John Cosin (1594–1672), Bishop of Durham,
John Cosin (1594–1672), Bishop of Durham, Auckland Castle
John Cosin (1594–1672), Bishop of Durham,
John Cosin (1594–1672), Bishop of Durham, Durham University
From its foundation in the 17th Century by Bishop John Cosin,
From its foundation in the 17th Century by Bishop John Cosin, to offering world-class exhibition facilities today, Palace Green Library is certainly ‘shaped by the past, creating the future’. Image: Durham University

Cosin was born in Norwich in 1594 and educated at Norwich Grammar School before graduating from Caius College Cambridge as Doctor of Divinity in 1630. He was part of a movement of clerics at odds with the advance of Puritanism. Cosin wanted to beautify churches, celebrate with music and conduct elaborate ceremonies. Under Charles I, the movement was popular. Cosin was made canon of Durham in 1624, Rector of Elswick, then Rector of Brancepeth. In 1635 he was appointed Master of Peterhouse Cambridge, then Dean of Peterborough.

The English Civil war forced Cosin into exile from the 1640s until 1660. Immediately upon his return, however, he was appointed Bishop of Durham where he remained until his death 12 years later.

It is estimated that for each of the 12 years of his tenure as, Cosin spent £2,000 on charity, the modern equivalent of £210,349. Of Cosin’s many philanthropic interests, the ones that are the most visible today are the many building works he commissioned. These include the restoration of Durham Cathedral, Auckland Castle and of the Bishop’s House at Darlington. He rebuilt the Durham Assize courts and commissioned several pieces of decorative woodwork for the Cathedral. Scholarships in his name, supported by endowments, were provided Caius College and Peterhouse College, Cambridge.

In 1668 he constructed the Cosin Library at Durham that still stands on Palace Green. The library cost £2,500 and has remained open to the public since 1669. Cosin gifted a large collection of books to the library, which by 1672 numbered over 5,500.

Cosin’s enthusiasm for music helped establish Durham Cathedral as one of the most important centres in Europe for liturgical music. He provided a large collection of music manuscripts and spent his life collecting church music from local composers.

Across from the library he built, stands Cosin’s Almshouse building. This was constructed on the same ground as Bishop Langley’s school for grammar and music. The Almshouse provided an annual subsistence for 8 residents; 3 men and 3 women from Durham. The remaining 2 spaces were allocated to a man and woman from Brancepeth, Cosin’s former Rectory. £70 was endowed to the residents and a salary of £4 was paid to a woman to care for the elderly. Although Cosin funded the Almshouse, he commissioned a stonemason to carve Langley’s coat of arms above the door as a tribute to his eminent predecessor.


Cosin’s Almshouses. Available here (Accessed: 06/06/2018).

Lomas, R. (2009). An encyclopaedia of North-East England, Edinburgh: Birlinn Ltd, pp. 113-114.

Milton, A. (2004). Cosin, John. Available here (Accessed: 06/06/2018).