A guide to maps and plans at Durham Record Office.
This guide gives a broad introduction to the range of maps and plans held at Durham Record Office, detailing some of the larger collections, and giving advice on how to identify and gain access to them.
All technical drawings listed in our catalogues, whether of a topographic or architectural nature, are described as plans. To find any maps or plans through our online catalogue you should search, using the ‘all of these words’ option, for an appropriate place name (perhaps with alternative spellings) plus the word ‘plan’ or ‘plans’: Search the catalogue.
See our Maps page for a brief introduction to this topic.
Access to Ordnance Survey (OS) plans and maps
The earliest OS plans are stored in the search room. All other plans are stored in strong rooms.
Early OS plans can also be browsed, together with aerial photographs, on our online map viewer: Search interactive maps.
Visit the Pictures in Print website to see pre-1860 maps of County Durham held at Durham University Library (Archives and Special Collections), Durham Record Office, Durham Cathedral Library, Sunderland Museum, Sunderland City Library and the British Library. Our catalogue gives a cross-reference to this site where appropriate.
Library volume B 63/2 is a list of historic maps held at Durham University, compiled in 1954.
We can make high quality digital copies of all plans, other than the largest tithe plans, with our specialist overhead camera; please contact us by email to enquire about costs and media.
North East England maps
Our collection concentrates on County Durham but we do hold some regional maps, in particular those showing the northern coalfields or long-distance transport routes, which can be found along with the more local maps mentioned below.
Historic maps of County Durham
Our main collection of printed maps, published from the late 16th century to the 20th century, are listed under catalogue references D/CL 23 and D/XP. These begin with a photocopy of the earliest known County Durham map, c.1569, (D/CL 23/1) and a copy of Saxton’s map of 1576 (D/CL 23/2). Buy facsimile copies of John Speed’s map of 1611 (D/XP 26) and Jan Jansson’s map of 1652 (D/CL 23/6) from the shop.
Many later maps of the county are derived from these early examples but notable later plans include the Armstrong/Jefferys plan of 1768 (D/Lo/P 239, in 6 sheets, and D/X 99/38, in 32 sheets, both with various annotations), Greenwood’s plan of 1820 (D/St/P 20/2 and also D/Br/P 298, D/XP 112/1 and D/X 1417/1) and Bell’s plans of the Great Northern Coalfield, 1843-50 (D/Lo/P 242-243).
Ordnance Survey (OS) plans
We have collected an almost complete set of the first four editions of OS County Series maps of County Durham and the surrounding areas at both 25 inches to the mile (1:2500) and 6 inches to the mile (1:10560). These were surveyed and published around 1860, 1895, 1915 and 1935. In most cases we also have a copy of the first post-war National Grid edition. Some of these are listed in our catalogue D/XP.OS.
We also have a set of first edition 1 inch to the mile maps.
There is a history and guide to OS plans in our library (ref. J33).
OS 25 inch and 6 inch County Series
The large scale ’25 inch’ maps show an area 1½ by 1 mile in the greatest detail. The second and later editions are particularly good for giving street names.
The ‘6 inch’ plans leave out some place names but are generally still very detailed. The first edition sheets each cover sixteen of the 25 inch maps (6 by 4 miles) while later editions printed the same area on four sheets, each covering four of the 25 inch maps (3 by 2 miles). The first edition is particularly good at showing administrative boundaries. We have an index to place names in the first edition 6 inch sheets: Durham Places in the Mid-Nineteenth Century.
OS National Grid Series
Coverage of the county in the first post-war edition (revised through the 1950s and 1960s as required) varies between 6 inch to the mile scale for the most rural areas, 25 inch to the mile for the majority and 50 inch to the mile for urban areas. OS National Grid plans have a 50 year copyright so more recent editions cannot be copied except as an A4 printed extract under a ‘fair use’ agreement.
North Riding of Yorkshire, Northumberland, Westmorland
We have many maps of the counties adjoining County Durham.
Geological, land use and land valuation maps
Special editions of Ordnance Survey plans in our collection show:
- deep and surface geology
- mid 20th century land use
- 1910 Inland Revenue land value assessments (catalogue reference IR)
- locations of abandoned coal and lead mines (series D/HSE 65-66).
See below for notes on Ordnance Survey 1:500 scale town plans.
A number of key plans for County Durham, showing the coverage of other plans and/or administrative boundaries, are included in our collection.
