DURHAM CITYCategory: Land + People
Durham City is situated on one of the best developed incised meanders in Western Europe. The River Wear has cut its bed down by 27 metres, producing a meander-core or bluff that stands out like a headland — Peninsula is the local name — ringed along the river banks by a horseshoe of steep cliffs and, further off, by a swarm of variegated drumlins, or small hillocks. All this steep and abrupt topography, which was excellent centuries ago for refuge against predatory Norsemen or as a base for hurling back marauding Scots, is less attractive now in the motor age, and when today’s human groups — pop, socially active, or amenity seeking — prefer instant access and mass movement. [...]
Durham is [...] a perfect model of Pirenne’s medieval city. At the point of a double river-crossing by the Great North Road, Durham’s central area is the high meander-core occupied almost entirely by the cathedral, with its associated monastic and other buildings and by the castle, which closes the Peninsula off to the north, the one part where there are no cliffs or river. Both building complexes are basically Norman in age and were largely put up together in the years between 1090 and 1130 -— a feature that gives a remarkable unity and sense of composition to the whole town, besides being an incomparable panorama. Nestling on the north side below the castle is the market place, from which three major roads radiate. [...]
Durham is the third oldest English university, and its location in a town of only 25,000 inhabitants causes special problems. In addition, there are three large colleges of education; and Durham Technical College has probably more students than the university, although its clientele is predominantly local. [...]
The university, originally occuping the castle, has spread into most of the Peninsula, and subsequently east and south in the city, with much of the entire south side “zoned” by the’ planning authority for further university development. [...]
The university is already under some local criticism for certain buildings it has put up; and though most agree that it has done an excellent job of rehabilitation in certain localities, too many nondescript plate-glass-and-concrete boxes built to rigid cost limits [...] will not be popular with the locals.
(The Geographical Magazine, May, 1973)