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Archives and Special Collections: Durham University Records: Property History

Our collections

Durham University was established in 1832 and was initially based in and around Palace Green in the centre of Durham. As it expanded and its departments and colleges developed, it acquired properties more widely in the centre of Durham, especially along the Bailey, some for departmental offices, and some for its colleges. The university also expanded across the river into Elvet for its departments and its central administration, and then on the Science Site at the junction of Darlington and Stockton Roads. Science buildings also expanded on to the Mountjoy site and colleges populated the Elvet Hill Site and, further out of Durham on the south side, at Howlands Farm. 

Outside Durham, expansion also occurred at Stockton, on a former industrial site in Thornaby, with colleges, departments and administrative offices set up. Meantime, the university had also become a considerable presence in the centre of Newcastle upon Tyne with buildings provided for the College of Medicine and Armstrong College. 

The best overview of the university's estate in Durham and Stockton is Martin Robert's The Buildings and Landscapes of Durham University (Durham 2013).

Much of the university's recent development has been on greenfield or brownfield sites and there is little in the archive about the former history of these sites. However, in the centre of Durham, there is considerable information about the former history of properties where the university is but the most recent owner or tenant and, with the property, it has acquired records about former usage and ownership. This is particularly so for the Palace Green and Bailey areas of Durham and deeds for some of these properties dating back into the later 16th century detailing owners/tenants are to be found in the university collections in especially:

- The surveyor's records with deeds for Durham properties, and also properties in South Shields, which were part of the university's original endowment, and elsewhere in Co Durham and beyond.

- The records of some colleges, especially St Chad's, which contains quantities of deeds for properties now comprising its site in the Bailey, and Hild Bede which also contains deeds for properties which are or have been part of its estate on the south side of Gilesgate in Durham.

There are also some records for the university's tenure of properties outside Durham for a time mainly for student accommodation, such as Shincliffe Hall and Lumley Castle, but the records generally only relate to the time of the university's tenure.

Other sources available at Palace Green Library which may well help with researching properties now part of the university and its colleges include especially the Local Collection's directories which will help to identify properties and their tenants. Durham Cathedral, as the other major property owner in the middle of Durham, may well hold deeds and lease for the earlier history of some properties.

Others may have already researched the history of the property. Jack Gibby was a particular enthusiast for this sort of research in Durham and his papers include a number of topographical files which may well be helpful. Further back, Thomas Woodness was an antiquarian with a particular interest in the city of Durham, its institutions, buildings and topography, and Robert Surtees wrote much on various parts of the city in volume 4 of his The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham (1816-1840). 

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 5pm
  • Saturday: closed
  • Sunday: closed

At the moment, we offer a limited appointment-only service at Palace Green Library and need at least 3 days' notice of your intended visit.  Please contact us using our online booking form if you would like to book a research slot.

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