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Subject Guide: Theology and Religion: Archives and Special Collections

A guide to getting the most out of the Library and Collections resources for Theology and Religion

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Palace Green Library

Palace Green
United Kingdom
Tel: +44 (0)191 334 2972



Archives and Special Collections for Theology and Religion

Adjacent to magnificent Christian architecture and with extensive research collections, Durham University Archives and Special Collections is an ideal location for the study of theology and religion. Ranging from medieval monasticism to the Catholic revival, the theological research collections in Palace Green Library, Durham Cathedral Archives, and Ushaw College Library attract countless researchers from across the globe.

Resources for some specific areas are highlighted below, but resources for many more specific topics can be discovered by searching for the appropriate topic in Discover and by restricting the search to ‘Durham Archives’ or by searching the printed catalogue by selecting the topic, such as ‘theology’, ‘Catholicism’, etc., as a subject keyword and restricting the search to ‘Special Collections’ or ‘Ushaw College’.

Since the very beginning of the university in Durham in 1832, Theology and Religion has been an integral part of the education that an undergraduate received, especially so in the mid to later 19th century. Then the Licence in Theology was a major part of the university’s educational offer, and even, for instance, the BA in Mathematical and Physical Science finals papers in 1886 included one in the Gospel of St John and the Acts of the Apostles. One of the university’s initial 3 professors in 1833 was Rev Hugh James Rose, Professor of Divinity and Ecclesiastical History, and the two other professors (Greek/Classical Literature and Mathematics) were also clergymen.  Theology was also one of the first two faculties of the university in 1833, becoming the Faculty of Divinity in 1963, and then the Department of Theology in 1985, renamed as Theology and Religion in 2004. The very genesis of the university by the Dean and Chapter of Durham Cathedral, with the Bishop of Durham, meant that the Church dominated the governance of the university for its first half life until 1910, and even then its first chancellor was the dean of the cathedral, George Kitchin, and still in 2020 one of the professors of Theology – the Van Mildert Professor of Divinity - is a canon of the cathedral.

The development of the subject and department of Theology and Religion in the university is reflected in the university’s own archive, in central, faculty and departmental files, in the records of the meetings of its various committees from Senate and Council down, in the exam papers, pass lists and mark sheets for the subject, and the university’s publications of such as the Gazette, Calendar, Journal, and Vice-Chancellor’s Reports, and newsletters and the like. The subject of course also featured in the syllabus at the Catholic seminary and associated junior school of Ushaw College (1808-2010) whose archive is still accessible at the former college

A number of collections relate to medieval monasticism. Durham Cathedral Archive comprises the records of one of the country’s major Benedictine priories, along with its various cells or daughter houses, ranged across the north and midlands, and including also Coldingham priory in Scotland, thereby comprising also the most comprehensive surviving archive of a Scottish medieval monastic house. The cathedral priory’s archive is wide-ranging in scope, including not just deeds and accounts, cartularies and registers, but also legal records, supporting financial documentation, correspondence, many seals, and even some local maps. There is also material for other monastic houses and documents of individuals and families with no direct connection with the cathedral, deposited there for safe-keeping. Add.MS. 1981 comprises an unusual collection of medieval West Yorkshire deeds for Templar and Hospitaller communities there. Material relating to medieval monasticism and Catholicism can also be found in Ushaw College, including over 60 books dispersed from the former Durham Priory Library, one of the most important Benedictine communities in medieval manuscripts, and an extensive selection of early printed works on many other religious orders.

Early Modern Catholicism 

The research collections in Durham University Archives and Special Collections chart the fate of Catholics throughout Europe following the sixteenth-century Reformation, as well as providing a crucial insight into post-Reformation attitudes towards Catholicism. Relevant collections held by Durham University’s Palace Green Library include the Howard LibraryPoor Clares’ Library (Darlington) and the Routh Library, which contains the only known copy of the first version of Thomas More's Opus contra Lutherum (1523). In addition, a significant volume of early modern Catholic material can be found in the archives and library of Ushaw College. The Radclyffe/Derwentwater Papers relate to a recusant Northumberland Catholic family, while the Richard Russell Papers in the Lisbon Archive shed light on the negotiations between England and Portugal during the seventeenth-century. Other relevant collections include a series of important documents on Catholic history, collected together by Thomas Eyre to form the Ushaw Collection of Manuscripts series; the archives of the English College in Lisbon which dates back to the early seventeenth century; and the Jacobite Papers. The latter can be complemented by Jacobite material located within the Clavering of Greencroft collection held in Palace Green Library. 

