York Diocesan Archive

Scope and Content

York Diocesan Archive comprises the records of the administration of the Diocese of York by the Archbishop of York and his officials, together with the records of administrative business in the Province of York undertaken by the Archbishop in his role as metropolitan.
The Diocese of York today covers the City of York, the eastern part of North Yorkshire and most of the East Riding of Yorkshire and is divided into three archdeaconries and 21 deaneries. But the diocese in medieval times was much larger, divided into five archdeaconries and spanning Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire and parts of Lancashire, Cumberland and Westmorland. In 1541 the Archdeaconry of Richmond, which covered parts of the Yorkshire Dales, the north of Lancashire, south Westmorland and part of Cumberland, was removed from the diocese to become part of the new Diocese of Chester. In 1836 an area broadly corresponding to the West Riding, was removed to form part of the new Diocese of Ripon. In 1884 Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire were removed to become part of the new Diocese of Southwell. In 1914 the south of Yorkshire was removed to form the new Diocese of Sheffield.
The Province of York, headed by the Archbishop of York, covers the northern third of England and the Isle of Man and today has 12 dioceses: York, Durham, Carlisle, Sodor and Man, Chester, West Yorkshire and the Dales, Manchester, Liverpool, Blackburn, Newcastle, Sheffield, and Southwell and Nottingham. The medieval Province of York was divided into three much larger dioceses: York, Durham and Carlisle, with the Diocese of Sodor and Man added in 1542.
York Diocesan Archive is of great significance for the study of history. It covers a huge area of the North of England and ranges in date from the thirteenth century to the present day. The records are not only a key resource for the history of the church but they also reveal much about power and property and - because the church courts regulated many areas of ordinary life from medieval times to the nineteenth century - about the lives and conduct of ordinary people.
The scope and content is briefly described as it will be under the new arrangement of the archive. This is currently in progress, so may be subject to modification.
The new archive arrangement has 11 subfonds.
YDA/1 Administration of York Province (1460-ongoing)
This subfonds includes records of the provincial and national gatherings of the Church of England in which the Archbishop of York plays a prominent part: these are the Convocation of York, the Church Assembly (established in 1919 and abolished in 1970) and General Synod (established in 1970). It also includes records relating to the provincial duties of the Archbishop, such as the confirmation of bishops within the Province of York, the granting of permissions to overseas clergy to minister within the province, sede vacante and other provincial business within individual dioceses, and granting of faculties under Canon C4 for ordination of divorced persons.
YDA/2 York Diocesan Registry (1225-ongoing)
These are the records of the York Diocesan Registrar, the chief legal officer of the Archbishop. The records are wide ranging in date, extent and content, comprising the day to day legal business of the diocese. They include the archbishops’ registers and act books, records relating to the ordination, licensing and resignations of clergy, records of benefices and patronage and the consecration and licensing of churches and church premises, records of church land and property, including glebe, parsonage houses, schools and mission rooms and the archbishop’s estates, records of tithe, records of faculties, marriage bonds and licences, records relating to parishes including parish register transcripts, and records relating to rural deaneries. There are also records of charities and of dissenters, national returns and surveys, records of registry administration, some fragments of records, and some non-diocesan records found in the Registry.
YDA/3 Diocesan Administration (1863-ongoing)
These are the records of the administrative committees, boards and other bodies created in the Diocese of York from the mid nineteenth century onwards. They include the records of the Diocesan Synod and related bodies, as well as the records of the Diocesan Board of Finance together with its committees and predecessors which deal with property, trusts, investments, parsonages, maintenance of the ministry, church buildings and chancel repair. Other records include those of the Diocesan Board of Education and its predecessor bodies, the Diocesan Ordination Candidates Council, the Diocesan Ministry and Ecumenical Council, the Diocesan Advisory Committee for the Care of Churches, the Diocesan Board of Patronage, the Diocesan Evangelistic Council, the Diocesan Pastoral Committee and its predecessors, and the Redundant Churches Uses Committee. There are also records relating to Diocesan funds and appeals, Diocesan commissions, the York Diocesan Association for Moral Welfare and its associated organisations and Diocesan published material.
YDA/4 Archiepiscopal records from Bishopthorpe Palace (1467-ongoing)
These are records which have come from Bishopthorpe Palace, the residence of the Archbishop. They comprise personal files, papers and correspondence relating to individual Archbishops, papers relating to schools and charities, records of the Schola Archiepiscopi (a theology school established at Bishopthorpe), records of Operation Firm Faith, benefice papers, volumes relating to the state of the diocese from the seventeenth to the twentieth centuries, records of provincial administration, records of diocesan administration and records of relations with overseas churches.
YDA/5 Archiepiscopal Courts (1300-ongoing)
From medieval times to the mid nineteenth centuries the church courts had a wide jurisdiction, and heard cases including defamation, matrimony, tithe, probate, church rights and breach of faith by clergy.
The records in this subfonds relate to the Archiepiscopal courts and include court books, cause papers and other documents covering all courts and papers of court officials. (But note that the original wills and other uncontentious probate material from these Archiepiscopal courts are at YDA/11).
The Consistory Court was the archbishop's general court for the administration of ecclesiastical law, and this court oversaw the greatest amount of business.
The Chancery or Audience Court was the personal court of the archbishop, dealing with correctional business, testamentary jurisdiction over beneficed clergy, administrative functions such as faculty jurisdiction and appeals from the Northern Province.
The Exchequer and Prerogative Courts were both testamentary courts: the Exchequer Court dealt with testamentary business relating to laity and unbeneficed clergy and the Prerogative Court dealt with 'bona notabilia' ie individuals who died in one of the dioceses or peculiar jurisdictions in the Province of York leaving goods and chattels to the value of five pounds and above in any other diocese or peculiar jurisdiction within the province.
There are also records from the Court of the Northern High Commission, set up in 1561 and abolished in 1641. This court was established under the Elizabethan Act of Supremacy of 1558, to enforce the religious settlement and ecclesiastical discipline on behalf of the monarch. The court was presided over by the Archbishop of York and the matters it dealt with were similar in nature and content to the church courts but its members were a mixture of clergy and laymen. Unlike the church courts, it had the power to fine and imprison and to pursue wrongdoers across different ecclesiastical jurisdictions. It thus operated alongside the church courts, using its more stringent penalties to enforce adherence to church law where necessary.
YDA/6 Archiepiscopal Visitation (1567-ongoing)
Visitations of a diocese by a bishop for the purposes of correction, monitoring and inspection became a standard practice from the thirteenth century onwards. The York visitations are recorded in the archbishops’ registers until the sixteenth century, but during the Reformation, when visitation became a useful tool for enforcing religious conformity and discipline, a separate series of archiepiscopal records of visitation began to be kept. The Archbishop would make a ‘primary’ visitation of the Province of York during the first year after his enthronement. Records of Provincial visitations survive from the late sixteenth to the late seventeenth century, but these visitations never extended to the Dioceses of Durham nor to Sodor and Man. The Archbishop would also make ‘ordinary’ visitations of the Diocese of York at intervals of three to four years. From the late seventeenth century onwards, visitation came to have more of an administrative function, with the Archbishop enquiring into, and gaining information about, the parishes in his diocese.
The records in this subfonds are from 72 visitations and include court books, files of visitation papers including premonitions, articles of enquiry, examinations of clergy, calls, commissions, inhibitions, relaxations, presentments, correction citations, excommunications, penances, surrogations, and letters of proxy, as well as correspondence related to the visitation. There are detailed returns for the 1743 and 1764 visitations, and the practice of making detailed returns was usual from 1865.
YDA/7 Bishops Suffragan (1889-1983)
In most dioceses the bishop has the assistance of one or more suffragan bishops who reside in the diocese. The Diocese of York has three suffragan bishoprics: Hull (created in 1891), Whitby (1923), and Selby (1939). Each of these now takes informal responsibility for one of the three archdeaconries in the diocese: the Bishop of Hull for the Archdeaconry of the East Riding, the Bishop of Whitby for the Archdeaconry of Cleveland and the Bishop of Selby for the Archdeaconry of York. From 1889 to 1923 there was also a Suffragan Bishop of Beverley in the Diocese. This see was revived following the passing of the Episcopal Ministry Act of Synod, 1993 and the Bishop of Beverley is now a Suffragan Bishop serving the Province of York, providing alternative episcopal oversight for those parishes who are unable to accept the sacramental ministry of bishops who have participated in the ordination of women.
The records in this subfonds are all nineteenth or twentieth century in date and relate to the Suffragan Bishop of Beverley (in the first creation of the see) and to the Suffragan Bishop of Selby.
YDA/8 Archdeaconries (1598-ongoing)
An archdeaconry is a legal division of a diocese for administrative purposes, headed by an archdeacon who is next after the bishop in respect of his archdeaconry, having statutory authority under the crown. He has day to day supervision of the parishes in the archdeaconry, and his role is to assist the bishop in his office and in his pastoral care. His functions include examining and presenting candidates for ordination, inducting to benefices and admitting churchwardens and he has other duties relating to church fabric, faculties, parsonages and church buildings. He must also hold an annual visitation of the parishes in his archdeaconry. In medieval times, the Diocese of York had five archdeaconries: York, the East Riding, Cleveland, Richmond and Nottingham. Richmond became part of the Diocese of Chester in 1541. The Archdeaconry of Sheffield was created in 1884. As new dioceses were created in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the area covered by the Diocese of York gradually contracted and today it is divided into three archdeaconries: York, the East Riding and Cleveland. In 2014 an Archdeacon for Generous Giving and Stewardship was additionally appointed, who works across the whole diocese supporting and resourcing churches in the area of Christian giving.
Records in this subfonds comprise records of administration and records of visitation for the Archdeaconries of York, the East Riding, Cleveland and Sheffield.
