There is evidence of Iron Age use of the River Wear near the town, but the history of Chester-le-Street starts with the Roman fort of Concangis. This was built alongside the Roman road Cade's Road (now Front Street) and close to the River Wear, around 100 A.D., and was occupied till the Romans left Britain in 410 A.D. At the time the Wear was navigable to at least Concangis, and may also have provided food for the garrisons stationed there.
After the Romans left there is no record of who lived there (apart from some wounded soldiers from wars who had to live there), until 883 when a group of monks, driven out of Lindisfarne seven years earlier, stopped there to build a wooden shrine and church to St Cuthbert, whose body they had borne with them. While they were there the town was the centre of Christianity for much of the northeast, because it was the seat of the Bishop of Lindisfarne, making the church a cathedral. There the monks translated into English the Lindisfarne Gospels, which they had brought with them. They stayed for 112 years, leaving in 995 for the safer and more permanent home at Durham. The title has been revived as the Roman Catholic titular see of Cuncacestre.
The church was rebuilt in stone in 1054, and despite the loss of its bishopric seems to have retained a degree of wealth and influence. In 1080 most of the huts in the town were burned and many people killed in retaliation for the death of William Walcher, the first prince-bishop, at the hands of an English mob. After this devastation wrought by the Normans the region was left out of the Domesday Book; there was little left to record, and the region was by then being run from Durham by the prince-bishops so held little interest for London.
Cade's Road did not fall out of use but was hidden beneath later roads which became the Great North Road, the main route from London and the south to Newcastle and Edinburgh. The town's location on the road played a significant role in its development, as well as its name, as inns sprang up to cater for the travelling trade: both riders and horses needed to rest on journeys usually taking days to complete. This trade reached a peak in the early 19th century as more and more people and new mail services were carried by stagecoach, before falling off with the coming of the railways. The town was bypassed when the A167 was routed around the town, and this was later supplanted by the faster A1(M).
The coal industry also left its mark on the town. From the late 17th century onwards coal was dug in increasing quantities in the region. Mining was centred around the rivers, for transportation by sea to other parts of the country, and Chester-le-Street was at the centre of the coal being dug and shipped away down the Wear, so a centre of coal related communication and commerce. At the same time the growth of the mines and the influx of miners supported local businesses, not just the many inns but new shops and services, themselves bringing in more people to work in them. These people would later work in new industries established in the town to take advantage of its good communications and access to raw materials.
One of the most tragic episodes in the town's history and that of the coal industry in NE England occurred during a miners' strike during the winter of 1811/12. Collieries owned by the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral were brought to a standstill by the strike, causing much hardship amongst the people of the town. The strike was broken on New Year's Day, 1 January 1812, when the Bishop of Durham, Shute Barrington, sent a detachment of troops from Durham Castle to force a return to work. It is thought that this uncharacteristic act by Barrington was due to pressure from the national government in Westminster who were concerned that the strike was affecting industrial output of essential armaments for the Napoleonic Wars.
The Jarrow March
On the evening of 5 October 1936 the Jarrow Marchers stopped at the town centre after their first day's walk. The church hall was used to house them before they continued onward the following day.