We use cookies to ensure that we give you the best experience on our website. You can change your cookie settings at any time. Otherwise, we'll assume you're OK to continue.

Durham University

Libraries and Special Collections in County Durham


In the 1950s, Nikolaus Pevsner described Durham as "one of the great experiences of Europe to the eyes of those who appreciate architecture".

With breathtaking buildings and extensive research collections charting the work of renowned architects such as A. W. N. Pugin and Thomas Wright, the region of Durham provides an incomparable setting for the study of architecture.

Roman architecture

Material relating to Roman architecture can be found in the Durham University Archives and Special Collections.

The Romans Collection is particularly relevant, as it contains material reflecting Thomas Romans' interest in Roman archaeology and architecture. 

Hadrian's Wall, Binchester Roman Fort and Piercebridge Roman Fort might also be of interest to those studying Roman architecture.

Anglo-Saxon architecture

There are several examples of Anglo-Saxon architecture in the Durham area. 

Built around 675 AD, Escomb Saxon Church is the oldest complete Saxon church in the UK and one of the most complete Saxon churches in Europe. 

Other Anglo-Saxon buildings of international significance include St Peter's Church, Monkwearmouth, and St Paul's Church, Jarrow. Both buildings have maintained their original Anglo-Saxon stone carvings whilst St Paul's Church boasts a window of Anglo-Saxon stained glass. 

These buildings are complemented by an impressive collection of Anglo-Saxon stone-carvings housed within Durham Cathedral and the Wiper Photographs, held by Durham University Archives and Special Collections, which depict architecture and antiquities of the north of England, especially from the Roman and Anglo-Saxon periods.

Norman architecture

The architecture of Durham city offers a crucial insight into the architectural style adopted by the Normans during the eleventh and twelfth centuries.

Durham Cathedral is perhaps the most stunning example of Norman architecture in the British Isles. Despite the addition of two chapels and a later central tower, its Norman architecture has survived largely intact. What's more, it is the oldest surviving building with a stone vaulted ceiling of such a large scale. 

Although substantially altered, Durham Castle also maintains many of its original Norman features including the Norman chapel, the eleventh-century undercroft below the great hall and the twelfth-century Norman range on the north side of the courtyard.

Remarkably, an original account of the building of Durham Cathedral survives in the Durham University Archives and Special Collections. Symeon, a Durham monk who witnessed its construction, recorded his observations in his Tract on the Origins and Progress of this the Church of Durham, a book which can still be found in the Cosin Manuscripts (Cosin MS vii. 6). 

Medieval architecture

The buildings in the region of Durham are of significant interest for the study of medieval architecture.

Durham Cathedral has several medieval features, including the spectacular Monk's Dormitory (1398-1404), whilst the buildings in the Cathedral Precinct, known collectively as The College, are essentially medieval and were originally accessed through a medieval gatehouse, replaced in 1500 by the Priory Gateway.

Durham Castle is also notable for its medieval features such as the Great Hall and the keep, which was rebuilt in stone with an octagonal design during the fourteenth century. In the fifteenth century, the extension to the Great Hall was converted to apartments and a new kitchen was created which survives to the present day. Post-medieval adjustments were made by Bishop John Cosin during the seventeenth century.

Similarly, Auckland Castle is an essentially medieval building which was adjusted by Bishop Cosin following the Restoration in 1660. One of the highlights of Auckland Castle is a twelfth-century banqueting hall which was converted into a private chapel by Cosin during the seventeenth century. 

Other notable medieval buildings in the local area include Barnard CastleRaby Castle and Alnwick Castle.

Gothic architecture

The Gothic style is strongly represented in architecture throughout the region of Durham.

The early Gothic style can be detected in the architecture of the Galilee Chapel in Durham Cathedral, which is a foretaste of the International Gothic style which was to dominate European architecture during the late medieval period.

The Deer House at Auckland Castle is a rare and well-preserved example of 18th century Gothic Revival architecture and takes the form of a mock castle with battlements, arrow loops, pinnacles and pointed arches. Built in 1760, it was possibly designed by Thomas Wright, an architect who is well-represented in the Durham University Archives and Special Collections.

Dating from the nineteenth century, Ushaw College is yet another stunning example of Gothic architecture. Largely designed by A. W. N. Pugin and other gothic revivalist architects, Ushaw’s Chapel complex is one of the glories of the Victorian Gothic revival and Gothic elements can also be detected in the grade II listed 'Big' Library, the Refrectory, and the Professor's Dining Room. 

Christian architecture

There is a substantial volume of material relating to Christian architecture in the region of Durham.

