A guide to records of law enforcement, crime and punishment in County Durham, including police, prisons, courts and coroners’ records.
This guide describes records held at Durham Record Office relating to law enforcement, crime and punishment in County Durham.
Many of these records contain personal information and are therefore subject to Data Protection. Access to personal records is generally restricted for 100 years.
Details of any particular crime may be recorded in a number of places. A miscreant may have been dealt with at a police station, at Petty Sessions (or Magistrates’ Court), at Quarter Sessions and/or Assizes (or Crown Court), and by the prison service. There may be a report at any of these stages in local newspapers, especially The Durham Advertiser (1814 onwards), which also covered many Coroners’ inquests.
Police force records
Durham County Constabulary
We hold a collection of records for Durham County Constabulary which includes record cards/sheets of deceased officers and a series of Durham County Constabulary general order books, which include references to appointments, promotions, transfers etc. of individual officers. Records relating to individual police officers have access restricted for 100 years from the final date of a volume.
Durham Constabulary records
|Catalogue reference||Record type||Dates|
|CCP 1||General order books||1849-1951|
|CCP 2||Registers of candidates||1908-1945|
|CCP 3||Daily strength records||1881-1945|
|CCP 4||Register of leave and sickness||1900-1949|
|CCP 8||Police Station occurrence books||1919-1959|
|CCP 9||Quarter Sessions and Assizes calendars (lists) of prisoners||1857-1881 (others at The National Archives)|
|CCP 13/191-214||Calendars of prisoners||1931-1955|
|CCP 13/1-129||Officer’s personal records|
|CCP 21||Pension records|
Durham City Police
We also hold a collection of records for the City of Durham police force, which was absorbed into the county force by 1921 (Ref. Du 1/59).
Police Gazettes have been microfilmed.
Records of the Court of Quarter Sessions
Quarter Sessions were held by the Justices of the Peace (also known as magistrates) four times a year at Epiphany, Easter, Midsummer and Michaelmas.
Quarter Sessions had a judicial function dealing with criminal matters from petty larceny to rape cases. They also had an administrative function, and orders were made at Quarter Sessions concerning the maintenance of gaols, the poor law and many other matters. Constables, both high or chief constables of the ward, and petty constables of the parish or constabulary, had to attend sessions and were sworn in before the court.
In Durham only one main record was kept of the proceedings at Quarter Sessions: the ‘order books’. In these volumes the clerk briefly recorded the official business of the court of Quarter Sessions, both judicial (noting pleas and judgements) and administrative.
Quarter Sessions records have access restricted for 100 years.
Selected Quarter Sessions records for County Durham
|Catalogue reference||Record type||Dates|
|Q/S/I||Indictment rolls and files, with indexes for 1880-1926||1596-1756, 1808, 1812, 1823, 1840-1880 1880-1970|
|Q/S/OP||Process books||1619-1636, 1735-1752, 1764-1778|
|Q/S/C||Calendars of Prisoners, with indexes (there are earlier examples at Palace Green Library, Durham)||1867-1946|
|Q/D||Case papers||1918, 1954-1971|
The indictment rolls (sometimes called plea rolls) were only presentments of indictments by the grand jury to the court. Sometimes a note of the plea of the accused was added, but rarely the judgement. Early rolls also had a copy of the justices’ writ to the sheriff to summons or arrest the persons indicted.
There is a more complete list of Quarter Sessions records. As well as law enforcement and administrative records there are also enrolment books, land tax assessments, deposited plans, electoral registers, registration of freemasons and highway diversion orders.
Assize Court records
Assize Courts dealt with offences which carried the death penalty or transportation for life. Assize records are held in The National Archives: Criminal court cases: assize courts 1559-1971
We hold calendars of prisoners tried at Durham Assizes, and indexes to the calendars from 1857 to 1921 (see police records and prison records, below).
Crown Court records
The Crown Court was established in 1972, by the Courts Act 1971, to replace the courts of Assize and Quarter Sessions. The Court deals with more serious criminal cases such as murder, rape and robbery, some of which are on appeal or referred from magistrates’ courts.
We hold no records of the Crown Court.
