County Durham

The bishoprick and citie of Durham. John Speed (1552?-1629), from an edition dated between 1713 and 1743. © Durham University Library (

The bishoprick and citie of Durham. John Speed (1552?-1629), from an edition dated between 1713 and 1743. © Durham University Library

Most of the Durham records (which include the second largest monastic archive in England) are held in Durham University Library, Durham Cathedral Library and Durham County Record Office, though there is some material in the British Library, the Bodleian Library and the National Archives.

Documents are being collected from the Cathedral’s financial, liturgical and chronicle material and from the city’s trade company records. These include:

  1. A mass of evidence for the interface between drama and liturgy, and between monastic and lay communities. This includes many detailed financial records, two 14th-century liturgical manuscripts with ‘stage directions’ for dramatic ceremonies, and The Rites of Durham, a late-16th-century recusant work which describes the dramatic ceremonies of the pre-reformation Cathedral. Some ceremonies, like those on Good Friday, are typical of the medieval western church, while others, including two boy bishops around Ascension Tide, appear to be particular to Durham. The procession and plays on Corpus Christi day can be interestingly contrasted with those at York, Beverley and Newcastle.
  2. Records of folk drama, including the earliest known Plough Ceremony (first recorded in 1378); a folk-play man/woman figure (1433-34); a stag ceremony, suppressed in 1315, which the priory regarded (probably correctly) as pre-Christian; and the Durham Cantata, a 16th-century musical fragment which describes celebrations on the Feast of St. Cuthbert, including a Robin Hood play and a ‘young maids’ procession’.
  3. The names, skills and patrons of a large variety of performers, including musicians, waits, fools, a dwarf, a man with a performing dog, a wrestler, an Italian exhibitor of what was claimed to be a dragon, and companies with royal or noble patronage.

Further material can be expected to emerge from chronicle and antiquarian sources that have still to be searched. These records will be made available in a transcribed but unedited format on this page in the near future.

