Church Commission deposit of Durham palatinate and bishopric records

Scope and Content

This large collection concerns chiefly the financial administration of the palatinate of Durham, and the administration of the leasehold and freehold lands of the Durham bishopric estates (but also to some extent the copyhold land), from the 15th to the 20th centuries, with a few 14th century documents. Many copies of earlier documents are also included. The deposited material includes financial and audit records, rentals and surveys, enrolments of leases and fines, patents of appointments and warrants, inclosure material, court records and other legal material, maps and plans, and an enormous quantity of title deeds and counterpart leases. For fuller information see below under Arrangement.

Administrative / Biographical History

The post-Conquest bishops of Durham were heirs to a tradition of ecclesiastical and temporal authority stretching back to the 7th century, which grew at least in part from the reputation of St Cuthbert and his shrine. Their regalian authority as palatine lords, and the judicial institutions associated with it, developed gradually during the Middle Ages - the term palatinusseems first to have been applied to the bishop of Durham towards the end of the 13th century. The geographical area covered by the Palatinate extended from the Tyne to the Tees, together with parts of Northumberland (Norhamshire and Islandshire - Holy Island and an adjoining coastal area - in the north and Bedlingtonshire in the middle of the county) which were sometimes collectively called North Durham, and the manor of Crayke, near York. The Palatinate was thus co-terminous neither with the diocese of Durham nor with the area covered by the bishopric estates (since it excluded the bishop's Yorkshire estates in Allertonshire and Howdenshire, where his franchise was not regalian).

Although the administration of the bishop's spiritualities was distinct from that of his temporal powers, there was much overlap in the financial administration of the Palatinate and of the temporalities of the see, as the records in this collection reveal (see Custodial history below). The bishop owed his wealth primarily to the income from his vast estates rather than to the profits of his palatine lordship. All estate as well as palatine revenues were accounted for at his exchequer, and it was not uncommon for key posts in the estate administration and the palatinate administration to be held by the same man.

In 1536 the bishops lost their criminal jurisdiction, which was transferred to the crown, and their regalian powers continued to dwindle during the following centuries. Their palatinate jurisdiction was finally terminated in 1836, when Durham became an ordinary county.

The extensive estates from which the bishops of Durham drew their income comprised lands, mines, quarries, and other assets, held on a variety of tenures. They lay not just in the area of modern County Durham, but also in parts of modern Northumberland and Yorkshire - Norhamshire, Islandshire (Holy Island and nearby coastal areas) and Bedlingtonshire in Northumberland, and Allertonshire, Howdenshire and the manor of Crayke in Yorkshire. The bishops also had property in London, including Durham House in the Strand.

Within County Durham (in the modern sense) the bishopric estates lay in all four wards:

  • Chester ward: manors of Chester, Gateshead, Lanchester, and Whickham.
  • Darlington ward: manors of Auckland, Darlington, Evenwood, and Wolsingham, and the bailiwick of Sadberge.
  • Easington ward: manors of Easington and Houghton, and in Durham city.
  • Stockton ward: manors of Bishop Middleham and Stockton.

The bishops also drew income from other estates from time to time, under wardships and escheats, for example at Hart and Hartlepool. Properties held on different tenures were administered in different ways by separate officers. Northern tenures had their peculiarities, and tenures could change.

The bishops of Durham had their central administration in Durham, and used peripatetic manorial courts, and local bailiffs, officers and deputies to administer the bishopric estates. After the Ecclesiastical Commissioners (succeeded in 1948 by the Church Commissioners) took over the administration of the Durham bishopric estates, in the 19th century, the administrative venues altered.

The Ecclesiastical Commissioners were established in 1836, with the chief duty, inherited by the Church Commissioners, of administering the secular estates and revenues of the Church of England in order to maximise support for the clergy. Dealing with church land throughout the country, they have always operated from a London central office, and employed as local provincial agents firms such as Smiths Gore or Clayton & Gibson. The old Durham central office of the bishops' administration became one such provincial office, mainly to handle copyhold (Halmote Court) business, whereas business relating to freehold and leasehold property was largely handled by the central London office, to which records considered relevant by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners were transferred (see below, under Custodial history).

Records still required for current administration continue to be held centrally by the Church of England Record Centre in London, but a large quantity of material no longer so required has been returned to Durham, and deposited with the university, which also has in its custody the Durham Bishopric Estates Halmote Court Records, and the Durham Diocesan Records. Occasionally documents from the deposited material are recalled by the Church Commissioners, usually temporarily, but sometimes indefinitely.


