Treasure 44: the Calke Abbey Garden Book

Anyone who has had to look after a garden will appreciate the amount of work and dedication involved in maintaining the grounds of stately homes, such as Calke Abbey.

This garden book (D2375/E/G/4) dates from 1811, and it lists what each gardener was up to on each day and how much they were getting paid – there seems to have been an awful lot of digging and mowing going on!

If you would like to support our work by adopting this document, for yourself or as a gift, have a look at the Adopt A Piece Of History page

Treasure 43: An early Rolls-Royce photograph

This Treasure comes from the Ogden family collection:


Rolls-Royce began manufacturing motor cars in Derby from 1907. This photograph (D331/27/28), dates from the preceding year, and was taken outside the Cat and Fiddle pub near Buxton. Seated behind the wheel of the car with number plate AX205 is none other than Charles Stewart Rolls (1877-1910), co-founder of the company.

There is some writing on the back of the photograph saying it was given to F S Ogden in 1961 and dates from 1908 – this date was repeated in the original catalogue entry.  However, we have recently had to correct it: the same image features in Peter Pugh’s book “Rolls-Royce: The Magic of a Name: The First Forty Years of Britain’s Most Prestigious Company, 1904-1944” (Icon Books, 2015) and this dates the photograph to 22 Jun 1907.  If you would like to read the book, you can use the reference copy held here, or borrow one of the copies that may be found using the Derbyshire Libraries catalogue.

If you would like to support our work by adopting this document, for yourself or as a gift, have a look at the Adopt A Piece Of History page



LGBT+ – Derbyshire’s “other stories”

lgbt-3Derbyshire LGBT+ is Derbyshire’s leading charity representing Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) communities. An exhibition here at the Record Office marks the beginning of the charity’s HLF funded project to document the history of the LGBT+ community by highlighting “other stories” that have not previously been told.

The project’s launch coincides with 50 years since the landmark 1967 Sexual Offences Act partially decriminalised sex between men over 21, paving the way for future legal advances for LGBT people in subsequent years. The project will record these changes, including capturing oral histories from members of the LGBT community who were part of the struggle for equal rights and were affected by the legal changes.

As part of this project, volunteers will work with the record office to discover stories of relevance to this community’s history that stretch back much further. Volunteers have already started working with our staff to identify these “other stories” from within the archives.

The project does not aim to apply modern labels to people from the past, but rather to highlight that their stories have something to tell us about the history of sexuality and gender identity.

The exhibition, in our reception area, provides an initial glimpse of some of the stories found so far in and around Derbyshire. The project itself will run throughout 2017 and 2018 and will be recruiting and training volunteers. If you would like to help identify stories and share them with a wider audience, you can get in touch with the project at or email

The exhibition runs from Thursday 12th January to Saturday 1st April, normal record office opening hours apply.

Treasure 42: a licence to employ a servant, 1878

This document (D1575/13/18) was chosen by Matthew, who is a Record Assistant at Derbyshire Record Office. Matthew says “it always reminds me of the old dog licences, which makes me smile but also feel slightly uncomfortable at the same time”.


Employers needed to have licences like this one to prove they had paid the male servant duty.  This system was in operation from 1869 to 1937.  Its predecessor was a tax on male servants, dating from 1777.  Rosie Cox, author of “The Servant Problem: Domestic Employment in a Global Economy” (I B Tauris, 2006) says the tax was intended to “remove male servants from all but the most prestigious households”, making it easier to recruit men to serve in the navy during the American War of Independence.

Armchair travel

After all those weeks of planning, shopping, card writing and frantic present wrapping Christmas and the New Year celebrations are once again behind us.  Now we go back to our everyday lives, hoping that the winter weather isn’t going to be too unkind and looking forward to those first signs of spring.  To give us something to look forward to many of us start thinking about our summer holidays, dreaming about exotic shores and warmer climes.  Browsing through holiday brochures is one method but another way to escape is to immerse yourself into a good book and this month’s Derbyshire Library promotion ‘Armchair Travel’ encourages you to do just that.  Whether you pick a travel guide or novel you can be whisked across the world whilst snuggled up in your favourite armchair with a nice cup of tea.   But I for one don’t necessarily aspire to venturing too far afield. I’m quite happy to explore our own beautiful county, and to do that I too don’t have to leave the comfort of my armchair.

