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Archives and Special Collections: Family History Sources: Durham Guilds

About the Records

Durham University Library and Collections holds records relating to the trade guilds or companies operating within Durham City and to the freemen (members) of those guilds. The guilds regulated trade within the city, with only the members of the guilds (who were also freemen of the city) being allowed to trade on market days without payment, and effectively exercising a monopoly over their specific trade. Each guild was historically linked with a specific trade (barbers, joiners, masons, mercers etc). Eight guilds survive (chiefly as a route to admission into the Freemen of the city, who retain certain privileges and property), but the link between members of a guild and involvement in the trade indicated has long since been broken.

The city guild records relate solely to trade guilds working within the city of Durham, from the 16th to 20th centuries.

Background and historical notes on the Durham City Guilds, along with a bibliography, are included at the start of the catalogue. See also the related collection of records from the Durham Freemen.

Family History Information

Members of the guilds were admitted (as freemen) by one of three routes:

  • Patrimony (the eldest son, or in some cases any son, of a freeman could be admitted to the guild when he turned 18)
  • Servitude (apprentices could be admitted on completion of their apprenticeships, typically of seven years)
  • Redemption (purchase, much rarer).

Records of freemen who were admitted by the first two routes (Patrimony and Servitude) are particularly useful for family historians, as they may name parents or masters and details of their trade or apprenticeship, so including both family and background information.

Note that all freemen were male until 2012, when women could be admitted on equal terms.

The catalogue of Durham City Guilds records is online. This includes the full range of guild records that survive, not just those most likely to be useful for family history research (i.e. the records of freemen's admissions and of apprenticeships). Names within the latter records are not included within the catalogue itself, but indexed separately, with details of the guild/trade concerned and names of parents or guardians where stated within the records. See the front page of each index for further guidance and the list of records which have been indexed.

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 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.