The National Archives holds some case files for Durham Crown Court. These records have access restricted for up to 100 years. Indictments and other case files remain in the custody of Her Majesty’s Courts and Tribunals Service.
Records of the Courts of Petty Sessions and Magistrates’ Courts
Petty Sessions began to appear at the beginning of the 18th century, to alleviate the workload on the Justices of the Peace in Quarter Sessions. Meetings were initially informal; records do not begin to appear until the later 19th century. They dealt with minor cases such as petty theft, drunkenness, minor assaults, larceny, trespass, bastardy, failure to pay maintenance, licensing and adoption of children (from 1926).
The courts met locally and were organised in Petty Sessional divisions. You can find lists of petty session districts/divisions, and the places included in them, in local directories. These were re-organised on a regular basis.
In 1971 Magistrates’ Courts replaced the Petty Sessions.
The main records are court registers, here organised by division name and court (or place-) name. Usually there is a separate juvenile or youth court register, and often a separate domestic, family or matrimonial court. Many divisions also kept registers of licences issued to sell alcohol (from 1872), to permit public entertainment and, in Wolsingham, to keep explosives.
Registers have access restricted for 100 years from the last date of the register. Please apply to the County Archivist for permission to access recent records.
Petty Sessions registers for County Durham and Darlington, to 1974
|Petty Session division||Court sitting at||Catalogue reference||Adult court||Juvenile court||Family court||Licensing|
|Chester Ward West||Consett||PS/La||1900-1974||1933-1975|
|Chester Ward West||Lanchester||PS/La||1915-1972||1948-1955||1897-1977|
|Chester Ward West||Stanley||PS/La||1940-1973||1939-1973|
|Chester Ward West||Blaydon records at Tyne & Wear Archives|
|Chester Ward Middle||Chester-le-Street||PS/CS||1885-1973||1933-1975||1927-1956||1885-1974|
|Chester Ward Middle||Washington||PS/CS||1973-1974|
|Chester Ward East||Gateshead, Jarrow, South Shields, Hebburn records at Tyne and Wear Archives|
|Darlington Ward North West||Bishop Auckland||PS/BA||1917-1974||1934-1973||1967-1974||1908-1966|
|Darlington Ward North West||Crook||PS/BA||1955-1959|
|Stanhope (also known as Weardale)||Stanhope||PS/We||1905-1939|
|Stanhope (also known as Weardale)||Stanhope||PS/BA||1939-1974||1934-1974||1896-1974|
|Stanhope (also known as Weardale)||Wolsingham||PS/We||1924-1939|
|Stanhope (also known as Weardale)||Wolsingham||PS/BA||1939-1974||1934-1973||1876-1924|
|Darlington Ward South West||Barnard Castle||PS/BC||1862-1941|
|Darlington Ward South West||Barnard Castle||PS/BA||1942-1974||1934-1974||1935-1974|
|Darlington Ward South West||Staindrop||PS/BC||1892-1947|
|Darlington Ward South West||Staindrop||PS/BA||1947-1958||1934-1955|
|Darlington Ward South East (later Darlington “County”)*||Darlington||PS/Da||1907-1974||1933-1970||1872-1973 (and see PS/Dar)|
|Durham Ward (later Durham “County”)**||Durham||PS/Du||1912-1964||1933-1962||1901-1971|
|Durham Ward (later Durham “County”)**||Spennymoor||PS/Du||1911-1954||1933-1954|
|Easington Ward North||Sunderland and Houghton-le-Spring records at Tyne & Wear Archives|
|Easington Ward South||Castle Eden||PS/CE||1899-1964||1933-1964||1901-1946||1872-1962|
|Easington Ward South||Peterlee||PS/CE||1964-1974||1964-1974|
|Stockton Ward||Stockton, Hartlepool records at Teesside Archives|
|Greta Bridge (North Yorks)||Barnard Castle||PS/GB||1889-1935|
|Greta Bridge (North Yorks)||Barnard Castle||PS/BA & D/Wat||1935-1974||1934-1966||1915-1974|
* Darlington ‘County’ Sessions had jurisdiction over the parts of Darlington South East Ward other than Darlington Borough itself.
