Chester-le-Street Area

Durham's Prince Bishops were the direct successors of the Anglo-Saxon Bishops of Lindisfarne. The story of the movement of their see from this Holy island, to the land between Tyne and Tees begins at the town of Chester-le-Street, half way between Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne. In 793 A.D the Vikings made their first attack upon the coast of Britain with a raid upon Lindisfarne. More raids were to follow.

Chester-le-Street Church

Chester-le-Street church spire photographed by David Simpson

By the end of the following century the threat of further raids was such that the monks of Lindisfarne were forced to flee their island with the body of Saint Cuthbert and seek refuge on the mainland.

How when the rude Dane burn'd their pile
The monks fled forth from Holy Isle :
O'er northern mountain, marsh, and moor,
From sea to sea, from shore to shore,
Seven years St Cuthbert's corpse they bore.

(Sir Walter Scott)

In 882 A.D, after several years of wandering the north of England, the carriers of St Cuthbert's coffin were eventually granted land at Chester-le-Street where Eardwulf, the last Bishop of Lindisfarne became the first Bishop of Chester-le-Street.

Chester-le-Street became a major centre of pilgrimage and its visitors included Athelstan, the first King of England who came to Chester-le-Street in 934AD. Another notable visitor was the Viking ruler Eric Bloodaxe who came to Chester-le-Street in 952AD.

 There were a succession of nine bishops at Chester-le-Street until 995 A.D, when the threat of further raids, this time most probably from Scotland, caused the bishop's see to be moved once again. After more wandering, St Cuthbert's carriers were eventually led by a vision to Dunholm (Durham) where a great church was built for their saint's shrine. It was at Durham City, that the later Prince Bishops were to rule.


Although the town of Chester-le-Street can trace its origins back to the days of the Romans it does not have a great deal to show for its long history.

Of greatest interest is the eleventh century church of St Mary and St Cuthbert, which is built on the site of a Roman fort called CONCANGIUM. Here also stood the Anglo-Saxon Minster, where the shrine of St Cuthbert was housed. The present church has an interesting museum called the Anker's House, with displays concerning Chester-le-Street's Roman and Anglo-Saxon history.

The Anglo-Saxon minster that stood at Chester-le-Street many centuries ago was the place where the first ever English translation of the Gospels was made. The translations were added to the Latin text of the famous Lindisfarne Gospels which had been brought from Lindisfarne to Chester-le-Street with St Cuthbert's coffin. This great book can now be seen in the British Library in London. English speaking visitors to the museum will however, have difficulty understanding the translations, since they are written in an old Anglo-Saxon language called Northumbrian, a language from which the modern dialect of North East England derives.

Chester-le-Street church

Church on site of Saxon Minster and Roman fort Chester-le-Street : David Simpson


Inside the church at Chester-le-Street, are fourteen Elizabethan effigies of Durham's famous Lumley family. When James, the first king of England and Scotland, visited Chester-le-Street in 1603 he is supposed to have viewed the Lumley effigies and remarked; "I did nae ken Adam's name was Lumley"

The first of the effigies is not in fact of Adam but Liulf of Great Lumley, an Anglo-Saxon noble, from whom the Lumley family claim descent. Liulf was killed in the eleventh century by one of William Walcher's men in an incident that led to that Bishop's murder at Gateshead in 1080.

Lumley Castle, which dominates the countryside across the River Wear, to the east of Chester-le-Street, was for centuries the seat of the Lumley family. It was begun in 1389 by Sir Ralph Lumley, whose descendants include `Lily of Lumley', a ghost who reputedly haunts the castle. Today Lumley castle, situated by a pretty wooded valley adjoining the River Wear, is a hotel and restaurant where popular `Elizabethan Banquets' are held.

Here guests are entertained by staff in period costume, as they enjoy a hearty feast of food, wine and mead. Across the A1M motorway to the north of Lumley is Lambton Castle which commemorates another of County Durham's great families. Dating from 1797 Lambton Castle is not as historic as Lumley. The Lambton family notables included the reputed slayer of the Lambton Worm in medieval times and the nineteenth century politician John George Lambton, the Earl of Durham who is commemorated in the nearby Penshaw Monument.

Lumley Castle

Lumley Castle : John A. Simpson


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