Urpeth started its life as a coal mining area with multiple seams of coal being mined from various locations around the current housing estate. Urpeth Colliery was owned by the Birtley Iron Company and during its heyday employed 300 men and boys. The onsite coke ovens produced up to 470 tons of coke each day.
Urpeth was originally a township in the ancient parish of Chester le Street, Durham. It became a separate civil parish in 1866. From 1894 it was part of Chester le Street Rural District. Between 1974 and 2009 it became part of the larger Derwentside District non-metropolitan district. Since 2009 County Durham has been a unitary authority.