YDA/9 Rural Deaneries (1843-2005)
Archdeaconries are divided into smaller units called rural deaneries (more often called deaneries, or area deaneries, today, as many are not ‘rural’). Every parish in the diocese is within a deanery and looking after the deanery is the rural dean. In the medieval period the deaneries in the diocese numbered 20. Numbers of rural deaneries in the Diocese of York have altered with diocesan changes: in 1865 there were 26, in 1894 there were 32 and in 2016 there are 21. The medieval rural dean had the duty of inspecting clergy and laity and convening rural chapters to gain knowledge of the deanery and any irregularities; however the growth in powers of archdeacons meant that by the Reformation period the office of rural deans had drastically declined, though in the Diocese of York rural deans continued to be active in granting probates, so that executors did not have to travel to York. The position of rural dean was revived in the nineteenth century. He (or she) now assists and reports problems to the archdeacon and archbishop, advises parochial clergy and convenes the Deanery Chapter, which is a gathering of clergy for mutual collaboration and support. The dean has some statutory and other duties and has acquired a greater importance since the introduction of synodical government in 1970: the deanery synod, which replaced the previous ruridecanal conference, is the lowest tier in synodical government.
Records in this subfonds include minutes and other records of deanery chapters, ruridecanal conferences and deanery synods, administrative files, correspondence and papers, deanery newsletters and magazines, papers relating to committees, visitation books and other records. There are records for 22 Rural Deaneries: Ainsty, Beverley, Buckrose, Bulmer, Easingwold, Escrick, Guisborough, Harthill, Helmsley, Hull, Malton, Market Weighton, New Ainsty, North Holderness, Northallerton, Pickering, Pocklington, Selby, South Holderness, Tadcaster, Thirsk, York City.
YDA/10 Peculiar Jurisdictions (14th century-20th century)
A peculiar was a unit of ecclesiastical jurisdiction which was outside the normal jurisdiction of the diocese by the bishop as ‘ordinary’ (ie exercising the regular jurisdiction attached to his office). A huge number of peculiar jurisdictions were created in the medieval period. Peculiar jurisdiction might include the right to grant probates and administrations, the right of visitation, the right to grant marriage licences and the right to hear contentious litigation (ie court cases between two parties). There were a great number of peculiars, they were of different jurisdictional types, they covered areas which ranged widely in extent, they varied in their scope and jurisdictions, and their numbers and powers of jurisdiction might change over time.
The Archbishop of York himself had his own peculiar jurisdictions where his spiritual jurisdiction bypassed the normal authority, whether it be archdeacon (if the peculiar was situated in the diocese) or bishop (if outside the diocese).
By far the largest number of peculiars in the Diocese of York belonged to the Dean and Chapter of York and the dignitaries and prebendaries of the Minster. These endowments had been acquired by grants from successive Archbishops of York between the eleventh and thirteenth centuries. These holdings were free from the jurisdiction of the archdeacons and their courts. They were also free from most archiepiscopal jurisdiction and the Dean and Chapter exercised all episcopal functions in these peculiars except for ordination and confirmation. The peculiar courts of the Dean and Chapter constituted a separate jurisdictional unit within the Diocese of York. The central Dean and Chapter Court also had jurisdiction over the Diocese of York during vacancies of the see.
There were also other peculiars in the Diocese belonging to other ecclesiastics. In Nottinghamshire the Chapter of Southwell exercised all episcopal functions except for ordination and confirmation within their Peculiar of Southwell. In Yorkshire, there were two Peculiars of Allerton and Allertonshire: one belonging to the Dean and Chapter of Durham and the other to the Bishop of Durham. The Dean and Chapter of Durham also possessed the Peculiar of Howden, Howdenshire and Hemingbrough. The Bishop of Durham also held the Manor of Crayke, which was a detached part of the County Palatine of Durham and of the Bishopric of Durham, until 1837 when the peculiar jurisdiction was extinguished.
In the Reformation period, some peculiar jurisdictions of Minster dignitaries and prebendaries came into the possession of lay proprietors. The dissolution of the monasteries saw other peculiars in the Diocese transfer into lay ownership: the Peculiar of Selby and the Peculiar of Snaith had both formerly belonged to the Abbot and Convent of Selby but they were transferred to the Crown in 1539 and were subsequently held by lay proprietors.
This complex picture of peculiar jurisdictions within the Church of England finally came to an end in the nineteenth century. All peculiars in the Diocese of York were ended by Order of Council dated 27 August 1846.
Records in this subfonds comprise records for the following Peculiar Jurisdictions:
Peculiar Jurisdiction of the Archbishop, comprising the Liberty of Hexham and Hexhamshire and the Liberty of Ripon.
Peculiar Jurisdiction of the Dean and Chapter of York.
Peculiar Jurisdiction of the Dignitaries of York and the Archdeacons, including the Deanery of York, the Precentorship of York, the Chancellorship of York, the Subdeanery of York, the Succentorship of the Canons, and the Dissolved Treasurership of York..
Peculiar Jurisdictions of the Prebendaries of York Minster, comprising the jurisdictions of the Prebends of Ampleforth, Barnby, Bilton, Bugthorpe, Fenton, Holme Archiepiscopi, Husthwaite, Knaresborough, Langtoft, North Newbald, Osbaldwick, Riccall, Stillington, Strensall, Warthill, Weighton, Wetwang, Wistow, Dissolved Prebend of South Cave, Dissolved Prebend of Salton, Dissolved Prebend of Wadworth.
Other Peculiar Jurisdictions, comprising the Howden and Howdenshire Peculiar of the Dean and Chapter of Durham, Selby Peculiar and Snaith Peculiar.
Records include court books, cause papers and other court records, faculty papers, sequestrations, visitation records, penances, matrimonial records, parish register transcripts, papers relating to incumbents, administrative records and correspondence. There are also records from the Chapter Registry and records of vacancy jurisdiction by the Dean and Chapter in vacancies of the see of York.
Note that records relating to the Archdeacons of York are at YDA/8 and records relating to the probate jurisdiction of all the peculiar courts are at YDA/11.
YDA/11 Probate (1383-1858)
The records in this subfonds comprise the probate material which was transferred to the District Probate Registry in York after probate became a civil matter in 1858. In 1958-1960 all these records were deposited at the Borthwick Institute. They have been placed back within the York Diocesan Archive because they are unchanged since their removal from the York Diocesan Registry.
Testamentary business was a function of the courts of the Archbishop and of the peculiar courts of the Dean and Chapter; it was also a function of other peculiar courts whose records were stored at the Diocesan Registry.
The records in this subfonds relate to probate granted under the following jurisdictions:
Jurisdiction of the Archbishop
These comprise probate records from the Exchequer and Prerogative Courts, the Chancery Court of York and the Court of the Archbishop within the Liberty of Hexham and Hexhamshire.
The Exchequer Court covered laity and unbeneficed clergy who left land or property in the Diocese of York. The Prerogative Court had jurisdiction over individuals who died in one of the dioceses or peculiar jurisdictions in the Province of York leaving goods and chattels to the value of five pounds and above in any other diocese or peculiar jurisdiction within the province (bona notabilia). The Chancery Court had testamentary jurisdiction over beneficed clergy and over all laity and clergy during an archiepiscopal visitation. The Liberty of Hexham and Hexhamshire was a peculiar of the Archbishop, with testamentary jurisdiction.
Jurisdiction of the Dean and Chapter of York
These comprise probate records from the Court of the Dean and Chapter of York. The Dean and Chapter court exercised peculiar jurisdiction, including probate jurisdiction, over a large number of parishes, chapelries and townships in Yorkshire and over some places further afield. Also included are probate records generated during vacancies of the See of York. At these times all the probates and administrations normally granted by the Archbishop’s Exchequer, Prerogative and Chancery courts were granted by the Dean and Chapter court. Contentious testamentary jurisdiction during a vacancy also took place in the Dean and Chapter court, though these cases were recorded as normal in the Act Books of the Archbishop’s Consistory and Chancery Courts.
Jurisdiction of the Cathedral Dignitaries and Archdeacons and of the Prebendaries of York Minster
The probate records from the the Cathedral Dignitaries comprise those from the Court of the Dean of York, the Court of the Precentor of York with the Prebendal jurisdiction of Driffield annexed, the Court of the Chancellor of York with the Prebendal jurisdiction of Laughton en le Morthen annexed, the Court of the Subdean of York, the Court of the Succentor of York, the Court of the Archdeacon of York, the Court of the Archdeacon of the East Riding, and the Jurisdiction of the Dissolved Treasurership of York comprising the Peculiar Courts of Acomb, Alne and Tollerton, and Bishop Wilton. The probate records of the Archdeacons are at YDA/8.
The probate records from the Prebendaries of York Minster comprise records from the Prebendal Courts of Ampleforth, Apesthorpe, Barnby, Bilton, Bole, Bugthorpe, Dunnington, Fenton, Fridaythorpe, Givendale, Grindal, Holme Archiepiscopi, Husthwaite, Knaresborough, Langtoft, North Newbald, Osbaldwick, Riccall, Stillington, Strensall, Tockerington, Ulleskelf, Warthill, Weighton, Wetwang, Wistow, and the Jurisdiction of Dissolved Prebends comprising the Peculiar Courts of South Cave, Salton, and Wadworth.
Although these peculiar courts of Minster dignitaries and prebends and those of the Archdeacons had probate jurisdiction, all cases of disputed or contentious probate or administration were handled by the central Dean and Chapter court. The Dean and Chapter courts also had testamentary jurisdiction over those peculiar courts that had once been under Minster dignitaries or prebends but were now in lay hands. The Dean and Chapter Court also had visitation rights over places where they had contentious jurisdiction, and during visitation all probates and administrations were granted by the Dean and Chapter Court.
Other Ecclesiastical and Lay Jurisdictions
The probate records of the Peculiar Court of the Provost of the Collegiate Church of St John, Beverley. This peculiar was dissolved in 1547 but the jurisdiction continued for some time afterwards.
The probate records of the Peculiar of Selby, and of the Peculiar of Snaith. These peculiars came into lay ownership but their records were kept with those of the other ecclesiastical peculiars.
The Peculiar of Howden and Howdenshire. This peculiar belonged to the Dean and Chapter of Durham, but because the deputy registrar of the peculiar was resident in York and practised in the York ecclesiastical courts, the records of that peculiar jurisdiction, including probate material, were kept with the York records.
Some manorial courts also had testamentary jurisdiction. There are probate records for the manorial courts of Askham Bryan; Barnoldswick; Beeford; Crossley, Bingley, Cottingley and Pudsey; Linton on Ouse; Marsden; Newton on Ouse with Beningbrough; Silsden; and Temple Newsam
The other court records of all these jurisdictions are at YDA/5, YDA/8 and YDA/10.