The large 1956 deposit was received in the order of an accompanying Church Commission schedule. Most documents bore a reference number assigned by the Church Commissioners or their predecessors, and those numbers were usually sequential within bundles and groups. They were not sequential, however, from bundle to bundle and group to group, and the overall order had no obvious structure. A decision was therefore made to attempt to recreate earlier archival groupings, particularly for the records from the exchequer and audit side of the Palatinate, by extracting related classes of documents, leaving a residue of deeds and other documents on individual property transactions in the order in which they were received (i.e. the order of the Church Commissioner' schedule). The small deposits received in the 1970's and in 1995 and 1997 have been absorbed into this pattern. catalogues give both the current location reference and the Church Commission number for each document.

The large 1981 deposit was received in order of the reference numbers given to the documents by the Church Commissioners. Although this deposit does not entirely consist of deeds and property transaction documents, other categories of material form only a small proportion of the contents, and no attempt has been made as yet to extract and rearrange most such items.

The collection is now arranged as follows: 

  • 1. Financial and audit records to 1649. (CCB B/1-110)
  • 2. Financial and audit records 1659-1856. (CCB B/111-151) [During the Interregnum [During the Interregnum the bishopric was dissolved and its possessions sold, so there is a gap in the financial and audit records until 1659/60, when they recommence.]
  • 3. Rentals and surveys. (CCB B/152-170) [Many [Many other rentals and surveys are found, however, among the Financial and audit records to 1649, in the Miscellaneous books and rolls class (CCB B/19-22), and in the Yorkshire estates Miscellanea classes (CCB B/92, 105, 110)]
  • 4. Enrolment books of leases and patents of appointment. (CCB V/1-2)
  • 5. Patents of appointment [loose documents]. (CCB B/171-174)
  • 6. Inclosures: Acts of Parliament largely relating to inclosures, and other inclosure papers. (CCB B/176-187)
  • 7. Legal proceedings: records and papers relating to London courts, Durham palatinate and manorial courts, and Yorkshire manorial courts. (CCB B/188-202 )
  • 8. Transcripts: volumes of transcripts of documents relating to the Palatinate, and certified copies, with translations, of items related to Durham in the Public Record Office. (CCB B/175 and B/203-209)
  • 9. Miscellanea: diverse mixture, including accounts, correspondence, petitions, copies of charters, inquisitions post mortem, documents relating to leases and buildings, etc. (CCB B/210-222)
  • 10. Maps, plans and photographs. (CCB MN and CCB MP)
  • 11. Deeds and property transactions (chiefly counterpart leases) from the 1956 deposit. (CCB D/1956/1-541)
  • 12. Deeds and property transactions, and some other material, from the 1981 deposit. (CCB D/1981/11404-464447)

Access Information

Open for consultation.

Acquisition Information

Deposited by the Church Commissioners with the University of Durham's Department of Palaeography and Diplomatic (from 1990 part of the University Library's department of Archives & Special Collections). The first large deposit was received in March 1956, followed by further small deposits in 1971, 1975, 1977 and 1978, another major deposit in 1981, and small deposits in 1995 and 1997. Material deposited by the Church Commissioners relating to the estates of the Dean and Chapter of Durham is treated as a separate collection (collection code CCD).

Other Finding Aids

Detailed on-line catalogues, converted from and superseding earlier printed and typescript catalogues: 

Search room card index by place (with a few subjects) for the material deposited in 1956.

Collected memoranda on the Church Commission and Halmote Court deposits, Search Room short guides (bound in 1 vol.)

Separated Material

National Archives: DURH (Records of the Palatinate of Durham)

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.

Custodial History

Some records and documents were taken away from Durham by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners before 1868 for purposes connected with the administration of the bishopric estates. More, however, remained with the records of the Palatinate of Durham in the common repository in the bishop's exchequer building in Durham where all palatinate and bishopric estate records were kept.

In 1854 they were inspected by Thomas Duffus Hardy on behalf of the Master of the Rolls. They were then still in the exchequer building on Palace Green, which had been given in 1837 to the recently founded University of Durham, on condition that satisfactory alternative accommodation for the records was provided. Following Hardy's critical report on the records' confused state (printed as an appendix to the Sixteenth Report of the Deputy Keeper of the Public Records, 1855, pp. 44-93), they were moved in 1858 to the New Exchequer building provided by the university at 49-50 North Bailey, where Hardy again inspected them in 1867. In 1868, by warrant of the Master of the Rolls, most of the Palatinate Records were removed to the Public Record Office in London.

Certain groups, including almost all the records relating to the Exchequer and Audit sides of the Palatinate administration, were subsequently claimed by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners as necessary for the management of the bishopric estates. These groups were transferred from the Public Record Office to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1876, returned to the Public Record Office in 1890, and re-transferred to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1901. Most of this material was deposited with the university in 1956 by the Church Commissioners, along with other material removed from Durham directly by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners, and more created after they took over the management of the bishopric estates.


Some material is deposited by the Church Commissioner's, and occasionally documents are withdrawn by them.

Related Material

Durham Bishopric Estates Halmote Court Records (primarily but not exclusively concerned with copyhold land)

Durham Palatinate Records


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