** An area around Durham City (which properly comprised parts of Chester Middle, Easington North, Easington South, Darlington South East and Darlington North West wards) was designated a separate petty sessional ward; Durham ‘County’ Sessions had jurisdiction over the parts of this ward other than Durham City itself.
Magistrates Court registers for County Durham and Darlington, 1974 to 2001
|Division||Court sitting at||Catalogue reference||Adult court||Juvenile court||Family court||Licensing|
|Teesdale and Wear Valley||Bishop Auckland||PS/BA||1974-1975||1974|
|Teesdale and Wear Valley||Bishop Auckland||PS/TWV||1973-1975|
|Teesdale and Wear Valley||Stanhope||PS/TWV||1974-1975|
|Teesdale and Wear Valley||Barnard Castle||PS/TWV||1974-1975|
|Teesdale and Wear Valley||Bishop Auckland, Barnard Castle||PS/TWV||1975-2001||1978-2001||1974-1999|
|Durham City||Durham City||PS/Du||1974-2001||1974-2001||1974-1997||1928-2000|
Magistrates Court registers for County Durham and Darlington, 2002 to 2014
|Division||Court sitting at||Catalogue reference||Adult court||Juvenile court||Family court||Licensing|
|North Durham||Consett, Durham, Peterlee||PS/ND||2002-2006||2002-2006||2002-2005|
|South Durham||Bishop Auckland, Darlington, Newton Aycliffe||PS/SD||2002-2006||2002-2006||2002-2003||2001-2005|
|North and South Durham||PS/NSD||2005|
Magistrates Court registers for County Durham and Darlington, 2014 onwards
|Division||Court||Catalogue reference||Adult court||Juvenile court||Family court||Licensing|
|County Durham and Darlington||Consett, Darlington, Durham, Peterlee, Newton Aycliffe|
Adoption cases may be found in court records but see also the Durham Diocesan Family Welfare Service and Durham County Council Social Services records.
County Court records
County Courts deal with most civil cases, as well as some family issues such as divorce, adoption and bankruptcy hearings. Search our catalogue for details of our holdings for Bishop Auckland, Consett, Darlington and Durham County Courts (ref. CCo).
Court registers and Workmen’s Compensation records have access restricted for 100 years from the last date of the register.
County Court records for County Durham
|County Court name||Catalogue reference||Dates|
Divorce records are held by the Principal Registry of the Family Division in London
We hold a variety of records relating to the prisons in Durham, Carlisle and Newcastle.
Access to records relating to prisoners or prison officers is restricted for 85 years under Data Protection legislation.
Prison records for County Durham and neighbouring prisons
|Catalogue reference||Record type and coverage|
|P 1-8||An incomplete series of registers and indexes of prisoners: - Durham Prison, 1908-1964 - Carlisle Prison, 1910-1922, and Newcastle Prison, 1909-1925 - Durham Borstal (girls) from 1958-1962|
|P 9-10||Visiting committee minutes|
|P 11||Registers of convictions (Carlisle)|
|P 12||Governors’ journals|
|P 13||Registers of officers at Durham Prison, c.1897-1977 and at Newcastle Prison, c.1872-1924|
|P 14||Photographs of prisoners, c.1889-1938; photographs of prison officers, c.1934-1986|
|P 15||Buildings plans|
|P 16||Calendars of prisoners, 1959-1967|
|P 17||Includes: Register of deaths, 1879-1963; Governors’ briefings|
|P 18||Medical Officers’ journals|
For records related to prisons search our catalogue not only for ‘prison’ but also ‘house of correction’, ‘jail’ and ‘gaol’.
Records of other prisons and secure institutions
The Durham Penitentiary was not a prison but rather a residential training establishment for homeless women. There are a few late records of the management of this establishment (D/Sh.H 1140-1148).
We hold records for the Durham County Industrial School at Earl’s House (sometimes ‘Earls House’). This was later a sanatorium and is now Lanchester Road Hospital). This institution was aimed at homeless and unsupported boys rather than criminals, but an individual’s committal to the institution must have been approved by magistrates.
