Durham Castle - History and Facts | History Hit

Durham Castle

Durham, England, United Kingdom

Formerly the home of the Bishops of Durham, Durham Castle dates back to the 11th Century.

Lily Johnson

20 Apr 2021

About Durham Castle

Durham Castle is an 11th century fortification that was the former seat of the Bishops of Durham. Today is makes up part of Durham University and can be viewed via guided tours.

Durham Castle history

Originally commissioned by William the Conqueror in 1072, Durham Castle was intended to ensure Norman control in the North of England, and was built in the traditional motte and bailey style. It became the seat of the Bishops of Durham who were tasked with enacting royal authority in the area, and with each new tenant was altered to reflect his wealth and status.

The castle’s location was key for both defending the troublesome border with Scotland and quelling rebellions in the north, of which there were many during William the Conqueror’s early reign. One such in 1080 saw Durham Castle besieged for 4 days by Northumbrian rebels, who killed the very first Bishop of Durham to occupy it – Bishop Walcher.

The Castle remained the seat of the Bishops of Durham until 1832, when it was moved to Auckland Castle. Following, Durham Castle was donated to Durham University, becoming its founding college of University College.

Durham Castle today

Today Durham Castle remains in the keeping of Durham University, and has been named a UNESCO World Heritage site. It is a residential college – with some lucky students of the university living inside its walls! – but is also open to visitors on guided tours.

Despite many changes over the years, Durham Castle retains the layout of a Norman motte and bailey castle, with its imposing keep presiding over the courtyard.

It has a well preserved Norman chapel dating from 1080, as well as the magnificent 14th century Great Hall, complete with stained glass windows and a large collection of portraiture. Located on Palace Green opposite Durham Cathedral, is it a must-see to any visit to the city.

Getting to Durham Castle

Durham Castle is located in Durham city centre on Palace Green, with access via the A690 and parking available at the Prince Bishops Car Park, a 5-minute walk away. Durham train station is also a 15-minute walk to the site, and the 40D bus stops directly outside.

Featured In


The UK is home to 33 UNESCO World Heritage sites. From Neolithic settlements in the Scottish wilderness to ruined abbeys and vast palaces, we're spoiled for choice. How many have you visited?