Poor Clares' Library (Darlington)

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

The printed books comprise 519 titles in 796 copies. The bulk are 16th-18th century books from the convent libraries at Aire-sur-la-Lys and Rouen with a few from the communities at Gravelines and Dunkirk. There are Bibles, liturgy, scripturalcommentaries and books on the rule of Saint Clare, predominantly in Latin and English, as well as a large body of devotional literature in French on religious life and prayer. There are a small number of early 19th century textbooks from the ScortonHall convent school and some liturgical works from after the Poor Clares arrival in Darlington in 1857.

A particular feature of the collection is the large number of ephemeral items such as prayer cards and religious images found loose within the books. In some cases these represent two centuries of devotional activity.

The 74 manuscripts date from the mid 17th to the 20th century, about half being from the first half of the 18th century and in English, but with some items in French and Latin. The majority of items are meditations and devotions, on Scripture,the Passion and the Blessed Sacrament. Litanies are widely copied and there are English verse translations of Latin hymns as well as original verses. Franciscan material includes commentaries on the Rule, ceremonies, one liturgical volume andtranslations of and by Franciscan authors, including the nuns.

Administrative / Biographical History

The Poor Clares, also variously known as the Order of Saint Clare, the Poor Ladies, Sisters of Saint Clare, the Second Order of Saint Francis and the Minoresses, was founded by Saint Clare of Assisi in 1212. After the Reformation there were noopportunities for Catholic women to lead a religious life in England and a number of convents were set up in France. The first English Poor Clares community in France was founded at Gravelines in 1609 with subsidiary houses at Dunkirk in 1625,Aire-sur-la-Lys in 1629 and Rouen in 1644. All four houses remained in existence until 1795 when, after a period of imprisonment in their convents, the nuns were expelled by the revolutionary government. The nuns of the convent at Aire-sur-la-Lyswere able to bring 79 crates of possessions with them, including part of the library. It is not clear how the other communities were able to recover books from the Continent. The nuns settled first at Haggerston Castle in Northumberland. They movedto Scorton Hall in Yorkshire in 1807 and then to St. Clare's Abbey in Darlington in 1857. In 2007, due to declining numbers, they decided to amalgamate with the Poor Clares convent at Much Birch near Hereford and gave their older books to DurhamUniversity Library.

Conditions Governing Access

Open for consultation.

Acquisition Information

Deposited by the Poor Clares of Darlington in 2007, prior to the closure of St Clares Abbey, Darlington and their relocation to a convent in Hereford.

Other Finding Aids

Printed material is recorded in the catalogue. To restrict the search to this collection, do a shelfmark search on shelfmark PoorClares - or use the following URL http://library.dur.ac.uk/search/?searchtype=c&searcharg=poorclares&searchscope=1&submit.x=10&submit.y=7

Catalogue of manuscript works

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


Ann M. C. Foster, The Chronicles of the English Poor Clares of Rouen, Recusant history 18 (1986), 59-102, 149-191.  J. Gillow, Registers of the English Poor Clares at Gravelines, 1608-1837, Miscellanea, Catholic Record Society 9 (1914), 25-173.  Claire Walker, Martha and Mary: Gender and Work in Seventeenth-Century English Cloisters, Sixteenth century journal 30:2 (1999), 397-418.  Franciscan women: history and culture. A geographical and bio-bibliographical internet guide at http://franwomen.sbu.edu/franwomen/default.aspx

Corporate Names