Derbyshire is a county of contrasts: gentle rolling pastures, hard limestone uplands, bleak dark peak moorlands, industrial mill and mining towns.  It’s hardly surprising that these varied landscapes have been inspiration to writers for centuries and the local studies collection at the Derbyshire Record Office has hundreds of novels, poetry and short stories which showcase our beautiful county.

Way back in the year 2000, to celebrate the new millennium, Derbyshire Libraries held a Millennium  Literature Festival. Our Local Studies Librarian at the time, Ruth Gordon knew that the Local Studies Library held a vast collection of local fiction but that our customers were largely unaware of its existence.  Unfortunately space issues meant the books were hidden away in the back of the library, away from our open access area, and indeed even though we’ve now got wonderful new premises alongside the Archives service in the Record Office, the local fiction collection is so large that it is kept in one of the storage rooms in the back.sense-of-place

Ruth saw that the Millennium Literature Festival was a great opportunity to publicise and celebrate this collection. Over many weeks she diligently took armfuls of books home with her, and happily read them all.  From all of this ‘homework’ Ruth wrote her Sense of Place booklet, which took a circular tour around the county listing all the books she had read and enjoyed. The booklet has been out of print for many years but you can still request copies to borrow through your local library.  Although now 17 years old (how time flies!) and so missing out all of the great fiction by authors such as Stephen Booth with his popular Fry and Cooper crime series set in the Peak District, which has been written since the booklet was produced, it nevertheless still makes fascinating reading.

In it we see novels which describe life in Derbyshire’s mining community such as Frederick Boden’s ‘A Derbyshire Tragedy’ 1935:

They sat themselves inside the smoky, coal dirty cabin, as near the fire as they could get, unwrapping their food and setting to. “Grand to see a bit of fire” Albert said….biting at the slice of bread in his hand……. “Fine,” Jud answered, “Nowt like a bit of fire.”…….The screens and riddles thudded and roared above them, and feathers of dust shot from the wagons on either side of the cabin as the coal crashed down the iron shoots”

and Albert Rhodes novel Calico Bloomers (1968):

The whirr of the steel rope and the metallic clash of folding gates announced the arrival of the cage. Tubs rumbled past them as they strode over the rails.  Steve saw they were full of rock and dirt.  The banksman standing by the cage checked their lamps and said brusquely, ‘Tally?’….. They entered the cage and the gates closed.  A moment of waiting; then the bottom of the cage fell away as they plunged into darkness.  As the brakes slowly came on, senses reverted to make him believe they were going back to the surface.  Filtered light brightened and with scarcely a bump they stopped.

Derby appears in many stories and an author who manages to capture much of the essence of the city is Carol Lake, particualry in her short stories ‘Rosehill: Portraits of a Midland rosehillCity’ 1989 which won the Guardian Fiction Prize for that year:

“Rosehill Street in late May – the sound of birds and the smell of anise and early summer greenery; movement of the sighing wind. Here comes Tazilim, hurrying along to Mohammed’s, one hand leaden, clutched about her baby, the other makes gay protest at her chiffon scarf, which whips about her head and shoulders like May ribbons in the warm wind.”

South Derbyshire, although another area of industry, also has a rural charm such as in JG Layberry’s series of books about a farming family in the Repton area which opens in 1911 and takes us through to the late 1980s. This is from ‘Hayseed’ (1980):

“The broad Trent swirled round the bend, friendly and comforting. From its surface the evening sun reflected in sheets of dazzling brightness…..It always makes me glad to see the old river, mused Bob with affection. Meg responded to his mood at once. When I was at school I read that Americans call the Mississippi “Old Man River” because it affects their lives so much. The Trent is a bit like that for us. We played here as children, picnicked here, fished here- at least Sam did- bathed here, and once or twice skated here. And we never run out of grass at this part of the farm.”

