated by the Auckland Castle Trust, started by the owner of the castle, Jonathan Ruffer.[85][86][87] The interior had been fully restored, including the bishops' "palatial" apartments. The Faith Museum of world religion and a huge glass greenhouse were under construction.[88] Other attractions already operating include the Mining Art Gallery which opened in 2017,[89] an open-air theatre, Kynren, depicting "An Epic Tale of England", and the Bishop Trevor Gallery at the Castle; the latter started displaying the National Gallery's Masterpiece touring exhibit in October 2019. In a few years, other attractions were expected to open at or near the Castle: a display of Spanish art, the Faith Museum (already being built), a site that will feature the works of Francisco de Zurbarán, a boutique hotel and two restaurants, in addition to the Bishop's Kitchen café. According to The Guardian,[90] The aim is to make the town – the heart of the abandoned Durham coalfields – a tourist destination that holds people for a day or two rather than just a couple of hours. The scheme will create hundreds of entry-level jobs in a county that suffers high unemployment and has some of the most deprived areas in northern Europe.

The chart and table summarise unadjusted gross value added (GVA) in millions of pounds sterling for County Durham across 3 industries at current basic prices from 1995 to 2004.


Gross Value Added (GVA) (£m)




Agriculture, hunting and forestry




Industry, including energy and construction




Service activities












keep up to date with our catalogues.