The York Diocesan Archive was first arranged in 1952. It was completely re-arranged in 1973 and this arrangement was modified in 2003-2005 and is still in place. Further details of these arrangements are given here.
The York Diocesan Archive is currently subject to a completely new arrangement, 2015-ongoing, which is described under Scope and Content. When complete, this will replace the arrangements of 1973 and 2003-2005.
First arrangement of the archive, 1952
The archive was first arranged by Rev. J. S. Purvis and is described in The Archives of York Diocesan Registry (1952). The arrangement, in a hierarchical scheme under ‘R’ for Registry, and based on the groupings of types of records, was subdivided into ten main groups, numbered I – X, as follows:
R.I. Archbishops’ Registers
R.II. Convocation Records
R.III. Terriers and Tithe Awards
R.IV. Benefice Papers
R.IV.A Presentations and Ordinations
R.IV.A.R.I Crown Presentations
R.IV.B.a Inductions
R.IV.B.b Collations and Institutions
R.IV.B.c Bonds on Institution
R.IV.B.d Subscription Books
R.IV.B.e Sequestrations
R.IV.C Pluralities
R.IV.D Unions and Deeds of Exchange
R.IV.E Orders in Council
R.IV.F Faculties
R.IV.G Parsonages
R.IV.H Surrogates Papers
R.IV.I Non-residence papers
R.IV.J Consecrations
R.IV.K Churches, Chapels and Burying Grounds
R.IV.L Nominations
R.IV.M Curates’ Licences
R.IV.N Schoolmasters’ Licences
R.IV.O Dissenters
R.IV.P Mortgage Papers
R.IV.R Builders’ Papers
R.V. Peculiars
R.VI. Visitation Books and Papers
R.VI.A. Archiepiscopal Books and Papers
R.VI.B. Books and Papers at Bishopthorpe
R.VI.C. Exhibit and Call Books
R.VI.D. Archdeaconry of the East Riding
R.VI.E. Archdeaconry of York
R.VI.F. Archdeaconry of Cleveland
R.VII. Books and Papers of Courts and Causes
R.VII.A. Court Books
R.VII.B. Citations
R.VII.C. Excommunications
R.VII.D. Penances
R.VII.E. Cause Papers XIV Century
R.VII.F. Cause Papers XV Century
R.VII.G. Cause Papers XVI Century
R.VII.H. Cause Papers XVII Century
R.VII.I. Cause Papers XVIII Century
R.VII.J. Cause Papers XIX Century
R.VIII. Parish Register Transcripts
R.IX. Marriage Licences
R.X. Miscellaneous, including Precedent Books and papers
Second arrangement of the archive, 1973
In the early 1970s the archive was completely rearranged, restructured and re-referenced by David M. Smith. This is the arrangement which appears in A Guide to the Archive Collections in the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research (1973). The principle behind the new arrangement was to create an archival structure ‘based on the natural administrative divisions of the records’. The Contents page of the Guide showed the structural outline of the new arrangement (see below). However, although the Guide grouped series together under higher functional levels, these higher levels did not themselves have archive references and the numbering and lettering of these levels in the Guide was artificial, used primarily as an aid to understanding rather than as a necessary part of the archival structure. In practice, archive reference codes were given only at series level and below. There was thus no archive reference code at fonds level - York Diocesan Archive - and no codings for the levels such as ‘Records of the Archbishop’, ‘Records of Administration’, ‘Provincial’, ‘Convocation’. Only under the level of Convocation were there archive coding references, for the series of Convocation Books (Conv.Bk), Minute Book (Conv.MB) and Convocation Papers (Conv).
The following is the framework of the 1973 rearrangement of the York Diocesan Archive:
Records of the Archbishop
I. Records of Administration
A. Provincial
1. Convocation
2. Bishops’ Confirmations
3. Vacancy Administration
4. Benefice Papers
B. Diocesan
1. General Registers
2. Subdivisions of General Administrative Records
A. Papers relating to Clergy
B. Papers relating to Benefices
C. Papers relating to Patronage
D. Papers relating to Churches, Churchyards and Church Schools
E. Papers relating to Parsonage Houses
F. Papers relating to Glebe
G. Papers relating to Tithe
H. Papers relating to Diocesan Boards and Committees
I. Papers relating to Parish Registers
3. Dissenters
4. Estates and Revenues of the Archbishop
A. Estates
B. Procurations and Synodals
5. Personal Records of the Archbishop
6. Taxation
7. Diocesan Registry
A. Records of the Diocesan Registrar and other officials of the Archbishop
B. Charity Records
C. Non-Diocesan Records from the Diocesan Registry
8. Administrative Miscellanea
II Records of Jurisdiction
A. High Commission Court
B. The Archbishop’s Courts
III. Records of Visitation
Records of the Archdeacons
A. Records of the Archdeaconry of York
B. Records of the Archdeaconry of the East Riding
C. Records of the Archdeaconry of Cleveland
D. Records of the Archdeaconry of Sheffield
Records of Peculiar Jurisdictions
A. Peculiar Jurisdiction of the Archbishop
B. Peculiar Jurisdiction of the Dean and Chapter of York
C. Peculiar Jurisdiction of the Dignitaries of York Minster and the Archdeacons
D. Peculiar Jurisdiction of the Prebendaries of York Minster
E. Other Peculiar Jurisdictions
A. Jurisdiction of the Archbishop
B. Jurisdiction of the Dean and Chapter of York
C. Jurisdiction of the Cathedral Dignitaries and Archdeacons
D. Jurisdiction of the Prebendaries of York Minster
E. Other Ecclesiastical and Lay Jurisdictions
Modification of the 1973 arrangement, 2003-2005
In 2003-2005 collection level descriptions down to series level were contributed to the Archives Hub. These descriptions were based on D. M. Smith’s arrangement, although series were grouped together to form more consistent functional levels. For example, under York Diocesan Archive [fonds] and Diocesan Registry [subfonds], the functional level of Ordination and Licensing [subsubfonds] was created, under which were ten subsubsubfonds: Ordination, Subscription, Delegation, Nominations, Licensing of Curates, Rural Deans’ Commissions, Colonial and Overseas Clergy, Lay Readers, Resignations and Pensions, and Relinquishment of Orders. Under each of these subsubsubfonds levels were the levels of series.
However, the archive reference coding created in the 1973 arrangement was unaltered: thus, higher levels, above series, have no reference codes. So, for example, the reference for the subsubsubfonds level of Ordination is given as ‘Ord.Reg, Bp.Ord.Reg, Bp.Ord.Exam, Ord.L, Ord, Ord.Form’, which is a gathering of the references of the individual series.
The 1973 arrangement, as modified in 2003-2005, is the archive arrangement still in place in 2016, the time of writing.
Third arrangement of the archive, 2015 – ongoing
A new arrangement of the York Diocesan Archive is currently being prepared. The new arrangement draws on the work done in 1973 and 2003-2005 but will also incorporate some reorganisation, based on a comprehensive survey and inventory of the archive, and much new cataloguing. It will also involve re-referencing of the whole archive to modern standards compatible with online archive portals. Thus, archive codes will be YDA for York Diocesan Archive [fonds], and, for example, YDA/2 for York Diocesan Registry [subfonds], YDA/2/2 for Ordination and Licensing [subsubfonds], YDA/2/2/1 for Ordinations [subsubsubfonds], and YDA/2/2/1/1 for the series of ordination papers.
The framework of this new arrangement is indicated under Scope and Content.

