Derbyshire During the civil war and the involvement of Sir John Gell

The civil war of 1642 – 1653 was as close to a social revolution as Britain ever came. It granted us the gift of a Parliamentary Government and moderated Monarchy that we still enjoy today. Indeed, the brief Republic of Oliver Cromwell was revolutionary, happening years before the famous French and Russian revolutions. For many historians, what happened in Britain is far more interesting, more a case of evolution of a tired and tested system of government; than a total revolution of leadership. This is clear, as following the restoration of Charles II in May 1660, early modern Britain, constitutionally at least, remains recognisable to British politicians today.

The role of Derbyshire during the civil war is less well documented than that of its neighbours: Yorkshire, Cheshire, Nottinghamshire and Staffordshire. Leicestershire is too, relatively undocumented as a whole but has literature focused on Loughborough during the civil war.

Derbyshire never saw such large-scale military operations as Yorkshire, but was a vital linchpin for the parliamentary cause in the Midlands. For this reason it was a constant target for royalist offensives from its strongholds in Northumberland and the Welsh-borders throughout the civil war.

The presence of Derbyshire as a Parliamentary stronghold was almost entirely due to the efforts of Sir John Gell, whose career as a whole ‘would fill a book; indeed a full length biography is probably overdue’, according to Brian Stone, author of Derbyshire in The Civil War.

Derbyshire and the Civil War by Brian Stone

Derbyshire and the Civil War by Brian Stone

This book, available in the Local Studies Library at Record Office, is targeted at the amateur historian and makes for an easy and enjoyable read into the part Derbyshire played in the civil war; as well as a very interesting overview of the importance of Gell in this period. Local Studies holds quite a large collection of literature about specific aspects of the involvement of Derbyshire in The Civil War, as well as extensive works on the Gell family, John Gell and his Civil War stories. The book is also excellent for anyone researching Derbyshire in the 17th century, as it contains quotes from authors and diarists of the time such as Defoe.

Extract from Derbyshire and the Civil War by Brian Stone

Extract from Derbyshire and the Civil War by Brian Stone

In the archives, however are some extremely rare and interesting articles and records from the period that are a privilege to see first-hand. For example, there is a contemporary copy of King Charles II’s escape from the battle of Worcester, as told by him to the famous and brilliant diarist of the time Samuel Pepys. This story is famously Charles II’s favourite anecdote, he would tell it, and at great length whenever he hosted a large event. New PictureAs well as this, are countless correspondences between John Gell, and his army commanders all over the region; these along with letters to his family give an as yet almost unseen view into his life. As Brian Stone is quoted, the publications on Sir John Gell as an individual are limited, so there is chance for historical discovery for the casual historian.

The story of John Gell’s Civil War concludes in late 1660, following the restoration of King Charles II, and arguably the return to a true democratic style of government. The Declaration of Breda, made while Charles was still in exile in Belgium, with the help of the former Parliamentary Commander in Scotland, Sir George Monck – called by many ‘a closet royalist – had the clause of Indemnity and Oblivion. This meant all who had fought against the royalists would be pardoned, and all would be equal in the eyes of the reformed government. All of those except, that is, the regicides – the so called Killers of The King – who would be suitably punished.

Sir John Gell was granted a pardon in late 1660 – the original copy with the royal seal are held in the Gell family archive collection and are certainly worth a look – along with many other items in the archives collections relating to the civil war form a part of our county and our country’s history which is totally unique. The Civil War is a fascinating insight into the eyes of early modern revolutionaries, long before the French and Russians; Britain enjoyed a constitutional shift based on honour, and integrity of good, sound and uncorrupted government.

Jack O’Brien, Work Placement Student

New Perspectives on the Derbyshire Lead Industry – the next session

Thanks to everyone who made the first lead industry seminar go so well last month.  I found it invigorating to encounter so much enthusiasm, experience and subject knowledge.  Much of the session was devoted to introductions and admin, but we took the opportunity to hear from Lien and Clare about the Mining the Archives project, which is facilitating conservation work on some of the lead-mining records we hold.

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The next session is on Friday the 13th of February 2015.  (Yes, I know.  Bring your own horse-shoe or rabbit’s foot and don’t pass under any ladders on the way here.)  The seminar will be divided into two discussions:

  • “Tithe and Enclosure Awards and Maps: Resolving problems in Lead Mining History” – discussion led by Steve Thompson
  • “Financial Accounting and the Derbyshire Lead Industry: role and impact” – discussion led by Matthew Pawelski

We had a diverse array of talents at the last seminar, some of whom had only very recently developed an interest in the history of the lead industry, and others for whom it has been a lifelong obsession.  I have reserved places for everyone who was there to come back in February; but there are other places available if you have anything to contribute to the conversation, however minor – you certainly don’t need to be the world’s authority on lead.  You can book by calling 01629 538347.

