Executive Summary


Aims of the Current Management Plan

The WHS Management Plan for Durham was first published in 2006. This plan is the first review and will run for six years from 2016 to 2021. It builds upon the objectives and actions set out in the preceding plan. The successful delivery of the plan depends on all partners working together to achieve the management objectives and actions.

The Cathedral Chapter and Durham University are the two key landowners and managers of the historic estates on the WHS, while Durham County Council (DCC) is responsible for the public highway and much of public realm. The site is managed at a strategic level by the WHS Co-ordinating Committee.

The management plan for the Durham Castle and Cathedral World Heritage Site (Durham WHS) is a plan for all those with an interest in and responsibility for managing the World Heritage Site. The UNESCO Operational Guidelines for the Implementation of the World Heritage Convention state that “each nominated property should have an appropriate management plan or other documented management system which must specify how the outstanding universal value (OUV) of a property should be preserved, preferably through participatory means”. UK Government policy aims to ensure a management plan is in place for all UK World Heritage Sites.

The purpose of this plan is to:

  • Set out what is special about Durham WHS;
  • Identify key issues affecting the WHS;
  • Set out a long-term vision, objectives and action plan for the site to ensure the maintenance of its OUV for present and future generations

Figure i: Immediate Setting of Durham World Heritage Site


Durham World Heritage Site’s Statement of Outstanding Universal Value (SOUV)

An updated SOUV was ratified by UNESCO in June 2013:

Durham Cathedral was built between the late 11th and early 12th century to house the bodies of St. Cuthbert (634-687 AD) (the evangeliser of Northumbria) and the Venerable Bede (672/3-735 AD). It attests to the importance of the early Benedictine monastic community and is the largest and finest example of Norman architecture in England. The innovative audacity of its vaulting foreshadowed Gothic architecture. The Cathedral lies within the precinct of Durham Castle, first constructed in the late eleventh century under the orders of William the Conqueror. 

The Castle was the stronghold and residence of the Prince-Bishops of Durham, who were given virtual autonomy in return for protecting the northern boundaries of England, and thus held both religious and secular power.

Within the Castle precinct are later buildings of the Durham Palatinate, reflecting the Prince-Bishops’ civic responsibilities and privileges. These include the Bishop’s Court (now a library), almshouses, and schools. Palace Green, a large open space  connecting the various buildings of the site once provided the Prince Bishops with a venue for processions and gatherings befitting their status, and is now still a forum for public events. 

The Cathedral and Castle are located on a peninsula formed by a bend in the River Wear with steep river banks constituting a natural line of defence. These were essential both for the community of  St. Cuthbert, who came to Durham in the tenth century in search of a safe base (having suffered periodic Viking raids over the course of several centuries), and for the Prince-Bishops of Durham, protectors of the turbulent English frontier. 

The site is significant because of:

  • Its exceptional architecture demonstrating architectural innovation, the visual drama of the Cathedral and Castle on the peninsula and the associations with notions of romantic beauty;
  • The physical expression of the spiritual and secular powers of the medieval Bishops Palatine that the defended complex provides;
  • The relics and material culture of three saints, (Cuthbert, Bede, and Oswald) buried at the site;
  • The continuity of use and ownership over the past 1000 years as a place of religious worship, learning, and residence;
  • Its role as a political statement of Norman power imposed upon a subjugate nation, as one of the country's most powerful symbols of the Norman Conquest of Britain;
  • The importance of its archaeological remains, which are directly related to its history and continuity of use over the past 1000 years;
  • The cultural and religious traditions and historical memories associated with the relics of St Cuthbert and the Venerable Bede and with the continuity of use and ownership over the past millennium.


Figure ii : English Christian musical tradition

The intangible qualities of Durham WHS are as significant as the tangible in making it what it has been in the past and is today. This intangible heritage is to continue to be valued and held in trust by all who inhabit and have responsibility for the WHS and will be actively conserved, enhanced and passed on to future generations. The Plan aims to preserve and foster the intangible values of the site. It recognises the importance of openness to new ideas and activities while safeguarding the site’s traditions. It identifies the importance of actively engaging the local community and ensuring that more people are aware of the site and its value, of providing more training opportunities to help build the capacity of local residents as much as possible, of encouraging research, both academic and non -academic. It recognises the value of fostering the sense of community and belonging, and benefiting from the vitality and creativity of the student community in particular. The main current challenges identified in this section are the underestimation of the value of the link between modern institutions and Durham’s history (the shifting focus of the University Music Department away from the tradition of English music, and the move of the University’s law school from the former Bishop’s Court building to new premises off the peninsula being cases in point).

