Church Commission Durham Dean and Chapter Estates Deposit

Scope and Content

Estate records of the Dean and Chapter of Durham and of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, relating to property as detailed under Administrative history.

The bulk of the collection is deeds. A valuable key to these exists in four Renewals Books (1660-ca.1800 - CC nos. 235423-235426) and six Notitia Books (ca.1800-ca.1860 - CC nos. 167098-167103), which list lease renewals for each holding on the Dean and Chapter's estates. The plans and books of survey (CC nos. 167051-167097) form another key to the deeds, often making it possible to establish a link between a group of deeds referring imprecisely to “a tenement in the township of X” and a particular area on the ground. The deeds include a high proportion of counterpart leases (some for leases of tithes), the earliest dated 1722; the latest deeds in the 1956 deposit date from the earliest years of the 20th century, but the vast majority of this deposit dates from before 1890.

The 1981 deposit consists of deeds mostly between 1850 and 1940 in date. The collection contains some valuations and surveys, which have been listed and are kept with similar documents among the Dean and Chapter post-Dissolution Muniments, and three Enfranchisement Registers (CC nos. 235427-235429) recording sales of property made between 1804 and 1839 in order to redeem Land Tax. The bulk of the material in the 1981 deposit relates to the main estate of the Dean and Chapter, but some concerns property which belonged to one of the prebendal estates or “canonries”.

Administrative / Biographical History

Descent of the estates The estates of the Dean and Chapter of Durham were inherited, after some trimming, from those amassed by the priory of Durham. The Dean and Chapter and the bishop of Durham were by far the largest landowners in the Palatinate of Durham (which included parts of Northumberland as well as the historic county of Durham). Land was the prime source of wealth for such institutions, who could rent it out for agricultural use (with a growing revenue from the mineral rights as quarrying and mining expanded) and as tenements in the larger villages and towns. By the nineteenth century the wealth of Durham was a prime target for the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, who had been established with the aim of making a more equitable division of the Church of England's income amongst its priests. Some of this wealth had been diverted to fund the founding of the University of Durham in the 1830s, but large areas of land and its income, as well as rights to minerals and tithes, were transferred to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in the 1850s, amid an accompanying flurry of legal disputes.

This division means that the collection complements both the Durham Dean and Chapter Muniments, where it is possible to trace the earlier history of some properties, and some property records of the University of Durham. Although the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were administering the property only from the mid-nineteenth century, there is often a bundle of earlier material (usually referred to as “old deeds”) filed with the records, and sequences of eighteenth century leases, which would have been required to prove rightful ownership.

Location of the estates The property concerned nearly all relates to the former Palatinate of Durham. Most of the material relating to North Durham (part of Northumberland since the nineteenth century) concerns places where the priory had held the advowson, and concerns tithes, fisheries and similar rights in the parishes and neighbouring hamlets of Berwick-upon-Tweed, Norham, Holy Island and the Farne Islands in the north, and Edlingham and Ellingham near Alnwick. On the banks of the Tyne in Northumberland there were similar holdings surrounding the rectory at Bywell. To the south of Co. Durham, similar property at Bossall, Fishlake, and Brantingham in Yorkshire was a relic of priory holdings north of the Humber.

The Dean and Chapter held property throughout Co. Durham, particularly on the south bank of the Tyne, the north bank of the mouth of the Wear, the upper Derwent valley, Weardale, Durham City and the villages to the south and east of it, the villages around Aycliffe and those on the north bank of the Tees, near its mouth and inland.

On the Tyne the township of South Shields was divided between the Commissioners and the nascent University of Durham: South Shields itself is heavily represented in the deposit, charting the growth of housing estates in the area, as well as the nearby villages of Westoe and Harton. Moving up the Tyne, Jarrow also contained significant amounts of property held by the Commissioners, as did its neighbours Monkton, Simonside, Hedworth and Hebburn. Between there and Gateshead, where some houses were owned, there was Commission property at Felling and Heworth. At the mouth of the Wear, the Commissioners held land on the north of the river, at Monkwearmouth, Roker, Southwick, Fulwell and Hilton.

Within the city of Durham the Commissioners owned residential property in all districts and land in most of the surrounding area; West Rainton and East Rainton, Houghton-le-Spring, Pittington, Dalton-le-Dale, Shincliffe, Croxdale, Hett, Aldingrange, Relly, Broom, Lanchester and Sacriston. To the south, was property at Spennymoor, Ferryhill, Aycliffe, Coatsay Moor, Westerton, Middlestone, Kirk Merrington, Nunstainton, Chilton and Auckland St Andrew. Near the mouth of the Tees was land at Hartlepool, Billingham, Cowpen Bewley, Wolviston and Newton Bewley.

Land held in the Derwent valley around Edmundbyers, and in Weardale near Muggleswick, would have complemented the far larger property of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in that vicinity derived from the bishopric of Durham. Here they were able to exploit the mineral royalties in the form of limestone, lead, ganister and fluorspar. Their major mineral rights, however, related to coal, which they exploited throughout Co. Durham, and at Wallsend on the north bank of the Tyne, the Commissioners usually renting the royalty and taking a revenue indirectly. These were the most extensive industrial enterprises undertaken on Commission property, although there are indications of other activity taking place, notably salt pans at South Shields and negotiations for wayleaves, as well as wind and water mills.


The material is kept in the order in which it was deposited with each deposit forming a separate sequence (except for the few volumes which have been shelved together). Within each deposit the material retains the arrangement and numbering imposed by the Church Commission. The arrangement of the principal deposit follows two patterns: groups of documents concerning the same property, some dating back to the early eighteenth century, and a block of counterpart leases arranged chronologically for the period 1722-1799 (bundles 77-251) regardless of the property involved. A similar, but less clear pattern applies to the 1981 deposit (often consisting of more recent documents relating to the same properties).

Access Information

Open for consultation.

Acquisition Information

When the Ecclesiastical Commissioners took over the greater part of the Dean and Chapter's estates in the 1860s they removed records to London, to facilitate their administrative work, the counterpart leases relating to individual properties dating back to 1722 (leaving older material in Durham where it still forms part of the Dean and Chapter Muniments. They and their successors the Church Commissioners added to this material from their own administrative activity, before returning some 60 metres of non-current material to Durham in 1956. In 1977 a further small amount of material was deposited. In 1981 they deposited 8 metres of material mostly of the late 19th and early 20th century. Material deposited in 1981 which relates to both bishopric and chapter properties is kept with the Church Commission Durham Bishopric Estates Deposit. Documents are occasionally recalled by the Commissioners, sometimes temporarily, sometimes permanently.

Other Finding Aids

Online catalogue available at online catalogue.

There is a card index of place-names, with a few subject entries; for the smaller townships this index is valuable, but for South Shields in particular it lists so many pages of the list that the latter might almost as helpfully be read passim.

Separated Material

Documents relating to these properties which are still required for administrative purposes remain in the custody of the Church Commissioners.

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 assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.


Material is deposited periodically by the Church Commission

Related Material

Durham Cathedral Muniments.

Smiths Gore Papers

University of Durham Records: Surveyor's Deposit

Location of Originals

A few items are photocopies of documents retained by or returned to the Church Commissioners.


Best, G.F.A., Temporal pillars. Queen Anne's Bounty, the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and the Church of England (CUP, 1964)