Durham University
#123 Overall Influence

Durham University

Collegiate public research university in Durham, England, United Kingdom

By James Barham, PhD

Durham University is a public, research university established by an act of Parliament in 1832. It received its royal charter five years later, in 1837.

Durham was the first university to be founded in England proper (as opposed to Scotland) in modern times (since Oxford and Cambridge during the Middle Ages). Its original remit was to prepare young men for ordination into the Church of England.

The oldest part of the university is University College, which after 1837 was housed in historic Durham Castle. For this reason, University College is colloquially known as “the Castle.” At first, students living in the Castle were expected to bring along their personal servants to cook for them. In 1846, a second college, Bishop Hatfield’s Hall, was added, which pioneered full room-and-board for residential students of more modest means.

Many more colleges were added gradually over the years, including a medical school, which opened in nearby Newcastle upon Tyne in 1852.

In 1909, the official tie to the Church of England was severed, and Durham University began to be administered by the British government, instead.

Over time, the number of Durham University colleges situated in Newcastle proliferated to such an extent that they came to outnumber the Durham colleges in size and importance. Eventually, the imbalance became so serious that during the 1950s a proposal was floated to rename the school as “the University of Durham and Newcastle.” (It was defeated.)

In 1963, the most important of the Newcastle colleges, King’s College, attained administrative independence under the name of the University of Newcastle upon Tyne. This left the Castle once again as Durham’s flagship college. Much later, in 1991, a new satellite campus was opened in another nearby city—this time, in the much smaller town of Stockton-on-Tees.

Today, Durham University comprises 17 separate colleges in the cities of Durham and Stockton, with a total student body in excess of 19,000.

Among numerous prominent individuals associated with Durham University, we may note the following:

  • Mathematician, Harold Jeffreys, Francis Edward Corrigan & Frank Kelly
  • Computer scientist, David Gavaghan
  • Philosophers, Nancy Cartwright, Stephen R.L. Clark, John Heil, Tim Crane, Stephen Mumford & Anna Marmodoro
  • Poet, Thomas Blackburn
  • Novelist, Anne Brontë
  • Popular novelist, Edward Bradley
  • Children’s author, Lorna Hill
  • Science fiction novelist, Patrick Tilley
  • Literary scholars, Paul Geoffrey Edwards & Mikhail Epstein
  • Animated filmmaker, David Sproxton
  • Actors, Peter Ustinov, Roger Moore, George Lazenby, James Wilby, Arthur Bostrom, Adam Rayner, Madeleine Knight, Charlotte Riley & Lily Travers
  • Comedians, Tim FitzHigham, Nish Kumar & Ed Gamble
  • Art historian, Liz James
  • Popular musician, Justin Chancellor
  • Singer-songwriters, Jake Thackray & Tom Rosenthal
  • Astronomers, Temple Chevallier, Richard Christopher Carrington & Arnold Wolfendale
  • Astrophysicists, Richard S. Ellis, Ben Moore & George Efstathiou
  • Cosmologists, Carlos Frenk, Ruth Gregory & John D. Barrow
  • Physicists, Alexander Stewart Herschel, A.W. Pryor, Paul Sutcliffe, Samuel Tolansky, Hans Kronberger, Nigel Glover, Tom McLeish, Andrew Fisher & George Rochester
  • Chemists, Neill Bartlett, Judith Howard & Jas Pal Badyal
  • Climatologists, Gordon Manley & Peter Liss
  • Geologists, Arthur Holmes, Kingsley Charles Dunham & George Malcolm Brown
  • Molecular engineer, Jacqui Cole
  • Bacteriologist, Ephraim Anderson
  • Botanists, Kathleen Bever Blackburn & David Bellamy
  • Arachnologist, Octavius Pickard-Cambridge
  • Neuroscientist, E.J. Field
  • Sociologists, Frank Webster & Richard Adams
  • Linguist, Ida C. Ward
  • Anthropologists, Robert H. Layton & Chris Terrill
  • Archaeologists, Eric Birley, William Greenwell, Leslie Peter Wenham & Jules Hudson
  • Dendrochronologist, Malcolm K. Hughes
  • Historian, George Macaulay Trevelyan
  • Russia scholars, Philip Bullock & Patrick O’Meara
  • Tibet scholar, Michael Aris
  • Political scientists, Andrew Gamble & Roger Scully
  • Legal scholar, Thom Brooks
  • Journalists, Harold Evans, Nina Hossain & Christina Patterson
  • Political commentator, Tom Harwood
  • Radio and TV news presenters, Shelagh Fogarty, George Alagiah, Jeremy Vine, Tim Willcox & Kate Silverton
  • British Supreme Court Justices, Anthony Hughes & Jill Black
  • Former Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby

What is Durham University known for?

#14 World Rank
Earth Sciences
#25 World Rank
Religious Studies
#58 World Rank
Criminal Justice
#62 World Rank
#106 World Rank
#109 World Rank
#116 World Rank
Computer Science
#129 World Rank
#130 World Rank
#136 World Rank
#155 World Rank
#157 World Rank
#157 World Rank
#165 World Rank
#166 World Rank
#172 World Rank
#179 World Rank
#193 World Rank
#205 World Rank
#210 World Rank
#217 World Rank
#297 World Rank
Social Work
#313 World Rank
Political Science
#438 World Rank

Influential People

Who are Durham University's Most influential alumni?

Durham University's most influential alumni faculty include professors and professionals in the fields of Earth Sciences, Religious Studies, and Criminal Justice. Durham University’s most academically influential people include Pat Barker, Colin Pittendrigh, and Harold Evans.

Pat Barker
Pat Barker

British writer

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Colin Pittendrigh

British/American chronobiologist

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Harold Evans
Harold Evans

American journalist

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Mary Midgley
Mary Midgley

British philosopher and ethicist

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Jeremy Vine
Jeremy Vine

English journalist and radio presenter

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Harold Jeffreys
Harold Jeffreys


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Graham Hancock
Graham Hancock

British writer and journalist

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Minette Walters
Minette Walters

British crime writer

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Cyrus Chothia
Cyrus Chothia


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Chris Higgins

British geneticist and Vice-Chancellor of Durham University

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George Alagiah
George Alagiah

British newsreader

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James Kirkup

British writer

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