The history of Durham Castle spans nearly 1000 years of history. It is the embodiment of our shared British story, with each twist and turn of our national fortunes etched into the fabric of its mighty walls.
Building began, under the orders of William the Conqueror in 1072, by Waltheof, Earl of Northumbria prior to being handed over to Walcher, Bishop of Durham. Durham Castle remained in the hands of successive Bishops for almost 750 years. During that time, the Castle has been the backdrop to rebellions, civil wars, political upheaval, plagues, famines, and religious reforms, and yet the Castle itself has never been taken by force.
As representatives of the King’s authority in the North, Durham’s Prince Bishops were granted various secular powers, such as the right to hold their own courts of law, raise their own armies and to mint their own coinage. Their privileged position and the wealth derived from their estates allowed them to develop and maintain Durham Castle on a grand scale.
As well as being a military stronghold, and centre of civic authority, the Castle was the ceremonial palace of the Bishops of Durham. Some of these Bishops embarked upon major projects to extend, alter and remodelled the buildings. Over the years, some of the most significant additions have included:
The building of the Norman Arch following a fire at Durham Castle during the time of Bishop Le Puiset (1153-1195)
The building of the current Great Hall by Bishop Bek (1283-1311), its extension in the 14th century by Bishop Hatfield (1345-1381) and reduction in the late 15th century by Bishop Fox (1494-1501)
The building of a Tudor Gallery and Chapel, by Bishop Tunstall (1530-1559)
The addition of the Black Stairs under Bishop Cosin (1660-1672)
The reconstruction of the medieval Keep in 1840 by architect Anthony Salvin (1799-1881), as purpose-built Victorian student accommodation.