Robert Blair Papers

Scope and Content

A miscellaneous collection of material relating chiefly to the history and antiquities of a number of churches, parishes and places in Co. Durham, the names of which all fall within the alphabetical range C-H, although the present somewhatjumbled arrangement obscures this fact. The chief places covered are: Claxton Grange estate (including plan, 1911), Dalton-le- Dale, Darlington, Easington, Edmundbyers, Egglescliffe, Eggleston, Elemore Hall, Elton, Elwick, Elwick Hall, Escomb, Eshalias Ash, Felling, Ferryhill, Finchale Priory, Friarside, Frosterley, Gainford, Greatham, Grindon and West Hartburn. There is also a little material relating to Hexham and Hexhamshire in Northumberland (item 33) and a few items concerning topics orindividuals with names or surnames in the same alphabetical range as above. Much of the material concerns the history of church buildings, plate and bells as well as churchyards but there are also items of archaeological and general historical andantiquarian interest. Most of it appears to have been amassed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in preparation for meetings and publications of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne. It is very similar to the material which Blairappears to have had bound in the series of volumes entitled Archaeologia described under Related units below.

Miss Flagg, who arranged for the presentation of this material to the University of Durham, said that she had selected for transfer to Durham those items which were of County Durham interest from a vast number of samples of typography which she had been helping the reference staff at the South Shields Library to sort. The items now in Durham University Library were clearly originally part of a much larger group of papers, some ofwhich were not identified at South Shields Library after its move in 1964 until 2016.

The contents of the present accumulation include: manuscript historical notes and transcripts in various hands; proofs of texts and illustrations (e.g. of inscriptions and of church buildings and plans) for church etc. histories, many of thempublished by the Society in the 1880s and 1890s; some correspondence and papers of Robert Blair, chiefly concerning Society business and much of it reused for draft notes etc.; newspaper cuttings on local history or biographical topics and rubbingsof inscriptions, many of them mounted, sometimes on the aforementioned proofs; and a few miscellaneous items, including lists of incumbents and genealogical notes. Most date from the 19th and early 20th centuries but many refer to earlierperiods.

Also in the collection are a few 19th and early 20th-century printed notices and handbills, including (39) a play-bill for Thorne's Theatre, Tynemouth, Northumberland, 1839.

Administrative / Biographical History

Apparently part of a collection of archaeological and antiquarian papers accumulated by Robert Blair (1845-1923), a solicitor of South Shields, Co. Durham, chiefly through his involvement with the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle uponTyne.

Robert Blair's chief interests were in archaeology and local history, with especial reference to the Roman antiquities, numismatics, church buildings and churchyards of the North-East of England. Elected as a member of the Society of Antiquariesof Newcastle upon Tyne in 1874, he served as its secretary from 1883-1923 and editor from 1884-1923, reviving its meetings and editing 54 volumes of its regular publications (34 volumes of Archaeologia Aeliana and 20 volumes of its Proceedings), as well as himself contributing many papers, notes and illustrations to these volumes, oftenanonymously. He also edited and revised the 4th to 8th editions [1895-1921] of J. Collingwood Bruce's The Hand-book to the Roman Wall.

In 1877 Blair was elected a member of the Surtees Society and in ca.1890 he was appointed to the committee set up to further work on a proposed new history of Northumberland. He was appointed a corresponding member of the German ArchaeologicalInstitute in 1879 and the Academie Royale D'Archeologie de Belgique in 1920. His achievements were further recognised by his election as a fellow of the Society of Antiquaries of London in 1884 and the conferment on him of an honorary degree ofMaster of Arts by the University of Durham in 1922.


Most of the material appears to have been originally arranged alphabetically, chiefly bychurch or parish but also occasionally by person or topic, with some of it in folders, but related items are now sometimes separated and out of order and theitems and folders are not at present arranged strictly alphabetically.

Access Information

Open for consultation.

Acquisition Information

Donated to the Department of Palaeography and Diplomatic of the University of Durham (from 1990 part of the Archives and Special Collections department of Durham University Library) on 19 February 1964 by the South Shields Borough Librarianthrough Miss Amy Flagg, an amateur historian and a consultant member of the South Shields Public Library Committee.

Other Finding Aids

Online catalogue available at online catalogue. This lists items in their present order. The typescript version (1975) includes a combined index of persons, places and somesubjects.

Separated Material

Museum of Antiquities, Newcastle upon Tyne (joint museum of the University of Newcastle and the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne): collection of archaeological material from the estate of Robert Blair, chiefly from South ShieldsRoman fort.

Northumberland Record Office: ZAN M17/30 3rd edition of J. Collingwood Bruce's The Hand-book to the Roman Wall, with MS additions and corrections by Blair in preparation for the 4th edition which he produced.

Northumberland Record Office: ZAN M18/47-74 27 quarto volumes of topographical sketches by Blair, 1877-1913, with an index volume; according to Blair's obituary (see below), p.202, these were given to the Library of the Newcastle Society ofAntiquaries by Blair's family after his death.

South Shields Library holds one book compiled by Blair of material relating to the excavation of the Roman Station at the Lawe, South Shields, c.1874-1875.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Sub-Librarian, Special Collections (e-mail and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. The Library will assistwhere possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Custodial History

Robert Blair died intestate but some of his papers were given to South Shields Public Library after his death by members of his family; the below-mentioned Oxberry obituary refers to material donated by the family to the Library of the Society ofAntiquaries of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Related Material

The University Library's printed book collections include 9 volumes (numbered 1, 3-5, 7, 12- 14, 17) from a collection of pamphlets and cuttings on archaeological and historical topics, with some manuscript drawings and letters interspersed,bound up for Robert Blair with the binding title Archaeologia. All the volumes have his inscription, and many of the pamphlets are presentation copies to him. The manuscript material consists of drawings by him (in vols 3, 7 and 14) and lettersfrom William Beaumont (1 in vol. 5), J. Collingwood Bruce (1 in vol. 3), E. Hübner (2 in vol. 4), John R. Ord (1 in vol. 1), John E. Price (1 in vol. 4), C. Roach Smith (1 in each of vols 3-5), and A.P. Stanley (1 in vol. 3)


Blair, Dorothy O.S., Robert Blair, M.A., F.S.A., South Shields Archaeological andHistorical Society Papers, vol. 1, no. 6 (1958), 4-6  Oxberry, John, Robert Blair, M.A., F.S.A. An obituary notice, Archaeologia Aeliana, 3rd ser., vol. XX (1923),187-204