Durham University Records: Associations and Societies

Scope and Content

The records of these bodies mostly comprise minutes, agendas and other papers for their meetings, with some accounts, also photographs (particularly of the sporting groups), programmes and posters for performances or exhibitions, and termcards of meetings or fixtures. The high turnover rate of officers of student societies has meant that consistency in record keeping, especially since the later twentieth century, has often been a problem. However, the core archive of the Students Representative Council/Students Union is perhaps the most comprehensive of these collections, with the Durham Union Society also having good runs of minutes and other records. The University Exploration Society has an important series of reports of its expeditions, mainly to the northern extremities of Europe, and the Light Opera Group has a reasonably comprehensive series of programmes and othe performance ephemera. However, records of major student sporting achievements in rowing, rugby, cricket and the like are often intermittent at best, and printed reports in such as the Durham University Journal, local newspapers and Palatinate are often a better source.

Administrative / Biographical History

A variety of associations and societies have developed over the years to provide representation for the university's staff and particularly student bodies, and to arrange and administer their social, leisure and sporting activities. Prior to 1963, some of these bodies were university-wide, ie they covered Newcastle as well as Durham, and others were specifically for the Durham Colleges. This meant that, for instance especially in sport, someone might be called upon to represent say college, Durham Colleges and/or the university and so such representation may be recorded by three separate bodies. The picture of course simplifies after 1963.

Staff associations for which there are records surviving are not many but they do cover representation, in the Association of University Teachers, social, in the Women's Tea Club later the Women's Society, and leisure, in the Kemble Society for play readings and performances.

The students have had a Representative Council in Durham since c.1900, which became the Student Union in 1970. This has been active in student politics and welfare, and has also produced the student newspaper - Palatinate - since 1947, administered student sporting activities through the Athletic Union (again, there were separate bodies for Durham Colleges and the university, with men's and women's versions of the former amalgamating in 1946), and overseen a myriad of sporting and other societies. Almost any conceivable sport has had its patrons at Durham, but the major ones of rowing, cricket, rugby and football have been most consistently and enthusiastically pursued since the early days of the university. In terms of other activities, the Union Society has attracted perhaps the greatest support for longest, with a Debating Society first established in 1835; the women's version amalagmated with it in 1963. Musical, dramatic and religious societies, along with subject interest groups, have always been strong at Durham, but one of the latest additions to the canon, the Choc Soc, demonstrates that such student groupings do not lack for invention and eclecticism.

Military training was an important aspect of university life for many students, with the university having both an Officers Training Corps and later an Air Squadron. Finally, the university has made considerable and varying efforts to maintain contact with and solicit the support of its alumni with a Durham University Association being formed in 1866, followed by a Society of Dunelmians in 1905, followed again by a Durham University Society in 1921.


Records are arranged within the association or society as follows:

A Minutes

B Accounts

C Correspondence and other administrative files

D Term cards, fixture lists, publications and other printed material

E Photographs: EA formal groups, EB other photographs

F Artefacts

Access Information

Open for consultation.

Acquisition Information

Transferred to Durham University Library at various times from the 1950s onwards, with particular efforts to garner ephemera for such organisations being made in the 1980s and from 2002.


Part of : Durham University Records

Other Finding Aids

Online catalogue available at online catalogue.

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 PG.Library@durham.ac.uk) and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. The Library will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Custodial History

Generally retained by the creating society or organisation, though some records remained with former officers after their association with the society ceased, and others ended up with the central administration of the university.

Related Material

Printed reports of the activities of these organisations are to be found in such as the Durham University Journal, local newspapers and the various student journals such as New Durham and especially Palatinate (from 1948).