In the last Journal [Summer 1994] we discussed, at some length, Wills relating to Northumberland and Durham people and explained that, in the main, pre-1858 Wills would be proved at Durham. We now turn to those proved elsewhere, i.e. at York or Canterbury.
With effect from 12 January 1858, the proving of Wills and the. granting of Letters of Administration was placed in the hands of various Probate registries established under the 1857 Probate Act - after several hundred years, responsibility for probate matters ceased to be the concern of the Church.
Prior to 1858, the Bishop of Durham administered Probate matters over the whole of the counties of Durham and Northumberland and the records are held by Durham University Library Archives and Special Collections, 5 The College, Durham [Now held at the Palace Green site - Ed.]. There were however some important exceptions.
a) The area known as Hexham and Hexhamshire, covering the parishes or chapelries of Allendale, Allenheads or Allendale St. Peter, Bingfield St. Mary, Carrshields or High West Allen, Hexham, Ninebanks or Low West Allen, St. John Lee, St. Oswald in Lee and Whitley Chapel. Wills etc. relating to testators in this area would be proved at York up to 1837 and thereafter (1837 1857) at Durham.
b) The Northumberland parish of Thockrington, which was an 'ecclesiastical peculiar' of a York prebend.
c) The Will of a person dying with bona notabilia, i.e. goods, debts etc. worth over £5.00, in both Durham Diocese and also elsewhere in the Province of York would be proved at York. The is likely to be particularly relevant in the southern parts of County Durham, adjoining Yorkshire and near the Hexham area.
d) The Will of a person dying with bona notabilia in both Durham Diocese and in the southern part of England i.e. within the Province of Canterbury would be proved in the Prerogative Court at Canterbury (P.C.C.). This Court also had jurisdiction over the whole of England and Wales during the Commonwealth period 1650-1660.
Pre-1837 "York Wills", relating to Durham or Northumberland under a), b) or c) above would he proved either in the Prerogative Court at York or at the Dean and Chapter Court there. The surviving Probate documents for these Courts are held by University of York, Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, St. Anthony's Hall, York YOI 2PW. (Telephone 0904 642315.) Prior to 1630, Wills generally survive only in the Probate Registers i.e. the Wills themselves no longer exist.
There are printed indexes of Probates granted in the Prerogative and Exchequer Courts at York up to 1688. These are in the Record Series volumes published by Yorkshire Archaeological Society, volumes 4, 6, 11, 14, 19, 22, 24, 26, 28, 32, 35, 49, 60, 68 and 89 for the regular Wills and volumes 38, 73 and 93 for the Dean and Chapter Wills. It is generally thought that few Hexhamshire Wills survive for this period.
For the period 1688 to 1731, there are typescript indexes at York (which are also available through Mormon Family History Centres). Also at York, there is a series of manuscript lists from 1732, which are arranged month by month and grouped by the initial letter of the surname.
The indexes mentioned in the previous two paragraphs list all of the Wills proved at York, but there is an index, for the period 1688 to 1799, which attempts to identify and list all the Wills at York which relate to Hexham and Hexhamshire, so far as these Wills can be identified from the place names shown in the York indexes. This is in manuscript and was compiled by our late member, Dr. Kenneth Mitchell. A copy is held by Newcastle Central Library and this Society has arranged for it be microfiched and it is now available for sale to members.
Volume 60 of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society Record Series is an index to the names mentioned in a Probate Act book for Hexham and Hexhamshire which exists for 1593 to 1602.
Allendale Mss in Northumberland Record Office - references NRO 672/77/1 to NRO 672/77/7 - includes original Wills of 147 people mainly with Hexhamshire addresses but also a few others, from the period 1728 to 1838.
N.D.F.H.S Journal Volume 6, Number 2 (January 1981) has an article by D.W. Smith entitled 'A Most Peculiar Peculiar' which deals with Hexhamshire Wills and in particular it lists Wills in a collection of the Society of Antiquaries of Newcastle which is now at Northumberland Record Office reference NRO M15 B34. Entitled Hexhamshire Testamente Registrate, it covers Wills from 1694 to 1707, and is possibly a compilation of a slightly later date.
H.M. Wood's transcripts in two volumes, with a separate index, of J. Raine's Testamenta Eboracensis is at Newcastle Central Library. This covers Wills of Northumberland and Durham people proved at York for years to about 1783 but it is an incomplete listing, with some entire Wills transcribed but for others only a skeleton outline is given.
There are selected extracts of some York Wills 14th to 16th centuries in Volumes 4, 30, 45 and 53 of Surtees Society publications.
Photocopies of Wills etc. proved at York can be ordered from the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, St. Anthony's Hall, York Y01 2PW. (Telephone 01904 642315.) Prior to 1630, Wills generally survive only in the probate registers and can be copied only be photography (charged in March 1994 at £5.50 per photograph). After 1630, there is a standard charge of £2.00 for photocopies of each probate bundle (including Will, Inventory etc.) regardless of the number of pages to be copied. Up to date charges are contained in a free leaflet available from the Institute. You should not send any money with your original request.
'Canterbury' Wills - Wills proved at the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (P.C.C.) are at the Public Record Office, Chancery Lane, London WC2A ILR. (Telephone 081 876 3444). Indexes covering the period 1383 to 1700 have been printed in various volumes of the Index Library, published by the British Record Society. The Society of Genealogists is in the process of publishing a series of volumes indexing P.C.C. Wills from 1750.
The Prerogative Court of Canterbury had sole jurisdiction over Probate matters during the Commonwealth period and Gateshead Library has an Index of Commonwealth Wills, Durham and Northumberland (and some Yorkshire) which is in a pencilled Mss, compiled early this century by Mrs. C.E.B. Trentham.
Abstracts of the Probate Acts in the P.C.C. is a series 'Year Books of Probates' edited by John and G.F. Matthews. Four volumes of Commonwealth Probates were published between about 1910 and 1927. Some of the volumes have a place index, which shows several Northumberland or Durham testators. The lists are in alphabetical order but it is not clear whether it is a complete list or merely, as the title would appear to indicate, a selection. Copies are in Newcastle Central Library (929.3 indexed under Canterbury Prerogative Court).
This article was first published in the NDFHS Journal, Volume 19, Number 3, Autumn 1994.
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