Nat Gould, who lived out at Pilsbury, wrote numerous light thrillers with a racing background but he also wrote a couple of locally inspired works based on the local farming communities. Hills and Dales of 1935:

Mill Hill was a typical Derbyshire country lane. On one side a rugged stone wall stood on the top of a bank and fenced in the fields.  On the opposite side was a thick hedge, through which the most obstinate sheep would have found it difficult to force its way, on account of the dense mass of briers and undergrowth, which almost hid the original hedge from view.

Alison Uttley’s timeless novels and short stories are all based on the dearly loved village of Cromford where she spent her childhood. “Lost in the creases of the hills, until one turned a sudden corner, and found the little stone houses clustering round the duck pond, climbing up the steep rocks and sleeping huddled together about the old market square.” (The Country Child. 1931.)

The limestone uplands of the White peak are captured in Berlie Doherty’s White Peak Farm, a vivid and sensitive description of a young girl and her farming family who are tied to the land:

“My home is on a farm in the soft folding hills of Derbyshire. Not far from us the dark peaks of the Pennines rise up into the ridge that is called the spine of England.  We’ve always lived there; my father’s family has owned the farm for generations.  He never wants to let it go.

Nothing ever seemed to change there. The seasons printed their patterns on the fields, the sky cast its different lights across the moors, but our lives, I thought, would never change…… And yet, about four years ago that change did come to us, casting its different lights across the pattern of our lives.”

In Katharine B Glaisier’s short stories ‘Tales from the Derbyshire hills’ (1907) the atmosphere of the White Peak is plain to see:

“ All colour seemed to have been washed out of the world about him….a stone cottage and a couple of barns looked more like exaggerations of the forlorn heaps of stones which had marked the ruin of bygone walls all along the latter half of his journey, than an actual place of human habitation. But in the grey vast of the November sky a thin film of smoke was slowly mounting.”

Crichton Porteous wrote several novels full of authentic rural detail based on his life as a farm labourer in the Combs area in the 1940s and 50s. These include Changing Valley, Man of the Moors and The Snow. The harsh climate is a recurring theme in all of these Dark Peak stories.

 “He turned the knob and instantly the door flew inward…..Into the space flew a cloud of whiteness in which the storm-lamp burned momentarily incandescent, as in the centre of an immense halo. The next instant it went out. With the snow, cold leapt in.” (The Snow)

A few simple paragraphs can immediately transport you to another place and as the titles mentioned in the ‘Sense of Place’ booklet are largely available to borrow through your local library, why not try a spot of ‘Armchair travel’ yourself.  No suitcase required.


Treasure 41: “Several Surgical Treatises” by Richard Wiseman (d.1676)

This treasure dates from 1676, the year of its author’s death. You might imagine that a book on early modern surgery would be a bit gruesome.  You would be right.

It is nominated by Local Studies Librarian, Sue Peach:
“Gaze in fascinated horror at an account of medicine before the era of antibiotics and anaesthetics. No known local connection, but it gives us a glimpse of how Derbyshire folk would have been bled, purged and clystered in the seventeenth century”.

Read more about Richard Wiseman and his work on the History of Surgery website.  His entry on the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography is also very good. Find out how to access the ODNB with your Derbyshire Library card on our website.

Treasure 40: a plan of Derby’s canals, 1792

This treasure (Q/RP/1/79) is a 1792 plan of canals around Derby, from Smithy Houses near Kilburn to the Erewash Canal at Sandiacre. It also shows the branches from Coxbench to Smalley Mill and from Derby to the Grand Trunk Canal at Swarkestone. There are dozens of canal plans and books of reference in the Quarter Sessions collection – the reason Derbyshire Record Office holds so many of them is that from 1792 onwards, anyone who planned to build a canal, turnpike road or railway had first of all to deposit plans with the Clerk of the Peace for any affected county.


If you would like to support our work by adopting this document, for yourself or as a gift, have a look at the Adopt A Piece Of History page.

