Durham University Records: Central Administration and Officers

Scope and Content

These records cover a broad range of types and formats concerned with all aspects of the administration of the university, its estate and staff by its officers. The records of the formal head of the university, (since 1908 the chancellor), are few and mainly concerned with their installation. The administrative papers of the university's executive head, from 1909 the vice-chancellor, supported by the registrar, are generally subsumed within a central filing system which covers all aspects of the university's administration, and also includes files supporting the work of many of its committees. Before 1963, there separate filing systems for the administration of the Durham Colleges, that is the colleges in Durham, and the university as a whole, ie including Newcastle, and also affiliated colleges at such as particularly Fourah Bay in Sierra Leone. After 1963, a single system persists, though by the 1990s this is less generally used for central filing with the growth in size of the administration and the establishment of separate filing systems in the burgeoning separate departments.

Aside from these central files, there are also some records of vice-chancellors carrying out functions away from the university, either representing the university on national bodies, or acting in an independent capacity; there are such sequences for Sir Derman Christopherson (VC 1961-1978) and Sir Fred Holliday (VC 1980-1989). Vice-chancellors were increasingly supported from their inception by pro-vice-chancellors, though separate records of their work only consistently survive from the time of John Clarke (PVC 1984-1990).

Records of the registrar, supplemented by those of the proctors (which office ceased in WW2), include all those to do with the core aspect of the university: the admission, administration, teaching, examination and graduation of its students. So these include registers of students admitted, lecture timetables, a few student files, exam papers, mark books, pass lists and records of the graduation of students, and the university's honorary graduates, at congregations, including speeches, photographs and videos.

The financing of the university's work has left extensive series of volumes of financial records, including ledgers, cash books and journals, with again separate seqences for the distinct colleges and university administrations until 1963.

The records of the university's surveyor or estates and buildings department at present mainly comprise the deeds for the university's estate, which considerably predate the university and provide much valuable property history for the city of Durham, and elsewhere, back into the sixteenth century. There are also some correspondence files on the major building projects of the university in mainly the 1960s.

Public relations and development work has been an ever growing and vital part of the university's work, which has generated considerable files on events and public relations, and newsletters, alongside extensive audiovisual and press cuttings collections.

Finally, a quantity of artefacts and memorabilia, especially gowns, hoods and headwear, are also part of the archive.

Administrative / Biographical History

The formal and executive head of the university was initially the warden. These two functions were separated out in the 1908 act with the establishment of a chancellor as the formal head and the vice-chancellor (who had been to some extent presaged by the sub-warden) as the executive head of the administration. He was to be, and is, assisted by pro-vice-chancellors. The post of warden was revived for the Durham Colleges in 1937, when the post of vice-chancellor was rotated with King's College. The vice-chancellor continued to be warden after 1963. The registrar has always been the chief administrative officer of the university, and is still responsible for overseeing all aspects of the processing of students through the university. The university has similarly always had a treasurer, responsible for its finances. Both have been assisted by an ever-growing number of staff and departments. Proctors, senior and junior, dealt with attendance and degrees but did not outlast WW2. Estates and Buildings, Personnel and perhaps especially Development and Public Relations are functions that have, by contrast, grown since WW2 as, with ever-growing numbers, the university has ever more buildings to construct and maintain, ever more staff to administer under ever more regulations, and ever more funds to raise for its work from supporters and alumni.


Arranged into the present classification in April 2004 after consultation between M.M.N. Stansfield, M.S. McCollum and E.R. Rainey, with additional classes added subsequently as necessary.

Conditions Governing Access

Mostly open for consultation, with exceptions as noted, generally with regard to the Data Protection Act.

Acquisition Information

Transferred to the University Library from the university's central administration at various times since the 1950s, and especially since 2004 with the major sequences of central files being deposited in 2008.


Part of : Durham University Records

Other Finding Aids

Online catalogue available at online catalogue.

Conditions Governing Use

Permission to make any published use of material from the collection must be sought in advance from the Sub-Librarian, Special Collections (e-mail PG.Library@durham.ac.uk) and, where appropriate, from the copyright owner. The Library will assist where possible with identifying copyright owners, but responsibility for ensuring copyright clearance rests with the user of the material.

Custodial History

Almost all these records have always been held by the university, supplemented by the occasional donation, particularly of artefacts.

Related Material

Papers of the vice-chancellors F.B. Jevons (sub-warden/VC 1902-1911) and Sir James Duff (VC/warden 1937-1958) are held separately in Durham University Library ASC, though their administrative work does not feature strongly.