A historic building designed as a shelter for the needy is to close after more than 300 years.

Bishop Cosin's Almshouses, in the shadow of Durham Cathedral, provides accommodation for the poor and elderly.

But the trust that runs the accommodation block cannot afford its upkeep.

In 1668, Bishop Cosins established the almshouses on Palace Green to accomodate up to eight people from the Brancepeth and Durham areas. But after the establishment of Durham University in 1832, the almshouses became needed as lecture rooms.

In 1860, new almshouses were built in Owengate.

Over the centuries, the building has been run by trustees, aided by an original endowment.

But the trustees can find few tenants for the rooms and are running out of money to carry out renovations, which are needed to bring rooms up to modern day standards.

There are currently three men and three women living in the almshouses and chairman of the trustees Tony Richmond yesterday gave an assurance that they would all be rehoused in suitable accommodation.

The trustees, who now have less than £100,000, are in discussions with Durham City Council, The Aged Miners' Homes Association and Sherburn Hospital to ensure that the current tenants are given an option on where they would like to move to.

"Each will be given removal expenses and a generous disturbance allowance, depending on the length of their tenancy," said Mr Richmond.

He said the trustees were saddened that the almshouses, on the approach to Durham Cathedral, would have to close.

He added: "Even if we could refurbish them there would be no money left to cover maintenance and running costs.''

But he said it would be some time before the buildings were closed, at which point they would revert to the ownership of Durham University.

Some of the money left over will go in part to help other almshouses in the region.

The trustees are also in discussions over the possibility of constructing a couple of houses for charitable purposes.