County Durham

County Durham
Status Ceremonial and (smaller) Non-metropolitan county
Origin Historic
Region North East England
- Total
- Admin. council
- Admin. area
Ranked 19th
2,676 km²
Ranked 23rd
2,226 km²
Admin HQ Durham
ISO 3166-2 GB-DUR
ONS code 20
- Total (2004 est.)
- Density
- Admin. council
- Admin. pop.
Ranked 23rd
320 / km²
Ranked 26th
Ethnicity 98.6% White
Arms of Durham County Council
Durham County Council
Executive Labour
Members of Parliament
  1. City of Durham
  2. Easington
  3. Sedgefield
  4. Teesdale
  5. Wear Valley
  6. Derwentside
  7. Chester-le-Street
  8. Hartlepool (unitary)
  9. Darlington (unitary)
  10. Stockton-on-Tees (unitary)*

* Only the part of the borough to the north of the River Tees is within the ceremonial County Durham.

County Durham is a county in north-east England. Its county town is Durham. It is a county of contrasts: the remote and sparsely populated dales and moors of the Pennines characterise the interior, while nearer the coast the county is highly urbanised, and was once dominated by the coal mining industry.

The form of the county name is unique in England. Many counties are named after their principal town, and the expected form here would be Durhamshire. The reason it is called County Durham instead is that the Prince-Bishops of Durham historically exercised power in regions outside the county as well, so the inner part was named County Durham as opposed to the rest of the estate of Durham. The form County X is standard for Irish counties, with no such significance.

County Durham's county flower is the Spring Gentian.

Geographical extent

County Durham is roughly bounded by the watershed of the Pennines in the west, the River Tees in the south, the North Sea in the east and the Rivers Tyne and Derwent in the north.

The name County Durham is used to refer to three distinct entities: the traditional, ceremonial, and administrative counties.

County Palatine of Durham

County Durham is a County Palatine by immemorial custom, with the Bishops of Durham being princes until 1836. Until 1971 there were a series of courts in the county, and the offices of Chancellor, Attorney-General, Solicitor-General, Steward and Clerk of Halmotes, Deputy Steward, and Registrar of Halmotes. The Court of Chancery of Durham existed from the 13th century to 1971. In 1836 the separate Court of Exchequer and the Court of Admiralty were abolished. The Durham Court of Pleas survived until 1873.

Traditional county

The county traditionally extends to the south bank of the River Tyne and includes Sunderland, South Shields, and Gateshead. It borders the counties of Cumberland, Northumberland, Westmorland and Yorkshire. The eastern boundary of the county between the Tyne and the Tees is the North Sea. Several exclaves have existed in the county's history, including Bedlingtonshire, Norhamshire, Islandshire (incorporated into Northumberland in 1844), and Crayke, now in North Yorkshire. The former area of Startforth Rural District was traditionally part of the North Riding of Yorkshire. The modern unitary authorities of Hartlepool, Darlington, and Stockton-on-Tees are part of the traditional County Durham.

Ceremonial county

Durham County Council was established along with all the other English county councils in 1888. Major local government reorganisation on 1 April 1974 created the metropolitan boroughs of Sunderland, South Tyneside and Gateshead and removed them from County Durham into the newly established metropolitan county of Tyne and Wear. At the same time, the new non-metropolitan county of Cleveland took Stockton-on-Tees and Hartlepool. County Durham gained the rural district of Startforth south of the River Tees, near Barnard Castle. Since then, Cleveland has been abolished, but Stockton-on-Tees and Hartlepool have not been returned to Durham, except for the purposes of Lord-Lieutenancy. County Durham borders on the ceremonial counties of North Yorkshire, Cumbria, Northumberland, and Tyne and Wear.

Non-metropolitan county

The present Durham County Council administers the area of the ceremonial county, with the exception of Hartlepool, Darlington, and Stockton-on-Tees, which are unitary authorities.

There are seven local government districts. They are:

On 1 April 1997, the borough of Darlington with its population of 100,000 became a unitary authority and thus administratively separate from County Durham. It continues to share police and fire services with the areas under County Council control.

Options for change

In May 2004 options for regional government were published which would have resulted in the removal of four of the districts from Durham County Council's jurisdiction to form two unitary authorities, and the abolition of the three remaining borough councils to make County Durham a unitary authority in its own right. This proposal has not been implemented.

On 4 November 2004 a referendum was held on proposals to introduce an elected regional assembly for the North East of England. At the same time as this, the electorate was asked to choose between two options for the organisation of local government below the regional tier. The assembly proposal was rejected overwhelmingly, making the question of unitary authorities in County Durham irrelevant.

For County Durham the options were:

  • a single authority for the existing County Council area
  • three authorities for the existing County Council area
Option 1 Option 2
Option 1 map

  1. Hartlepool
  2. Stockton-on-Tees
  3. Darlington
  4. Durham County Council
Option 2 map

  1. Hartlepool
  2. Stockton-on-Tees
  3. Darlington
  4. South Durham
    (Sedgefield, Teesdale and Wear Valley)
  5. North Durham
    (Chester-le-Street and Derwentside)
  6. East Durham
    (Durham and Easington)



This is a list of the main towns in County Durham. The area covered is the entire ceremonial county, hence the inclusion of towns which are no longer administered by Durham County Council.

Places of interest

National Trust National Trust
English Heritage English Heritage
Forestry Commission Forestry Commission
Country Park Country Park
Accessible open space Accessible open space
Museum (free)
Museums (free/not free)
Heritage railway Heritage railway
Historic house Historic House

United Kingdom | England | Ceremonial counties of England Flag of England

Counties of the Lieutenancies Act 1997

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United Kingdom | England | Traditional counties of England Flag of England

Counties that originate prior to 1889

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County Durham
About County Durham
Buildings | Culture | Economy | Geography | History | Famous Residents | Sport | University of Durham | Transport | Timeline
Districts of County Durham
Chester-le-Street | Derwentside | City of Durham | Easington | Borough of Sedgefield | Teesdale | Wear Valley

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