Durham Bishopric Estates, Halmote Court Records

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 33 DHC
  • Dates of Creation
      16th - 20th century
  • Language of Material
      English ; Latin
  • Physical Description
      143 metres

Scope and Content

These extensive manorial court records deal with many aspects of estate administration and community life in great detail in the early modern period, from ca. 1503 onwards (with copies of some earlier material), and with tenancy transactions overa much longer period, into the twentieth century. Although the records in Durham begin only in the early 16th century, there is another overlapping series of Durham bishopric Halmote Court rolls among the Durham Palatinate Records in the PublicRecord Office in London. That series runs from 1348 to 1619, and microfilm copies are available in Durham of those rolls in the PRO set which predate the start of the Durham set. The exact relationship of the two overlapping series has yet to beascertained.

Copyhold, which evolved from medieval villein tenure, was commonly an hereditary tenure. Provided that copyholders, or others holding land according to manorial custom, paid their rents, performed the customary services and observed the customsof the manor, their estates would pass on their death to their heirs, if they claimed them. Copyholders might sell or mortgage their property, but the transaction had to registered in the Halmote Court. In the case of a transaction such as amortgage which did not involve the absolute alienation of the holding, a defeasance stating the purpose of the surrender and the conditions under which it would be voided was also recorded in the court roll. The records of surrenders and admissionsto holdings give a description of the property, often with details such as field names, mention of buildings erected on the land, and names of adjacent landholders. They therefore provide a rich source for the study of local communities, for tracingthe history of property, and for the information they provide about humble people, who would not have made a will and have left little trace in other sources. Because of the hereditary element in copyhold tenure, the records of surrenders andadmissions often give information in considerable detail on family relationships.

Administrative / Biographical History

The extensive estates from which the bishops of Durham drew their income comprised lands, mines, quarries, and other assets, held on a variety of tenures. They lay not just in the area of modern County Durham, but also in parts of modernNorthumberland and Yorkshire - Norhamshire, Islandshire (Lindisfarne and nearby coastal areas) and Bedlingtonshire in Northumberland, and Allertonshire, Howdenshire and the manor of Crayke in Yorkshire. The bishops also had property in London,including Durham House in the Strand.

Within County Durham (in the modern sense) the bishopric estates lay in all four wards:

  • Chester ward: manors of Chester, Gateshead, Lanchester, and Whickham.
  • Darlington ward: manors of Auckland, Darlington, Evenwood, and Wolsingham, and the bailiwick of Sadberge.
  • Easington ward: manors of Easington and Houghton, and in Durham city.
  • Stockton ward: manors of Bishop Middleham and Stockton.
The bishops also drew income from other estates from time to time, under wardships and escheats, for example at Hart and Hartlepool. Properties held on different tenures were administered in different ways by separate officers. Northerntenures had their peculiarities, and tenures could change.

After the Ecclesiastical Commissioners (succeeded in 1948 by the Church Commissioners) took over the administration of the Durham bishopric estates, in the mid-19th century, the administrative venues altered. The bishops had had their centraladministration in Durham, and had used peripatetic manorial courts, and local bailiffs, officers and deputies. The Church Commission, dealing with church land throughout the country, had a London central office, and employed as local provincialagents firms such as Smiths Gore or Clayton & Gibson. The old Durham central office of the bishops' administration became one such provincial office, mainly to handle copyhold business.

The Halmote Court Records as a group are the records which the Church Commissioners inherited from and kept at the old Durham office (latterly known as the Halmote Court office), and later entrusted to the University of Durham. They are thereforeclosely related to the Durham Bishopric Estates Church Commission Deposit - those Durham Bishopric estate papers, largely relating to leasehold and freehold holdings, which were taken from Durham to the London central office, or were generatedthere, and, when no longer required for current administrative purposes, were later returned to Durham, also to the care of the university. (Some Halmote Court material was also, as required, removed to London, but appears to have been returned atleast in part to the Halmote Court Office in Durham prior to the transfer of records from there to the university, since some documents now among the Halmote Court Records bear Church Commission numbers).

The bishop of Durham's Halmote Courts were manorial courts which dealt chiefly with the customary or copyhold land and tenants on his estates. In the medieval period the Halmote Courts regulated matters of manorial custom and admissions toholdings, and heard actions for minor offences such as trespass, assault and debt under 40 shillings. Gradually, however, the range of matters coming before the courts contracted, and by the 17th century their business was largely confined todealing with the surrender and admission of manorial tenants, according to the custom of the manor. When a tenant died, or a holding was transferred for some other reason, the holding had to be surrendered to the manorial lord, the bishop, and theclaimant had to prove his or her title. As the name implies, a copyholder's title to his holding was a copy of the court roll entry on which his or her admission to the holding was recorded. There is evidence that in the centuries before the CivilWar admissions to customary land were sometimes made in full court, in front of those who owed suit of court (and who would be fined for absence), but without the admission being enrolled or a copy issued.

