Durham: A County Like No Other

Issue 79

As I was reading The Sunday Times the other day, I came across a supplement about the best places to live in Britain. I won't even get on my high horse as to why The Sunday Times sees fit to put the North East and Yorkshire together as being one region- typical London-centric geographical blindness going on there!

Anyway, although it was lovely to see that Tynemouth and Morpeth were mentioned in dispatches, County Durham was not on the list, and not even the glorious city of Durham. As we all know, County Durham is down to the last four in the bid for the City of Culture for 2025, and no disrespect to the other contenders- Bradford, Wrexham, Southampton- there is no contest as to why County Durham should win the nomination, and here are a few reasons why:

Durham Cathedral- it and its surroundings were designated UNESCO World Heritage status in 1986 and you would be hard pushed to find a more beautiful or spiritually uplifting place of worship in the whole of the UK. There is the world-famous shrine to St Cuthbert, the resting place of the Venerable Bede, and the hauntingly beautiful Paula Rego painting of St Margaret, amongst many other objects of loveliness and reverence. Also, for the time being at least, it is ‘free’ to enter, unlike York Minster or Westminster Abbey. Durham University- one of the best in the UK and has had many unusual and interesting Chancellors from the Arts. In 1981, Dame Margot Fonteyn, Prima Ballerina, became Chancellor in 1981, the first non-royal female Chancellor of a British University. She was then followed by the brilliant actor and raconteur, Sir Peter Ustinov, and then the jovial Bill Bryson was in post until 2011. The opera star Sir Thomas is the present incumbent.

Alun Armstrong- he of the granite features and acerbic tongue in New Tricks, Alun Armstrong was born in Annfield Plain, between the towns of Consett and Stanley. Armstrong is an Olivier-Award winner for the title role in Sweeney Todd and originated the role of Threnadier in the first London production of Les Miserables.

Mark Gatiss- the co-creator of the peerless Sherlock, amongst many other works of popular culture, was born in Sedgefield in 1966 and his contribution to the culture of the UK is enormous, including The League of Gentlemen and many episodes of the rebooted Dr Who.

Norman Cornish- born in Spennymoor, a town seven miles south of the city of Durham, Norman Cornish is nationally renowned as a painter who used his experiences as a miner to record life in the mining communities. He was a friend of LS Lowry and was still working as a miner until he was in his mid-40s.

Bryan Ferry- the creator of Roxy Music, is from Washington, which was historically part of County Durham when he was born in 1945. He is probably best known now for his crooning of songs such as Dance Away and Slave to Love, but he and the rest of his band were at the forefront of Glam Rock and it has been suggested by some critics that his early style and aesthetic could be considered to be as influential as that of David Bowie. Finally, Sting says that we should win it. I know that he is not from County Durham- Wallsend was his birthplace- but if Gordon Sumner, erstwhile Police member, writer of the glorious Moon Over Bourbon Street, and the foxiest 70-year-old in the world, says that we deserve it, then who are we to argue?

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