Gruesome goings on in Smalley churchyard?

As befits this spooky time of year a rather intriguing and potentially gruesome find was uncovered this week by a member of Derbyshire Family History Society.  Whilst transcribing a burial register for the Parish of Smalley they came across this entry from December 1825 which records the burial of Allice Kerry from Heanor.  Nothing out of the ordinary there until you read the note added in pencil to the margin “Her body was stolen from the Churchyard”.  Who took Allice’s body and for what reason?  We may never know…..and perhaps that’s for the best!

Voices from the Front at South Normanton Library

Tales of enemy attacks, life in the trenches and thoughts of home, all feature as part of the Archives Aloud: Voices from the Front event being held at South Normanton Library on Wednesday 12th November 2014 between 2pm-3.30pm.

This read aloud session features original letters, diaries and poems written by those serving on the front line during the First World War, taken from record office collections.  Join us in reading aloud or simply listen to these first-hand accounts from soldiers, field ambulance operatives and prisoners of war; those who survived and those who never returned home.  Often cheerful sometimes melancholy  but always moving, these documents provide a glimpse into life on the front line and into the lives of those loved ones left at home.

Choose a letter or diary entry to read aloud or bring along your own family papers and share your story.  This is a free event but space is limited and booking is essential.  To book a place please contact South Normanton Library on 01629 535000.

A Sense of Place

DRO visitors will have seen our latest vitrine wall exhibition, A Sense of Place, focusing on the Local Studies Library’s Local Authors collection.  Inspired by a booklet published by former local studies librarian Ruth Gordon, we highlight Derbyshire-connected writers from Erasmus Darwin to Richmal Crompton to Stephen Booth, and the varied depictions in print of the Derbyshire landscape (both rural and industrial) and historic Derbyshire events.

Back Tor, Edale, c1980, courtesy of Albert Hugh Robinson and

Back Tor, Edale, c1980, courtesy of Albert Hugh Robinson and

Our county also provided inspiration for settings in such novels as Pride and Prejudice and Adam Bede, and the backdrop to a short story featuring Sherlock Holmes.  Did you know that cricket fan and Marylebone Cricket Club player Sir Arthur Conan Doyle may have amalgamated the names of wicket-keeper Mordecai Sherwin and Derbyshire bowler Frank Shacklock for his famous character, and that Sherlock’s brother’s name was perhaps inspired by another Derbyshire bowler, William Mycroft?  All three played in the match between Derbyshire and the MCC, reported on in the Derby Mercury, 17 June 1885.

A Sense of Place runs until Saturday 22nd November.


Dramatic late news from the Battle of Trafalgar

Many of you may have been aware that this Tuesday (21 October) was Trafalgar Day. While working my way through the Harpur Crewe papers (not on the day itself, alas, but the one after) I happened to come across this item, which gives a slightly different version of events at the Battle of Trafalgar. I had thought that we had won it, but obviously it was the French (and Spanish) instead!

(Click to open pdf): Trafalgar propaganda

This priceless piece of propaganda came originally from a French newspaper called Le Moniteur, which had been founded in November 1789 during the first few months of the French Revolution, its full title being La Gazzette Nationale ou Le Moniteur Universel. Set up to provide transcripts of debates in the French legislative assemblies, it soon became the official newspaper of the French revolutionary government. In 1804 Napoleon Bonaparte had dramatically crowned himself Emperor of France, but Le Moniteur continued to be the official mouth-piece for his government. It is, of course, an English translation, produced for an English newpaper, The Herald, so I do wonder whether it is actually all a spoof, so ridiculous are the contents!

The item comes from a cache of items about the Battle of Trafalgar which belonged to Lady Isabel Harpur Crewe (1852-1932). She was the grand-daughter of William Stanhope Badcock, later Lovell from 1840 (1788-1859), who had served as a midshipman on H.M.S. Neptune during the battle. He enjoyed a highly successful naval career, going on to command his own ships and achieve the rank of Vice Admiral by the time of his death. There are many of his letters to be found elsewhere in the Harpur Crewe collection.

One of his letters written to his father after Trafalgar offers what can be regarded as a more reliable account of what happened in the battle. He makes reference to his own ship, the Neptune, engaging two of the main ships of the French and Spanish fleets. First of all they tackled the Bucentuar, the ship of Admiral Villeneuve (so lauded by Le Moniteur as the victor of a pistol duel with Nelson!), and demasting it, before moving on to engage the Santissima Trinidada (claimed to be the largest ship in the world) and doing the same to her. These are some of the lines written by Badcock, which show that the horror of war is not confined just to the 20th century.