Management Committee minutes are in Q/A/C 11,19,20 (1880-1891), CC/A 9 (1891-1909) and CC/A 26 (1909-1924). Orders for commitment are in Q/S/Y 1 (1885-1897), and later admission and discharge registers are in D/X 1065 (1905-1923, restricted access). Committals for 1898-1904 might be found in Petty Sessions registers. See also CC/X 91 for school rules, etc.
Aycliffe Young People’s Centre was a secure home for juvenile offenders, run by Durham County Council for the Home Office (1944). We hold records for the centre (access restricted for up to 100 years),
We hold no records for institutions operated by the Home Office. These include Stanhope Castle (secure/approved school for boys, 1941-1980), Medomsley Detention Centre (later Hassockfield Secure Training Centre, male young offenders, 1961-2015), Deerbolt (young offenders, 1981), Frankland (high security, 1980), Holme House (1992) or Low Newton (remand centre, later women’s prison and Young Offender Institution (YOI), 1965. See Home Office records at The National Archives.
The chief role of the coroner is to investigate the circumstances surrounding unnatural, sudden, or suspicious deaths. If there is doubt over causes of death then an inquest is held, occasionally with a jury.
Very few records survive for County Durham until the later part of the 20th century. Some of the names of the individuals, for which coroners’ inquest files survive, appear in our catalogues.
Access to coroners’ records is restricted for 75 years. In practice this means access to any of our coroners’ records requires permission from the current coroner, except for the 19th century records from Chester Ward.
The coroners’ records are organised by district. There were initially four coroners’ districts in County Durham: Chester Ward, Easington Ward, Darlington Ward and Stockton Ward.
In 1907 Sunderland County Borough was created as a separate coroners’ district.
In 1933 Chester Ward was divided into two districts with different coroners serving Chester East and Chester West.
From 1967 there were four new districts: North East, North West, East and South. There is a list in our search room showing which administrative districts fell into which coroners’ ward/district.
The new county in 1974 had two districts only, North and South.
These two districts were merged in July 2013, to form a single district for County Durham and Darlington. Files created in 2013 for the South District are referenced separately up until the merger (in the Cor/Du.S catalogues) while all other records for 2013 (and subsequent years) are to be found in the Cor/CD catalogues.
The main records are the registers of reported deaths and the case papers. A one per cent sample of non-inquest case papers has been kept and, up to 1995, a five per cent sample of inquest case papers. From 1996 all inquest files have been kept.
Coroners records for County Durham
|Coroners’ Ward or District||Catalogue reference||Dates when district existed||Registers of reported deaths and covering dates||Case papers and covering dates|
|Chester Ward||Cor/C||to 1933||Diaries of inquests, 1873-1876, 1881-1882||Inquests, 1874-1875|
|Chester Ward||Cor/C||Verdicts of inquests, 1881-1893|
|Chester East Ward records at Tyne and Wear Archives||1933-1967|
|Chester West Ward||Cor/CW||1933-1967||1953-1967||Inquests (5% sample) and non-inquests (1% sample), 1942-1967|
|Easington Ward no records (registers possibly with Peterlee registrars)||to 1967|
|Sunderland records at Tyne and Wear Archives||1907 to date|
|Stockton Ward no records known||to 1967|
|Darlington Ward||Cor/Da||to 1967||1953-1967||Sample retained, 1948-1964|
|North West District||Cor/NW||1967-1974||1967-1974||Sample retained, 1967-1974|
|North East District records at Tyne and Wear Archives||1967-1974|
|East District no records known||1967-1974|
|South District||Cor/S||1967-1974||1967-1974||Sample retained, 1967-1973|
|Durham North||Cor/Du.N||1974-2012||1974-2012||Sample retained, 1974-1995; non-inquests (1% sample) and all inquests, 1996-2013|
|Durham North||Cor/CD||2013||2013||Non-inquests (1% sample) and all inquests|
|Durham South||Cor/Du.S||1974-2013||1974-2013||Sample retained, 1974-1995; non-inquests (1% sample) and all inquests, 1996-2013|
|County Durham and Darlington||Cor/CD||2013||2013||Non-inquests (1% sample) and all inquests|
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