Access Information

Records are open to the public, subject to the overriding provisions of relevant legislation, including data protection laws. 24 hours' notice is required to access photographic material.

Acquisition Information

The archive was deposited at the Borthwick Institute in 1953 by the York Diocesan Registry and the Diocese of York. There have been regular deposits of further material since 1953 by the York Diocesan Registry, the York Diocesan Office and other sources within the York Diocese.


Sources for Archival History
Katharine M. Longley, ‘Towards a history of archive-keeping in the Church of York: I. The Archbishop’s muniments’, Borthwick Institute Bulletin, volume 1, pp. 59-74
Katharine M. Longley, ‘Towards a history of archive-keeping in the Church of York: II. The Capitular muniments’, Borthwick Institute Bulletin, volume 1, pp. 103-118
C.C. Webb, ‘The Archival History of the Archbishop’s Registers at York’, unpublished lecture to ‘York’s Archbishops’ Registers Revealed’ Summer Institute, July 2015
The Rev. J. S. Purvis, The Archives of York Diocesan Registry. Their Provenance and History (St Anthony’s Hall Publications No. 2, Academic Development Committee, York Civic Trust, St Anthony’s Press, 1952)
‘Canon J.S. Purvis’, Obituaries, The Times, 28 December 1968, p. 8
Norah Gurney, ‘The Borthwick Institute of Historical Research’, Archives, volume 7, 1966, pp. 157-162
English Episcopal Acta Volume V, York 1070-1154, edited by Janet Burton (published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press, 1988)
English Episcopal Acta Volume 20, York 1154-1181, edited by Marie Lovatt (published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press, 2000)
English Episcopal Acta Volume 27, York 1189-1212, edited by Janet Burton (published for the British Academy by Oxford University Press, 2004)
David M. Smith, A Guide to the Archive Collections in the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research (Borthwick Texts and Calendars: Records of the Northern Province 1, University of York, 1973)
David M. Smith, A Supplementary Guide to the Archive Collections in the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research (Borthwick Texts and Calendars: Records of the Northern Province 7, University of York, 1980)
Alexandrina Buchanan, A Guide to Archival Accessions at the Borthwick Institute 1981-1996 (Borthwick Lists and Index 19, University of York, 1997)
Lynne Leeder, Ecclesiastical Law Handbook (London 1997)
Ecclesiastical Law, being a reprint of the title Ecclesiastical Law from Halsbury’s Laws of England, Third Edition, Church Assembly Edition (London 1955)
‘Ecclesiastical Divisions of the County’ in The Victoria History of the County of York, volume Three, edited by William Page (London 1913, reprinted 1974), pp.80-88
C.E. Welch, ‘The Records of the Church Commissioners’, Journal of the Society of Archivists, volume 1, No. 1, April 1955, pp.14-16
E.J. Robinson, ‘The Records of the Church Commissioners’, Journal of the Society of Archivists, volume 3, 1967, pp. 347-356
York Diocesan Calendar and Clergy List (later York Diocesan Year Book), editions 1863 to the present, passim.
Other Sources used for Scope and Content
An Act for extinguishing the Secular Jurisdiction of the Archbishop of York and the Bishop of Ely in certain Liberties in the Counties of York, Nottingham and Cambridge, CXLII. Stat 6&7 William IV, c.87 (1)
John Addy, The Archdeacon and Ecclesiastical Discipline in Yorkshire: Clergy and the Churchwardens (St Anthony’s Hall Publications No. 24, 1963)
Paul Barber, ‘What is a Peculiar?’ Eccleasiastical Law Journal, volume 3, issue 16, December 1995, pp. 299-312
Sandra Brown, The Medieval Courts of the York Minster Peculiar (University of York, Borthwick Paper No. 66, 1984)
Richard Burn, Ecclesiastical Law, with notes and references by Simon Fraser, 7th edition, corrected, in 4 volumes (1809), volume 3
Claire Cross, ‘The Economic Problems of the See of York: Decline and Recovery in the Sixteenth Century’, in Joan Thirsk (ed), Land, Church and People: Essays Presented to Professor H.P.R. Finberg, Agricultural History Review Supplement (1970), pp 64-83
John Gamon, The Consistory Court of Chester, its practice, fees etc (Chester 1877)
Richard Grey, A System of English Ecclesiastical Law (3rd edition) (London, 1735)
P.A. Kennedy, Guide to the Nottinghamshire County Records Office (Nottinghamshire County Council, 1960)
Thomas Langdale, A Topographical Dictionary of Yorkshire (1822)
George Lawton, Collectio Rerum Ecclesiasticarum de Dioecesi Eboracensi or Collections relative to Churches and Chapels within the Diocese of York (London 1840), volume 1
George Lawton, A Brief Treatise of Bona Notabilia with an Account of the Archiepiscopal Courts of Probate within the Province of York (London, 1825)
Ronald A. Marchant, The Church under the Law. Justice, Administration and Discipline in the Diocese of York 1560-1640 (Cambridge University Press 1969)
‘Medieval Beverley: The archbishop and Beverley’ in The Victoria History of the County of York, East Riding, volume 6 (Institute of Historical Research, London, 1969) pp. 11-16
Dorothy M. Owen, The Records of the Established Church in England (British Records Association, Archives and the User, No. 1, 1970)
Sir Robert Phillimore, The Ecclesiastical Law of the Church of England (2 volumes, London 1873)
W. J. Sheils, ‘Bishops and their dioceses: reform of visitation in the Anglican church c.1680–c.1760’, Clergy of the Church of England database, CCEd Online Journal 1, 2007.http://www.theclergydatabase.org.uk/cce_a1/
W.J. Sheils (ed.), Ecclesiastical cause papers at York: files transmitted on appeal 1500-1883, Borthwick Texts and Calendars 9 (1983).
W.J. Sheils, Papers of the York Court of High Commission c.1560-1641 from the Borthwick Institute for Historical Research, University of York (Reading, 1988).
Professor I.J. Gentles and W.J. Shiels, Confiscation and Restoration: the Archbishopric Estates and the Civil War (University of York, Borthwick Paper No. 59, 1981)
The Reverend M.G. Smith, Pastoral Discipline and the Church Courts: the Hexham Court 1680-1730 (University of York, Borthwick Paper No. 62, 1982)
R.N. Swanson, ‘Peculiar Practices: The Jurisdictional Jigsaw of the Pre-reformation Church’, Midland History, volume 26, no. 1, pp. 69-95
Henry Swinburne, A Briefe Treatise of Testaments and Last Wills (London, 1640)
A. Hamilton Thompson, ‘The Jurisdiction of the Archbishops of York in Gloucestershire, with Some Notes On the History of the Priory of St Oswald at Gloucester, Transactions of the Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society, volume 43, 1921, pp. 85-180
Barry Till, The Administrative System of the Ecclesiastical Courts in the Diocese of York, Part III A Study in Decline (unpublished manuscript, Leverhulme Research Scheme, 1963)
Barry Till, The Church Courts 1660-1720: the revival of procedure (University of York, Borthwick Paper 109, 2006)
P. Tyler, 'The Significance of the Ecclesiastical Commission at York', Northern History 2 (1967), 27-44
C.C. Webb, A Guide to Genealogical Sources in the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research (University of York, Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, 2nd edition 1988)
Colin Blanshard Withers, Yorkshire Probate (Yorkshire Wolds Publication, 2006)
Diocese of York website http://dioceseofyork.org.uk/
Archbishop of York website http://www.archbishopofyork.org
Lupton Fawcett Denison Till website [York Diocesan and Provincial Registrar] http://www.luptonfawcett.com

