Durham Probate Records

Scope and Content

Probate jurisdiction was changed by the Probate Act of 1857, which came into force in January 1858. The records are consequently divided into two sections: 

  • DPR1: pre-1858 probate records. Records of the pre-1858 probate jurisdictionadministered through the Bishop of Durham's consistory court, or by the commissary of the Dean and Chapter of Durham.
  • DPR2: post-1857 probate records. Records of the post-1858 probate jurisdiction administered through the Durham District Probate Registry (part of the Court of Probate, later the Probate Division of the High Court).

The pre-1858 records (DPR1) relate to the area covered by the diocese of Durham, together with some areas over which either the Bishop or the Dean and Chapter of Durham had probate jurisdiction, viz: 

  • Northumberland(excluding Hexham and Hexhamshire pre-1837)
  • County Durham
  • Crayke (Yorkshire), pre-1837
  • Northallerton and Allertonshire (Yorkshire), pre-1846

Further guidance on the pre-1858 probate records held, their geographical scope and administrative background, is available within the detailed DPR1 catalogues and at our North East Inheritance project website.

The post-1857 records (DPR2) relate to County Durham only. They exclude Gateshead and parts of South Tyneside after 1926.

Administrative / Biographical History

Prior to 1858 jurisdiction over testamentary matters was exercised by the Church of England and was most commonly administered through the consistory court of the local diocesan bishop. This court was presided over by the spiritual chancellor ofthe diocese, with the day- to-day running of the administration being carried out by the diocesan registrar centrally, and by local surrogates throughout the diocese. Further information on the pre-1858 probate jurisdiction of the church courts isincluded on the North East Inheritance project website.

The Probate Act of 1857, which came into force on 12 January 1858, transferred jurisdiction over testamentary matters from the Church of England to the state, and also provided for the establishment of District Probate Registries and of a Courtof Probate. The Court of Probate later became the Probate Division of the High Court, which is now the Probate Service within the Family Division of the High Court. The Durham District Probate Registry, which was situated in Durham City, dealt withprobate matters for the whole of County Durham until 1926. From 1926 to 1969, it served County Durham excluding Gateshead and some other areas on the south bank of the river Tyne, which were transferred into the jurisdiction of the Newcastle uponTyne District Probate Registry. The Durham Probate Registry closed in 1969, when most of its records were transferred to the York Sub-Registry.

Conditions Governing Access

The Durham Probate records are Public Records as defined by the Public Records Acts of 1958 and 1967.

There are no general restrictions on access to records in this collection but productions of such documents are normally limited to twelve items per searcher per day, or twenty items if sufficient prior notice is given. See our online page on viewing probate documents for further details. A list of record agents who can be commissioned to carry out searches on behalf of enquirers may be requestedfrom the search room or by email.

Acquisition Information

The pre-1858 records within DPR1 were deposited with the University of Durham (Department of Palaeography and Diplomatic, since 1990 part of the University Library) on 17 January, 25 February and 1 December 1958 by the Durham District ProbateRegistrar.

The registers in DPR2/1 were donated to the University of Durham (Department of Palaeography and Diplomatic, since 1990 part of the University Library) on 23 March 1962 by the Principal Probate Registrar. DPR2/2-4 were transferred to DurhamUniversity Library on 26 August 2006 from Newcastle City Library, shortly before it closed for demolition and rebuilding (accession Misc.2006/7:7).

Other Finding Aids

Detailed catalogues of the Durham Probate Records are available online as follows: 

Other finding aids for specific items or series, and superseded catalogues, are summarised as appropriate within the above online catalogues.

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. Guidance on Crown copyright in public records (including the Durham Probate Records) is available at The National Archives website.

See our online page on ordering copies of pre-1858 probate documents for further details. The post-1857 volumes in DPR2 are too large to be photocopied andother forms of copies are not provided from these volumes: see the detailed DPR2 catalogue for information on where to obtain copies of post-1857 wills.

Custodial History

The pre-1858 probate records from the bishop of Durham's registrar (and Dean and Chapter's official) were taken over by the Registrar to the Durham Court of Probate (established under the 1857 Probate Act). Responsibility for both these and thepost-1857 records was ultimately taken over by the Principal Probate Registry (now the Probate Service, part of the Family Division of the High Court).

Newcastle City Library had no record of the provenance for the volumes in DPR2/2-4. They might have been sent to Newcastle City Library by the Principal Probate Registrar in ca.1969 on the closure of the Durham District Probate Registry.Alternatively they could have been placed in the Library in March 1962, when the registers in DPR2/1 were donated to the University of Durham.


A bibliography, with links to online full texts where available, is held on our North East Inheritance project pages.