Durham Diocesan Records

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

This collection contains the records of the central spiritual administration of the Church of England within the diocese of Durham. These records relate to the following. 

  • Formal duties carried out by (or in the name of)the Bishop of Durham, in relation to clergy, parishes, churches etc (Episcopal administration, ref DDR/EA)
  • Work of the Diocesan Synod (and before it, of Diocesan Conference), of the committees that own and administer diocesan property, finances etc, and of societies that are closely associated with the diocese (Diocesanadministration, ref DDR/DA)
  • Functions of the bishop's Chancellor (i.e. judge), in connection with marriage licences, faculties for church alterations and other judicial matters in the bishop's Consistory Court (Jurisdiction and courts, refDDR/EJ)
  • Formal oversight of the clergy and parishes within the diocese by the bishops, exercised by a process called visitation(Visitation and oversight, ref DDR/EV)
  • Work of the bishop's own staff, dealing with more personal concerns and duties carried out by the bishop in person or relating to his household (at Auckland Castle) (BIshops’ Office records, ref DDR/BP)
  • Records of other central diocesan officials, including archdeacons, rural deans and the officials responsible for the peculiar jurisdictions of the Bishop of Durham and of Durham Cathedral;(ref DDR/A,D,P)
  • Some non-diocesan material deposited for safe-keeping in the Diocesan Registry (within DDR/EA/RGN)

Records generated by individual Church of England parishes are not held among the Durham Diocesan Records, but by the relevant County Record Office. See under related collections below for information on separate collections of records associatedwith the Bishop of Durham and the Church of England.

Administrative / Biographical History

Geographical scope and jurisdictions covered by the collection

Until 1882, the Diocese of Durham covered an area roughly coterminous with the historic counties of Durham and Northumberland, together with the parish of Alston (with Garrigill and Nenthead chapelries) in Cumberland, and Girsby and Over Dinsdalein Yorkshire (part of Sockburn parish). There were two exceptions to these neat boundaries (until 1837). 

  • Crayke in North Yorkshire formed a detached part of Durham diocese.
  • Hexham and Hexhamshire, though within Northumberland, formed a detached part of York diocese.

In addition, there were a few areas which were subject for certain purposes to the jurisdiction of someone other than the relevant diocesan bishop (until 1846). These purposes typically included the proving of wills, granting of marriage licencesand rights of visitation. These special or peculiar jurisdictions were as follows (see DDR/P catalogue for full details):

  • Thockrington in Northumberland (a peculiar of a canon of York Cathedral)
  • Northallerton and Allertonshire in North Yorkshire (peculiars of the Bishop of Durham, and of the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral)
  • Howden and Howdenshire in East Yorkshire (a peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral)

In 1882, the diocese was divided. The newly created Newcastle diocese embraced the whole of the historic county of Northumberland, together with Alston and its chapelries in Cumberland. The diocese of Durham then became roughly co-terminous withthe historic (pre-1974) County Durham. Several series of loose items were split at this stage, so that some pre-1882 material was transferred to Newcastle diocese (and is now at Northumberland Archives). Details are given within the detailedcatalogues.

Constituent parts of the diocese

The Diocese of Durham is part of the Church of England Province of York, and consists of several closely-interrelated (but autonomous) bodies. 

  • The Bishop of Durham leads the church within thediocese, and undertakes spiritual functions for which episcopal orders are required (such as ordinations, confirmations and consecrations).
  • The Spiritual Chancellor is the judge within the bishop's consistory court, where matters subject to his spiritual jurisdiction are considered. These include ecclesiastical concerns (such as clergy discipline,granting of licences for marriages where banns have not been published, and faculties for alterations to church buildings and consecrated churchyards), but also matters previously considered religious but now dealt with in secular (civil) courts(such as, until the 19th century, proving of wills, upholding marital contracts and rights, and many forms of defamation or slander).
  • The Synod (since 1970) or Conference (1929-1970) is akin to a 'parliament' for the diocese. Its principle committee is called the Board of Finance, whichowns all diocesan property and is a charitable body in its own right. Most of the non-episcopal administration of the diocese is carried out by this and by the other boards and committees that report to Synod.


The collection has been arranged following the pattern outlined within Contents above.

Conditions Governing Access

Items under 30 years old may only be produced if a reader has obtained permission to see them from the depositor (most often the Durham Diocesan Registrar or her/his representative), except for items in the public domain which are made availablewith no closure period. Longer closure periods apply for certain classes of documents, e.g. some personal files are closed for up to 100 years from the date of the latest item in the file.

Acquisition Information

The Durham Diocesan Records relate to all parts of the central diocesan structures, as summarised above. They have therefore been deposited by the following officers (details are included within the catalogues listed below). 