The key intangible values identified are:

  • The importance of the Northern Saints, the presence of the two shrines, and the tradition of pilgrimage to Durham;
  • The Site’s origins and continued use as a place of Christian spirituality and sacredness;
  • The tradition of community outreach, and the notion that Durham Cathedral has always been a place of welcome as expressed in the Rule of St Benedict;
  • The site’s historic associations with sanctuary and the modern day role of the Cathedral as a place of spiritual refuge, reconciliation, and remembrance;
  • The English Christian musical tradition of the site;
  • The long tradition of education and its manifestation in the existence of Durham University, the Chorister School, Durham School, and the educational outreach offered by Durham University and Durham Cathedral;
  • The social traditions associated with the University and its colleges which are specifically linked to the site, its buildings, and their history;
  • The civic functions of the Castle, and its role as a symbol of political power;
  • The site’s collections and their importance as records of the site’s history and its values across the ages;
  • Skills and trades related to the history of the site, kept alive by the continued maintenance of its buildings, furnishings, and collections;
  • The creative opportunities the site has always offered in terms of the commissioning and creation of new works of art, crafts, literature and music;
  • The value of the site as a cornerstone of community identity;
  • The site’s tradition of innovation and the drive to excel;
  • The meanings the site carries for people as a place of memory-making.


It is an action of the previous management plan and other reviews that the issues of a buffer zone and definition of the inner/outer settings are dealt with.  Although the WHS area was expanded in 2008 in line with the 2006 Management Plan recommendation, reviews consistently make reference to the potential for further expansion to capture the full extents of the area that supports the OUV.  These have been reviewed based on the additional attributes and extended understanding of significance explored in the management plan.

The underlying approach is to support constructive conservation through understanding the significance of the site and the contribution made by the setting.

The conclusions reached are:

  • That the current WHS boundary does not include all of the defences, river and river gorge that capture the Site’s OUV;
  • WHS expansion should be put to the DCMS and UNESCO but not applied for should it mean that a full WHS re-application would be required;
  • That a buffer zone is not required provided there is adequate recognition and methodology to assess any impact by proposed development upon inner and outer settings ;
  • That an inner setting is described to make clear its significance ;
  • That the outer setting is broadly described and its contribution to significance made clear;
  • To make clear the townscape and landscape defining elements that support the understanding of significance within the WHS, the inner setting and in the outer setting.

Figure iii: The WHS Setting


Figure iv: Visitors entering the WHS via Owengate

The Site and Its Audiences

Durham World Heritage Site has a particularly wide ranging set of audiences, because it has been in continuous use for over 1000 years by religious and learning communities and as a destination for visitors, from pilgrims to tourists, for a similar period.  The World Heritage Site consists of a world-renowned set of buildings, however, the associations of ‘Durham’ with Durham Cathedral, Castle and University still supersede the public’s association with Durham as being a World Heritage Site.  The Durham World Heritage Site Visitor Centre is a space that is dedicated to and holds many of the new resources that explain and communicate Durham’s World Heritage Site to visitors, supported by the World Heritage website:


Figure v: The WHS on Castle Day (Malcolm Tucker )

Audience Development

The focus of the WHS audience development plan is to develop new audiences and better satisfy existing audiences that are not resident on the site but ‘visit’ it for a range of purposes. Although resident audiences are not the focus of the plan, it is hoped that with its emphasis on audiences in the broadest possible terms, it will also enhance their experience and understanding of the site. The plan is designed principally to help Durham’s World Heritage Site increase the number of people who know about, understand and appreciate its significance. Audience development is concerned with both how many and what types of people are engaging with the site and the depth of their knowledge and understanding of the site .

The WHS Audience Development Plan is based on a set of assumptions:

  • That audience development encompasses increased awareness, understanding and appreciation of Durham’s World Heritage Site among new and existing audiences;
  • That tourists, academics, educators, young  people and the faith community are the main ‘visiting’ audiences that need to be addressed;
  • That increasing visitor numbers and diversity is desirable;
  • In common with other World Heritage Sites, it is not the designation itself that attracts people to visit but what the site actually encompasses;
  • That World Heritage Status is one of three identities that relate to the site. Durham Cathedral and Durham University are the other two and all three must coexist in balance;
  • That dedicated resources, human and financial, to develop the World Heritage Site’s audiences are not going to materialise and therefore delivery of this plan depends on the good will of the owning institutions and other relevant partners .


Research Framework Objectives

The Durham World Heritage Site Research Framework has two primary objectives:

  • To place academic research at the core of future management, conservation, interpretation and investigation of the Durham World Heritage Site;
  • To explore and prioritise key avenues for further work, presenting a strategy through which this research can be taken forward.

