This Map dates from 1820
The Parish of St Mary the Less has long been one of the smallest in England. Records show that, for most of its history, it covered only four acres. The historical parish occupies the space between the parishes of St Mary-le-Bow, the College and that of St Oswald's (see map opposite).
The rich families who have left their mark in the beautiful 17th and 18th century buildings of the Bailey, only began to move into this street in the 1630s. It seems that the street wasn't fashionable before this date. Certainly the jail would have made living on the North Bailey disruptive at times! Knights connected to the Castle were stationed here to defend the peninsula from Scottish attack: Robert the Bruce invaded Durham itself in 1312. Stonemasons and artisans connected to the Cathedral would probably also have lived on this street at this time.
Durham's Bishops had the status of Princes. One privilege Durham residents gained from this was to be tried for crimes in Durham Castle, rather than at the court of the Monarch in London. The Bishops built the Jails, and the Bishops passed the sentences to fill them. The Bailey was largely built by the Bishops of Durham: Ralph Flambard had the city walls extended, and Bishop Pudsey ordered the wall to connect the North Gate of the Bailey to Watergate at the very end of South Bailey. In 1424 the North Gateway (the bottom of present-day Owengate) was converted into a jail by Cardinal Langley.
After the battle of Neville's Cross in 1346, the threat of invasion from Scotland subsided. The town houses are built to look onto the gardens and river, with the servants quarters and stables being what you can see from the street. Much of the medieval street plan remains, although the houses themselves have been re-fronted and developed.
This map shows the boundaries of the parish as they stood for many years. Perhaps there were settlements on the present day river bank to account for the unusual shape.
The parishes of St Mary the Less and St Mary le Bow were united in 1918 and St Mary the Less was given to St Johns College in 1927. St Mary le Bow is now Durham Heritage Centre.
The parish also includes a small spot, across the Wear, surrounded by the Parish of St Oswald's. A Map from 1610 shows a cross here, at the junction of present day Church Street and Quarryheads Lane. Charles', Parson's or Pearsby's Cross is linked with two others: Phillipsons Cross at the site of the present Whinney Hill Roundabout and High Cross, near Shincliffe Bridge.
The crosses may have served as sanctuaries where food was left for the poor of Durham in times of plague such as 1334-1354. The extant Phillipsons' and Charley's crosses probably date from the early 1500s.
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