  • TheDiocesan Registrar is appointed by the bishop, as registrar to both bishop and chancellor, and also acts as registrar to the Synod. The Registrar holds the bishop's seal and is the legal officer for the diocese. Most ofthe Durham Diocesan Records have been deposited by Registry staff on behalf of the Registrar, notably almost all the records in sections DDR/EA, DDR/EJ, DDR/P, most of DDR/EV/VIS, and parts of the other sections. The earliest deposit dates fromc.1948, with additional deposits made frequently since.
  • The Bishop's Chaplain, also known as the Senior or Domestic Chaplain, heads the Bishop's Office (within Auckland Castle), and undertakes work in which the bishop is personally involved. The bishop's chaplain orsecretary has deposited most of the records within the section DDR/BP, and the clergy visitation returns within DDR/EV/RET. The first deposit from the bishop's office was made in 1973, with many additional deposits since.
  • The Diocesan Secretary is secretary to both Synod and the Board of Finance. Based at the Diocesan Office (currently at Auckland Castle), the Diocesan Secretary has deposited much of the material within the DiocesanAdministration section (DDR/DA).
  • Other diocesan officers and committees are also supported by the Diocesan Office, and some parts of section DDR/DA have been deposited by officers of those committees (notably the DIocesan Advisory Committee for theCare of Churches, and the Durham Lesotho Link).
  • The Director of Education and her/his staff (based at Carter House in Durham) have deposited the Board of Education records within DDR/DA/EDU.
  • Offices of the relevant Archdeacons have deposited the more recent records of archdeacons within DDR/A (older ones having been deposited by the Diocesan Registry).
  • The Warden of Auckland Castle (employed by the Church Commissioners) has deposited some of the Auckland Castle estate records within DDR/BP/EST.

Transfers of stray items from the Durham Diocesan Records have also been received from the Durham Dean and Chapter Library, the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research in York, Durham County Record Office and Northumberland County RecordOffice.

Other Finding Aids

Separated Material

Borthwick Institute for Archives, University of York: York Diocesan Archives

Church of England Record Centre, London: records of the central administrative bodies of the Church ofEngland

Durham County Record Office: most of the surviving parish records for ecclesiastical parishes in thehistoric county of Durham (including most of the surviving original parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials)

Durham Cathedral Library: some bishops' papers (Van Mildert, Henson and Ian Ramsey, and the Lightfoot Trustees' Papers); various other collections, including Howe MSS, Hunter MSS,Raine MSS and Sharp MSS, contain either related material or strays from and transcripts of material in the Durham Diocesan Records

Northumberland Archives Service: Newcastle Diocesan Records

Northumberland Archives Service: most of the surviving parish records for ecclesiastical parishes in the historic county of Northumberland (including most of the surviving original parish registers of baptisms, marriages and burials)

National Archives, Kew: Palatinate of Durham Records

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.

Custodial History

Records deposited by the Bishops' chaplains, and originating from (or kept within) the Bishops' office within Auckland Castle, were until 2011 part of the separate Auckland Castle Episcopal Records collection(reference code AUC). See notes within the catalogue of the DDR/BP section for further details.

Until 1995, records deposited by the Board of Finance (DDR/DA/FIN and other parts of DDR/DA) and by the Board of Education (DDR/DA/EDU) were referenced as separate collections (under the codes DDBFR andDDBER respectively).

Records of the Durham-Lesotho LINK (within DDR/DA/ORG) were until 2011 referenced by accession under the reference DDR Lesotho.


Regular accruals are received, generally annually from the Diocesan Registry, ca. quarterly from the Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches, and less frequently from the offices of the archdeacons or other parts of the diocese.

Related Material

  • Add MSS 866-867, diary of Thomas Chaytor, Durham diocesan registrar, early 17th century
  • Booth & Lazenby Papers (BLP)
  • Church Commission Deposit of Durham Parsonage House Plans and Benefice and Chapelry Income Papers (CCP)
  • Cosin Letter Books (CLB)
  • Durham Cathedral Archives (DCD)
  • Durham Probate Records (DPR)
  • Gibson Volumes: GBV 1
  • Hayton, Lee and Braddock (Architects) Records (HLB)
  • Hudleston Papers: these include a biographical card index re clergy of the Northern Province of the Church of England, 16th-20th centuries (HUD)
  • Small Gifts and Deposits: various items, including SGD 40 (papers of H.C. Ferens, Durham diocesan registrar)
  • Wood Plans and Drawings (WOD)
  • Palatinate of Durham Records (PAL)
  • Church Commission Deposit of Durham Bishopric Financial and Estate Records (CCB)
  • Durham Bishopric Halmote Court Records, chiefly re copyhold properties (DHC)
  • Smiths Gore Papers, land agents to Church Commissioners (SMG)
  • Small Gifts and Deposits: SGD 93/1-2, two vouchers re Auckland Castle etc, 1796-1797
  • Van Mildert Papers (VMP)
  • Thorp Correspondence, of Charles Thorp, archdeacon of Durham and warden of the University of Durham (THO)
  • Clavering of Greencroft MSS: CLV 458-479, papers of the Archdeacon of Northumberland, the Bishop of Durham, and the Bishop's agent,1721-1809
  • University of Durham Records (UND)


See the bibliography section of the online Administrative Histories for the Durham Diocesan Records for a general bibliography, and theseparate catalogues listed above for editions of specific items.