Pre-publication records currently available

Map of locations relating to Durham records

5 The College, Durham Library, archive or collection 54.7724,-1.577035 Durham Cathedral Archives, No. 5 The College (Cathedral Precinct), open Wednesday-Friday, 9-5, by appointment. Contact Mike Harkness (Senior Search Room Assistant in the Palace Green Library), at, Tel: 0191 334 2972; or Andrew Grey (Search Room),
Beaurepaire (ruin) Ruins 54.785679, -1.638454 Beaurepaire, or 'Bearpark', Durham, County Durham DH7. Prior's manor house, originally built by Prior Bertram (1244-58), destroyed by the Scots and later rebuilt by Prior Fosser, c.1346. At one time it included some 1300 acres of hunting park.
Brancepeth Castle Castle 54.733805, -1.655213 Brancepeth Castle, Brancepeth, Durham, County Durham DH7 8DF
Chapel of St. Mary Magdalen (ruin) Ruins 54.780245,-1.562107 13th-century Chapel of St. Mary Magdalen (ruin), Gilesgate, Durham, County Durham.
Church of St Laurence, Pittington Church, abbey, priory or similar 54.786001, -1.490277 Church of St Laurence, 1 Hallgarth, High Pittington, Durham DH6 1AB.
Church of St Mary-le-Bow, Durham Church, abbey, priory or similar 54.77396,-1.574525 Church of St Mary-le-Bow, Durham. Houses the Durham Museum and Heritage Centre. Current building is a 1670s rebuild of original medieval parish church.
Durham Castle Castle 54.77573,-1.576327 Durham Castle. University College Durham. Palace Green, Durham DH1 3RW.
Durham Cathedral 54.7730519,-1.57639 The Cathedral Church of Christ, Blessed Mary the Virgin and St Cuthbert of Durham. Bishopric initiated in 995, cathedral founded in 1093 to house the shrine of St. Cuthbert of Lindisfarne. Founded by William de Calais, first prince-bishop from 1080. The following transcripts are currently available (password protected):
Durham Cathedral Library Library, archive or collection 54.773217,-1.577035 Durham Cathedral Library, (‘The Chapter Library’), Mon.-Fri., 9:30-4:45, Access to the Library is from the South Cloister, up a flight of stairs. Library Search Room by appointment only. Contact:; or; General Enquiries:; tel. +44(0) 191 386 2489; Historic (pre-1800) collections: visit the Search Room by appointment (letter required). Some cat. searches at
Durham County Record Office Library, archive or collection 54.786446,-1.585082 Durham County Record Office, County Hall, Lower Ground Floor, Durham DH1 5UL. Search Room open Monday-Wednesday, by appointment. email: ; tel.: 03000 267 619. REED-NE material includes: Durham City Order Books, DCRO Du 1/4/4 (see Members' Area)
Finchale Priory (ruin) Ruins 54.817625, -1.539792 Finchale Priory, Brasside, Durham, County Durham DH1 5SH. A daughter house to Durham Priory, this Benedictine house was established in 1196 by Bishop Hugh Pudsey and his son Henry and was thought to be the burial site of Godric of Finchale (12th century). It was disestablished in 1535.
Palace Green Library (DUL) Library, archive or collection 54.774975,-1.57637 Durham University, Palace Green Library, DH1 3RN; General Enquiries:; Tel: +44 (0)191 334 2932; usually open 9-5. for Special Collections, contact Mike Harkness (Senior Search Room Assistant) at, Tel: 0191 334 2972. REED-NE material includes: Durham Trade Company Records: Butchers' Ordinary, from DUL Mickleton and Spearman MS 49 (see Members' Area)
St Giles' Church, Durham Church, abbey, priory or similar 54.778006, -1.560223 St Giles' Church, Gilesgate, Durham, Durham, DH1 1QQ, United Kingdom, Church Ln, Durham, County Durham DH1 1QQ. Dedicated by Bishop Flambard on June 1112 as the chapel of the Hospital of St. Giles. The north nave wall dates from c.1114; chancel late 12th cent.; tower early 13th and early C15th; much of the rest of the building is 19th cent.
St Laurence Church (RC) Church, abbey, priory or similar 54.976296, -1.573588 St. Laurence Church, Pittington, Newcastle upon Tyne, Tyne and Wear NE6 2NS. The current building dates from c. 1100.
St Nicholas' Church, Durham Church, abbey, priory or similar 54.777635,-1.575361 St Nicholas' Church, Market Place, Durham DH1 3NJ. Current building was built in 1858 to replace an earlier 12th-century church. There were originally 3 guilds/fraternities attached to the church: of Our Lady, of St. Nicholas, and of Corpus Christi. The latter was responsible for the festivities of Corpus Christi Day, organising the guild procession to accompany the Shrine of the Corpus Christi from St. Nicholas' to the Cathedral and back. '[The shrine had] on the height thereof … a four-square box of chrystal, wherein was inclosed the Holy Sacrament of the Altar'; it was saved by the parishioners of St. Nicholas until 1546, when the Commissioner Dr. Harvey 'did tread upon it with his feet and broke it into pieces', as part of a Reformation visitation (see
St. Cuthbert's Church (C of E) Church, abbey, priory or similar 54.783019,-1.585214 St. Cuthbert's Church (C of E), North Road, Durham DH1 4NH. Tel: 0191 384 7825
St. Margaret's Church Church, abbey, priory or similar 54.775950, -1.579920 St Margaret's Church, 66 Crossgate Durham, County Durham DH1 4PR
St. Mary the Less Church, abbey, priory or similar 54.771840, -1.575588 Church of St. Mary the Less, currently the Chapel of St. John's College, Durham, 3 S Bailey, Durham DH1 3RJ, UK. Founded c. 1140 by one of the Bulmers, Lord of Brancepeth.
St. Oswald's Church, Durham Church, abbey, priory or similar 54.770853,-1.5724 St. Oswald's Church, The Parish Office., St Oswald’s Institute, Church Street, Durham DH1 3DQ; Tel.: 0191 383 0830; email