There is a series of Boundary Order maps in the Durham County Council records. These may be concerned with boundaries of civil parishes, polling districts, constituencies, etc. For maps before 1974 see catalogue section CC/X 185; for those after 1974 see DC/AA.
Road, river and railway plans
Some plans were produced to show a route to be travelled (similar to a modern road atlas). Other plans show wide areas of the county and beyond, where roads and railways were to be built or improved. These often show the adjacent villages, farms and roads in a lot of detail.
Any work that altered ‘the King’s Highway’ required royal licence, and the local sheriff first made an inquisition. From 1697 to 1773 an appeal could be lodged locally and recorded by the Clerk of the Peace. Most alterations to roads after this period could be authorised by local magistrates. Plans accompanying these records in some cases show other local details. A small number of plans have survived from the early 18th century, with a complete set from 1774 onwards found in Order Books, Enrolment Books and individual bundles. See Q/R/HD and CC/HD catalogues for full details.
From 1793 the proposal to construct any major infrastructure project required a Local Act of Parliament and the deposit of a plan with the Clerk of The Peace. See our Q/D/P catalogue for a list of schemes including canals, bridges, harbours, railways, tramways and water, gas and electricity networks.
Plans of similar schemes at an earlier date are catalogued under D/XP, while copies of similar plans are listed in catalogue D/CL 14.
Plans referenced D/CL 23/8-10 show the route of the main roads from York and Whitby to Durham and up to Berwick in 1675.
Plan reference D/CL 23/25 shows the River Tees in 1750 and D/XP 66 is a detailed plan of the River Wear in 1819.
Catalogue reference D/XP includes many plans of tramways and railways and D/Rail/P has detailed plans of some railway lines and railway buildings.
DC/Env includes maps of 20th century road schemes and reclamation works.
The creation of Turnpike Trusts to manage major roads, generally from the mid-18th century onwards, required a Local Act of Parliament with an accompanying plan. See a separate list of turnpike road records.
Some landowners commissioned detailed plans of their property from the 18th century onwards, so some plans cover large land holdings across several parishes. In other cases crude sketches of farmland exist. Search the catalogue for the name of an estate or field plus ‘plan’.
We hold records for a number of large County Durham estates. There are good examples of plans, for instance, in our collections of papers from:
- Brancepeth Castle estate, immediately southwest of Durham City (D/Br/P)
- Croxdale Hall estate, a large area south of Durham City (D/Sa/P)
- Lord Londonderry’s estate, taking in much of the east of the county and including Seaham Hall and Wynyard Hall (D/Lo/P)
- The Earl of Strathmore’s estate, including Streatlam, Gibside, Holwick and Wemmergill (D/St/P)
- Thomas Bell and Sons, surveyors, produced 19th century estate, inclosure and tithe plans all over the North East (others are held at Durham University Library, and other parts of the Bell archives are held by Tyne and Wear Archives and Northumberland Archives) (D/Bo/G, D/CG).
Parish or township plans
Some plans show land within a particular administrative boundary (see also Boundary plans, above).
Inclosure or enclosure plans
The formal inclosure of common land from the mid-18th century to the 19th century required an Act of Parliament resulting in an inclosure agreement or award and a plan, usually named for the appropriate parish.
See our separate guide to inclosure records.
All tithe-paying townships were surveyed and assessed for landowners’ tax liability following the 1836 Tithe Commutation Act. The parish copies of these, where they survive, are held here.
See our separate guide to tithe plans and apportionments.
Plans are sometimes found with other manorial records. For County Durham these are mostly at the University Library or in private hands.
Catalogue section D/Bo/A includes a 17th century plan of Egglestone. D/X 741 contains plans of property in Romaldkirk and Cotherstone. D/HH includes some examples of manorial plans from the Manor of Bowes.
Parish boundary maps
Many parish collections include plans showing parish boundaries, particularly as proposed at the establishment or partition of the parish.
Historic plans of Durham City
There is a small plan of Durham City on John Speed’s early 17th century map of County Durham (copied from Schwyter, 1595) and on the Armstrong/Jefferys plan of 1768 (D/Lo/P 239, in 6 sheets, and D/X 99/38, in 32 sheets, both with various annotations).
The earliest detailed city plan published was by Forster in 1754 (D/CL 23/26,27) and we hold later, detailed, original plans from 1820 (J. Wood – D/CL 23/50) and 1849 (J.H. LeKeux – D/CL 23/75). Most other early town plans are derived from these. Photographs of some are held under D/Ph 104. The 1820 Wood plan is from his town atlas (facsimile copy CP/Sp185), which also includes plans of Barnard Castle, Darlington, South Shields, Stockton and Sunderland.
