About Durham

Durham University is the third oldest University in England and currently rated the fourth best University in the UK (according to The Times & Sunday Times Good University Guide 2017), an ‘elite University’, 23rd in Europe and 74th best University in the World (https://www.topuniversities.com/university-rankings/world-university-rankings/2016). In terms of the Physics Department we are truly world class, rated in the top 10 for citations in the world.

The University dominates the City of Durham along with the Cathedral, voted best loved building in the UK by Radio 4 listeners. The Castle is the oldest continually inhabited Castle in Europe; now being University College. The Cathedral and Castle are situated on the hilltop of a peninsula surrounded by the River Wear, which has status as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Please find below a video an aerial view of the city and a screenshot of what it is like to live, work and play in Durham.


Durham University is a Collegiate University with 16 Colleges. The Physics Department is the biggest Department in the University, with the greatest research income and highest number of faculty.

The history of Durham city

Durham is a small, beautiful City built first as a refuge for the early English religious scholars escaping the Viking raiding parties along the North East coast around 990 AD, although archeological evidence suggests that there has been settlement on the ‘island’ since ca. 2000 BC. Both St Cuthbert and St Bede (the Venerable) where buried in Dun Holme (Hill Island), formed in the Ox bow ‘island’ of the river Wear, which grew to become Durham (La. Dunelm). The first Cathedral was built in 995 AD and the Norman one still standing today was started in 1096 and finished in 1130. The Castle was built in 1072.

Since then Durham has been a seat of learning, even before Oxford and Cambridge. Durham was one of England’s leading centres of medieval scholarship, along with Oxford and Cambridge. Indeed, three Colleges – now part of Oxford University – were founded from Durham. University College and Balliol College, and in 1286 Durham College was run from Durham to train scholars for Durham for 300 years until it became incorporated into the University of Oxford as Trinity College. Durham is also referred to as the Land of the Prince Bishops as in Medieval times only the King could raise an Army, however special dispensation was given to the Bishop of Durham to raise an Army , tax and produce coinage for most of the North, to protect England from the Scottish Border Raiders, thus he effectively was made a Prince.

Durham’s wealth came from mining, especially lead in Weardale (from Roman times) in the west of the County and Coal in the East of the county in places such as Easington, Peterlee and Sunderland. Many of the coal mines extended way out under the North Sea. Heavy industry flourished, in the South. The Stockton and Darlington Railway was the first commercial passenger railway in the world, and on the Wear and Tyne ship building was king. With the demise of these heavy industries in the 20th Century, Durham and the North East fortunes reached a low point. Recovery has taken place now with a combination of new IT and Arts based companies and modern industry including the Nissan plant at Washington and Thorn Lighting and Tridonic in Spennymoor.

The University gained its Royal Charter in 1832 and grew on two sites, Durham City and Newcastle, incorporating Engineering and Science Institutes in Newcastle to form a broad Science and Engineering Faculty. Durham was one of the first universities to admit women on an equal footing to men (1890), to establish medical training (1834) and the first to award Civil and Mining Engineering degrees to meet regional and national needs during the industrial revolution (1838). Durham led in the development of science and established one of the earliest observatories in England. In the Red Brick University expansion in 1963, Kings College Durham, our Newcastle site, was split off to form the new university of Newcastle and a new Science site was built in Durham in its present location.

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