A Short History Of Durham House, London

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When we made this website, we had a clear idea in our minds. We wanted to start our own home and lifestyle blog and touch on something that had a little bit of prestige to it. So we looked up existing expired domains, found one that was for a holiday resort that closed down, and thought “this one sounds good”. Little did we know at the time that Durham house – the real Durham house – was a landmine of royal British history.

The First 50 Years

Durham House, formerly the Durham Inn, was built by the Bishop of Durham in 1345. Thomas Hatfield, the bishop in question, had been elected to the office only a few weeks prior to the construction of the magnificent estate and in many ways, it was a tribute to his own grandeur. The episcopal palace was centred around a large interior chapel and private apartments that could be rented out at the bishop’s whim and overlooked the river Thames. The gardens stretched out more than 200 metres down to the river, gardens that occupied the space now part of the Victoria Embankment Gardens.

A Royal Property 1500-1600

Initially, the building had no connection with royalty. Its first royal visit was in the early 1400s when King Henry IV and his son Henry, Prince of Wales (later Henry V), stayed at the residence alongside their retinues. But in the 1500s it became the heart of royal strife and marital controversy. Between 1502 and 1509 Catherine of Aragon lived there as a virtual prisoner, her only source of free expression being to act as the Spanish ambassador to England – the first female ambassador in European history. Shortly thereafter it passed into the hands of sir Thomas Woolsey, and later in 1530 to the new Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall. The impact that this residence had on monarchs must have been notable as in 1536 shortly after it passed into the hands of the new bishop, King Henry VIII compelled him to trade the property to him. The offer was Durham House for Coldharbour in Dowgate Ward. The bishop upheld his end of the bargain, but Henry did not, and shortly thereafter he housed that house to conduct his affair with Anne Boelyn before ridding himself of the property by officially bestowing it upon his daughter Elizabeth.

Bishop Cuthbert Tunstall would eventually see the property returned to him twenty years later, but only after two changes in regimes, the dissolving of the entire Durham bishopric and then its re-establishment in 1554, and only after the marriage of Lady Jane Grey in that same house in 1553. However, it was not to last. Upon her accession in 1559, Elizabeth retook possession of Durham House, and eventually in 1583 granted it to her favourite British explorer and statesman Sir Walter Raleigh. Raleigh spent £2,000 on repairs and lived there until Elizabeth’s death.

Post Royal Decline

Over the next few hundred years, the property fell into decline. It ceased to be a primary residence for homeowners, occasionally being leased out to others, and in 1649 it was almost demolished to pave way for a new home. Finally, in the 1700s, the building fell into ruins and was finally demolished in the 1760s. Its presence can still be felt on Durham House Street, named after its former grand palace, and the Adelphi Buildings built upon its ruins.

The holiday home in Australia we acquired the domain from was named after this prestigious place, and now that the domain is ours we honestly couldn’t be happier. A little slice of domestic history for our little corner of domestic life.

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