The Foster AlbumsFoster Papers and Foster Slides, all held by Durham University Archives and Special Collections, contain research notes and photographs relating to early Christian architecture whilst the Romans Collection of photographs chiefly relates to Thomas Romans' interest in church architecture. 

Other relevant collections include the Greatorex Photographs, the Robert Blair Papers and the Karthoum Cathedral collection in the Sudan Archive.

Extensive records relating to the building of Durham Cathedral can be found in the Durham Cathedral Muniments. There are architectural drawings by a range of architects, including Anthony Salvin, and drawings from firms of architects to the Cathedral, such as Hayton, Lee and Braddock. 

At Ushaw College, St Cuthbert's Chapel, the Lady Chapel, and the mortuary chapel of St Michael were largely designed and constructed by A. W. N. Pugin and his sons. Together these chapels form a unique and remarkable assembly of 19th and early 20th century Catholic architecture at its best.

St Mary's Cathedral in Newcastle-upon-Tyne is another local example of A. W. N. Pugin's work.

Local architecture

Local architecture is strongly represented in the material held by Durham University Archives and Special Collections.

The Robert Blair Papers relate to church buildings in County Durham whilst the W. T. Jones Durham Lantern Slides depict a number of buildings in Durham city ranging from the Castle to the Town Hall.

Other relevant collections include the Dennis Jones Plans, the Hayton, Lee and Braddock (Architects) Records, the Church Commission Deposit of Parsonage Houses, Benefice and Chapelry Income Papers and the Woodifield Survey, which can be found in the Durham Cathedral Muniments.

Plans and drawings

The varied architectural landscape of the Durham region is complemented by a significant number of surviving architectural plans and drawings in the Durham University Archives and Special Collections.

The architectural history of Durham Cathedral can be traced in the Durham Cathedral Muniments, which contain architectural drawings from firms of architects to the Cathedral.

The architectural conservation of Durham Castle can be traced in the Durham Castle Buildings Archive which contains plans, drawings, photographs and documentary material concerning repairs and alterations to Durham Castle between 1885 and 1939.

The changing appearance of Auckland Castle can be traced in Mickleton and Spearman, particularly MS 20, whilst references to Auckland Castle can also be found in the Hayton, Lee and Braddock (Architects) Records.

Other plans and drawings held by the Durham University Archives and Special Collections include the Wood Plans and Drawings, the Dennis Jones Plans, the Gibson Maps, Plans and Volumes, and the Church Commission Deposit of Parsonage Houses, Benefice and Chapelry Income Papers.

The Bowes Museum likewise holds architectural records, including plans for its construction by architects M. Pellechet and Mr Watson from the 1860s onwards.

Landscape gardening

Held by Durham University Archives and Special Collections, the Willis Papers constitute a small but significant collection on landscape gardening. They include substantial sections on Charles Bridgeman and the English landscape garden, William Kent, "Capability" Brown, over 100 files on individual English estates and gardens, and a smaller group of subject files on gardening tools and techniques, French, German and Italian gardens, Chinoiserie, and the picturesque.

Researchers interested in the history of landscape gardening might also wish to visit Auckland Castle, which retains a remarkable 18th century deer park and garden in the style of "Capability" Brown.

Thomas Wright

Thomas Wrightiana, held by Durham University Archives and Special Collections, is perhaps the most extensive collection in existence of Thomas Wright manuscripts and publications by and about him, covering all aspects of his career including his architectural and landscape gardening activities. 

A. W. N. Pugin

Ushaw College holds a remarkable collection of material relating to A. W. N. Pugin. 

The College has a fascinating collection of architectural sketches and measured drawings by A. W. N Pugin and his sons, together with a dossier of letters mainly on their building activities at Ushaw, but also touching on A. W. N. Pugin’s pioneering ecumenical concerns.

There are also several examples of applied art by A. W. N. Pugin himself, such as his magnificent brass lectern and his three-metre high Paschal candlestick, both of which were exhibited in the Great Exhibition of 1851, as well as several works by A. W. N. Pugin including the Ushaw Liber Vitae, Contrasts, and Glossary of Ecclesiastical Ornament and Costume (1846). 

The Lady Chapel, on the south side of St Cuthbert’s, retains many of the fittings of A.W.Pugin’s original Chapel whilst his original high altar, carved with scenes from Christ’s Passion, was incorporated in the Sacred Heart chapel, on the south side of the antechapel.


The Architecture of Durham

Explore the buildings in and around the Durham World Heritage Site to discover more about the remarkable architecture of Durham.

Ushaw College

Largely designed by A. W. N. Pugin and other gothic revivalist architects, Ushaw College is a magnificent example of 19th-century Gothic architecture.