Chester-Le-Street, Co Durham
Like many other towns in England, Chester-le-Street’s history starts with the Romans, who called it Congangis. At some time after the end of the seventeenth century, following several variations on its name, it finally became known as Chester-le-Street. The ‘street’ part of the name was added in the Middle Ages. The town is built on a Roman road, which later became the main route to the north, becoming known as the Great North Road. The town’s economy through the centuries was built around this road, with travellers on horseback, and those in coaches, needing to break the long journey from London to Newcastle and Edinburgh. The main route north is not through the town any more, as it has been bypassed; the A1(M) is the road used now. Road travel through the town had, prior to this, fallen off with the advent of the railways.
Chester-le-Street is halfway between Newcastle and Durham, and in 883AD, monks from the holy island of Lindisfarne on the Northumberland coast arrived there, carrying the uncorrupted body of St Cuthbert. The monks had to flee from Lindisfarne because of attacks by the Vikings. St Cuthbert was the first Bishop of Lindisfarne and he died in 687AD. The monks were granted land, and the last Bishop of Lindisfarne became the first Bishop of Chester-le-Street. Eventually, the monks, guided by a vision, took St Cuthbert’s body to Durham, where it rests today in a shrine behind the altar of the great cathedral there.
The Parish Church of St Mary and St Cuthbert was built in the eleventh century, and features the Ankers House Museum. In times past, hermits or ‘anchorites’ sometimes lived a solitary life in a cell attached to a church. What was unusual about their lives is that they were walled into their living space, and ministered to by others. The Museum is housed in the ‘anchorage’, and features artifacts from different periods of the town’s history. In the parish church itself is found one of only three facsimiles of the Lindisfarne Gospels, which were translated into Anglo Saxon here. The original is in the British Library, London.
Lumley Castle was built in the fourteenth century and was the seat of the Lumley family for four centuries. It is said to be haunted by ‘Lily of Lumley’. Today it is a hotel and restaurant, and hosts popular ‘Elizabethan Banquets’. It is situated in a very picturesque location by the River Weir, next to a wooded valley.
Chester-Le-Street is surrounded by beautiful countryside, with lowland fells lying to the east and west of the town. A local nature reserve, Waldridge Fell, is the only uncultivated lowland common in the county.
The area had, until comparatively recently, many pit villages which surrounding Chester-Le-Street. All collieries had banners, which were carried at the Durham Miners’ Gala, and some can be seen in the Civic Centre.
Chester-Le-Street has some famous sons. They are mainly footballers, and include former England captain Bryan Robson, and the legendary, and much loved, Sir Bobby Robson, former England manager.
Chester-Le-Street is expanding, and is the fastest growing town in County Durham. It has a lot to offer, so why not come and see?