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Durham Union Society

Free Speech Since 1842
Established 1842
Institution Durham Universitymarker
Location Palace Greenmarker, Durhammarker, Englandmarker
Members 3000 in residence, 24000 worldwide
President Thomas McCall
Homepage DUS homepage

The Durham Union Society is a debating society founded in 1842 by the students of the University of Durhammarker. Commonly referred to as the "DUS" or "The Durham Union", it is the university's largest society with over 3,000 members. Until 1899, when the Durham Students' Unionmarker (DSU) was founded, the society acted as the university students' union.


The Union was founded in 1842. The purpose of the Union was, and remains, a counterbalance to the collegiate system, allowing students from the University's different colleges to meet both to debate and socialise more informally. The first debates were held in the reading rooms of Hatfield Hallmarker and University Collegemarker. In 1872 the Society moved to what is now the Palace Greenmarker library, where the University’s first purpose-built debating chamber was established. The Union Society acted, at this time, as the central social unit for the students of Durham University. The Durham Students' Unionmarker was developed in 1899 to take on this role, though the DUS has retained its social side.

To this end, the society bought 24 North Bailey as a social club (naming it the 'North Bailey Club' or, more informally '24'). This contains a bar which is open to all DUS members; a snooker room; a reading room that the DUS uses for functions, such as post debate entertaining, and an en-suite guest room that can be hired out by members. Student members also have the opportunity to rent large bedrooms as student accommodation in their second and third years. 24 North Bailey is also the setting for the vast majority of the Union regular social events.

By 1977, debates were so well attended that the original debating chamber was no longer adequately large enough. It moved across Palace Green to the Pemberton Building, which sits in the shadow of the Cathedralmarker. The Union Society has been housed there ever since. The building and debating chamber are also used by the university for lectures and examinations.

DUS today

The Union Society still maintains its offices and debating chamber on the Palace Greenmarker World Heritage Site, as well as 24 North Bailey. It hosts weekly debates featuring prominent external speakers, as well as inviting address speakers and holding social events. Recent speakers include the actress Imelda Staunton; BBC Radio 2 presenter Jeremy Vine; radio and television personality Nicholas Parsons; Channel Four newsreader Jon Snow; Met Chief Sir Ian Blair; London Mayor Boris Johnson; film critic Barry Norman; 'Rocky Horror' writer and Crystal Maze presenter Richard O'Brien; director and food critic Michael Winner; Oscar nominated actor Patrick Stewart; and the Liberal Democrat peer Baroness Shirley Williams.

The social highlight of the year is the annual Ball held in Michaelmas term. The programme for the evening varies, but usually consists of a champagne reception, dinner, music, and after dinner dancing. The 2006 Ball was held in Auckland Castlemarker. . The 2008 was held in Beamish Hall.

The Durham Union Society is a major force in competitive debating and regularly represents Durham at inter-varsity competitions around the UK, at the European Universities Debating Championship and World Universities Debating Championship. It hosted the European Universities Debating Championship in 2004, winning the competition the next year at University College Corkmarker, Irelandmarker and reaching the final in 2006 at the Berlin Debating Union. The Union Society also hosts the Durham inter varsity competition in November, and an Open Pairs Competition in June. Over two hundred sixth-formers compete at the Durham schools competition every March.


There are two types of membership:

  • Life Membership
  • Annual Membership

On payment of a second annual membership fee, an annual member becomes a member for life.

Life Members of the society are given a unique number and have their names inscribed in the Life Members' Books (of which there are continuous records dating back to at least 1911) . The membership is drawn primarily, but not exclusively, from the University of Durham.

Administrative structure

General Committee

The main committee in the Society is the General Committee. To gain membership of the General Committee in the first instance, a member must be elected to one of the various sub-committees in the Society:
  • House Committee (to organise the logistics of Friday night debates)
  • Consultative Committee (composed of College Secretaries)
  • Sponsorship Committee (to raise money for the Society)
  • Social Committee (to organise social events)
  • Debates Committee (to organise debating activities)

At the start of the academic year, elections take place for all these sub-committees by single transferable vote (STV) system.

Once a member of the General Committee, an individual can be nominated to become an officer of the Society.

There is an additional sub-committee:
  • Rules Committee (to oversee elections)
However, to gain membership of this sub-committee, the candidate must already be a present or past officer or a present member of another sub-committee. The committee is chaired by the Returning Officer. All Past Presidents in residence and any Presidents-Elect are ex officio members of this committee.

Reciprocal relations

The Union's members enjoy reciprocal relations with, and use of facilities at, the Oxford Unionmarker, Cambridge Unionmarker, Edinburgh Union, The Hist & The Phil, both of Trinity College Dublinmarker.

Notable alumni

  • Crispin Blunt MP (Past President, Conservative Whip and MP for Reigate)
  • Richard Calland (Past President, Director of Open Democracy Advice Centre and major comentator on South African politics)
  • General Sir Richard Dannatt (Past President, Chief of the General Staff).
  • Mark Elliott (Past President, author of several books on Azerbaijan and travel in Asia)
  • Edward Leigh MP (Past President, Conservative MP for Gainsborough and Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee)
  • Gabby Logan (Past Assistant Sponsorship Secretary, ITV sports presenter & contestant on BBC1's Strictly Come Dancing 2007)
  • Giles Ramsay (Past President, Founding Artistic Director of the Trident Theatre)


  1. History Durham Union Society, Accessed October 2006
  2. The Times Monday, Mar 18, 1912; pg. 4; Issue 39849; col G
  3. 24 NBC Durham Union Society, Accessed October 2006
  4. Tuesday night Addresses Durham Union Society, Accessed October 2006
  5. Durham Union Society Msquarade Ball. Colin Cook, December 2006
  6. Durham IV, Accessed December 2006
  7. The Durham Union Society Schools Debating Competition 2003 Debating the motion: "This house would eat GM food" The Food Standards Agency, Accessed October 2006
  8. Why Get Involved Durham Union Society, Accessed October 2006

External links

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