Durham City Guild Records

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, 17th century.
  • 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 Litsters (or Listers), 18th-19th centuries.
  • 8. Fullers and Felt-makers, Cloth-workers and Walkers [no records of this company have yet been deposited, but see related items elsewhere].
  • 9. Joiners* (formerly Carpenters and Joiners, Wheelwrights, Sawyers and Coopers), 18th- 20th centuries.
  • 10. Masons* (formerly Freemasons, Roughmasons, 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 and 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.
  • 14. Skinners and Glovers [no records of this company have yet been deposited, but see related items elsewhere].
  • 15. Smiths (formerly Whitesmiths, Lorimers, Locksmiths, Cutlers and Blacksmiths), 18th-20th centuries.
  • 16. Weavers and Websters, 18th-19th centuries.

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.

Access Information

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. Guild items formerly in the library's Additional Manuscripts collection have been relocated to this collection.

Other Finding Aids


Online indexes of Durham City freemen and apprentices appearing in these records are available.

Alternative Form Available

ADD 963: transcripts of Butchers' company records.

Separated Material

Records relating to the Durham City Guilds are widely distributed in many different collections. For a detailed listing see the full 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 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

Archival material relating to the Durham City Guilds is found in many of our other collections. For a detailed list see the full catalogue.


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