In the medieval period halmote courts were held three times a year, approximately in March, June and October, at the different manorial centres within the county, in the presence of the bishop's steward. By the 17th century courts were being heldtwice a year, in May and October, and as time went by an increasing proportion of surrenders and admissions were transacted out of court, but the particulars were usually subsequently enrolled in the court roll for the appropriate area. Thejurisdiction of the Halmote Court was terminated by the act of 1925 which abolished copyhold tenure, but the business of the Durham Halmote Court was not finally wound up until 1952, when the Halmote Office in the North Bailey, Durham, closed.


Between 1953 and the early 1980's the Halmote Court Records were arranged and listed in considerable detail, but in a somewhat piecemeal fashion, not based on a thorough archival analysis (with, in consequence, some illogicalities in thehierarchy of the arrangement):

DHC 1: Books

  • DHC 1/I-III: Court rolls, 1519-1925. 302 vols From 1519-1720 (DHC 1/I) the court proceedings for most manors were enrolled roughly chronologically as the court wentround the estates, in a single court roll (in physical form actually a volume). From 1720-1925 most proceedings (DHC 1/II) were enrolled topographically under divisions (Auckland, Chester-le-Street, Darlington, Easington, Houghton-le-Spring,Lanchester, Stockton and Wolsingham), each division having a separate court roll. Each division encompassed several townships, some a considerable distance from the one after which the division was named. From various dates, however, certain manorshad their own individual court rolls (DHC 1/III) - Bedlington (the only manor north of the Tyne where the bishop held a halmote court) from 1721, Evenwood from 1909, Gateshead from 1703, Middleham from 1909 and Whickham from 1585. The court rollsalso cover Bishop Wearmouth Rectory from 1579; this had not belonged to the bishop of Durham, but was administered by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners from the Durham office. Tracing entries for particular individuals andfamilies: From 1720 each volume has an index of persons surrendering and persons admitted. For volumes up to 1720 see the index and alphabet books in DHC 1/VIII. Tracing entries for particular townships: From1522-1720 each volume of the court rolls has an index of townships. A key to the division under which a township is enrolled from 1720 is appended to the guide How to trace the history of property once part of the Durhambishopric estates - see Publication note below. Tracing entries for particular holdings: From about the middle of the 18th century the bishop's officials introduced a system of call numbers to identify particularplots of copyhold land; see DHC 1/V (Call books) and DHC 11/I and III (annotated maps) below. Prior to 1720 see the alphabet books in DHC 1/VIII; (where the parties to the first surrender after 1720 can be traced from the later records, it may bepossible using the name of the surrenderer to work backwards into the pre-1720 alphabet books). A card index, compiled by Dr. Ritchie in the 1960's, is also available in the Search Room, covering certain townships.
  • DHC 1/IV: Stewards minute books, 1682-1819. 21 vols These minute books were used at halmote court meetings on circuit (with headings prepared in advance and alterations and additions made on the day), and also laterin compiling the formal enrolments of proceedings there in the Halmote Court rolls. They record details of the dates, places and holders of halmote courts, the juries for presentments and actions (usually the same), the names of greeves andcollectors, proclamations (calling for heirs to prove their title to holdings, and naming trustees), actions between tenants, and miscellaneous other non-standardised information. They do not, however, contain drafts of surrenders or admissions(except for rare notes). By the period they cover many copyhold land transactions were complicated, and were more conveniently arranged out of court in the office of the steward or his deputy.
  • DHC 1/V: Call books, mid 17th century - ca. 1891. 131 vols These provide a key from call numbers (used from around the mid-18th century to identify particular plots of copyhold land) to transactions in the courtrolls relating to a particular call or plot. For annotated maps on which call numbers can be located topographically see DHC 11/I and III. The earlier call books, prior to about 1760, generally contain little more than lists of tenants names, with,when a property changed hands, the name of the former tenant crossed out and that of the new tenant substituted; marks in the margins sometimes provide a key (usable with some difficulties) to help locate entries for related transactions in thecourt books.
  • DHC 1/VI: Rental registers for the four Co. Durham wards (Chester, Darlington, Easington and Stockton), 1804-1857. 84 vols These continue the rentals in DHC 4 below. The series for Easington and Stockton iscombined.
  • DHC 1/VII: Index and alphabet books, 1579-1925. 18 vols An alphabetical means of reference to the names of people surrendering and being admitted in the court rolls of corresponding date; usable with somedifficulties
  • DHC 1/VIII: Registers of post-1925 transactions (mortgages, conveyances, releases, etc.). 16 vols
  • DHC 1/M: Miscellaneous books, 16th-20th century. 97 vols This important class includes:
    • M1-8a: Registered copies of inclosure awards; (for other inclosure material see DHC 6 below)
    • M9-17: Notitia books of plans and surveys concerning leasehold land; these tie in with Notitia in the Durham Bishopric Estates, Church Commission deposit (CCB)
    • M18-28: Copies of tithe awards and apportionments
    • M29-37: Halmote Court office ledgers, 1927-1939
    • M38-44: Material concerning compensation on enfranchisement (i.e. conversion of plots to freehold), 1929-1937
    • M45-50: Rentals for wards 1882, and various rentals 1856-1927
    • M51-62: Cash books and account books, 1785-1935
    • M63-96: Miscellaneous volumes, including rentals, surveys, inquisitions post mortem, inventories of many sorts, charters, presentments, inclosure awards, letter-books, enfranchisements, plans and valuations etc. (sometimes original, sometimescopies), 16th-20th century