Other Finding Aids

Until the new arrangement of the York Diocesan Archive is complete, the online finding aids to series level on the Archives Hub, http://archiveshub.ac.uk/ should be consulted. These reflect the 1973 arrangement as modified in 2003-2005.
Guides to the Archive, in the 1973 arrangement, are:
David M. Smith, A Guide to the Archive Collections in the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research (Borthwick Texts and Calendars: Records of the Northern Province 1, University of York, 1973)
David M. Smith, A Supplementary Guide to the Archive Collections in the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research (Borthwick Texts and Calendars: Records of the Northern Province 7, University of York, 1980)
Alexandrina Buchanan, A Guide to Archival Accessions at the Borthwick Institute 1981-1996 (Borthwick Lists and Index 19, University of York, 1997)
There are hard-copy finding aids to some of the series, as arranged in 1973, available for consultation in the searchroom at the Borthwick Institute.
There are also some online finding aids:
York's Archbishops Registers Revealed https://archbishopsregisters.york.ac.uk/ provides free access to over 20,000 images of Registers produced by the Archbishops of York, 1225-1650, in addition to a growing searchable index of names, subjects, places and organisations.
The Cause Papers Database http://www.hrionline.ac.uk/causepapers/ is a searchable catalogue of more than 14,000 cause papers relating to cases heard between 1300 and 1858 in the Church Courts of the Diocese of York. with key information about each cause which allows users to search these details. In many cases, images of the documents themselves are also available to view online.
www.findmypast.co.uk contains entries from Yorkshire parish registers held at the Borthwick, including entries from the parish register transcripts [bishops' transcripts] within the York Diocesan Archive. Also available on findmypast.co.uk is the York Marriage Bonds and Allegations Index 1613-1839, the Prerogative and Exchequer Courts of York Probate Index 1688-1858, the York Medieval Probate Index 1267-1501, and the York Peculiars Probate Index 1383-1833. Access to findmypast.co.uk is free of charge on-site at the Borthwick.
The Borthwick website includes further details of finding aids http://www.york.ac.uk/borthwick/holdings/guides/finding-aids/. This includes a PDF version of the 1994 publication listing the tithe awards and maps at the Borthwick and PDFs of the finding aids for microfilms of the probate records and marriage bonds. The website also includes a number of useful research guides on church records and genealogical sources in the York Diocesan Archive http://www.york.ac.uk/borthwick/holdings/guides/research-guides/ The Borthwick has also published many publications based on the records in the York Diocesan Archive, and these are also listed on the website http://www.york.ac.uk/borthwick/publications/

Archivist's Note

Created by K. Webb April 2016

Conditions Governing Use

A reprographics service is available to researchers subject to the access restrictions outlined above. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the document. Copies are supplied in accordance with the Borthwick Institute for Archives' terms and conditions for the supply of copies, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of documents in the custody of the Borthwick Institute must be sought.