Treasure 39: Florence Nightingale’s letters to C B N Dunn

Florence Nightingale’s letters to Crich surgeon C B N Dunn are a fascinating read, for their social history content as well as for the insights they can provide into the life of their author.  You can find out more about them in some of our previous blog posts.  In this example (D2546/ZZ/54), Nightingale tells Dunn of candidates for membership of the local Women’s Club – not a recreational club, but a benefit society, which provided a form of insurance against sickness and death.  It was hoped that Dunn could “pass” people as being in good health on joining the club. Collection D1575 (deriving from the Nightingale family’s estates) includes the rules of Lea Friendly Society dated 1832 – this society may well have been the forerunner of the Women’s Club mentioned in the letter.


Continue reading

FindersKeepers 2009-2016: job done!

Our home-based volunteer project, FindersKeepers, has finally reached its goal!  That means that our entire stock of catalogue lists is available online.  Or to put it another way, there are no remaining archive collections with catalogue lists that you can only check by looking at a paper copy in our searchroom.

Credit for this achievement is due to our volunteers:


This project has added over 100,000 entries to our online catalogue, opening up Derbyshire’s history to the world.

We are already thinking about where we can go from here to make our records even easier to get at, especially when it comes to helping you work out which of our 7000 or so collections is the most likely to be useful in your research. So expect to hear about new opportunities for home-based volunteers in the new year.  Let’s call it FindersKeepers phase 2…

Completion of this project is a big deal to those of us who work here.  However, I have to admit that a lot of visitors to Derbyshire Record Office start with the assumption that the online catalogue must already be comprehensive – why else would we have it?  The reason so many people have had to invest so much effort in the catalogue just to make it match that starting expectation is because record offices were invented before computers, so we had a lot of catching up to do.  Cataloguing software was introduced to Derbyshire Record Office in 2000, and it soon began to supplement the long-established system of paper catalogues with an online version.  The trouble was, the online catalogue only contained details of new accessions as they arrived – so that, in a record office which had been busily collecting archives since the 1960s, the online version was but the tip of a substantial iceberg.  And the rest of that iceberg, to extend the metaphor, was made of paper.

The paper iceberg drifted this way and that over the succeeding years, its electronic tip growing as more materials arrived at the record office – and as The National Archives project known as a2a (Access To Archives) led to a lot of our larger lists being included.

Then Derbyshire Record Office decided to set about importing all its existing stock of lists into the online catalogue.  That meant that we needed to know which collections had already had been catalogued with a paper list, and which ones were already in our computer system.  If that doesn’t sound complicated, have a look at this flowchart, dreamed up in 2009:


The flowchart is just one of the procedural documents that our staff worked with as they gathered information about what had been done and what remained undone.  Then we made a start on the task of typing up and reformatting thousands of lists.  And I am quite certain we would not be half-way through if not for all the home-based volunteers listed above, and all the hours of work that they have put in.  (I am also certain there are names missing from that roll of honour – so please let me know if yours is one of them!)

Everyone sets tremendous value on their free time, so we really, truly appreciate the contribution of so many people to help us get to this stage.  Once again: thank you.

Treasure 38: Eyam parish register 1630-1768

Since their introduction by Thomas Cromwell in 1538, parish registers have been used to record baptisms, marriages and burials across the country. They also provide a window on the past. In the case of this parish register, from the village of Eyam, it’s a window looking in on the outbreak of plague which killed 260 people in the village in the mid 1660s (D2602/A/PI/1/1). In this image, you can see how the names of the plague victims have been identified by a pointing finger.


Did you know that the “pointing finger” device for highlighting key information is the earliest form of index? In fact, that’s why the index in the back of a book is named after the forefinger. It’s also the root of the word “indicate”. Isn’t etymology wonderful?

This register is unusual for another reason – the earliest entries were copied into it from an original register, by Rev Joseph Hunt, Rector at Eyam between 1683 and 1709. What happened to the original? We may never know.

A published edition of the parish register from 1630 to 1700, edited by John G. Clifford and Francine Clifford, is available from the Derbyshire Record Society.