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An introduction to the Archives

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The Borthwick Institute for Archives is a key part of the UK’s national archives network. During our 60-plus year history we have collected a great variety of archives from the UK and much further afield, ranging in date from the 11th century to the present day.

As the designated archive of the Archdiocese of York, the Borthwick Institute specialises in ecclesiastical archives relating to York and surrounding parishes. From the middle ages to the 19th century, archbishops had the power to prove wills and try people for a vast array of moral and spiritual crimes; as such, our records shed light on many aspects of everyday life in this period.

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Our collections



The Borthwick Institute for Archives houses one of the most varied archive collections of any university in the UK.

Over the past six decades, our collections have grown enormously in richness and variety, with many of our archives having regional, national or international significance, such as:

  • Family history - parish records, probate records and marriage bonds.
  • Health records - including those from York's mental health hospitals and other institutions.
  • Social history - relating to the confectionery industry, church history and education.

We also hold records relating to:

  • charities, societies and associations
  • Quaker history
  • Southern African writers
  • politicians and associations
  • internationally renowned writers and performers
  • the environment
  • architecture, craft and design
  • gardens and horticulture

Every year we welcome thousands of visitors to view our archival materials and we hope this guide will help you to make the most of your visit.

Family history

Family history

The Borthwick holds a number of key resources for tracing your family history in the north of England.

Parish records

  • Registers of baptisms, marriages and burials for the Anglican parishes of an area roughly 20 miles around the City of York
  • Bishop’s transcripts (contemporary copies of the parish registers) for parishes in most of Yorkshire (1600 to c1850)
  • Methodist records for York chapels

Probate records

  • Records of probate for the York Archdiocese (1389 to 1858)
  • Most testators were from Yorkshire, although wealthy people from the rest of northern England also had their wills proved in York

Marriage bonds

  • If your ancestors were married by licence in the Archdiocese of York, we may have some associated paperwork, called bonds and allegations
  • The index covers 1660 to 1837
  • Paver’s Index provides details of earlier medieval bonds now lost

More information on the Anglican parish records, Bishop’s transcripts, probate records and marriage bonds is available:

Health records

Health records

The Borthwick holds a wide range of records relating to the treatment of health, particularly mental health, over the past two hundred years for the following hospitals:


Mental health hospitals

  • The Retreat, near Heslington
    • A large part of The Retreat Archive has been digitised with funding from the Welcome Collection. Copies of digitised records can be viewed online where available by following links provided within the catalogue.
  • The North Riding Lunatic Asylum, later Clifton Hospital
  • York Lunatic Asylum, later Bootham Park Hospital
  • The York City Asylum, later Naburn Hospital

The Retreat

Other institutions

  • York County Hospital
  • York Dispensary
  • St. Mary’s Hospital
  • Fulford Maternity Hospital
  • Claypenny Hospital


Holdings include day-to-day administration, admission papers, case notes, patients’ papers, photographs and architectural plans:

Social history

Social history

York has a rich history and the Borthwick’s holdings document many aspects of the lives of ordinary people, workers, worshippers and school pupils over the last 700 years.

A Rowntrees chocolate advert -

Confectionery industry

The Borthwick holds the archives of Rowntree & Co, John Mackintosh & Sons, M.A. Cravens & Son, and Terry’s of York confectionery manufacturers. Records include:

  • advertising material
  • recipe books
  • administrative records dating back to the mid-nineteenth century
  • company magazines which often contain information on former employees. A full run is available in our searchroom.

Church history

  • Faculty papers provide details of alterations or additions to church buildings and land (1613 to the 21st century)
  • Glebe papers record the belongings of the parish, including land and altar goods (1600 to the 20th century)
  • The cause papers (1300 to 1858) record cases which passed through the church courts, including adultery, slander, witchcraft and pew disputes


  • Records of the University of York
  • Records from the Blue Coat and Grey Coat Schools
  • Records of the Mount School, a Quaker School for girls in York, including administrative papers, school play programmes, photographs and an exceptional run of the school magazine.
  • Records of the Yorkshire School for the Blind

Also see:

Visiting us

Opening hours

Our opening hours are subject to change owing to COVID-19.

For up to date information and guidance on visiting see:

Visiting us

Unable to visit us in person?

Many of the resources we provide are available online 24/7:

If you can't visit

We also offer reprographic and research services for those who are unable to visit us. Please contact us for further information.