Custodial History

The medieval records of the Archbishop
Systematic record keeping in the Diocese of York began in the time of Archbishop Walter de Gray (1215-1255). However, even before a record keeping bureaucracy became organised, we do have some evidence, through the acta of the Archbishops, about record making and about the organisation of the Archbishop’s household and administration. The acta, which survive from the late eleventh century, are the originals of documents issued by the Archbishop to other parties - and for this reason now scattered in many locations – and they are the same types of documents which, from the thirteenth century, began to be systematically recorded within the Archbishops Registers.
Although we know that record keeping and record making began in the early thirteenth century it is not until the fourteenth century that we have surviving evidence about how these records were kept or stored. An entry in Archbishop Greenfield’s Register for 1308 ordered the return of records that had been detained by certain people, and an inventory of c.1346 noted that records were stored at the Minster in 3 chests, 48 boxes, 2 baskets and a hamper. These records included title deeds and other records belonging to the Archbishop and to the Dean and Chapter, as well as to other Minster dignitaries and officials.
Despite the fact that the Minster housed many of the Archbishop’s title deeds and other papers, the Archbishops’ Registers and related papers were not stored with these records at the Minster, but were in the custody of the Archbishop’s officials. There is sparse evidence about how and where they were kept, but their location was not always static. Sometimes these records travelled in the household of the Archbishop: for example, in 1397/8 the Sede Vacante Register notes a register being in London, following the death there of Archbishop Waldby. During archiepiscopal vacancies the Archbishops’ functions were transferred to the Dean and Chapter; the Archbishop’s records were generally inventoried and may also have moved physically at such times. There are thus listings of the records handed over from official to official in 1397, 1398, 1405, 1423 and 1464 (though these listings would not have included any records which were kept back). The inventory of 1464 has a note about where the records were kept: they were located ‘in the chancery of the said reverend father within the close of York Cathedral’.
Records in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries
In the early sixteenth century Thomas Water, the Registrar of the Dean and Chapter, made inventories of all the records kept at the Minster, including those belonging to the Archbishop, to the Dean and Chapter and to other Minster dignitaries. This was part of his intention to draw up a definitive record of the rights, property and privileges of the church in York. At that time, the Archbishop’s records, including papal bulls, and grants of land and privileges, were kept in a great box with three trays, housed in the Vestry. Other Minster records were stored in twelve chests, containing 89 boxes and 10 baskets, situated in the vestibule leading to the Chapter House; other records were probably stored in the Treasury.
During the Reformation, after the dissolutions of monasteries, chantries and colleges, the related records were gathered up; sometimes other records were gathered up with them, and some of the evidences relating to Minster property were removed from the Minster Treasury in 1547 and subsequently found their way into the library of Robert Cotton and thence, eventually, to the British Library.
By the later sixteenth century there is evidence that records were also being kept in the Minster Library: in 1571 Archbishop Grindal ordered, as his 18th injunction in his primary visitation, that no ‘monument, charter, evidence or other wrytinge belonginge to the churche of York by tayken out of the tresorye, revestrye, or librarie, except that he that takyeth the same write his name in a booke to be provided for the same purpose, testifying the contentes of the same wrytinge and byndinge himselfe to restore the same againe’. The library had been founded in 1414 and housed in a building, completed 1420, on the west side of the south transept.
From the seventeenth century there is more evidence about the location of the records kept by the Archbishop’s own officials. In 1601/2, orders for the safekeeping of the records of the Ecclesiastical Commission, issued by Archbishop Hutton mention that the registry of the Archbishop’s Consistory and Chancery Courts was situated in Minster Yard. This may be the first mention of a building designated for the York Diocesan Registry. A surviving description of 1613 describes in more detail the arrangement of the rooms within the building in Minster Yard which housed the records of the registrar of the Archbishop’s Chancery and Consistory Courts and the registrar of the Exchequer Court. As with the records kept in the Minster, there was an intermingling of the records of the Archbishop and those of the Dean and Chapter: the same building in Minster Yard also housed chapter records, because the registrar of the Chancery and Consistory Courts was also registrar to the Dean and Chapter. It seems likely that these shared premises utilised a building of the 1530s adjacent to St Michael le Belfry Church.
There were serious losses of Church records in the upheavals of the seventeenth century. During the Civil War, in the siege of York in 1644, many of the records of the dissolved monastic houses which were stored in St Mary’s Tower in Bootham were destroyed when the tower was undermined and set on fire. In these unsettled and dangerous times some of the Minster clergy were prompted to remove documents from the Minster to places of greater safety.
The abolition of bishops and archbishops and the confiscation of episcopal lands in 1646 and the appropriation of chapter lands in 1649 had disastrous effects on both record keeping and on the maintenance of church records. Relevant records were gathered up and removed from cathedrals. The Archbishop’s deeds and those of the Dean and Chapter were taken to Gurney House, Old Jewry, in the City of London, which was fitted out as an office and registry for all the removed Church records. It is not clear, though it is probably likely, that the Archbishops’ registers were taken down to London at the same time. Many deeds subsequently disappeared, some being handed over to purchasers of church lands. In 1654 this accumulation of Church records was transferred from Gurney House to the Excise Office in Broad Street in London. This move, like the earlier one, was made in a ‘promiscuous and disorderly way’, according to the Lancaster Herald William Ryley, who in 1660, after Parliament had voted the return to the Church of all its lands and records, petitioned Parliament for a monopoly on sorting the records out so that they could be rightfully claimed and returned to the Church authorities. Others besides Ryley were, meanwhile, busy sorting and extracting records In 1662 Parliament ordered that all the Church records be transferred to Lambeth Palace, where the antiquary William Dugdale was charged with sorting out the records and returning them. By 1664 the records were finally dispersed to their owners. When the records came back to York they were once more housed in their previous location.
This disastrous period resulted in permanent losses, neglect, chaos and confusion, not only among the major series of records that had travelled to London but also among those church records which had remained in York. The early eighteenth century antiquary William Gossip described the poor condition of many of the Chapter records in his efforts to search through them. In 1715 Thomas Jubb, the registrar of the Dean and Chapter, complained that his predecessors had left the records ‘in great disorder and confusion’.
The York Diocesan Registry in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries
In 1776 the majority of the Archbishop’s records were moved from the old registry building in Minster Yard (where the Chapter records remained) to newly renovated rooms underneath the Minster Library on the west side of the south transept of the Minster. These ground floor premises had formerly been a choir school. At the same time the spiritual courts were moved from their former accommodation in the north transept to a new space in the south transept nearby. The new accommodation for the records was divided into two rooms, one for the Prerogative and Exchequer Court records and one for the records of the Consistory Court. 82 feet of stone had been used in the alterations and the new registry was lined with 3136 feet of shelves. Both rooms were well secured with ‘a strong double Door of Oak, and the windows with iron bars’ and they were said to be secure from fire and were not damp. The records that were housed in the new premises included original wills, administration bonds, will registers, probate act books, cause papers and act books of the courts, Archbishops registers, terriers, parish register transcripts, wills of beneficed clergy and others, marriage licence bonds, presentation deeds and nominations, institution act books and subscription books, visitation books and papers and Convocation books and papers.
However, this accommodation was insufficient from the first: the evidence given to the Royal Commission on Public Records by Joseph Buckle, the Deputy Registrar, in 1800 revealed that the room for the Consistory Court records was far too small. Moreover the office of the deputy registrar, where public business was conducted, was in a dark and insecure building across the road, in Minster Yard, which meant that documents were transferred back and forth and consequently at risk from damage or loss.
In 1810 the Minster Library moved out from the space above the Archbishops’ registry to a new home in the newly-converted chapel of the Archbishop’s Palace (the space the library has occupied ever since). The Chapter Registrar moved into the vacated space in the ‘Old Library’, although the Chapter records continued to occupy the building in Minster Yard that they had formerly shared with the Archbishops’ records.
In 1829 a major fire at York Minster was started by Jonathan Martin. The fire affected the organ and roof of choir, and the Archbishops’ records had to be rescued by sixty or seventy ‘respectable tradesmen’ who formed a line from the registry to St Michael le Belfry Church where the records were deposited in the pews.
Evidence given to the Ecclesiastical Courts Commission in 1832 by Edward Protheroe MP heavily criticised the conditions in which the Archbishop of York’s records were kept, describing them as ‘scandalous’, remarking on the grossly small accommodation and the filth in which he found the records, the lack of proper care and packaging, and the opportunities for theft. Perhaps as a result of this forceful criticism, the Chapter decided, in 1834, to commission designs from the architect J.P. Pritchett for new record rooms and offices for the Archbishop’s courts, to be erected on land owned by the Chapter at the back of Petergate. Although building began it was halted after the completion of the foundations and ground floor walls because of a dispute over rent between the Chapter and the Archbishop’s Registrar as well as uncertainty over whether the outcome of a parliamentary bill proposing the abolition of local ecclesiastical courts would make such a building unnecessary. In the event, the half constructed building was redesigned and completed as two imposing houses. The problem of lack of space for the existing records remained however, so a compromise solution was arrived at. The triangular space between the west side of the existing premises and the Minster wall was filled in with a two-storey extension, also designed by Pritchett, to function as a registry. After its completion in 1837/8, any remaining Archbishop’s records still housed in Minster Yard premises were transferred to the extended accommodation.
