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Archives and Special Collections: Rare and Early Printed Books: Theology and religion

Our collections

Alongside the important Durham Cathedral Archives and administrative records of the Bishops of Durham, our book collections span the history of the Christian Church. Martin Routh's scholarly interest in the early Church Fathers, Renaissance humanists, and religious controversy in early modern England, means his library contains many volumes and pamphlets - some bibliographically significant on these subjects.

John Cosin understandably also had a keen interest in historic and contemporary theological debates. For example, his library contains a small but significant collection of French Protestant works printed in provincial towns, acquired during his exile in France in the 1640s and 1650s, but he also brought together a large number of Catholic works. Although at times a controversial figure, Cosin was involved in the revision of the Book of Common Prayer in 1661-2. We have two copies of the 1619-version with his annotations, which show the development of his thoughts.

Each generation of the Sharp family whose books are present in the Bamburgh Library included clergymen, from the first John Sharp who became Archbishop of York and was an adviser to Queen Anne to the third John Sharp who played such an important role in Lord Crewe's Charity at Bamburgh. Each of these men were scholars in their own right, drawing upon an extensive personal library to write their sermons and other works. To refute the arguments made by Catholic and Puritan preachers, the Sharps owned and read their works. They kept themselves informed of the main theological disputes of the day (such as the Bangorian controversy) and gathered the constant stream of pamphlets these disputes generated in thematic volumes.

More information about these collections can be found by following the links on this page. Our guide on Churches and Religion gives more information about our holdings of theological and religious material, both Anglican and non-Anglican.

The stories surrounding female English Catholic communities in exile during the sixteenth, seventeenth and eighteenth century show determination, a sense of identity and custodianship towards the written and printed word. Strong on liturgical and devotional literature in French, Latin and English, as well as Bibles and Bible commentaries, many printed on local presses in Northern France and the Southern Low Countries and the press of the English College at Douai. Each collection also contains a large number of manuscripts of a devotional nature, some being copies of printed works.

The Poor Clares (Darlington) collection was created from the libraries of the convents at Aire-sur-la-Lys and Rouen, supplemented by material from Gravelines and Dunkirk. The Poor Clares (Woodchester) library contains books and manuscripts from the Prinsenhof convent in Bruges. Our third large collection is the library and archives of the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre, who were based at Liège until 1794, when they were forced to return due to the French Revolution.


Newcastle Friends

The Newcastle Society of Friends book collection is entirely by and about Quakers from the 17th century foundation of the Society of Friends onwards and features books on all aspects of Quakerism. 

This includes volumes reflecting some of the Friends' particular interests, such as pacifism, disarmament and attitudes to war, the international spread of Quakerism to countries such as Russia, China and Ireland, social relief, the bible, major Quaker figures, other Quaker institutions nationally and regionally, and the history of the organisation. Present are books, journals and (especially later 17th century) pamphlets. A quantity of the Newcastle books have come from the former North Shields Society of Friends Library with bookplates recording this. The first Quaker Meeting House in North Shields was established in 1698 at the Bull Ring. Most of the books are stamped as being part of the Pilgrim Street library.

There is some overlap with and duplication of items in the Sunderland Society of Friends Library.

Sunderland Friends

Of the Sunderland Society of Friends, we hold the book collection and a very small number of manuscripts relating to the historic management of the library. The collection is entirely by and about Quakers from the foundation of the Society of Friends onwards, or about some of Friends' particular interests, such as pacifism. All items up to 1856 (680 volumes) are kept together at Palace Green Library. The rest of the books of more recent date (200 volumes) are among the University Library's general collections on Quakerism.


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 use our online enquiry form.

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 as follows, but see also 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.

Appointments are strongly recommended for all visits, please use the enquiry form to book.  Please give three working days notice when possible and include a full list of document references or shelfmarks so that we can best enable your research access.

Where to start