Durham Bishopric Estates, Halmote Court Records

  • This material is held at
  • Reference
      GB 33 DHC
  • Dates of Creation
  • Language of Material
      English ; Latin
  • Physical Description
      175 metres, plus maps

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 NationalArchives (TNA) in London, under reference DURH 3/12-28. That series runs from 1348 to 1619, and microfilm copies are available in Durham of thoserolls in the TNA set which predate the start of the Durham set. The exact relationship of the two overlapping series has yet to be ascertained.

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 be 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. 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.
  • Northumberland: Norhamshire, Islandshire (Lindisfarne and nearby coastal areas) and Bedlingtonshire
  • Yorkshire: Allertonshire, Howdenshire and the manor of Crayke
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 are the records which the ChurchCommissioners inherited from and kept at the old Durham office (latterly known as the Halmote Court office), and later entrusted to the University of Durham.

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 (copyhold) 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 (i.e. tothe bishop), and the claimant 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 thecenturies before the Civil War 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.


DHC 1: Court Books and other volumes, 1519-1940s (see online catalogue for details of classes)

DHC 2: Original surrenders and admittances (records of transfers of tenancies), 1559-1925

DHC 3: Deputations (of authority by stewards or tenants to undertake Halmote Court transactions), 1661-1897

DHC 4: Rentals, wards and townships, 1529-1815 (predominantly 17th-18th century)

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

DHC 6: Inclosure material, 1635-1933

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

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 9: Minor classes of Halmote Court records:

  • DHC 9/I: Alienation fines paid on the transfer of copyholds
  • DHC 9/II: Abstracts of title
  • DHC 9/III: Lists of copyholders by township
  • DHC 9/IV: Gateshead manor miscellanea
  • DHC 9/V: Notitia (chiefly for leasehold lands)

DHC 10: Miscellaneous administrative files and papers, 16th-20th century (predominantly 19th-20th century)

DHC 11: Maps

Access Information

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 online catalogues match the above arrangement, as follows: 

The list numbers above indicate the piecemeal fashion in which the Halmote Court Records were arranged and listed between 1953 and the early 1980s. These lists survive within the Durham University Records at UND/EA2/4/29-40,206 and are cardindexed as at UND/EA2/4/173-175.

Alternative Form Available

In addition to digitised copies of some of the plans and other records within this collection (linked from appropriate catalogue entries), many of the volumes in DHC 1 and a few other items have been microfilmed by the Genealogical Society ofUtah, and some of these microfilms are now available online from their familysearch website. These can be found by doing a Title search for 'Halmote Court' at https://www.familysearch.org/search/catalog.

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.

Custodial History

The records of the Halmote Court, the copyhold court of the Bishops of Durham, were brought to the Prior's Kitchen at the end of 1953 . Before that date they were in the Halmote Court Office, 50 North Bailey, in thecare of Mr. T Downes. Mr. Downes had done the work of the office for years, but when he died in 1953 all work in drawing up compensation agreements for turning copyholds into freeholds had finished, the Durham Colleges had taken over much of thespace in the building and the Halmote Court Records were used mainly by enquirers such as solicitors searching for title or local councils interested in inclosure awards.

The Halmote Court Records form only a part of the records of the Bishops of Durham, though a well defined class, apart from the Bishops' financial, chancery and other records. The Halmote Court was not wound up in 1836  with the ending of the Palatinate, and almost all the records remained at Durham, while business was carried on until the late 1940s. Some Halmote documents must have been taken from the repository on Palace Green toLondon with the other Bishops' records, to reappear in Durham with the deposit in the Prior's Kitchen of the Church Commission documents. This would explain why, for example, some Halmote alienation fines, or Halmote presentments, appear in theChurch Commission records and lists (in such cases cross references have been given). A substantial number of Halmote Court Records bear Church Commission accession numbers, but this does not mean they were taken to London Court Office. There was aconsiderable traffic in documents between the Church Commission and Durham, Durham being in the nature of a sub-office of the Church Commissioners, and anything sent from Durham to the Church Commissioners received an accession number. All theHalmote Court Books, for example, bear an accession number received in this way.

Related Material

Dixon-Johnson Papers

Durham Bishopric Estates, Church Commission deposit (CCB): estate papers, largely relating to leasehold and freehold holdings, which were taken from Durham to the London centraloffice, or were generated there, and, when no longer required for current administrative purposes, were later returned to Durham, to the care of the university

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)


John Gutch, Collectanea curiosa (2 vols, 1781), vol. 2, pp. 76-165 prints an introduction to the history of Durham from Bodleian Carte MS 193, which includes detailedlists of Durham Halmote Court and Chancery Records.  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