Catholic Revival

The numerous research collections in Durham University Archives and Special Collections also document the nineteenth-century Catholic revival. Several relate to nineteenth-century Catholic emancipation, including the Papers of Charles, 2nd Earl Grey, the Papers of Henry George, 3rd Earl Grey, the Van Mildert Papers and the Chevalier/Corrie Correspondence in Palace Green Library. These collections are complemented by the extensive and rich holdings of Ushaw College. Largely designed by A. W. N. Pugin and other gothic revivalist architects, the architecture of Ushaw College alone is a magnificent symbol of the 19th-century Catholic revival, while its role as a Catholic seminary reflects the central role that Catholicism came to play in nineteenth-century society. The research collections at Ushaw College include the papers of some of the most important individuals who played major roles in the revival of Catholicism in the nineteenth century, such as, the papers of several archbishops of Westminster (Nicholas Wiseman and Henry Edward Manning); arguably the most important Anglican and Catholic theologian of his time (John Henry Newman); and notable presidents of Ushaw College who played an influential role in its development (Thomas Eyre, Charles Newsham, Robert Tate, and Thomas Wilkinson).

Catholic Activism

Durham University Archives and Special Collections hold the archives of many societies established by the English Catholic laity, often with clerical approval, to give a voice to ordinary Catholics within the Church and to establish a role for them in wider society. Such organisations were often instrumental in campaigning for changes within the Church itself (the use of the vernacular in the liturgy, the unsuccessful campaign for the ordination of women priests, the promotion of Catholic education etc.) but they also helped to promote a specifically 'Catholic' approach to many of the secular challenges of the twentieth century (feminism and the role of women, student politics, migration, secularisation, the counter-cultural movement of the 1960s etc.). Collections include the archives of the Newman Association; Catholics for a Changing Church; National Board of Catholic Women; and the Catholic Student Council.

Archives and early printed book libraries of women religious form a growing corpus of research material in Durham University Archives and Special Collections. All such institutions offer a window into a world largely misunderstood (and in some cases treated with suspicion) by wider society, with female religious orders challenging accepted gender norms and expectations of the traditional role of women in these societies. Many orders have also made significant contributions towards the education and social care of children from a wide variety of different backgrounds. These include the Canonesses of the Holy Sepulchre (whose foundation dates back to 1642 in Liege), the Poor Clares of Darlington and Woodchester, and the Sisters of the Poor Child Jesus.

The research collections in Durham University Archives and Special Collections are a rich source of material for the history of the Diocese of Durham and the Prince Bishops. The Durham Cathedral Archive, Durham Diocesan Records, and the Chevalier/Corrie Correspondence, chart the development of the Diocese of Durham from the Reformation to the twentieth century. The administration of the bishops’ estates, their rights and privileges, especially their unique palatinate status, is covered in the archives of their Halmote Court, the Church Commissioners, and the Palatinate of Durham Records. The archive of the university, being particularly strong on Theology for much of its first half-life, is a vital resource, and also held are the papers of many of its leading figures (such as Charles Thorp), and other clergy in and around the diocese (such as the Headlam family). Other relevant collections relating to the Prince Bishops and their history include an extensive collection of rare books and archives of Bishop John Cosin (Bishop Cosin's Library, the Cosin Letter-Books and the Cosin Manuscripts), as well as the papers of the last Prince Bishop of Durham (William Van Mildert).

The history of the Church of England is well-represented in the research collections of Durham University Archives and Special Collections. Collections of particular importance include the Durham Cathedral Archive, as well as the nationally-designated Bishop Cosin's Library, the Cosin Letter-books, the Chevalier/Corrie Correspondence, the Grey Pamphlets, the Papers of Charles Robert, 5th Earl Grey and the Hudleston Papers in Palace Green Library. A number of collections at Ushaw College also shed light on its often stormy relationship with the Catholic Church, notably sectarian conflict in the Jacobite Risings (Jacobite Papers, Radclyffe/Derwentwater Papers, and the impact of the Catholic revival on Anglican-Catholic relations in the nineteenth century (Robert Tate). Together, these collections chart the history of the Church of England from the Reformation to the twentieth-century.

A considerable number of clergymen's records are held by Durham University Archives and Special Collections. Many of these records relate to the Prince Bishops of Durham such as the Van Mildert Papers, the Cosin letter-books, the Cosin manuscripts and Bishop Cosin's Library, which includes a Book of Common Prayer (1619) annotated with Cosin's proposals for the 1662 revision. Other clergymen's records include the Bishop Basil Butler Papers, the Wharton Papers, the Headlam and Headlam-Morley Papers, the Hudleston Papers, the T. S. Evans Papers and the A. S. Farrar Papers. The Sudan Archive, also held by Durham University Archives and Special Collections, also contains a number of clergymen's records including M. and M. Russell and Jackson, H. C. The papers of many notable archbishops, bishops and priests of the Catholic Church are also represented in the Ushaw College Archives.