The need for a more structured approach to the management of World Heritage Site has arisen out of two parallel developments in the ecology of the UK heritage sector: firstly, the changes in the planning system over the last generation and secondly shifting perspectives about the management of World Heritage Sites

Scope of the Research Framework

Chronological Remit:

The Cathedral, which is believed to be the first major structure on the peninsula, is of late Anglo-Saxon date and its establishment marks a realistic terminus post quem for the emergence of city, although the extent and nature of earlier activity in and around the Peninsula is a valid question. At the other end of the timeline, it is important to bring an understanding of the WHS up to date rather than impose an arbitrary cut-off. The way in which modern groups and individuals engage and interact with the site is recognised as being a key part of the way in which the WHS functions as an entity.

Figure vi: The South West Prospect of the City of Durham by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck, 1745 (Durham City Library)

Spatial Boundaries:

The Framework covers all the remains within the current World Heritage Site boundary, essentially the Castle, Cathedral and the area in between (Palace Green). An area under WHS boundary review and forming part of the immediate setting

to the WHS to the east of South and North Bailey and the riverbanks on the north side of the Wear is also considered. Also, a consideration of the wider immediate local, regional, national and international context of the site will be a part of the Research Agenda and Strategy elements of the Research Framework.

Beyond the physical landscape:

The Cathedral, Palace Green Library and the Castle all house important collections of artefacts and major archives, with much here that has the potential to shed light on the physical nature of the WHS. Moving beyond the purely physical, there are collections that comprise and record the wider, intangible elements of culture that are so important to Durham. Consideration and engagement with appropriate formats and methodologies for developing this kind of research framework which tackles this material will be a high priority for future iterations of the framework.


The extent, complexity and significance of the historic environment within the WHS and the different uses, ownership and management and maintenance regimes demand the implementation of a conservation management infrastructure with both local and centralised accountability and clear lines of communication. Day-to-day decisions regarding the repair and conservation of the fabric of the WHS will rely on the unique circumstances of each situation. At the same time, it is essential that an overarching conservation philosophy exists for the WHS in order to develop consistency of care, expectation and aspiration across the multiple ownerships during programmes of repair.

The WHS is a place of scholarship, worship, pilgrimage, residence, work and a popular visitor destination.  As the usage of the WHS continues to intensify, there is an increasing necessity to balance this with the need for conservation and. there is also recognition of the need for ‘downtime’ for planned maintenance, conservation and redecoration. Through sensitivity in new interventions, the potential conflict between the need for modern facilities and those of the historic fabric can be balanced.

Access to and around the WHS is generally limited, with parking mainly restricted to disabled parking permit holders and a Cathedral Bus which transports visitors to Palace Green.

Figure vii: The Durham Cathedral Bus

Figure viii: Durham Cathedral stonemason at work

Figure ix: Archaeological excavations in the Cathedral Great Kitchen (J. Attle)

Figure x: New lighting scheme

Figure xi: Stone for building repairs on the WHS

With only a single road on and off the Peninsula the stakeholders are endeavouring to reduce vehicular traffic.  Many of the entrances to the historic buildings lack level access and once inside there are often marked changes of level and constraints imposed by the historic fabric. These are a challenge when considering the installation of lifts and internal ramps.

Both the senior management teams at the University and Cathedral have made significant advances in their planned maintenance regimes by investing in suitably qualified staff to quantify properly the scope of works necessary over a 20-year period. Specialist craftsmen are available within the in-house teams at the Cathedral and the University.

The historic collections form an extremely valuable complement to the architectural heritage of the site. Significant investment has recently been undertaken to improve access and interpretation to these. With the refurbishment of Palace Green Library and the Cathedral’s Open Treasure Project, the WHS will be in a very strong position to offer a top-rate experience of heritage buildings and collections.

Below-ground remains in the WHS are a critical resource, vulnerable to physical loss and deterioration. Methods must be in place to safeguard the fabric and any interventions must be carefully considered, with records uploaded to the Historic Environment Database.

There is increasing understanding of the historic development of the WHS. However, gaps in understanding remain, due in part, to the accrual of a piecemeal and complicated archive of information which requires consolidation.

The green spaces are well maintained, however some have become increasingly unmanaged and overgrown and arguably restrict key views.

The exterior of the WHS benefits from relighting associated with Durham’s ‘Strategy for Lighting and Darkness’. However, appropriateness of lighting is an issue inside many of the buildings.

Advice on an appropriate palette of materials for use in the WHS should form part of the education materials readily available for landowners and managers. Repair and conservation work on the WHS should be of the highest achievable standard and should be informed by understanding to ensure that the significance of the heritage assets is protected and enhanced in the event of intervention. Work should be specified by suitably accredited conservation professionals and undertaken by equally qualified and experienced craft and tradespeople.

The combination of WHS status with the numerous statutory designations across the site means that alteration and development is controlled in and around the peninsula. Nevertheless, there is still scope for sensitive change that is thoughtfully informed by, and does not detract from, the OUV of the site and its deeper heritage values.