Silver Street promenade in Durham saddens Northeast historian


Silver Street in Durham has issues with many of the UK’s main streets. In the first of a series of special reports, we ask the historian of the Northeast David Simpson for his perspective on this important street.

SILVER Street in the heart of Durham is full of potential character and one of the oldest thoroughfares in the ancient city, tracing its origins to medieval times, writes David Simpson.

The old streets of historic places like Durham are often filled with quaint and charming shops, but a recent stroll along this small street saddened me with its ramshackle nature and struck me with the unwelcome abundance of empty and boarded up shops along its short and narrow course.

Read more: Historic assets ‘at risk’ of disappearing from County Durham

If you think of York you might imagine prosperous streets with a long historical legacy, full of character and charm like the famous Shambles, but Durham’s narrow Silver Street sadly seems like a ‘shambles’ at all. other kind; a mess of neglect and decay.

It’s not that bad of course – there are several outlets across the street which have a lot of charm and certainly meet the expectations of the historic setting. It should be noted that some of them are independent companies.

It must be deeply disheartening for hard-working companies to see their efforts denigrated by empty, neglected and poorly maintained properties on their doorstep. I would suggest that with a certain degree of will, effort and action on the part of the council and the landowners, this could turn into a flourishing street.

Durham is one of the gems of North East England, often at the top of the list of visitors to the region. The Cathedral and the Castle form a magnificent World Heritage Site set in a wooded landscape, enveloped by the meandering River Wear at the heart of which are lanes and vennels that are the very DNA of the place.

Durham is one of the world’s showcases not only for County Durham, but also for the North East of England and Great Britain in general. The city is, after all, home to one of the most magnificent buildings in the country, but how does a streetscape like this give the world?


It might just be a small town, closer to a small town, but that makes it all the more important that Durham works effectively with what it has.

Personally, I welcome some of the new developments in the city, but in the heart of Durham there are no more than four or five small central streets, three of which have deep historical roots, feeding into the small market square in the heart of the city. Durham center.

Silver Street is one such street, connecting the Market Square to the Framwellgate Bridge in the shadow of the Great Castle with splendid views along the river. It is only a small street of about 40 properties but it is a main street which plays a crucial role in the image of Durham.

During my walk along the street, I noticed ten empty properties, a number of which are sizeable and several are boarded up. Some appear to be in very deplorable condition, in places resembling the ramshackle fringes of the city center that you might expect to find in a much larger industrial town. Sadly, even one of the busy Silver Street stores has a notice of impending closure.


Of course, empty store units are by no means a unique issue in Durham, but there are places that are successfully spurring urban revival of their existing central heritage. The recent pleasant commercial developments at Mackie’s Corner in the heart of Sunderland are a good example in a town which has seen superb redevelopments of essential heritage features such as the Peacock Pub and the neighboring former fire station of Sunderland, now converted into l one of the most impressive performance venues in the region.

One could also mention the innovative and focused approach Stockton-on-Tees had in the life of its city center or the revitalized center of Bishop Auckland. All these developments are of course the result of considerable investments.

Durham faces challenges like everywhere else, but some of its competition might wonder why a place with such obvious natural assets and relative affluence can harbor a street so sad at its heart.

The old name of Silver Street has a controversial meaning. One theory is that it derives from the presence of goldsmiths or a Bishop of the Mint, another theory is that it signifies the approach to the beautiful sylvan forest from the banks of the River Durham.

L'écho du Nord: a half-timbered building in Silver Street.  Photo: DAVID SIMPSONA half-timbered building in Silver Street. Photo: DAVID SIMPSON

Whether its name is rooted in the wealth of monetary abundance or in the heritage of a wooded landscape, the image of Silver Street has become something of a “Penny-Poor Way”.

Across the country, there has been a lot of talk about the roots and solutions to inner city challenges. The economy, poor planning, or remote homeowners’ indifference to civic responsibility could be part of the problem.

More obviously, competition from online retail and out-of-town shopping is certainly a factor and “expensive” parking is often cited as well, but I have a feeling that whatever the causes and solutions may be. , Durham could do a lot better.

* David Simpson writes about the history, culture, places and people of the North East on his website,

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