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Bowburn is situated about four miles south-east of Durham City. Its history, like that of many other villages in the county, is closely linked to the coal mining industry.

Though coal was mined nearby from the 18th century or earlier, the village of Bowburn only grew, from being a small hamlet, after Bowburn Colliery began to be sunk in 1906. Today it has a population of about 5,000. The closure of the colliery, in 1967, led to massive unemployment and a general decline in community life. The village's location, close to Durham City and Junction 61 on the A1(M), has ensured its survival but has also meant significant changes. There has been investment in new housing and small businesses and further development is expected in the future, with a business park planned south of the village and the possibility of a rail freight interchange.

A regeneration project began in 2003, with the demolition of council housing and the building of housing association and private dwellings. A new park and other improvements to community facilities are planned as part of this regeneration project.