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History of the Society

History of the Society

The Society was established in 1834 in honour of the late Robert Surtees of Mainsforth (1779-1834), author of The History and Antiquities of the County Palatine of Durham (1816-40).

It is the oldest English Society of its kind. As originally stated its purpose was:

“To have for its object the Publication of inedited Manuscripts, illustrative of the intellectual, the moral, the religious, and the social condition of those parts of England and Scotland, included on the East between the Humber and the Firth of Forth, and on the West between the Mersey and the Clyde, a region which constituted the Ancient Kingdom of Northumberland.”

It was not made explicit, but it is obvious from the first circular, with its list of texts proposed for publication, and from the earliest volumes published, that the concern was to be the historical, not the contemporary, condition of the region. This has remained true throughout the Society’s history and in the most recent revision of the Society’s Rules, published in Volume 200, its purpose is defined as:

“the advancement of public education in the region that constituted the ancient kingdom of Northumbria, especially by the transcription, editing, translating and publication of original historical documents.”

Although several other similar societies were subsequently founded in the region defined at the Society’s establishment, the area covered by the Society has not been reduced, but most of the volumes so far published have been concerned with County Durham or Northumberland.

Volume 150 comprises an account of the first century of the Society’s history, with a full description of each volume published, and a list of members during the period 1834-1938. A list of Volumes 1-200 is to be found in Volume 200.

Rather more detailed lists are given in E. L. C. Mullins, Texts and Calendars [I] and II, Royal Historical Society Guides and Handbooks nos 7 and 12 (1958 and 1983) or (uptodate) on the RHS website in the Surtees Society section at