DHC 2: Original surrenders (records of transfers of tenancies), 1559-1925. 356 boxes These documents, which are predominantly 17th-18th century, are misnamed, since most are actually admittances. Surrender refers tothe transaction whereby a copyhold tenant gave up his holding to the landlord, after which another tenant was admitted to it. These documents, written on separate pieces of paper or parchment, mostly duplicate entries in the court rolls recordingthe admittance of tenants and the date, and also naming the tenant who had surrendered. They also generally bear the signature or mark of the new tenant, and the signature of the steward or his deputy. These Original Surrenders are to copyhold landwhat counterpart leases are to leasehold land - the landlord's evidence of the tenant's signed obligation. The series is far from complete, but, where an original surrender exists it can sometimes clarify an entry in the court roll which isdifficult to read. The documents are arranged in the main by division and township, and chronologically therein.

DHC 3: Deputations (of authority by stewards or tenants to undertake Halmote Court transactions), 1661-1897. 14 boxes Many other deputations are to be found among the Original surrenders (DHC 2)

DHC 4: Rentals, wards and townships, 1529-1815 (predominantly 17th-18th century). 22 boxes These rentals record names of tenants and amounts of money, but seldom property names. They are arranged chronologically withinarea of responsibility (so by ward for the four coroners, by township for the many collectors, and by bailiwick or borough). Coroners' rentals cover freehold dues. Collectors' rentals chiefly record the names and rents of those occupying customaryor copyhold land in each small township, but may also include leasehold and free rents where other arrangements for payment of these were not in place. Some rentals specify and group the tenants by tenure; others say nothing of tenure. The bailiffsand borough rentals are more varied in content, reflecting the activities, customs and tenures of the different areas of the estates.

These rentals are continued in the rental registers in DHC 1/VI above. See also DHC 1/M and DHC 5.

DHC 5: Rentals, general (mainly leasehold), ca. 1635-ca. 1766. 2 boxes

DHC 6: Inclosure material, 1635-1933

  • DHC 6/I: Original awards
  • DHC 6/II: Original award plans
  • DHC 6/III: Copy award plans
  • DHC 6/ IV: Chancery decree awards. 2 boxes
  • DHC 6/V: Arbitration awards. 5 boxes
  • DHC 6/VIA-B: Inclosure Acts of Parliament. 2 boxes

DHC 7: Attested copies of mortgages and conveyances, and affidavits verifying discharges of mortgages, 1882-1934 (largely post 1925). 14 boxes

DHC 8: Presentments (of offences against the custom of the manor) and proclamations (summonses to heirs to appear and prove title to their holdings), 1617-1851

  • DHC 8/I: Bundlesof presentments and proclamations. 13 boxes
  • DHC 8/II: Books of proclamations. 1 box
  • DHC 8/III: Extracts of presentments. 4 boxes

DHC 9: Minor classes of Halmote Court records

  • DHC 9/I: Alienation fines paid on the transfer of copyholds, 1765-1780. 1 box
  • DHC 9/II: Abstracts of title. 3 boxes
  • DHC 9/III: Lists of copyholders by township, ca. 1903. 2 boxes
  • DHC 9/IV: Gateshead manor miscellanea (admittances, various deeds, call rolls, jurors' lists, presentments, fees, summonses, surrenders, etc.), 1609-1924. 1 tray
  • DHC 9/V: Notitia, ca. 1788-1862. 3 boxes Small plans and valuations and a few papers and leases, mainly concerning leasehold lands in Yorkshire, Durham and Northumberland. Includes some strays from Durham CathedralDean & Chapter estates records.