Board of Health reports
A series of reports around 1850 include town plans for Bishop Auckland (G 254 and UD/BA 102), Crook (G 254), Darlington (B 28), Durham (C 218 and G 254), Houghton-le-Spring (G 254) and Sunderland (G 253).
Ordnance Survey town plans
Our search room cabinets hold copies of the first edition (c.1860) 1:500 scale Ordnance Survey town plans for most of Durham City, Hartlepool, Gateshead, Bishop Auckland, Darlington and Barnard Castle (at 10 feet to the mile). We also hold an 1891 map of Stockton and a later set of plans for Darlington, at 1:1250 scale.
Modern town plans
Other 20th century town plans and guides will be found in various catalogues, such as local council records and miscellaneous deposits. There are also rambling guides, maps of country parks and nature trails. Search for these with the town name (such as South Shields, Seaham, Peterlee, etc.) and ‘plan’ or ‘guide’.
We hold a small number of plans of church graveyards and civil cemeteries listed in our catalogues for ecclesiastical parishes (prefix EP), civil parishes (CP) and burial boards (BB).
Some parish churches and other authorities will hold their own plans, especially where the cemetery is still in use. Please note that many old plans have been lost and many churchyards never had any grave plan at all.
See our separate guide to Grave plans.
Planning permission and building control
Planning permission for all buildings had to be approved by the local district council from the mid 19th century onwards, and many series of plans have survived. Plans for urban areas generally begin before those for rural areas.
See our separate guide to building plans. Many of these are not yet listed in our catalogue but we can check other indexes in the search room.
We also hold collections of original plans catalogued either by the architect who drew them up or by the owner of the building concerned. The records of some local architects, such as Hodgson Fowler (D/HF) and J. Wilson Hays (D/WH), and those of some building firms, such as George Lazenby (D/Laz), are catalogued under the Business and Industry category.
For plans of churches try, for instance, the records of the appropriate ecclesiastical parish (references beginning EP) or other church authority.
For plans of schools and other public buildings, there is the county council’s architects department (CC/Arch and DC/Arch) and, prior to this, Department of Education building grant plans (E/SBP).
Durham prison or gaol plans are in catalogue Q/A/P.
Durham Miners Association (D/DMA) owned various premises. Plans of large houses and industrial buildings might be in the family papers of the owners. These plans will generally be found by searching for the building name in our catalogue database.
Mine and quarry plans
Some maps and sections have been produced for mines and quarries, whether for coal, limestone, iron ore or lead. These will require a catalogue search for the name of the mine or quarry. Some of these, such as the records of the Weardale Lead Company (D/WL), the National Coal Board (NCB01/P and NCB02), and those of the Health and Safety Executive (D/HSE), have restricted access conditions.
The Durham Light Infantry collection includes various maps relating both to overseas military campaigns and to premises in the UK. Try D/DLI 14/2 and D/DLI 7/116.
Catalogue D/NERA contains plans for components of railway locomotives and rolling stock built by the North Eastern Railway company. Other plans are in foundry records such as D/Whes, CP/Shl (McNay papers) and D/Ki (Alfred Kitching).
Our library contains a variety of volumes concerning the histories of places and of buildings, and a number of town guides; there will be maps and plans included in many of these. Some business directories also contain maps. All library books are included in the online catalogue database so search for the name of the place or area and select the Library category.
Aerial photograph surveys
We hold four sets of aerial photographs covering much of County Durham, taken in 1945-51, 1968-69, 1971 and 1991-92. These have key plans to show coverage of each flight. Copyright varies from one survey to another; search room staff can advise.
There are also some miscellaneous aerial photographs to be found in our general collections among other photographs and postcards; these should all have ‘aerial photograph’ in the item description.
Some 17th, 18th and 19th century artists published books of views of buildings and cities. We hold prints of engravings produced by King, Buck, Billings, Hair and others, chiefly showing Durham Cathedral, various castles and churches, Durham City, and coal mining scenes. See, for instance, D/CL 12, D/CL 23, D/CL 27, ND/Du 9, D/Ph 127, D/Ph 290, UD/BA 236 and also the prints used in Surtees’ and Hutchinson’s Histories of Durham and those enclosed in the special edition of Mackenzie and Ross’s History of Durham.
Return to the list of information guides.