St Nicholas Church
Durham Market Place, the focal point of the city has medieval origins but the present Market Square is largely of Victorian origin . The most imposing features of the market place are the Town Hall and Guildhall, the city church of St Nicholas and the statues of Neptune and the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry.
The spire of St Nicholas Church dominates the eastern side of the Market Place. It was built in 1858 by J.B.Pritchett a Darlington architect and was described by the Illustrated London News of the time as `the most beautiful specimen of church architcture in the north of England’.The Victorian church of St Nicholas replaced an earlier church of St Nicholas which dated from the early part of the twelfth century. Unlike the present church this building had a tower rather than a spire. In the early part of the nineteenth century its south front was covered by a market piazza.
The bare-bottomed statue of Neptune was originally placed in the Market Square in 1729 to cover an octagonal pant which provided water for the people in the Market Place. Water for the pant was supplied by pipe from the Fram Well at Crook Hall across the river to the north east.Neptune, God of the sea, symbolised an ambitious plan to turn Durham into an inland sea port by altering the course of the River Wear. In 1720 the plan was to construct a canal north to join the Team, a Tyne tributary near Gateshead. Thank goodness the plan never got beyond the drawing board for it would have resulted in the joining of the Tyne and Wear.
This was not what nature had intended. In 1759 another plan was made to bring ships to Durham by making the river navigable from Durham to Sunderland. This would have needed considerable alterations to the river course, but fortunately the increasing size of ships made the plan impractical so no work was carried out.
Today the only vestige of Durham as a potential sea port is the statue of good old King Neptune who has only recently returned to his Market place site . In 1923 the pant on which Neptune stood had been demolished and he was removed to Wharton Park where the poor chap was left somewhat neglected for many years until his return to the Market Place in 1991, sixty eight years later.
A man on a horse
Neptune’s equestrian neighbour in full view of the Town Hall and church is the elecroplated-copper statue of the 3rd Marquess of Londonderry. Unveiled on December 2nd 1861it depicts the Marquess on horseback in grand hussar uniform. The 3rd marquess owned collieries in the vicinity of Durham but is principally famous as the builder of the Durham coal port of Seaham Harbour which he founded in 1828 as a rival to Sunderland.
The Marquess of Londonderry’s full name was Charles William Vane Tempest Stewart. The sculptor of Londonderry’s statue was Signor Raphael Monti (1818-1881) who did not, as is often thought commit suicide following the discovery of a flaw in his creation by a blind beggar man. Legend has it that Monti boasted that no one could find fault with his statue until one day a blind man pointed out that the horse had no tongue by feeling inside its mouth. The legend – is a legend.
The Town Hall
Durham Town Hall is modelled on a medieval hall with hammerbeam roofing but is actually of Victorian origin (1851).The interior of the Guildhall to the left dates partly from 1665 during the time of Bishop John Cosin. The Town Hall contains a case displaying some items of clothing and a violin which belonged to the Polish born Count called Joseph Boruwlaski who was remarkable for many reasons including the fact that his height from head to toe was only three feet and three inches.Borruwlawski travelled widely throughout Europe in his early life. His ready wit, gift of mimicry and musical talents always attracted him friends and admirers including the young Marie Antionette who gave him a diamond ring while he entertained the court of the Austrian empire in Vienna.Borruwlawski made a number of visits to England and gained a particular affection for Durham which he called his `quiet place’.
In 1790 he finally retired here and quickly became one of the most notable members of Durham society making friends with a Shakesperian actor by the name of Stephen Kemble who was a resident of Durham. Kemble was a very big man who needed no padding when he played the part of Falstaff. In each others company Borruwlawski and Kemble must have been something of a local curiosity. Count Borruwlawski died in Durham on the 5th September 1837 at the grand old age of ninety seven. For his fame he was granted burial in the cathedral where his grave is simply marked `J.B’ . Find it if you can..
Saddler Street and Fleshergate
Saddler Street known historically as Saddlergate joins the Market Place from the south and is the main route for tourists heading for the cathedral. Saddlergate was presumably the street where saddles were made and sold for horses but the lower part of the street which joins the market place was originally called Fleshergate or Flesh-Hewer-Rawe. This was the street that contained the Butcher’s shambles as Flesh Hewer was an old name for a Butcher. In days gone by the Flesh Hewers slaughtered their cattle in this narrow street – a very unhealthy practice. Saddler Street does not really begin until a little further up where it splits into two either side of the Magdalen Steps. Up to this point the street should really be called Fleshergate. Saddler Street is in fact the street on the right hand side of the steps, while the street to the left leading to Elvet Bridge was known historically as Souter Peth. A Souter was a shoemaker, so this street was the street of the cobblers.
In the eighteenth century the western side of Saddler Street near the entrance to Saddlers Yard was the site of a factory which produced the famous Durham mustard which was highly esteemed thoughout the country for its pungency.Its strength and taste were far superior to any mustard that had been produced before and this was all due to the discovery by an old Durham woman of the name Mrs Clements. In 1720 Mrs Clements discovered a method for extracting the full flavour from mustard seed by grinding the seed in a mill and subjecting it to similar processes used in the making of flour from wheat. Mrs Clement’s mustard gained huge popularity throughout the country and after obtaining a patent from King George I she travelled to all the great towns of England to collect orders for her product, visiting London twice a year.
Later Mrs Clements mustard business passed into the hands of a Durham stationer called Ainsley but by this time Durham Mustard was facing increasing competion from cheaper brands like condiments imported from Germany. Despite the foreign competition two other firms were producing mustard in Durham, J Balmborough in Silver Street and Simpson and Willan of Station Lane, Gilesgate. Mustard is no longer produced in Durham today and the production of the original Durham mustard has passed into the hands of Colmans of Norwich.
Silver Street and John Duck
The western side of Durham Market Place is joined by Silver Street which is one of the busiest shopping streets in the town. Today it is dominated by modern shop fronts but its narrowness is a reminder of its medieval origins. Silver Street is said to acquire its name from being the one time site of a mint where unique Durham coins were produced in the days of the Prince Bishops although a mint is known to have existed at Palace Green. Originally it may not all have been called Silver Street however as lower down where it joins Framwellgate Bridge it is thought to have been originally called Smith Gate – the part of the city occupied by blacksmiths.
Silver Street was once home of one of the wealthiest citizens of Durham called John Duck , whose house was demolished in 1963. His story closely resembles that of Dick Whittington. Duck’s early life remains a mystery but he is known to have arrived in Durham in 1655 with the intention of becoming a Butcher’s apprentice. He approached every butcher in Durham but was refused work because he had no details of his place of birth. The concern seemed to be that he may be a Scot, and the employment of such was forbidden by the Butcher’s guild. When one butcher finally accepted to take Duck on, the Butcher’s Guild persuaded him to change his mind.Legend states that the dejected Mr Duck in a state of misery was wandering by the river side in Durham pondering over his failure to gain an apprenticeship when a passing raven dropped a coin of gold at his feet.
Surtees the Durham historian tells us that this coin was `to be the mother of a dozen more’ as with this gold coin John Duck went on to make his fortune, through how exactly is not altogether clear.Evidence suggests that Duck was not always law abiding in the way he accumulated his wealth.
He is known for example to have bought cattle from a livestock thief but we do not know enough to pass judgement on him as being corrupt. By whatever means he made his fortune Mr Duck went on to become one of the wealthiest men in Durham, owning both land and collieries in the area. In 1680 he became the Mayor of Durham and ultimately progressed to the rank of a baronet when he became Sir John Duck of Haswell on the Hill.