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Archives and Special Collections: Other Collections and Sources: Eminent Individuals

Our collections

Dame Ethel Smyth (1858 -1944) was an increasingly appreciated composer, conductor, author and member of the women's suffrage movement. Her compositions include songs, works for piano, chamber music, orchestral works, choral works and operas. One of her pieces was ‘The March of the Women’, dedicated to Emmeline Pankhurst. It became the official anthem of the Women’s Social and Political Union, for whose cause she even went to prison after throwing a rock through the windows of the House of Parliament. She was also a devoted letter-writer, in addition to writing memoirs and essays later in her life, and she published ten volumes of prose.

Sir Laurens van der Post (1906-1996)  was a South African Afrikaner author, farmer, soldier, prisoner of war of the Japanese, political adviser to British heads of government, close friend of Prince Charles, godfather of Prince William, educator, journalist, humanitarian, philosopher, explorer and conservationist.

John George Lambton (1792-1840), Lord Durham 1828 and 1st Earl of Durham 1833,  also known as "Radical Jack", was a whig MP and statesman, serving under his father-in-law the 2nd Earl Grey as Lord Privy Seal and being heavily involved in the passing of the 1832 Reform Act. He was also a diplomat, serving as Ambassador to Russia in St Petersburg (1835-1837) and then Governor General of Canada from 1838. He was also an enthusiast for the British settlement of New Zealand. He is commemorated in various place names in Canada and New Zealand, and especially in Co Durham in the Penshaw Monument.

Thomas Wright (1711-1786), born at Byers Green, was an astronomer, mathematician, instrument maker, architect and garden designer. He was the first to describe the shape of the Milky Way and to speculate that faint nebulae were distant galaxies .

The collections include groups of papers of eminent academic philosophers, particularly from Durham, then King's College in Newcastle (now Newcastle University). The most eminent papers, comprising also the most extensive collection, are those of the major ethics philosopher Mary Midgley (1919-2018), whose final book What is Philosophy For? (2018) perhaps best sums up the broad range of her interests, and the accessibility of her writings. The collection also includes the papers of her husband and fellow philosopher Geoff Midgley. Full details of them and their background can be found here.

In addition there are the papers of the moral philosopher Karl Britton (1909-1983), also based in Newcastle, and some papers of the Durham philosopher Doreen Bretherton (1923-1969); some Wittgenstein blue books (all in the Durham departmental archive), and an early essay of the moral philosopher Baroness Mary Warnock (1924-2019) (Add Ms 2032).

Kenneth Whitehead (1913-2004) was a naturalist and especially a towering figure in the world of deer and deer stalking. His books and articles, encapsulated in The Whitehead Encyclopedia of Deer, have inspired generations of deer stalkers over a period of nearly 60 years. His extensive collection of books and papers covers all aspects of deer stalking, hunting and natural history in general from all over the world.

Charles Grey (1764-1845), 2nd Earl Grey, of Howick Hall in Northumberland, was a major whig politician, foreign secretary (1806-1807) and Prime Minister (1830-1834). His government passed the 1832 Reform Act and abolished slavery in the British Empire in 1833. He is also the Earl Grey reputedly most associated with the origins of 'Earl Grey tea' as being the recipient of a diplomatic gift of tea flavoured with bergamot oil.

John Cosin (1594-1672) was a theologian and liturgist, prebendary of Durham Cathedral, Master of Peterhouse College Cambridge, Bishop of Durham, reviser of the Prayer Book, and responsible for the restoration work of many Durham buildings after 1660: these include woodwork in the castle and cathedral, and the creation of almshouses on Palace Green. Not the least part of his legacy though is his collection of books and manuscripts, and the library building that he constructed to house them on the west side of Palace Green. This is now the cornerstone of Palace Green Library and the genesis of Durham University Library's collections.

'Abbas Hilmi II (1874-1944) was the last Khedive (Ottoman viceroy) of Egypt and Sudan 1892-1914 and a key figure in the relations between Egypt, Turkey and Britain, and the establishment of the British and Egyptian Condominium in Sudan in 1899.

General Sir Reginald Wingate (1861-1953) had a military career largely in the Egyptian Army and was then Governor-General of the Sudan 1899-1916 and Sirdar of the Egyptian Army,  and then High Commissioner of Egypt 1917-1919. He was commemorated in the scientific name of a species of lizard, Trachylepis wingati, which is endemic to Ethiopia and Sudan.

Basil Bunting (1900-1985) was a British modernist poet, born in Scotswood-on-Tyne, whose reputation was established with the publication of Briggflatts in 1966, generally regarded as one of the major achievements of the modernist tradition in English. He had a lifelong interest in music that led him to emphasise the sonic qualities of poetry, particularly the importance of reading poetry aloud. He was an accomplished reader of his own work.

Josephine Butler (1828-1906) was a social reformer who campaigned for women's suffrage, the right of women to better education, the end of coverture in British law, the abolition of child prostitution, the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act in 1886, and the end to human trafficking of young women and children into European prostitution. She is commemorated at Durham University in the college named after her in 2006.

Malcolm MacDonald (1901-1981) was a Labour party politician, government minister (Colonies, Dominion Affairs, Health) before and during WW2, and then diplomat in Canada, South-East Asia, India and Kenya as variously High Commissioner, Commissioner-General and Governor-General. Latterly, he was chancellor of Durham University.

William van Mildert (1765-1836) was Bishop of Llandaff, Dean of St Paul's London, Regius Professor Divinity at Oxford, and Bishop of Durham. In the last role he was a prime mover in the foundation of Durham University in 1832, and also the last bishop of Durham to have palatinate powers; he donated one of his principal residences, Durham Castle, to the university in 1836 for its incipient University College. He is also commemorated in one of its more recent colleges which bears his name.

Sir John Stainer (1840-1901) was an English composer and organist whose music was very popular during his lifetime, though few might be familiar with much of it now beyond perhaps his choral piece The Crucifixion, which is often performed at Passiontide. His work as choir trainer and organist set standards for Anglican church music that are still influential. He was also active as an academic, becoming Heather Professor of Music at Oxford, and being much employed as an examiner of schools, training colleges, and universities.

Availability online (digital images)

These collections have not been digitised, so that only the catalogues are currently available online.

If you would like to purchase digital copies of specific items from any of our collections, please get in touch.

If you are a member of teaching staff at Durham University and would like to use material from Archives and Special Collections within your lectures or seminars, we may be able to scan or photograph items for this purpose.  Please contact us as early as possible with any teaching digitisation requests.

See also our guide to Digitised Collections Online for further information on our digital resources.

Access to original sources

The collections mentioned above are located at Palace Green Library.  Our current opening hours are below.

  • Monday to Friday: 10am to 4:30pm
  • Saturday: closed
  • Sunday: closed

For further information on visiting to use the collections, please use our enquiry form.

See separate Libraries and Site Information guide for further information on Palace Green Library.