Durham

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Durham (also known as Durham City to differentiate it from the county of the same name) is a small city in County Durham in north-east England. It has been an important ecclesiastical centre since the late tenth century when the body of St. Cuthbert was brought here and a cathedral erected above the shrine. The cathedral - and the castle erected after the Norman Conquest to house the politically - and militarily-powerful Prince Bishops of Durham - are located on a tight loop in the River Wear and form a natural fortress. Outside this fortress developed the medieval civilian city of Durham, divided into five manorial 'boroughs' belonging to the Bishop, to the Abbot of the monastery attached to the cathedral, and to the Kepier Hospital. The Bishops were given quasi-royal powers by the Norman kings of England - they had their own courts, their own tax-raising powers and their own mints , for example. This was partly because the crown wanted to establish a power base in the north equivalent to that of the earls of Northumberland, whose loyalty was doubtful; bishops, being (ostensibly) celibate, would produce no hereditary threat. A rich and powerful bishopric was also able to maintain powerful castles - such as Norham, on the River Tweed - and armed forces to counter any threat to Northern England from Scotland.

The city of Durham benefited economically from the ecclesiastical presence in its midst, and as a local market centre, but it was not fitted to prosper once the powers of the Prince Bishops waned from the 16th century onwards. Although it was at the centre of a major coalfield, Newcastle rather than Durham was the chief commercial centre for the industry, and the River Wear was too shallow here to allow Durham any role in coal export. However, the abolition of the final special privileges of the bishopric in 1836 prompted the then bishop, van Mildert, to give his palace in the city's castle to a new university, only the third to be founded in England (after Oxford and Cambridge). Durham University is a major UK academic institution, and, along with the tourist industry, plays a major role in the city's economy.

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