Keys to the Past

Local History

Chester-le-Street (County Durham)

The town of Chester-le-Street stands in a valley to the west of the River Wear about five miles to the north of Durham. Although this is an ancient and historic town, there are no remains from prehistory. A simple bronze axe has been discovered, but it was found along with Roman objects, and it may have been a souvenir found by a Roman soldier or civilian.

The Roman fort at Chester-le-Street, known as Concangis, was probably founded in around AD216. Many other Roman forts have been found in the area. A bathhouse with a hypocaust lies to the south and a Roman bridge has been found. Coins and many altars and inscriptions have been discovered. It is likely that as well as the fort, a civilian settlement also grew up in the area.

The site of the fort remained important. When the Vikings attacked the monastery at Lindisfarne in AD793 it began a period of great danger for the monks. After further attacks the monks left Holy Island with the body of the great St Cuthbert and sought shelter inland. After a period of wandering they ended up in Chester-le-Street, where they were given land to found a new monastery. It was here that the Bishop of Lindisfarne, Eardwulf, became the first Bishop of Chester-le-Street. This monastery remained an important centre of religion and learning. The monastery was established within the walls of the old Roman fort on the site of the present church of St Mary and St Cuthbert. The monks at Chester-le-Street carried out the first translation of the Latin gospels into Old English. The monastery remained at Chester-le-Street until Ad995, when following further raids, this time from Scotland, led to the monks seeking shelter in Durham, where the great shrine to St Cuthbert was built.

One Bishop, Egelric, built a new church here in the 11th century. A hoard of Roman coins was found during the excavation- the bishop stole these coins and ran away to Peterborough with his new found riches!

The Golden Age of Chester-le-Street ended with this movement to Durham. However, it remained an important town. The large church of St Mary and St Cuthbert was rebuilt in 1262, and a large spire added in c.1400. This church contains the remains of many stone effigies of members of the nobility from the surrounding area. A small medieval anchorage was built on the northern side of this church. A college of monks was founded at the church in 1286, though no remains can now be seen. As well as religious buildings, there were other developments in medieval Chester-le-Street. For example, a large stone bridge was built over the Wear in 1528. Chester-le-Street was also the site of a curious football game, which was played on Shrove Tuesday, with many players on each side. Although its origins are uncertain it was almost certainly of medieval origin.

In the post-medieval period Chester-le-Street remained an important regional market town, but it also increasingly became an industrial centre, and was the centre for the local mining populations. There were several industries based within the town, including an engineering works, foundries and even a jam factory.

Those of Chester-le-Street who served in the First World War are commemorated on war memorials in various locations around the town whilst many of the buildings were used by the military throughout the conflict, one of which, the Drill Hall, is still used as a Territorial Army (T.A.) Centre in the present day. The main town memorial was centrally located before being demolished and the main plaques relocated to a new memorial wall in the grounds of the parish church of St. Mary and St. Cuthbert.

Many other memorials can be found around the town that commemorate the deeds of those who fought and died in war, the majority of which can be found in churches and public buildings. Pelton Fell in the northwest of the parish, however, has a number of larger-scale memorials, including the cenotaph in the memorial park and a crescent of 24 memorial homes at Gardiner Terrace, built and named after Sir Robert Gardiner in 1922.

Historic maps of the western area of the parish south of Pelton show a late 19th century rifle range crossing the Twizell Burn through Grange Plantation to the southwest of Newfield - it is likely that the rifle range was used as a training site for troops before and during WW1.

Reference number:D6761

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Disclaimer - Please note that this information has been compiled from a number of different sources. Durham County Council and Northumberland County Council can accept no responsibility for any inaccuracy contained therein. If you wish to use/copy any of the images, please ensure that you read the Copyright information provided.