Norah Gurney, Archivist

Norah Kathleen May Gurney, nee Dewar (1921 – 1974) was the second Director of the Borthwick Institute for Archives in York..  

She was born in 1921 in London, the daughter of Frank J. Dewar and Mabel M. Mulholland. After graduating in modern history at St Hugh’s College, Oxford, she worked for naval intelligence during the Second World War. In 1942 she married 2nd Lieutenant Gerald D. Gurney at Oxford. 

The marriage did not work out and Norah was drawn to the contemplative religious life but this was not fulfilled and in 1946 she joined the staff of the local history and archives department at Sheffield County Library – and found her niche.  In 1956 she was appointed assistant archivist to Canon J. S. Purvis at the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research in York.  One of Norah’s friends in an obituary written for St Hugh’s Chronicle wrote that Norah’s eventual intellectual home was the Borthwick Institute of Historical Research, and that her work there met with wide acclaim.   

In 1963, following the retirement of Canon Purvis, she became Archivist-in-Charge of the Institute and in 1971 she was made Borthwick Director.  Under Norah Gurney the Borthwick further developed its links with the wider archive profession and it became a highly regarded record office. 

In addition to her work at the Borthwick, Mrs Gurney served on the Council of the British Records Association and its Records Preservation and Editorial committees, as well as the British sub-committee of the Commission Internationale d’Histoire Ecclésiastique Comparée. She was also treasurer of the Canterbury and York Society, Vice-President of the Surtees Society, and Chair of the Yorkshire Archaeological Society.  She was, as the St Hugh’s Chronicle obituary says, at the very zenith of a brilliant career when illness struck.  

Sadly Norah Gurney died of cancer on 5 February 1974, aged 52. 

The image shows Norah Gurney in 1957 in one of the original Borthwick strongrooms at St Anthony’s Hall 

Researched and written by Rosie Cantrell  


University of York – (accessed 30 December 2020) 

University of York Borthwick Institute for Archives – (accessed 30 December 2020) 

E.M.D. (1974) NORAH KATHLEEN MAY GURNEY (nee DEWAR).  St Hugh’s College Chronicle 1973 – 4. Number 46. p35 – 36 

University of York Borthwick Institute blog – (accessed 30 December 2020)