In May 1840, after a candle had been left burning in the south-west Minster tower, another major fire destroyed parts of the Minster building. The belfry in the south-west tower, the nave roof and the vaulting were destroyed, and the records housed in the registry were once more endangered. For a second time, respectable inhabitants formed a human chain to remove the documents. They were put into coaches and carts and taken to the residence of Mr Buckle, the registrar, in Monkgate, under military escort. Fortunately, the registry escaped damage, and two days later the records were returned.
As a result of the fire, the Dean and Chapter decided to move the Chapter registry from the first floor of the ‘Old Library’ building to newly designed and better premises, thus freeing up further space in the ‘Old Library’ building for the Archbishop’s Registrar. The location chosen for the Chapter registry was the Zouche Chapel: in 1840 this was fitted up as a record room and Chapter Clerk’s Office. Once the Chapter records had been transferred to this new accommodation, the old Mint Yard premises, which once formerly housed both the Archbishop’s and the Dean and Chapter records, were demolished. The records of the Dean and Chapter records remained in the Zouche Chapel until 1960, when they were transferred to a newly added muniment room at the Minster Library.
The extension of 1837/8 did not solve the problems of poor accommodation for the Archbishop’s records, and there was more public criticism in 1850. In that year William Downing Bruce, a student of the Middle Temple but formerly an architect’s clerk in York, undertook a private survey of some of the English ecclesiastical registries, and published works critical of the ecclesiastical courts. He gathered the support of Charles Dickens who gave publicity to these criticisms in four articles in Household Words in September and October 1850, much of the text being written by Dickens himself. Bruce’s experience of visiting the York registry appeared in the article entitled: ‘The Doom of English Wills: Cathedral Number Two’ on 5 October 1850. In Dickens’ words, the registry was: ‘a kind of shed – such as is usually called a lean-to – squeezing itself, as it were (with very good reason) shamed, into the south-west corner of the cross, which the ground-plan of the cathedral forms, and sticking to it like a dirty little pimple… a confined den within, which would have made an indifferent chandler’s shop, with a pestilent little chimney in it, filling it with smoke like a Lapland hut, was the “Searching Office.”’ The article described the indignation and obstruction that Bruce had encountered in trying to access the records for research, and graphically described the state of filth in which the records were stored.
These articles received much local publicity, generating controversy in the York newspapers, some of which were convinced of the “disgraceful” situation while others dismissed the criticisms as ‘inventions’. Copious correspondence both in the press and in private continued for some months afterwards. During the controversy, the architect of the 1837/8 extension, J.P. Pritchett admitted that he had always regarded the accommodation as ‘very unsatisfactory’. But the criticisms led to some improvement works: the registrar ordered iron work for the shelves and racks to be made, attempts were made to cure the smoky chimney, and wills were no longer tied up in bundles but laid flat, protected by boards. Further changes, however, came to a halt as the Dean and the Archbishop’s registrar began a long argument about the terms of the lease, an argument which rumbled on for several decades.
In 1858 the Civil Court of Probate was established and probate ceased to be a function of the church courts. In 1885 a new building for the York Probate Registry was completed in Duncombe Place, and in 1886 the old probate records were moved away from the registries of the Archbishop and the Dean and Chapter. The resulting space created in the Archbishop’s registry allowed the Chapter to reclaim half the accommodation for the use of the chapter clerk in 1886.
Twentieth century developments
During the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, conditions at the Diocesan Registry remained deeply unsatisfactory. But attitudes were changing. Interest in the historical worth of such records among antiquarians and academics grew steadily and they began to be allowed more access to church records, in order to produce editions and to pursue research. The first bishop's register to be edited and published anywhere was the register of Archbishop Walter de Gray (Surtees Society vol 56, 1872), edited by Rev. James Raine. The Canterbury and York Society was founded in 1904 to publish medieval bishops’ registers and other ecclesiastical records. Such activity disseminated more information and publicity about the records themselves and raised the value of such records in the eyes of those who had charge of them. The annual York Diocesan Calendar during this period included a list of the ‘Documents in the Registry of the Diocese of York’, which read as follows: ‘The Registers of the Archbishops commencing in 1225, Presentations to Livings, Parish Registers, Consecration Acts, Deeds of Endowment, Conveyance of Sites, Mortgages of Livings, Faculty Papers, Marriage Bonds and Affidavits, Terriers, Orders of the Queen in Council, Visitation Books, Institution Boks, Faculty Books, Court Books, Curacy License Books, Ordination and Subscription Books, Ordination Papers, Tithe Commutation Plans, and Certificates of Redemption, Visitation Papers, Presentments, etc’. In 1929 Parliament approved the Parochial Registers and Records Measure, under which bishops were instructed to have regard for the security of the records and which allowed them for the first time to establish staffed diocesan record offices.
Key figures in the York context were Dr William Brown and Professor Alexander Hamilton-Thompson, who began producing editions of the Archbishop’s registers in 1904 and arranging and paying for the rebinding of some of the early registers. Brown died in 1924, and Hamilton-Thompson continued the work alone, launching an appeal to raise money for rebinding the registers in 1930. Both Brown and Hamilton-Thompson were friends with A.V. Hudson, the Diocesan Registrar. Hamilton-Thompson was one of the leading medievalists of the day and an active member of high profile church committees, serving on two Cathedral Commissions and on the Archbishops’ Commission on Canon Law. In 1938 he was created a Companion of Honour. His status, work and influence did much to convince both the Archbishop and the Dean of the importance of their respective archives.
This was the context for the proposal submitted to Chapter in 1936 for a new registry and archive house to the north of the Minster Library in Deans Park, to be built with a grant from the Pilgrim Trust. This plan was approved in principle by Chapter in April 1938. In connection with this plan, Archbishop Temple appointed Rev. John S. Purvis as Diocesan Archivist in 1939, commissioning him to survey the diocesan archives. At the same time, the Archbishop asked Canon Fred Harrison, the Minster Librarian, to make a survey of the Dean and Chapter archives.
Purvis found the condition of the archives in the York registry in 1939 to be little changed since the 1850s. He wrote: ‘The conditions of storage left very much to be desired; in general, files were roughly bound up in brown paper, and many documents were rolled, crushed or folded into bundles, and thrust much too closely together on the shelves; a large number suffered damage, either from damp or from nearness to the heat of the pipes which warmed the Strong Rooms in winter, or from the rough folding or the constriction of the strings with which they were tied; all suffered severely from dirt, the accumulation of a thick coat of fine black dust.’ Nevertheless he set to work: ‘Much of the initial work upon the documents which was necessary when the present writer began the task of exploring the collection with a view to making a hand-list was the heavy and unpleasant, and certainly very unclean, business of counteracting as far as possible the effects of this neglect.’
The work of Purvis and of Harrison had only just begun when war broke out. Records were moved to safer places in the Minster: the Archbishops’ Registers, for example, were moved to ‘special shelves constructed in the wall passage above the doorway to the Chapter House’. In 1940-41 many of the Chapter archives and the pre-1600 archiepiscopal records were evacuated to safer places outside York, including Bramham Park, Langton Hall, Hovingham Hall and Bolton Percy Rectory. Despite the war, both Purvis and Harrison continued their tasks of surveying and listing. Purvis compiled a regular series of Diocesan Archivist’s Reports for the Archbishop, while Harrison drew up regular reports for the Dean and Chapter.
One of the aims of this work, supported by both the Archbishop and by his Diocesan Registrar, A.V. Hudson, was to further open up the Archbishop’s archive to scholars. The historian A.G. Dickens later recalled: ‘Those few of us who throughout the thirties pursued researches in the old York Diocesan Registry will feel no doubts regarding the main achievements of Canon J.S. Purvis. By heroic effort he brought order to a vast and dust-covered chaos of documents which had been stuffed by the thousand into any vacant space by the registrars of several centuries. I vividly remember working at that time with Purvis, the late Professor Hamilton Thompson and the registrar’s clerks, in the small draughty and ill-lit general office, where only a limited selection of documents could be produced. Purvis was then still teaching himself to read and interpret the crabbed and voluminous court books and cause-papers. He was also working out the scheme of classification which he later applied to the archive. Most of the time unaided, intermittently waging his long struggle with a respiratory disorder, he accomplished his main objectives during and immediately after the war years.’
The 1930s scheme to house the diocesan archives and the diocesan registry in an extension to the Minster Library became subject to extensive delays, partly due to the war but also due to the escalating costs of the building and arguments over the size of accommodation needed. The wrangling became particularly acrimonious with the advent of a new Dean, Eric Milner-White and a new Diocesan Registrar, Colonel Innes Ware. Milner-White had his own ambitions to extend and enhance the holdings of the Minster library and to make dedicated space for the Chapter archive, and he worried that these aims would be compromised by the diocesan archives scheme. In 1949, and despite the continuing promise of a very large grant from the Pilgrim Trust for the building works, Milner-White unilaterally pulled the plug on the diocesan archive scheme, declaring ‘THERE IS NO ROOM’ in early July 1949.
The archive of York Diocesan Registry and the Borthwick Institute