DHC 10: Miscellanea, 16th-20th century (predominantly 19th-20th century)

  • DHC 10/A: Files from the Halmote Court office. 12 boxes Survivals, kept as samples, of Halmote Courtoffice files, which were heavily weeded before the records were deposited with the university. However, all maps, plans and sketches were first removed from files which were destroyed; for these see DHC 11/VI. The deposited material includes one boxon village greens, ca. 1759-1952 (DHC 10/A1). There is a series of keys to subjects of Halmote Court office files 5426-1022 and 15628-20631 in DHC 1/M81-83, and a numerical table of surviving files.
  • DHC 10/B: Papers. 18 boxes, 1 roll Extremely miscellaneous papers concerning bishopric estates and tenants, 16th-20th century.

DHC 11: Maps There are almost no maps or plans of bishopric copyhold properties among the Halmote Court records predating the Ordnance Survey maps. Halmote Court officials coloured their office sets of the 6 inch and25 inch O.S. series (DHC 11/I and III) to distinguish bishopric copyhold, leasehold and freehold land, and annotated them with the call numbers used to identify plots of copyhold land, and other administrative information. Working from the annotatedmaps, therefore, it is possible to discover the call numbers relating to particular areas, and from there go via the call books (DHC 1/V) to the records of transactions relating to those calls in the court rolls (DHC 1/I-III). Conversely, workingfrom a call number it is possible to identify the location of the holding on a map.

  • DHC 11/I: Annotated 6 inch O.S. maps of Co. Durham, 1st ed., sheets 1-58 (1862-5), covering all the county. 4 trays
  • DHC 11/II: Some books of reference to 25 inch O.S. 1st ed. maps of Co. Durham. 1 box
  • DHC 11/III: Annotated 25 inch O.S. maps of Co. Durham, large but incomplete set of 1st, 2nd and 3rd eds, 1856-1922. This set covers those areas of Co. Durham where the Durham Bishopric estates lay.
  • DHC 11/IV: Other O.S. series (25 inch Bedlingtonshire, 1:1250 Bedlington, 5 ft and 10 ft Co. Durham towns)
  • DHC 11/V: Miscellaneous maps and plans, 18th-20th century Maps made for or useful to administration of the bishopric estates, with some strays from Durham Cathedral Dean & Chapter estate records
  • DHC 11/VI: Additional maps and plans, 19th-20th century (including a few copies of earlier plans). 6 boxes Small maps and plans, many originally part of Halmote Court office files of which the other contents weredestroyed before the records were deposited with the university - see DHC 10A above

Conditions Governing Access

Manorial records

Open for consultation.

Acquisition Information

Deposited with the University of Durham's Department of Palaeography and Diplomatic (from 1990 part of the Archives & Special Collections department of Durham University Library) by the Church Commissioners in 1953.

Other Finding Aids

The Halmote Court records were listed in particular catalogues as follows: 

Most of the Ordnance Survey material is catalogued on the Library catalogue: DHC 11/I-II - http://library.dur.ac.uk/search/c?SEARCH=DHC&SUBMIT=Search; the 25 inch Ordnance Survey maps are catalogued by County and sheet number.

A search room card index covers lists 1-11, with the following exceptions, which are indexed separately: DHC 10 (index in Halmote Court list 7), DHC 11 (indexed in Search Room card index of maps). Halmote Court list 9 has its own index, and manyindividual manuscripts have their own contents lists.

Separated Material

National Archives, Kew: Durham class (records of the Palatinate of Durham), especially Durham 3/12-28, 135-140 (Halmote Court rolls, 1348-1619). The University Library holds microfilm of those rolls in the set in the NA which pre-date the seriesin Durham.

Tyne & Wear Archives, MN/GA(2091) Gateshead Manorial Court Book, jurors and presentments, 16 April 1751 - 30 September 1774

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

Dixon-Johnson Papers

Durham Bishopric Estates, Church Commission deposit (which deals primarily with leasehold and freehold land)

Durham Palatinate Chancery Court Records

Mickleton & Spearman MS 96/2 contains alphabets to three of the PRO set of Halmote Court rolls; ff.30-42 is for PRO Durham 3/24 (1560-1587), ff.52v-67 is for PRO Durham 3/23 (1530-1559), and ff.68-71v is for PRO Durham 3/32 (1523-1529)


Drury, J. Linda, How to trace the history of property once part of the bishopric of Durham estates (Durham, 1997) [typescript, available in search room] Emsley, Kenneth, & Fraser, C.M., The courts of the county palatine of Durham from earliest times to 1971 (Durham, 1984) Fewster, J.M., The Halmote Court Records of the bishop of Durham, Journal of the Northumberland and Durham Family History Society, 16 no.2 (1991), 42-3 Lapsley, Gaillard Thomas, The county palatine of Durham: a study in constitutional history (London, 1900)

Geographical Names