Overseers of the Poor account book: numbering

The first thing you normally do when you take a volume apart is to number all the pages in pencil, so you know exactly how everything fits together.  However, in this case, there were two issues preventing me from doing that: turning over the pages to number them risked destroying some of the damaged areas and at some point someone else had gone through the volume and numbered it in pencil in the top right corner of each page.  Great, you might think: just use the existing numbering and go ahead! Unfortunately, relying on someone else’s numbering is never a good idea, as they may have made mistakes and they may not have numbered all the pages you need to be numbered before taking a volume apart.  All volumes (whether they are hand-written manuscript volumes or printed books) are bound with endleaves at the front and the back.  The first and last page of these blank sheets are stuck to the boards and help hold the binding together – no one ever counts these endleaves when counting the number of pages of a book and equally no one ever numbers these.  Except for conservators, who need to know exactly how each page relates to every other page.  In this case, as you can see, the front endleaf has become detached from the board, showing more details of the binding, whereas the back endleaf is still in place and has been written on.


Front endleaf and exposed front board

Front endleaf and exposed front board

Back endleaf

Back endleaf still attached to back board

To avoid confusion and prevent further damage I have decided not to add any additional numbering, but to number the endleaves with roman numerals as I take the volume apart and hope the old numbering will be reasonably accurate.  As always when taking a volume apart I will be keeping detailed notes of how all the pages fit together, so if there are issues with the old numbering I can keep a record of those and still fit everything back together as it should be.



Spending money 18th century style


Among the Harpur Crewe records are a number of 18th century account books of the stewards or agents who were acting on behalf of the Harpur family, and these have lots of interesting entries which show a little light on how the elite spent their money at that time.

One thing that stands out is how often they record payments to the poor and needy. In the extract pictured above for February 1746 (from document reference number D2375/M/277/10), there are references to the giving of sixpence to a poor blind man, sixpence to two poor women, and a shilling to a “Bedlam Man” [referring to a man who is or behaves as if insane, the term deriving from the Hospital of St. Mary of Bethlehem in London, where those with severe mental health problems were housed and treated from the 13th century onwards].They also were also willing to help musicians, as was the case above for a fiddler who received sixpence. Other payments elsewhere refer to money having been given to a singer, two women fiddlers and the waits [a band of musicians] at Ashby de la Zouch.

It is also evident that the Harpurs at this time responded to appeals from individuals who had suffered personal misfortune. A petition (through the Justices of the Peace of Leicester) from a man who suffered losses from fire resulted in a donation of a guinea (£1 1 shilling), and a woman who put in her own petition after losses from fire received sixpence. Payments were also made to soldiers and sailors, some of whom were described as old or lame. Another interesting entry on 21 Apr 1746 is for payments to be given to the tenants of Breadsall “for their losses by the rebels”. This refers to the army of the Young Pretender a.k.a. Bonnie Prince Charlie which had marched south from Scotland to put him on the throne and had reached Derby in December 1745, only for the decision to be made to turn back.

The accounts include a lot of everyday expenditure, such as purchases of provisions, butter, eggs, fish and fowl. Occasionally, more exotic items were purchased, such as pistachio nuts, plovers’ eggs, a chest of oranges, and, as in the extract above, a pot of “charr”, i.e. tea [the drink being fashionable then, but not quite the ubiquitous necessity it is now]. The accounts of wages of staff were also recorded, mostly paid out in annual instalments. They lived in as servants, and as such they were housed, fed and clothed, so the need to be paid more often throughout the year was not considered the way to do it. As can be seen above, the wages of the cook, Mr Rowe, were paid for a couple of months from Christmas. As he doesn’t seem to appear again, we must assume that he ceased to work for the Harpurs. Along with payments to staff are also recorded tips and gratuities given to people who gave service to them. The postman, for example, received his usual Xmas box (2 shillings), a maid at Sir Henry Harpur’s lodging in Bond Street, London, received a generous 5 shillings. and a man who helped to bring back the missing greyhound Nettle all the way back from Lincolnshire got 16 shillings for his trouble.