At this point, the scheme to re-house the Diocesan Archive became intertwined with the ambitions of a group of visionary men, who together had founded York Civic Trust in 1946, and who, in the late 1940s, began a campaign to attract a university to York. The campaign was spearheaded by one of the Trust co-founders, Oliver Sheldon, and it was due to his efforts that York had been one of the places invited to present a case to the University Grants Committee (the UGC) in 1947. In the event, the UGC had decided that the time was not ripe for new universities, but it suggested to the York deputation that if York worked out an academic scheme, it might form ‘the basis of a long-term policy’. So the York Civic Trust formed an Academic Development Committee for this purpose. Over the next few years, this Committee – which was succeeded in 1956 by the York Academic Trust - managed and ran a large programme of academic activities, designed to keep the university dream alive. This programme included summer schools and courses. One of the earliest summer schools was a summer school on archives, with J.S. Purvis as a key teacher, using the archives from the Diocesan Registry. The Archbishop’s archive thus became crucial to York Civic Trust’s academic plans and it was envisaged that the summer schools might eventually be developed into institutes.
When Oliver Sheldon heard, in July 1949, that the scheme to house the York Diocesan Archive in a Minster Library extension had fallen through and that the promised £12,000 Pilgrim Trust grant might be available for an alternative scheme, he acted quickly. Here was the chance for an institute, giving the academic activities both permanence and a headquarters. Between late July and early September 1949 he worked quickly, to come up with a scheme for the diocesan archive to be loaned to York Civic Trust and housed at the then empty St Anthony’s Hall, a medieval guildhall on Peasholme Green. Sheldon successfully got all involved parties to co-operate: the Archbishop agreed to the archive loan, York Corporation agreed to the lease of the Hall, and the Deputy Keeper of Public Records, Sir Hilary Jenkinson approved the scheme. By 1950 Sheldon had gained not only the Pilgrim Trust grant but also a pledge by the Joseph Rowntree Social Service Trust to fund the initial running costs. The Corporation agreed to spend a generous sum on the Hall’s restoration and to lease it at a peppercorn rent. Meanwhile, Sheldon was conducting intricate negotiations with the Trustees of the late William Borthwick of Bridlington for a large sum of money as an endowment.
Although Sheldon died unexpectedly in 1951, his vision was carried on by his colleagues. The new home for the Archbishop’s archives, called the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, was opened at St Anthony’s Hall in 1953 (it became a department of the new University of York in 1963). Rev. J.S. Purvis became the Institute’s first Director, and the archives were moved from the registry building to new secure strongroom accommodation at the Borthwick, where there were also dedicated facilities for researchers.
Other records in the York Diocesan Archive
The archives which were moved to the Borthwick Institute in 1953 were, however, only one part of the York Diocesan Archive as it exists today. When J.S Purvis published a short account of the Archbishop’s archive in 1952, he entitled it, quite correctly, The Archives of York Diocesan Registry. The records from the York Diocesan Registrar and his/her officials remain the core of the York Diocesan Archive, and further accessions of records from the Diocesan Registry to the Borthwick Institute have been continuous since 1953 and are still ongoing. But the York Diocesan Archive also includes other types of records created by the Diocese of York which have, since 1953, been gradually transferred to the Borthwick Institute.
In 1955 Archbishop Garbett (Archbishop of York 1942-1955) made the first deposit of ‘Bishopthorpe Papers’: archives from Bishopthorpe Palace, which had been the residence of the Archbishops of York since the thirteenth century. Further deposits were made by Archbishop Coggan (Archbishop of York 1961-1974) and additional transfers of material have been made from the 1980s onwards by successor archbishops. These papers are now part of the York Diocesan Archive, and comprise surviving correspondence and papers of archbishops from the eighteenth to twenty first centuries together with other material which overlaps with the archives from the Diocesan Registry. Some series of records, for example those relating to visitations and to archbishop’s estates, have now been interfiled with the holdings which came from the Registry.
In 1958-1960 the York District Probate Registry deposited at the Borthwick Institute the probate records from the Diocese of York. This is one of the largest accumulations of probate records outside London, and comprises the probate records which had, until their removal to the York Probate Registry in 1858, formed part of the record holdings of the York Diocesan Registry. In 1960 the York District Probate Registry also transferred the probate records of fifty-three peculiar courts having jurisdiction in Yorkshire which had, before their removal to the York Probate Registry in 1858, been in the custody of the Chapter Clerk in his capacity of Registrar of the Peculiar courts of the Dean and Chapter and of the Minster dignitaries and prebendaries. Because these accumulations of records had all remained unaltered since their nineteenth century transfer to the Probate Registry, they have been placed within the York Diocesan Archive, rather than forming a separate archive.
In contrast, the deposit of archives from the Church Commissioners to the Borthwick Institute, made in 1957, has not been included within the York Diocesan Archive despite the fact that it includes records which originally belonged to York Diocese. The Church Commissioners were set up in 1948, under the Church Commissioners Measure of 1947, which amalgamated two predecessor bodies: the Ecclesiastical Commissioners (formed in 1836) and Queen Anne’s Bounty (formed in 1704). The Ecclesiastical Commissioners had acquired many ‘inherited’ manorial records and title deeds as they gradually took over the estates and revenues of bishops, dean and chapters and other ecclesiastical corporations during the nineteenth century. These records were held centrally in their London premises until the mid-1950s when they were gradually returned to their original creators or to the archive offices containing the archives to which they had originally belonged. However, because the business of the Ecclesiastical and Church Commissioners relating to these estate records has been ongoing since the transfer of the original property records to them in the nineteenth century, the archive also includes later records generated by the Commissioners alongside the ‘inherited’ records. For this reason, the records deposited by the Church Commissioners have been treated as a separate archive.
The archive of York Diocesan Registry which came to the Borthwick in 1953 included records not only relating to the peculiar jurisdictions, temporal and spiritual, of the archbishop himself but also records relating to the peculiar jurisdictions possessed by others, including the Dean and Chapter of York, and the individual dignitaries, archdeacons and prebendaries of York Minster. The Borthwick holds these records relating to the peculiar jurisdiction of the Dean and Chapter and the Minster officials due to the fact of these records being left in the Diocesan Registry when other Chapter records were moved elsewhere. The Old Palace, which houses the main archive of the Dean and Chapter, holds further records relating to these jurisdictions. In 1960, however, the Borthwick acquired another cache of Dean and Chapter archives for the York Diocesan archive. At that time the Chapter records were being made ready for their transfer from their former accommodation in the Zouche Chapel at the Minster to the new strongroom at the Minster Library, and the opportunity was taken to transfer to the Borthwick the parish register transcripts and marriage licence bonds and allegations relating to the Dean and Chapter’s jurisdiction so they could be held alongside the similar material already in the Diocesan Archive.
Between 1953 and the present, there have been many accessions of new material added to the York Diocesan Archive. There are now, for example, records of rural deaneries, suffragan bishops, and many diocesan charities, special funds and appeals. In 1995, the records of York Diocesan Association for Moral Welfare and its associated organisations, dating back to 1906, were deposited to form part of the York Diocesan archive. As reorganisations within the church or diocese take place or new functions or roles are created, new series of records are added to the archive. For example, the creation of synodical government in 1969 means that the archive now has records relating to General Synod and to the Diocesan Synod.
The most significant new additions to the Diocesan Archive since 1953 have been the numerous and continuing accessions of material relating to diocesan administration through boards, committees, councils and commissions. The administration of diocesan work and functions through such bodies began in the nineteenth century. By 1910 a number of bodies had already been set up in the diocese to oversee new or expanding areas of diocesan work: for example, the York Diocesan Church Extension Society (1878), the General Diocesan Fund (1901), the York Diocesan Trust (1896), the Clergy Pensions Committee of the Diocesan Conference (1901), the Diocesan Education Association (1903), the Diocesan Ordination Candidates Council (1909), and the Diocesan Board of Missions (1910). In the early years of the twentieth century the funding of these varied branches of church work was further organised and rationalised. In 1909 the Archbishop appointed a special committee to consider diocesan finance, and the committee’s report recommended that the York Diocesan Extension Society and the General Diocesan Fund be amalgamated in one Central Diocesan Fund. Then, in 1912, the York Diocesan Conference set up a key central body, the York Diocesan Board of Finance, to estimate and supervise the collection of funds from the diocese and to financially support the ‘essential departments of Church Work’, which were: training for and maintenance of the ministry, clergy pensions and the aid of clergy in need, the erection of church buildings, religious education and the expenses of diocesan organization.
The York Diocesan Board of Finance was given a new scheme in 1927 under the Diocesan Boards of Finance Measure (1925) and it remains a key central diocesan body today, organising and overseeing diocesan finances and objectives, with related and changing sub-committees and associated bodies. Around the Board a permanent administration has developed, with its then headquarters at 8 Minster Yard becoming known as the Diocesan Office in 1949. The Secretary of the Board of Finance also served other diocesan committees and, as administration expanded, acquired assistant staff. He became known as the Diocesan Secretary in 1973. The Diocesan Office meanwhile moved to 4 Minster Yard in 1966, to Church House Ogleforth in 1989 and to new premises at Diocesan House, Aviator Court, Clifton Moor in 1999. The Diocesan Secretary is today the Chief Executive who heads the central support team at Diocesan House, supporting the ministry of the Archbishop and his staff and the work of churches and schools across the diocese, and overseeing the legal, financial, synodical and administrative functions in the diocese.
From the early 1970s onwards, under the auspices of the Diocesan Secretary and the Diocesan Office, the archives of the Diocesan Board of Finance and of the many other bodies involved in diocesan administration from the nineteenth century to the present have been added to the York Diocesan Archive, and still arrive in regular accessions.


Further accruals are expected.

Additional Information


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