History of Darlington

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Darlington began as an Anglo-Saxon settlement on the River Skerne which is a northern tributary of the Tees. The town was later taken by the Danes and there are still many place names of Viking origin in its vicinity. Since Norman times Darlington has been a borough and the site of an important market and today it is arguably the `capital’ of southern County Durham with its population of over one hundred thousand, much greater than that of Durham City. However, Darlington is no longer officially part of the County of Durham except in historical terms.

darlington history

Darlington’s name (see below) derives from the Anglo-Saxon Dearthington, which meant `the settlement of Deornoth’s people’ but by Norman times its name had changed to Derlinton. Confusion does not end here however, because during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the town was generally known by the name of `Darnton’ or somewhat less politely as Darnton i’ the Dirt. This unfortunate name was probably due to the once unpaved streets of the town which are said to have inspired King James of Scotland to write the following uncomplimentary verses during a visit of 1603;
‘Darnton has a bonny, bonny church, With a broach upon the steeple, But Darnton is a mucky, mucky town, And mair sham on the people.

`Mucky town’ is certainly not a good description of Darlington today, as like many large towns in North East England it has a pleasant and attractive appearance. It is especially well endowed with town parks and leafy subburbs although despite its long history the very centre of Darlington is now largely of a Victorian and twentieth century nature.

St Cuthbert’s, the “bonny church” referred to in the rhyme is still one of the most admirable features of Darlington. Built in the twelfth century by Hugh Pudsey, Prince-Bishop of Durham, it is sometimes referred to as the `Lady of the North’. It is one of the largest churches in the region.

With thanks to David Simpson.