“I was on board our prize the Trinidada getting the prisoners out of her, she had between 3 and 400 killed and wounded, her Beams where covered with Blood, Brains, and pieces of Flesh, and the after part of her Decks with wounded, some without Legs and some without an Arm; what calamities War brings on, and what a number of Lives where put an end too on the 21st”.

I have quoted these lines from part of an article, said to have been published in The English Historical Review, using a transcript of the letter, and the spellings are as they appear in the article. I hope you enjoy reading the French “report”, and please let us know what your thoughts are about it.

Neil Bettridge

Harpur Crewe Project Archivist

Derbyshire Remembers for Explore Your Archive week

(Joseph) Arthur Hodgkiss  of Baslow

Come along to this free lunch time talk and find out what is happening around the county to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. Hear about the Derbyshire Lives in the First World War project and take a look in our Story Box full of serving soldiers’ letters, diaries and photographs and other First World War material all telling the personal stories of those living and fighting during the War, those who survived and those who never returned home.

Derbyshire Record Office has employed a Project Officer to support Derbyshire communities with their projects to commemorate the centenary of the First World War. The Derbyshire Lives Through the First World War project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund and in this event Project Officer, Glynn Wilton, will talk about the project, give advice to those starting their own project, provide information on where and how to access records and archives and how to interpret information to engage people with the history of Derbyshire in the First World War, and generally help in whatever way is needed!

Derbyshire Lives Through the First World War – lunch time talk

Tuesday 11 November  1.15pm-1.45pm

Free – booking essential

Derbyshire Record Office

New St



Tel: 01629 538347

Derbyshire’s Beatrix Potter connection

Recently we were visited by two ladies who were researching Edmund Potter & Co Calico Printers of Dinting Vale, Glossop.  Edmund Potter & Co was once possibly the largest calico printworks in the world, and on checking our catalogues we discovered that we had an uncatalogued collection which no-one had been particularly aware of.

The collection (D1589) was bequeathed to us by Alderman J G Hurst of Glossop, who wrote a biography of Edmund Potter and collected books and archives about calico printing.  The collection contains a lot of printed books, which we didn’t usually collect (possibly explaining why it wasn’t catalogued at the time) – although of course now we also house local studies, that’s changed.  Delving into the boxes, however, revealed some beautiful original Potter & Co pattern books dating back to the 1850s containing swatches of fabrics in stunningly fresh colours.

D1589 printing samples (8) D1589 printing samples (12) D1589 printing samples (13)

An even more unexpected find was a man’s shirt printed with tiny images, possibly from children’s illustrations.  We don’t recognise the pictures and although one of them shows a Manchester postmark.  If the date on that postmark is anything to go by, the shirt would date to around 1883.

D1589 Shirt (2)

D1589 Shirt (12)D1589 Shirt (8)

So what’s the Beatrix Potter connection?  Well, Edmund Potter was Beatrix’s grandfather and according to one of the ladies who came to look at the collection (she is an expert on Beatrix Potter) he used to send the young Beatrix fabric samples which she would use to make up little outfits for her toys.  She would then make paintings of those dressed up characters… and of  course these ultimately developed into her famous books.  She also used the fabric to bind her own books and folders of her paintings.

Now that we’ve rediscovered this wonderful material, we’re cataloguing it so that more people will be aware that it’s here.  But isn’t it nice to think that Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and other beloved Beatrix Potter characters may have been clothed in some of the fabrics tucked within our pattern books?  Oh, and if you recognise any of the characters printed on the shirt, please tell us, as they’re a complete mystery!

Joys of the Harpur Crewe collection

I have recently started work revising the catalogue of the records of the Harpur Crewe family of Calke Abbey. There is a lot of wonderful stuff in this wonderful collection, and I am hoping to give you a flavour of what is held every few weeks or so by selecting a document for you to look at.

