Most of the area around Durham’s Cathedral and Castle are part of a UNESCO world heritage site, but these two iconic structures are not the only ones of interest. Along the green, a quaint cafe serves up delicious fruit scones with a side of history. Originally an almshouse, the building has also served as a school and a home for an extensive stuffed bird collection before its current role as restaurant.
The Bishop Cosin Almshouse was constructed in 1666 under the instruction of John Cosin, Bishop of Durham. Remarkably, the architect was John Langstafe, a Quaker who was fined by the bishop’s court for his religious beliefs at the same time he was employed by the bishop to create the building.
The almshouse housed four unmarried men and four unmarried women who could otherwise not afford a place to live. The rules were strict, even prescribing the actual prayers to be said by occupants first thing in the morning and last thing at night. The occupants had to attend the services in the cathedral and were not permitted to visit any of the city’s taverns. In addition to the almshouse, the space also featured a grammar and music school (this section of the building is now used for university classrooms).
The building continued as an almshouse until 1837 when it was handed over to the University of Durham. Until 1876, it was used for student housing and then converted to the University Museum to house its stuffed bird collection. Unfortunately, the inner walls of the almshouse were ripped out to form the museum.
The main space of the almshouse is now a fine little cafe, which allows you to have tea, sandwiches, and treats while looking out through the original stone mullioned window across the Palace Green toward the historic Palace Green Library.