The name "Durham" derives from the Old English "dun", denoting hill, and the Old Norse "holme", translates to island. The Lord Bishop of Durham takes a Latin variation of the city's name in his official signature, which is signed "N. Dunelm". Durham's name is believed to be assigned from the Dun Cow and the milkmaid legend who guided the monks of Lindisfarne, lugging the body of Saint Cuthbert to the area of the current city in 995 AD. One of the original lanes is believed to be Dun Cow Lane, being directly to the east of Durham Cathedral and acquiring its title from a depiction of the city's founding deep set in masonry on the southern side of the cathedral. The original Nordic Dun Holm was converted to Duresme by the Normans and was acknowledged in Latin as Dunelm. It was later used in modern form as Durham.
The historical city centre of Durham has not changed very much over the past 200 years. It is made up of the peninsula which contains the cathedral, palace green, former administrative buildings for the palatine and Durham Castle. As well as there being 630 listed buildings in Durham, there are old roads that reside out of the Market Place that include The Bailey, Saddler Street and Prebends Bridge.
A statue of Neptune in the Market Place is a constant reminder of Durham's maritime possibilities. It was proposed in 1720 that Durham could become a sea port by digging a canal north to join the River Team, a tributary of the River Tyne near Gateshead. However nothing came of the plan.
Other historical buildings in Durham include the cathedral. It reigns over the skyline on the central and most noticeable area high above the Wear. The view of the cathedral from South Street was so stimulating that Sir Walter Scott wrote a poem about Saxons and Vikings set in County Durham, "Harold the Dauntless" published in 1817. On Prebends Bridge there is a stone tablet carved with the lines of the poem. The High Altar at the cathedral was the most fundamental religious place in England until the ordeal of St Thomas Becket at Canterbury.
Most of the medieval buildings in the commercial area of Durham have disappeared apart from the House of Correction and the Chapel of Saint Andrew, both under Elvet Bridge. The Bailey and Old Elvet still remain to have Georgian buildings that make up the colleges of Durham University.
Durham University was founded in 1832 due to the Chapter and Bishop William Van Mildert, with Durham Castle becoming the first college (University College, Durham) the Bishop then relocated to Auckland Castle, his only residence in the county.
Durham was well-known for carpet making and weaving. By the nineteenth century many of the medieval weavers had left although Hugh MacKay Carpet's factory remained in the city, which made the notorious brands of tufted and axminster carpets. Other important industries were the manufacture of mustard and coal extraction, with the Industrial Revolution placing Durham at the heart of the coal fields. It was the county's main industry sector until the 1970s.
The 1800’s bestowed the city with not only the creation of the world's first passenger railway in 1825, but the first Durham Miners' Gala held in 1871. It continues to be the biggest socialist trade union event in the world.