The first document I have selected is something of a mystery. It is a draft letter, supposedly from a dying mother to her son. It has been dictated by her to a person who would seem to have been writing it down straight onto a page in a book. She evidently had enough strength to put her initials, JH. The page has, however, been torn out rather badly from the book, as can be seen from the left hand margin. Did the mother change her mind and decide not to send the letter? Was she dissatisfied with it? Was she the one to tear it out so badly? Did the mother actually die before it could be sent? Whatever happened, the sheet of paper was actually re-used, as on the other side are notes about an indenture of 1587 relating to properties in Alstonefield, Staffordshire, and was found loose in a court book of the manor of Alstonefield.

D2375/M/1/3/1 - letter

D2375/M/1/3/1 – letter

Here is a Transcript of the document, with an update in more modern English.

I would like to believe the mother in question is Jane Harpur, who died in 1597 and was the widow of Richard Harpur of Swarkestone, a renowned lawyer and judge. The son to whom she may have been writing may possibly have been John, who was knighted in 1603. There are few very certainties, only that it was written from Swarkestone, where one branch of the Harpur family lived, and that it was delivered by George Hoult. There is a tantalising reference to “that noble mann”, which may be the Earl of Derby (Derby is referred to further down in the letter, “darby was our frend”) or Gilbert, Earl of Shrewsbury (John Harpur was said to be his right hand man). There is also a surprising reference to her niece Bennett and her “bedfeloew on knowen”.

Even if we can’t know at this stage what is really going on, I would like to think it does actually show that people’s lives in the past were always more complicated than we tend to give them credit for.

Neil Bettridge


Repairing the Past again

Due to the success of the first event in March, we will be holding the Repairing the Past event again next Thursday, 18 September, from 2.00pm to 3.30pm.  This is your chance to find out how we protect our collections from pests, mould and other dangers and includes a visit to the conservation studio to see how we repair damaged documents.

Visit to the conservation studio during the March session

Visit to the conservation studio during the March session

Clare showing how we repair documents

Clare showing how we repair documents

You can also bring your own old photographs, books and documents for specific advice from the Conservation Team. There are only a few places left, so do get in touch soon if you’d like to come along.

Reparing the Past

Sir John Franklin: Fabled Arctic ship found

You may have seen in the news that a team from Canada believe they have discovered one of the ships from the lost Franklin expedition

Franklin was one of the outstanding explorers of the early 19th century, but it was the Admiral’s tragic end that earned him iconic status. As a young midshipman, Franklin served at Trafalgar. He then commanded a frigate in the seas around Greece between 1830 and 1833. Four years later, in 1837 Franklin was appointed Governor of Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania), a post he held until 1843. His lasting reputation derives from his major expeditions to the Canadian Arctic in search of the North West Passage. He embarked on the third in May 1845. The last sighting of his ships was in July 1845. Relief expeditions were mounted, but by 1850 it was clear to everyone except his second wife Lady (Jane) Franklin (1792-1875) that the expedition was lost. She continued to raise funds to send out search parties until 1859 when proof was found of the deaths of Franklin and his party.

Derbyshire Record Office holds a good range of records relating to Franklin and his various expeditions, including papers relating to the many searches for the final expedition after 1845. The papers have come to the Record Office through Franklin’s daughter, Eleanor Isabella. Eleanor was the daughter of Franklin’s first wife Eleanor Anne Porden (died 1825), and the wife of Rev. John Philip Gell, of the Gell’s of Hopton Hall, near Wirksworth and Carsington.

Lady Franklin's Final Search p1

D3311/112/2 Lady Franklin’s Final Search p1

Lady Franklin's Final Search p2

D3311/112/2 Lady Franklin’s Final Search p2









D3311/219 Copies of Instructions to Captain Sir John Franklin in reference to the Arctic Expedition of 1845, 1848

D3311/219 Copies of Instructions to Captain Sir John Franklin in reference to the Arctic Expedition of 1845, 1848


D3311/95 ‘ Echo from the deep’ – Newspaper cutting from the Daily Express 14 Apr 1965 regarding discovery of Erebus or Terror – although it transpired that this was not one of the lost ships


Also in the collection;-

D3311/81 – An Account of a clairvoyant describing where to find Sir John Franklin and his ships, copied by E.J. Gell, 1849

D3311/51/1-4 Extract from Capt. Fitzjames’ letter to Mr Barrow regarding Sir John Franklin 1845; Extract from a letter from a Canadian missionary, Rev Father Tacke describing an expedition setting off to find Sir John Franklin’s 1845 expedition 1848
2 Notices of the expedition’s discovery and search 1849