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Libraries and Special Collections in County Durham

Legal Studies

Ranging from probate records to property disputes, the region of Durham boasts extensive research collections in the field of legal studies.



Medieval law

There is a significant collection of medieval law within the Durham University Archives and Special Collections

Of particular importance are the Durham Cathedral Muniments, which constitute one of the most extensive medieval archives in Britain. The collection contains medieval court-rolls and court-books as well as scraps of medieval canon law books used in archival and other bindings.

A number of medieval law books can also be found in the Cosin Manuscripts, held in Bishop Cosin's Library, whilst the Weardale Chest contains sixteenth and seventeenth century copies of many earlier items from 1377 onwards.

In addition to the collections held by Durham University, the Durham Cathedral Library possesses a particularly fine set of illuminated legal texts written in Bologna in the later thirteenth century. The set comprises a Decretals and three volumes of civil law, the Volumen, the Codex and the Digestum novum.


Common law

Good holdings of common law can be found in the Bamburgh Library, held by Durham University Archives and Special Collections

Most of the common law books date from the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and include A Discourse of the Laws of England (1681) by Thomas Hobbes and A Grand Abridgment of the Common and Statute Law of England (1675) by William Sheppard.


Canon law

Bishop Cosin’s Library, held by Durham University Archives and Special Collections, includes numerous works relating to canon law.

The manuscripts date from the sixteenth century onwards and include the Constitutions and Canons of the Church of England (1761) as well as several editions of the Canon Law Collections of the Catholic Church, dating back to 1555.


Probate law

A substantial amount of material relating to the law of probate and inheritance can be found in the Durham University Archives and Special Collections.

Relevant collections include the Baker Baker Papers, the South Durham Deeds, the Salvin Papers, the Janson Deeds, the Fenwick (Hylton) Papers, and the Love, Pearson, Ferens and Marshall Papers.

Researchers interested in probate law, wills and inventories should also consult the North East Inheritance Database, an online digital image catalogue of over 150,000 wills and related archives from across County Durham, Tyne and Wear and Northumberland. The probate records date from 1527-1857 and are an invaluable source for the study of probate law and social history.


Property law

Property law is also strongly represented in the Durham University Archives and Special Collections.

The British Records Association Deeds relate to transactions and transferrals of property situated within County Durham whilst the Salvin Papers relate to property at Sunderland Bridge and many other places in County Durham, Yorkshire and London.

Other relevant collections include the Rivington School Papers, the Mawson Papers, the Littleburn, Holywell and Nafferton (Brancepeth) Deeds, the Kennett Family Papers, the Crayke Deeds and the Church Commission Durham Dean and Chapter Estates Deposit.


Land law

The Durham University Archives and Special Collections contain countless documents relating to land law both in County Durham and further afield. 

Collections relating to land law in the local area include the Shafto (Beamish) Papers, the Rivington School Papers, the Redheugh Estate, County Durham Deeds, the Packe Papers, the Fenwick (Hylton) Papers, the Eden Papers and the Dixon-Johnson Papers.

In the Sudan Archive, the papers of Simpson, S. R. relate to land settlement and custom in the Sudan whilst the papers of Mavrogordarto, J. G. include a 1967 report by S.R. Simpson on land law in the Sudan.

The Durham Cathedral Muniments might also be of interest to those studying land law, as they relate to the medieval landholdings of Durham Cathedral and later refer to the post-dissolution landholdings of the bishop of Durham and the Durham Dean and Chapter, the largest landowners in the north-east of England.


Marital law

Material relating to marital law can be found in the Durham University Archives and Special Collections.

Several collections make reference to marriage settlements and marital law including the Fenwick (Hylton) Papers, the Dixon-Johnson Papers, the Clayton and Gibson Papers, the Backhouse Papers and the Claxton in Greatham Deeds

In the Sudan Archive, the papers of Parr, M. W. make reference to marriage laws in the Sudan. 


Local deeds

A number of local deeds can be found in the Durham University Archives and Special Collections

Together, these deeds provide a crucial insight into land and property transactions in the region of Durham from the medieval period to the present day.

Click here for a full list of deeds held by Durham University Archives and Special Collections.


Court records

A substantial number of court records can be found within the Durham University Archives and Special Collections

Many of these records relate to local courts in the region of Durham, including the Palatinate of Durham Records, the Church Commission deposit of Durham palatinate and bishopric records, the Chester Deanery Manorial Records, the Old University Manuscripts, the Frosterley Manorial Records, the Clayton and Gibson Papers, the Gibson Maps, Plans and Volumes and the Durham Bishopric Estates, Halmote Court Records.

A book of precedents for the Durham law courts can also be found in the Durham University Additional Manuscripts (MS. 513) whilst the Durham Cathedral Muniments contain court-rolls and court records from the Cathedral archives.

Local court records can also be found within the Durham County Record Office archives as well as within the Law and Order Collection held by Tyne and Wear Archives.

By contrast, Dee, B. D. McD., part of the Durham University Sudan Archive, contains summaries of cases heard at native courts in Equatoria.


Lawyers' records

The Durham University Archives and Special Collections contain numerous records relating to the work of lawyers and solicitors. 

The Durham University Sudan Archive contains the papers of two members of the Sudan Legal Department, O’Meara, A. J. and Hayes, K. H. J.

Three sets of manuscript notes belonging to J. Mawson, a 19th-century Durham lawyer, can be found in the Durham University Additional Manuscripts (MS 1461/1-3) whilst the Dixon-Johnson Papers include Christopher Johnson's Book of lawyer's working papers and precedents, many of which relate to County Durham.

Other local records include the Newcastle Solicitors Deeds and the Mawson Papers.

In addition to the records held at Durham University, Ushaw College possesses a large and important legal library of a former Recorder of Newcastle, donated in 1840.


North East Inheritance Project

Explore the North East Inheritance database, an online digital catalogue of over 150,000 wills and related archives from across County Durham, Tyne and Wear and Northumberland. 

British Official Publications Unit

The Durham University British Official Publications Unit is an extensive collection of British Government publications, published by The Stationery Office since 1972. 

European Documentation Centre

Part of the Durham University Library, the European Documentation Centre houses an astounding collection of publications and documents of the European Union.