Durham City GuildRecords

Archive Collection

Scope and Content

Records of the Durham City Guilds or trade companies, 16th-20th centuries. The chief categories of records to survive are: charters and ordinaries [i.e. regulations], statutes and orders, minutes, freemen'sadmittances, call rolls, lists of freemen and absentees, apprenticeship admittances and registers, accounts, fines, miscellaneous correspondence and papers, including inventories and valuations, and, deposited with the masons' company records butnot strictly part of the Guild Records, an election agent's book for the 1818 Durham City parliamentary election. The survival rate of material is patchy, however, and some companies are represented by only a few items. The largest groups ofmaterial are for the barbers, masons and mercers' companies.

The material is grouped by guild in the following order (according to the pattern of guilds established by the late 16th century; guilds marked * are still in existence):

  • 1. Barbers* (formerly barber surgeons, wax-makers, ropers andstringers), 17th-20th centuries.
  • 2. Barkers and tanners [no records of this company have yet been deposited in the Library but see related items elsewhere].
  • 3. Butchers* (formerly butchers and fleshers), 16th-19th centuries.
  • 4. Cordwainers* [shoemakers], 16th-20th centuries.
  • 5. Curriers* (formerly curriers and tallow chandlers), 16th-20th centuries.
  • 6. Drapers* (formerly drapers and tailors), 18th-19th centuries.
  • 7. Dyers and listers, 1768-1800 [one item only but see also related items same repository and elsewhere].
  • 8. Fullers and felt-makers, cloth-workers and walkers [no records of this company have yet been traced but see bibliography - Anderson].
  • 9. Joiners* (formerly carpenters and joiners, wheelwrights, sawyers and coopers), 18th- 20th centuries.
  • 10. Masons* (formerly freemasons, rough masons, wallers, slaters, paviours, plasterers and bricklayers), 17th-20th centuries.
  • 11. Mercers (formerly mercers, grocers, haberdashers, ironmongers and salters; sometimes known as the merchants' company), 17th-20th centuries plus photocopies of 16th-18th century originals.
  • 12. Plumbers* (formerly goldsmiths, plumbers, pewterers, potters, glaziers and painters), 17th-20th centuries.
  • 13. Saddlers and upholsterers, 1753 and 1800 [two items only].
  • 14. Skinners and glovers [no records of this company have yet been deposited in the Library but see related items elsewhere].
  • 15. Smiths (formerly whitesmiths, lorimers, locksmiths, cutlers and blacksmiths), 18th- 19th centuries.
  • 16. Weavers and websters, 18th-19th centuries [one item only but see also related items elsewhere].

Administrative / Biographical History

Following earlier amalgamations there remained sixteen trade guilds or companies in Durham City by the end of the sixteenth century (see under Scope and content). Eight are still in existence.

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 afreeman 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 ordinaryfreemen.

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 afreeman, 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 theguild.

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 ifcalled 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 wardensand stewards of the city guilds. The system of admission through guilds still prevails.


See under Scope and content. The arrangement of the records within each guild grouping has not yet been finalised.

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) from several sources over many years. Many items have beendeposited by successive wardens and members of various guilds or their families or by chairmen of the wardens of the Durham City freemen at various dates from ca. 1966 onwards. Others were deposited at the same time as an additional accession ofDurham City Records in April 1967.

Other Finding Aids

Draft list in need of revision, keyed but not yet checked.

Alternative Form Available

DUL Add.MS 963: transcript of papers of the Durham City butchers' company.

Separated Material

General Durham County Record Office: Records of the City of Durham, Du 5/1-5, section re freemen, with some material re guilds [most of the surviving records of the Durham City freemen are in the collection of DurhamCity Records which was transferred in 1981 from the custody of the University to Durham County Record Office. 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 guildmeetings held to hear the calls of tradesmen prior to their being admitted freemen of the guilds and city, 1728-1769, 1780-1908.

Specific guildsBarkers and Tanners Northumberland Record Office: ZAK 1/14 17th-century copy on parchment of the ordinaries of the tanners and barkers' company, including a reference tothe Corpus Christi play, 7 April 1 Edward VI [1547]. Northumberland Record Office: ZAN M.12/C.24, minutes 1656-1721. The Library holds a bound set of photocopies of this item.

Drapers Durham Dean and Chapter Library: Sharp MS 94 includes a manuscript copy of a list of rules of the drapers and tailors' company, 1549. Durham County Record Office: Records of Durham City, Du 5/3/1-3, copies ofby-laws of drapers and tailors' company, 1549, 1628, 1696 and 1705.

Dyers and litsters Durham County Record Office: Records of Durham City, Du 5/1/25-78, surrenders of freedom in the dyers and litsters' company, 1763.

Joiners Durham County Record Office: Records of Durham City, Du 5/5/127, papers in case in Durham Chancery against John Wray, concerning the right of the company of carpenters etc. to make by-laws excluding foreignersfrom practising trade in Durham City, 1734.

Masons Durham County Record Office: Records of Durham City, Du 5/3/6-7, notes re masons' company by-laws, 1766.

Mercers Northumberland Record Office: ZAN M.17/65 Minutes, 1590-1601; correspondence, orders etc., 1656-1750; bonds, freehold and birth certificates, 1664-ca.1733/1764; accounts, miscellaneous receipts and papers,ca.1631-1786; admissions, 1702-1765; and call rolls, 1822-1825, 1834-1836. The Library holds photocopies of these items. Northumberland Record Office: ZAN M.13/F.4 Minute book, 1652-1709. The Library holds a bound set of photocopies of thisitem.

Skinners and glovers Durham County Record Office: Records of Durham City, Du 5/3/4-5, extracts re by- laws of various companies, including the skinners and glovers, relating to admissions of freemen, 1609-1766.

Smiths Durham County Record Office: Records of Durham City, Du 5/1/79-184, surrenders of freedom in the goldsmiths' etc. company, 1763.

Weavers Public Record Office, London: Durham 3.47 mb 14v, Chancery enrolments of Robert Neville, bishop of Durham, enrolment of ordinary of the Durham City weavers' company, 5 August 1450 [other ordinaries aredoubtless enrolled in the same class].

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.

Related Material

General Bramwell, W.A., box of notes on the history etc. of Durham guilds (shelved with the guild records).

Durham City Freemen's Records.

Gibby Papers.

Gibson Volumes (Durham Courts etc.), vol.2.

SGD, various accessions.

Specific guildsDyers and litsters Add MSS 202, minutes, 20 December 1709 - 19 July 1775, with a few later entries up to 1842 (one volume, 289ff.)

Mercers DDR/EA/RGN/3: records of Durham City mercers' company deposited with the Durham Diocesan Records - file of correspondence, ca. 1929-1939.

Plumbers SGD 60, correspondence and papers re the charter of the Durham City goldsmiths' company, 1929-1980.

Smiths Add MSS 515, ff.235v-240, 17th-century copy of the ordinary of the Durham City company of blacksmiths, lorimers and locksmiths approved by Bishop Tunstall, 1 July [1550].


Anderson, J.J., The Durham Corpus Christi play, Records of Early English Drama, (1981)  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)  Harding, F.J.W., The Company of Butchers and Fleshers of Durham, Transactions of the Architectural and Archaeological Society of Durham and Northumberland, vol.11 (1958),93-100  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  Thompson, A.H., The Durham Goldsmiths' Company, Archaeologia Aeliana, 3rd series, 19 (1922), 249-253  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  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