Thorp Correspondence

Scope and Content

Correspondence and papers of Charles Thorp (1783-1862), Archdeacon of Durham and first Warden of the University of Durham. The papers cover the period 1831-1862, and are largely concerned with the foundation and early history of the University of Durham, but also shed light on Durham Dean and Chapter matters, and more generally on contemporary politics and social life.

Administrative / Biographical History

The University of Durham was founded in 1832, primarily through the vision and determination of William Van Mildert (1735-1836), Bishop of Durham, and Charles Thorp, Archdeacon of Durham and prebendary of Durham Cathedral. Van Mildert and Thorp saw the foundation of a university in Durham as a way of deflecting popular criticism of church wealth, and averting the danger that, unless the church itself redeployed some of its surplus, a reforming government would wield the scythe for it. They were eventually successful in persuading the Dean and Chapter of Durham to support the scheme and redeploy some of their property to provide an endowment. The struggle to win recognition and adequate endowment for the fledgling institution continued after Van Mildert's death in 1836 under his successor as bishop, Edward Maltby. The recruitment of staff, the content and development of courses of study, the level of fees and stipends, and arguments over admission of dissenters to degrees are all mirrored in the correspondence, as is the attempt to meet the particular educational needs of a mining and industrial region through the development of a course and qualification for student engineers.


The papers are arranged chronologically (but some documents are misplaced due to wrong dating). The volumes are divided as follows:

1. Nos 1-185 (1831-4)

2. Nos 186-380 (1834-44)

3. Nos 381-575 (1844-61)

4. Nos 576-660 (1861-2, plus numerous undated papers, and printed items)

5. Nos 661-88 (printed items, and epitome of the collection)

Access Information

Open for consultation

Acquisition Information

Bequest by George William Kitchin (1827-1912), Dean of Durham and Warden of the University's Durham colleges.

The papers were arranged by Canon J.T. Fowler, and were not formally accessioned into the University Library until 1918. In the introduction to extracts from the papers published in the Durham University Journal, v.25-7, the papers are wrongly stated to have been a gift in 1923 from Thorp's granddaughter, Mrs. Thorp of Bamburgh (Annie Maud Thorp, née Greatorex, who married her cousin, R.E. Thorp). This error arose from a misreading of an annotation on genealogical notes about the Thorp family, provided by her in 1923, which are inserted at the front of volume 1 of the papers.

Other Finding Aids

Detailed manuscript calendar by J.T. Fowler, bound in at the end of volume 5 of the correspondence. This is available online at online catalogue .

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.


The Thorp Correspondence, Durham University Journal, 25 (1926-28), 414-22; 26 (1928- 30), 59-62, 275-8, 348-54, 417-9; 27 (1930-32), 51-6, 133-6, 198-200, 281-6, 352-61
Fowler, J.T., Durham University: Earlier foundations and present colleges (London, 1904)  Heesom, Alan, The founding of the University of Durham, Durham Cathedral lecture 1982 (Durham, 1982)  Whiting, C.E., The University of Durham 1832-1932 (London, 1932)