Deputy Features Editor
As a student body, we hear plenty about Durham University’s most famous alumni (looking at you, former Editor of Palatinate and all-round Durham icon, Jeremy Vine), but we don’t know a lot about people who have called Durham home from birth or in childhood. So, after scouring the internet– and avoiding a page listing famous people from Durham, North Carolina, USA – I present a list of people who were born or spent their formative years in this fair city or elsewhere in County Durham. They vary from the well-known to those names lost to history, but at any rate, they might come into good use at your next college pub quiz or, you know, when you inevitably try out for University Challenge and the starter for ten is on former choirboys of Durham Cathedral.
At any rate, they might come into good use at your next college pub quiz
Born at Raby Castle in 1415, Cecily was Duchess of York and mother to not one, but two Kings of England, Edward IV and Richard III. She was known as the Rose of Raby, as well as Proud Cis based on her fierce temper. She died at the age of eighty, which is pretty impressive for the fifteenth century. As grandmother of Henry VII’s wife Elizabeth, all English monarchs since Henry VIII have been descendants of Cecily Neville.
Allegedly born on the Bailey in 1776, Porter is now known as one of the first English historical novelists ever, as author of The Scottish Chiefs (1810), a story about William Wallace which remains popular in Scotland today. She also wrote a number of plays and short articles about historical figures. She is not to be confused with the character in Tarzan.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Born in Kelloe, County Durham in 1806, Barrett Browning was an English Romantic poet and remains as significant an influence today as she was during her lifetime. She wrote poetry from the age of six and has one of largest collections of juvenilia (work written in her youth) of any English writer, leaving plenty for those of us struggling to write our summatives with food for thought.
Born in Kelloe, County Durham in 1806, Barrett Browning was an English Romantic poet and remains as significant an influence today as she was during her lifetime.
Now a largely neglected literary name, Walpole was a best-selling author of the 1920s and 1930s. Originally born in New Zealand, in 1897 his father was appointed principal of what was then Bede College, Durham, and thus he was enrolled at Durham School. Though not a fan of his time as a pupil, the city of Durham had a huge impact on Walpole and he drew on aspects of it for his fictional cathedral city of Polchester.
One half of comedy duo Laurel and Hardy, he was born Arthur Stanley Jefferson in Lancashire, but went to school in Bishop Auckland, County Durham, before becoming a success on the big screen in the states. As if a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame wasn’t enough, Laurel also has a statue on the site of the Eden Theatre in County Durham, which his parents used to own. A film about his life with Hardy, Stan and Ollie, was released at the start of this year.
The son of a Durham alumnus and lecturer, Blair attended the Chorister School here in the early 1960s and was a choirboy in the Cathedral. In his political career, he became MP for Sedgefield, County Durham.
Tony Blair attended the Chorister School here in the early 1960s and was a choirboy in the Cathedral.
Born in Consett, County Durham, the star of Blackadder and Mr Bean was also educated at the Chorister School before keeping it local and attending Newcastle University.
Another Durham schoolboy, Armstrong attended Durham School on a music scholarship. He has said he was ‘unlike everyone else’ at school, and was ‘quite mercilessly teased for being posh’ based on his accent, even though he was the son of a GP at a public school dominated by offspring of wealthy industrialists.
Born in Durham in 1988, Houghton has been captain of the England women’s football team (currently third in the FIFA rankings) since 2014. Prior to that, she first came to prominence in the London Olympics, scoring three goals for England. In 2016, Houghton was appointed an MBE in the New Years’ Honours for services to football.
Born in Durham in 1988, Steph Houghton has been captain of the England women’s football team.
Lost Voice Guy
Also from Consett, Lee Ridley has been active as a comedian since 2012, but was his victory in Britain’s Got Talent last year that has made his name. Prior to this, he won the BBC Radio New Comedy Award in 2014, joining the ranks of Alan Carr and Marcus Brigstocke. Unable to speak, he is the first British stand-up to use a communication aid in his act.
Photograph by Kleopatra Olympiou