A small but significant volume of material relating to the Quaker families of north-east England can be found in Durham University Archives and Special Collections. The Sunderland Friends Library and the Newcastle Quaker Library are collections compiled entirely by and about Quakers from the foundation of the Society of Friends onwards whilst the Backhouse Papers comprise the family and business papers of the Backhouse family of Darlington and the Gurney family of Lakenham Grove, Norwich. The Backhouses and the Gurneys were prominent Quaker bankers and the papers illustrate Quaker doctrines and activities and Quaker attitudes to such topics as war, slavery, prison reform and the payment of church rates. Other English Quaker families united to the Backhouses by ties of kinship and business interests are also represented in the collection.

There is a substantial volume of material relating to Christian architecture in Durham University Archives and Special Collections. The Foster AlbumsFoster Papers and Foster Slides, all held in Palace Green Library, contain research notes and photographs relating to early Christian architecture, while the Romans Collection of photographs chiefly relates to Thomas Romans' interest in church architecture. Other relevant collections include the Greatorex Photographs, the Robert Blair Papers and the Karthoum Cathedral collection in the Sudan Archive. Extensive records relating to the building of Durham Cathedral can be found in the Durham Cathedral Archives. There are architectural drawings by a range of architects, including Anthony Salvin, and drawings from firms of architects to the Cathedral, such as Hayton, Lee and Braddock. At Ushaw College, St Cuthbert's Chapel, the Lady Chapel, and the mortuary chapel of St Michael were largely designed and constructed by A. W. N. Pugin and his sons. Together these chapels form a unique and remarkable assembly of 19th and early 20th century Catholic architecture at its best.

The Pratt Green Collection is regularly used by academic researchers for the study of hymnology. The collection includes eighteenth- and nineteenth-century tune books, the papers of the hymnologist John Wilson (1905-1992), hymns and related correspondence of H.C.A. Gaunt (1902-1983), "English hymns and authors", as well as the papers of Fred Pratt Green himself.

Many examples of devotional literature are held by Durham University Archives and Special Collections, ranging from medieval books of hours to ephemeral prayer cards and religious images. Relevant collections include the St Chad's College MSS, the Howard Library Manuscripts, the Bamburgh Library Manuscripts, the Microfilms of Ushaw College Medieval MSS and Poor Clares' Library (Darlington and Woodchester). Devotional literature can also be found in Ushaw College, which possesses several beautifully illuminated books of hours, primarily dating from the fifteenth century, and a rare and extensive collection of European aesthetics, including a prayer book previously owned by Catherine of Braganza.

The Elizabeth Copley Letters and the Backhouse Papers provide a crucial insight into missionary work in the nineteenth century. The Elizabeth Copley Letters relate to a Protestant mission to the Catholics of Ireland and a Protestant educational mission to girls and women in Syria and Lebanon whilst the Backhouse Papers record Quaker missionary trips to Ireland in the 1820s and North America in the 1830s. Other relevant collections, held in Palace Green Library, include papers relating to missionary work in the Sudan in the collections of H.C. JacksonO.C. Alison and L.H. Gwynne. Missionary work was undertaken by a number of Catholic religious orders, notably Missionary Franciscan Sisters of the Immaculate Conception. In addition, Ushaw College possesses some rare Jesuit material which records early Jesuit missions to the Far East and across the world. 

The Sudan Archive contains a substantial volume of material relating to religion in the Sudan and its neighbouring countries. Collections of particular importance include the papers of M. and M. Russell, which include transcriptions of southern Sudanese religious songs, the papers of G.H. Martin, which contain official church records and personal correspondence regarding church affairs, the papers of L.E. Humphreys, which include articles on Christianity in the Upper Nile, and the papers of G.F.P. Blyth, which relate to church matters in Egypt. Other relevant collections include P.B.E. Acland, Dr B.M. HitchO.C. AlisonJ.A. HaywoodL.H. Gwynne, and R. Hassan.

Meissen collection

  • The largest gathered, German-language collection of theology in Britain, extending to approximately 15,500 titles; the collection of materials is almost exclusively a German-language one: a very small number of titles, relating to German Protestantism, are in other languages (including English).
  • Particular strengths are the theology, history, and practical life of the Protestant Church in Germany in the 19th and 20th centuries.
  • The Meissen Library Collection includes many kinds of books that would not normally be available outside Germany (such as sermons and pastoralia), and it provides the potential for some unrivalled insights into the nature of German Christianity at some key moments in its history, for example the Deutsche Christen and the experience of the church under communism.

The Meissen Library Collection is not yet fully catalogued; there is a searchable list of the items received by Durham University. All items acquired for the Collection since 2014 are available via Durham University's Discover and earlier items are in the process of being added as well. 


The Meissen Library Collection is housed on level 1 of the Bill Bryson Library. Please ask at the Help and Information Point if you require directions or assistance. The Collection is available for consultation during University Library opening hours. Non-members of the University should contact the Bill Bryson Library to arrange an appointment for access. If you need further information please email us or phone the Library on 0191 334 3042 or email

Further Information

Palace Green Library entrance

Palace Green Library

Bishop Cosin's Library


Barker Research Library


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