Records of the Archdeaconry of Nottingham, 1556-1942

Scope and Content

The archive constitutes an enormously rich historical resource, its evidence relevant not only within the primary context of ecclesiastical court history but touching also on many issues of local church estates and property, parish and community concerns, family structure and individual lives.

During the most active period of the Archdeaconry court, from the 16th to the end of the 18th century, ordinary people were subject to its control and influence in a number of ways. Up to the mid-17th century, people were brought before the court for a wide variety of offences, including religious dissent, non-payment of church dues, disorderly behaviour in church precincts and superstitious practices. By the mid-18th century, the court's attention was most focused on the problem of illegitimate births. Offenders brought before the summary jurisdiction of the court could be asked to perform a penance, and could be excommunicated for non-compliance. Parishioners also appeared in more complex Instance causes, which were argued by proctors, or ecclesiastical lawyers, through the means of libels and other written pleadings. Instance causes were most commonly concerned with allegations of defamation, non-payment of tithes and other church duties, and non-payment of legacies. The Archdeaconry court appears to have ceased functioning in 1796.

Ordinary people also appear in the Archdeaconry records in connection with marriage. Although most couples were married after the calling of banns in their parishes, and can be traced through parish records in Nottinghamshire Archives Office, a significant minority were married by licence granted from the Archdeaconry court.

Several series in the archive provide information on the careers of beneficed clergymen, and the work of parish churchwardens who were elected each year. The Archdeaconry administration also sought to ensure that parish churches were in good repair and had the required fittings, furnishings and religious artefacts.

There are twenty series of records covering all areas of the work and administration of the Archdeaconry. Act Books, the principal records of the ecclesiastical court, are present (1565-1926), supplemented by churchwardens' presentment bills (mostly 1587-1756), penances (1590-1794), records of excommunications (1573-1792), citations (1590-1769), and libels and other cause papers (c.1560-1791). Records of visitations (1580-90, 1755-1865) and parochial visitations (1718-1736) also feature. Administrative records include account books (1603-1855) and lists of clergy (1660-1864). The marriage bonds (1594-1884) constitute a lengthy and heavily used series, supplementing the parish records with significant details about the couples in question.

Fuller details are given under the entries for each specific series.

The majority of documents dated before 1733 are in Latin.

Administrative / Biographical History

The old Archdeaconry of Nottingham was a jurisdiction of considerable extent within the diocese of York. It comprised almost the whole of the county of Nottingham, and was divided into the four deaneries of Nottingham, Newark, Bingham and Retford. The Peculiar of Southwell was excluded, as were a few parishes that answered directly to the Dean and Chapter of York, and a few, such as Kinoulton, which were Peculiar jurisdictions of their own. Nottingham had its own Registrar, and one of the key reasons for the power of the Archdeaconry lay in its distance from its superior court at York.

This structure lasted well into the nineteenth century. In 1837 the Archdeaconry was transferred to the see of Lincoln, a change made the greater by the consequent transfer to the southern province. In 1841 the parishes which were formerly part of Peculiar jurisdictions were incorporated into the Archdeaconry, and the following year the number of deaneries was increased to five. Further changes followed with the creation in 1884 of the see of Southwell, which combined the counties of Nottingham and Derby. After the formation of the diocese of Derby in 1927, Southwell reverted to the northern province.

The historic Archdeaconry of Nottingham ceased to exist in 1913, when two new Archdeaconries were formed, the Archdeaconry of Nottingham, which now covered the southern part of the county, and the Archdeaconry of Newark, covering the north. The number of deaneries was also greatly increased at this time. A small number of records from the new Archdeaconry of Nottingham, which are continuations of pre-existing series, survive in this collection, but the bulk of the archive predates the changes of the 20th century.


The archive is divided into twenty groupings according to form of material (e.g. Act Books, Marriage Bonds). Material is listed chronologically within series, and many series are made up of bundles of documents.

Until 1752, the Julian Calendar operated in England and the year began on 25th March. In 1752 the Gregorian Calendar (used in Europe since 1582) was adopted and the year began on 1st January. Documents in the Archdeaconry archive which were produced regularly throughout the year, such as marriage bonds, were normally grouped into year bundles using the Julian calendar, so that the bundles tend to begin on 25th March and end on 24th March. Other series were arranged or bundled by court session. The court did not sit regularly throughout the year, so there may be gaps where no records were produced.

Access Information

Material in good physical condition is accessible to all registered readers, but many series and documents in this archive have suffered extensive damage. Where conservation has not yet been possible, access may be restricted. To avoid disappointment, readers are strongly urged to give advance notice of visits and to specify which documents they would like to consult, so that staff can advise them of any restrictions.

Other Finding Aids

Copyright in all Finding Aids belongs to the University of Nottingham.

In the Reading Room, King's Meadow Campus:

- Typescript Catalogue, supplemented by appendices expanding on various aspects of the history and administration of the Archdeaconry of Nottingham

At the National Register of Archives, London:

- Typescript Catalogue, 52 pp

On the World Wide Web:

- Catalogue of Records of the Archdeaconry of Nottingham, searchable through the Manuscripts Online Catalogue. The Presentment Bills (AN/PB), Libels (AN/LB) and Miscellaneous (AN/M) series are the series which have been catalogued in the most detail.

- Over 50,000 index entries from the Marriage Bonds and Presentment Bills series, searchable through the Archdeaconry Indexing section of the Manuscripts Online Catalogue.

- Special Projects page for the Archdeaconry of Nottingham Presentment Bills project, giving the background to the Heritage Lottery funded conservation and cataloguing programme, 2002-2004.

- 'Archdeaconry Resources' pages created by Manuscripts and Special Collections staff as part of the research work associated with the Presentment Bills project, expanding on various aspects of the history and administration of the Archdeaconry of Nottingham.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies and photographic copies can be supplied for educational use and private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents.

Identification of copyright holders of unpublished material is often difficult. Permission to make any published use of any material from the collection must be sought in advance in writing from the Keeper of Manuscripts and Special Collections (email

Custodial History

The records of the historic Archdeaconry of Nottingham have been housed at the University of Nottingham since 1943. Prior to this time they were in the custody of the Registrar of the Archdeaconry. The history of their earlier custody is not precisely known, and it is difficult to speculate on the possible survival elsewhere of material missing from this archive.

Related Material

The Borthwick Institute for Archives at York has an on-line guide to the records of the Archbishops of York. This gives further information about the Archdeaconry in its wider context and particularly, under Visitations, provides references to records of the Archbishops' visitations of parishes in the Archdeaconry of Nottingham. These Visitation records are accessible at York

Nottinghamshire Archives is the Diocesan Record Office for the Diocese of Southwell and Nottingham, and also holds parish records from the Archdeaconry of Nottingham and the Peculiar jurisdictions, and Bishops' Transcripts. Series of records which particularly complement the Archdeaconry archive include the following:

Translations and transcriptions of some Archdeaconry Act Books, 1565-1675, by R.F.B. Hodgkinson (DDTS Addit. 14/26/1-25), and edited extracts from the same (M461-463)

Wills proved in the Court of the Archdeaconry of Nottingham, dating largely from 1588 to 1858

Southwell Diocesan records (DR), including induction mandates, 1888-1930, marriage licence registers, 1884-1902, glebe terriers, and Archdeacons' Visitation papers, 1923-1967

Records of the Chapter of Southwell and its Peculiar court (SC), including Act Books, 1563-1595 and 1660-1851, marriage bonds, 1585-1853, and 16th and 17th century churchwardens' presentment bills, penance, excommunication and absolution schedules and episcopal visitation papers.

Geographical Names