Among other accounts are those which relate to the bringing up of Charles Harpur, the son of Sir Henry Harpur (doc. ref. D2375/M/264/6). Two entries reveal something of the social priorities of the times. On 7 January 1754 it is recorded that a sum of £6 6 shillings was paid for his school fees, and on the very next line that exactly double that amount (£12 12 shillings) was paid on 22 January 1754 to Mr Denoyer, the dancing master. People who watched the first part of “Dancing Cheek to Cheek” on BBC TV recently (with Len Goodman and Lucy Worsley) might perhaps remember that dancing among aristocratic circles was treated very seriously in the 18th century and that getting the steps and moves wrong was no small matter in terms of one’s social image and reputation. The lessons continued, as another payment of £8 8 shillings was made to Mr Denoyer later in the year on 25 June. Other payments for the young Charles include two pence for a pair of skates, 1 shilling and sixpence for fishing tackle, 5 shillings to attend a play, and, somewhat worryingly, sixpence for a whiplash.

New book on sale

taylor buxton

Local historian Keith Taylor has published his latest book: Buxton Remembered during the Great War. Covering Buxton and surrounding villages, it gives a vivid insight into the lives of families devastated by the conflict, with biographies of each of the fallen and a wealth of background detail.

Now on sale at Buxton Library and Derbyshire Record Office, price £12.00.

Treasure 5: volume of criminal portraits

This treasure is part of the Derbyshire Constabulary collection (the full list for the collection can be downloaded from our catalogue). It shows photographs of people who had been apprehended by the police, taken shortly after their arrest. The photographs alone contain masses of social history. The volume was chosen as a treasure by Elissa, a longstanding volunteer here at Derbyshire Record Office. She remarks: ‘I particularly like the fact that it’s the same police officer who keeps appearing in the criminal portraits!’

The volume of criminal portraits, chosen by our volunteer Elissa

The volume of criminal portraits (D3376/OS/7/1), chosen by our volunteer Elissa

The Derbyshire Constabulary was formed on 17 March 1857 Continue reading

Tracing the path of a religious dissenter

We get some interesting enquiries at Derbyshire Record Office, and it’s nice to share them sometimes – especially where there is an element of mystery.  I wonder if anyone can help with this one?

We were contacted recently by a genealogist who was working through some family history papers compiled by a relation, and hit upon this reference:

  • 11 July 1710. SAMUEL SKIDMORE, of Monsal Dale in Ashford, listed as a Religious Dissenter.

However, the source of this reference is unknown.  What could it be? Continue reading

Treasure 4: a medieval title deed, Glapwell

This treasure dates from between 1248 and 1261. It is an agreement between Abbot Walter and the canons and their parishioners in Glapwell concerning the repair of the chancel of the chapel there.  As you will see, the document is split in two.  This is so each piece could be been kept by the one of the two parties to the agreement.

Treasure 04 Glapwell deed (a) Treasure 04 Glapwell deed (b)

It was chosen by Karen, one of the archivists. She says: “It is a wonderful example of a chirograph. Each party received a section of the parchment, one being the counterpart of the other. Cutting the parchment in this way ensured that only the original pieces would fit together – an early practice in the detection of forgeries”.

15 lay seals were appended to one half (including the seals of a number of women), and one seal (the bishop’s seal) is appended to the other. The document is cut into with “decorative” markings on each half being lined up to prove that the other half was genuine.

The agreement comes from a large collection of deeds, of the Woolhouse and Hallowes families, relating to properties in and around Glapwell. You can read more about the collection on this page of our catalogue.

Treasure 3: a medieval book of hours

This treasure is a 15th century Book of Hours (D5649/1) which once belonged to the Stathum and Sacheverell families of Morley. It was chosen by a member of our Focus Group.

The Book of Hours is the most common type of surviving illuminated manuscript. Most contain a similar collection of texts, prayers and psalms, often with appropriate decorations, for Christian devotion. Illumination or decoration is minimal in many examples, often restricted to decorated capital letters at the start of psalms and other prayers, but books made for wealthy patrons may be extremely lavish, with full-page miniatures.

Book of Hours

Books of hours were usually written in Latin (the Latin name for them is horae), although there are many entirely or partially written in vernacular European languages, especially Dutch. The English term primer is usually now reserved for those books written in English. Tens of thousands of books of hours have survived to the present day, in libraries and private collections throughout the world.

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The book of hours has its ultimate origin in the Psalter, which monks and nuns were required to recite. A psalter is a volume containing the Book of Psalms, often with other devotional material bound in as well, such as a liturgical calendar and litany of the Saints. Until the later medieval emergence of the book of hours, psalters were the books most widely owned by wealthy lay persons and were commonly used for learning to read. Many Psalters were richly illuminated and they include some of the most spectacular surviving examples of medieval book art.

“Even though I can’t read any of it, the fact that someone had the patience to sit down and write it makes me appreciate it.”

Sarah Howarth – Highfields School student and member of our Focus Group