Neville’s Cross, the mutilated remains of which are now a listed ancient monument, gave its name to a battle fought here on 17 October 1346 between the army of King David of Scotland and that of Queen Philippa, wife of Edward III, who was absent at the French wars. King David had burnt Lanercost abbey, pillaged Hexham priory, and then encamped only two miles (3 km) from Durham. The Bishops of Durham and Lincoln, and the Archbishop of York, together with Lords Neville and Percy, mustered an army of 16,000 men to defend St Cuthbert’s shrine (as well as their lands), and together defeated the Scots.
The echoes of the battle of Neville’s Cross were heard for centuries afterwards. William Brockie, writing in 1886, records that a lady teaching Sunday School in Durham, and dilating on the horrors of war, heard one of her pupils observe that there had once been a great battle at Durham. ‘And where was it fought?’ she asked. ‘At Neville’s Cross,’ replied the boy. ‘I go there very often of an evening to see the place; and if you walk nine times round the Cross, and then lay your head to the turf, you’ll hear the noise of the battle and the clash of the armour.’