Durham City Freemen's Records

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Six volumes relating to the Durham City freemen:

  • 1. Volume containing name index (with guild details) to separate volume recording minutes of guild meetings held to hear the calls of tradesmen prior to their being admitted freemen of the guilds and city, 1780-1793; the latter volume is now Durham County Record Office Du 5/1/4.
  • 2. Volume containing name index (with guild details) to separate volume recording admittances of freemen, 1780-1797; the latter volume is now Durham County Record Office Du 5/1/15. The index also partly covers item 4 below.
  • 3. Volume of bound admittance certificates of freemen of various guilds, 1754-1760 (numbered 1-120) and 1764-1765 (numbered 1-74).
  • 4. Volume recording admittances of freemen of the guilds and city, 1763-1766, 1780- 1800 and (loose) 1813-1815; partly indexed in item 2 above.
  • 5. Volume recording admittances of freemen of the guilds and city, 1802-1813; indexed in item 6 below.
  • 6. Volume containing name index (with guild details) to item 5 above.
Other records relating to the Durham City Freemen (the larger proportion of what survives) are found among the collection of Durham City records which was transferred in 1981 from the custody of the University to Durham County Record Office. The volumes of Freemen's records still held by the University have been retained at the request of the depositors, because of their close relationship to the Durham City Guild Records which are also in the University's care.

Administrative / Biographical History

The freemen of Durham City have always been closely linked with the freemen of the city's guilds or trade companies. Freemen of the guilds have always been freemen of Durham City, and indeed it is usually essential for a man to be admitted as a freeman of a guild before the freedom of the city can be conferred on him, although honorary freemen of the city have been created from time to time without going through this process; the latter do not enjoy the same privileges as ordinary freemen.

From 1602 onwards, under a charter granted to the city by Bishop Matthew of Durham, the freemen of the city were the only electors and the only candidates for election to the city council, an exclusive right which they retained until the passing of the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835. The importance of possessing the freedom of the city was greatly enhanced in 1673, when Durham City first gained a regular right to parliamentary representation, with the electorate consisting of the mayor, aldermen and freemen of the city.

Qualification for admission as a freeman of a trade company is generally achieved either by patrimony or by servitude, i.e. by being the son, as a rule the eldest son, of a freeman, or by serving an apprenticeship, usually of seven years, to a freeman working at the trade of his guild. Occasionally companies have also admitted gentlemen freemen, whose influence might be helpful to the guild.

A by-law of 1728 attempted to curb the fraudulent creation of freemen by stipulating that applications for admission to the freedom or freelage of the trade companies and the city could only be accepted if called and approved at three different guilds. These were quarterly assemblies of the mayor and aldermen of the city of Durham and borough of Framwellgate together with the wardens and stewards of the city guilds. The system of admission through guilds still prevails.

Arrangement

See under Scope and content.

Conditions Governing Access

Open for consultation.

Acquisition Information

Deposited with the Department of Palaeography and Diplomatic of the University of Durham (since 1990 part of the Archives and Special Collections department of Durham University Library) in July 1980 by Mr. Thomas Heron, chairman of the wardens of the Durham City freemen through the Durham Dean and Chapter deputy librarian.

Other Finding Aids

Collection level description and brief draft typescript list.

Separated Material

Durham County Record Office: Records of the City of Durham, Du 5/1-5, section re freemen, and Du 1/50/67-143, papers re the freemen and The Sands, Durham City. The Library holds a microfilm of the indexes in Durham County Record Office Du 5/1/1-2, 4-7, six volumes recording minutes of guild meetings held to hear the calls of tradesmen prior to their being admitted freemen of the guilds and city, 1728-1769, 1780-1908.

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.

Related Material

Baker Baker Papers include many references to the freemen.

Gibby Papers.

Durham City Guild Records; in particular mercers' company item 10 includes minutes of the trustees of resident freemen respecting the Union Farm, 1806-1808, 1829 and 1832, and treasurer's accounts, 1807-1808, and mercers' company item 11 is a minute book of the trustees of resident freemen, 1830-1878 [not a mercers' company book].

Durham Diocesan Records: records of Durham City freemen deposited with the Durham Diocesan Records, including freemen's trustees' minute books, 1892-1972, and account book, 1875- 1945 [DDR/EA/RGN/2].

Small Gifts & Deposits: various accessions.

Bibliography

Colgrave, B., Durham freemen and the gilds (1946)  Dodds, M.H., The Bishops' boroughs, Archaeologia Aeliana, 3rd series, 12 (1915), 81-185  Gibby, C.W., Durham freemen and the guilds (1971)  Pegge, J.T., Municipal history and works of a small city [Durham], Journal of the Institution of Municipal Engineers, 1 no.3 (September 1909), 79-98  Todd, Mary, Civic government of Durham 1780-1835 (unpublished M.A. thesis, University of Liverpool, 1924)  Todd, Mary, The civic government of Durham [1780-1835], being a collection of five articles published in the Durham University Journal, 1931-1932  Ward, H., Freemen of England in 1967 (1967)  Whiting, C.E., The Durham trade gilds, parts I and II, Transactions of the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland, 9 part 2 (1941), 143-262, and 9 part 3 (1943), 265-416