Book review: Renishaw Hall, the story of the Sitwells

seward sitwells

I was riveted by this very well-told account of the house and family. The first Sitwells were ironmasters, down to earth people rooted in the local coal and iron from which the wealth came to build Renishaw Hall. The house came to be greatly loved by its family:  neo-classical improvements were made to the original Stuart manor house in 1795 by Sitwell Sitwell (his odd name is due to his being christened Sitwell Hurt, and adopting the surname Sitwell when he inherited; Evelyn Waugh commented that it could have been worse: Hurt Hurt). In the early 20th century Sir George Sitwell’s love of Italy led him to design the famous Italianate gardens. The house is also apparently chockful of ghosts…

But Renishaw soon became more famous for Sir George’s trio of exotic, artistic children: Edith, Osbert and Sacheverell. If you enjoy poetry, try Edith’s strange rich imagery. Osbert is worth reading for the fascinating insights into the history of the house and family, but Sacheverell’s highly coloured style is an acquired taste; he wrote mainly as an art historian. The flamboyant three are out of fashion nowadays, but who knows;  some Downton Abbey style epic may feature them one day?

To borrow this book, see the Derbyshire Libraries catalogue at

Chesterfield Local Studies Library has a good Sitwell collection for reference, and there are also reference copies of most of their works at Derbyshire Record Office Local Studies. Original documents concerning the family, especially their land and coal interests, are in the Record Office: see





County Architect collection now in the catalogue

We had a researcher round a few weeks ago who was mightily impressed with the strength and extent of our County Architect collection (D2200). It is a very useful collection if your research touches on public buildings in this county – it contains plans of libraries, police stations, fire stations, hospitals, care homes and so on. It also includes a thousand or so plans of schools, many drawn by County Architect George H. Widdows (1871-1946). Widdows was a hugely influential architect, especially when it came to the construction of schools. Or, as in the example shown below, the conversion of an existing building for use as a school:

Wyvern House 1920s D2200 65 1 3a.jpg

The site shown was originally two separate hydrotherapy institutions, called Church View and Bank House (later renamed Wyvern House – for more on this, have a look at Matlock Town Council’s guide to Hydro Heritage Trails). It then became the Ernest Bailey Grammar School in 1924, and is now Derbyshire Record Office, whence I write.

As part of the FindersKeepers project, this collection has recently been added to the online catalogue. That means you can now try this little experiment: go to our catalogue’s Advanced Search page. Put D2200* in the RefNo box (don’t forget the asterisk) and put the name of a Derbyshire town or village in a couple of boxes below that, where it says Any Text. I’m not saying there will definitely be a plan of a building that is familiar to you – I’m just saying it’s highly likely!

Or, you can follow this link to the entire list, if you prefer to browse the whole caboodle.

Florence Nightingale letters now online

I have just finished chatting to Andy Potter from BBC Radio Derby about these letters. Andy’s programme is on air from 1pm today, and my bit will be some time after 3.

Derbyshire Record Office

Derbyshire Record Office is among seven new contributors to the Florence Nightingale Digital Collaborative Database, a project run by the Howard Gotlieb Archival Research Center at Boston University, Massachusetts.

We hold a small but very rich series of letters from Nightingale to a surgeon named Christopher Dunn, of Crich, on a wide variety of topics. The correspondence has been mentioned in past blog posts, and we are not averse to blowing the same trumpet now – especially as the new site lets you see the whole lot and even browse their contents by subject.  Just as an example: I have looked at these letters numerous times and never noticed that there are five references to a proposed coffee shop in Whatstandwell.  Here’s how to re-trace my steps, should you wish to dip your toe in the water:

  1. Go to
  2. Click “search the collaborative database”
  3. Under “choose a…

View original post 93 more words

Buxton Museum’s blog

Big changes are afoot for Buxton Museum over the next year or so, thanks to their big project, Collections In The Landscape.  The project has its own blog, and it would be remiss of us not to recommend it to you.  Why not have a look at the latest post – “What Ewe Looking At?” – and then click “About” at the top of the page to get an idea of what it’s all about.

Butterley Gangroad Project


Butterley Gangroad also known as Crich Rail-way was built in 1793.  It was one of the earliest Derbyshire Railways and the first to be built by Benjamin Outram. The first steam locomotive was also used there in 1813.  A group of local people formed the Butterley Gangroad Project of Derbyshire Archaeological Society in 2013 to research the railway supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund.

This type of railway had cast iron rails, and waggons were often pulled by horses or used gravity and counter balance on inclines. They were used to bring coal and minerals to the canals to improve transport in areas where canals weren’t economical. There were many such lines linking with the Cromford Canal.

Benjamin Outram was born in Alfreton and his father had a small foundry in Ripley. He trained as a surveyor and worked for William Jessop on the Cromford Canal. He created the famous Butterley Works near Ripley to make use of the local iron and coal reserves. He was interested in plateways, early railways which used “L” shaped rails and waggons with flangeless wheels, and improved the concept to allow heavier loads to be carried. Trains of waggons could be pulled by teams or “gangs” of horses which was much more economical. The Butterley Company exported railway technology all over the country.

The first of these rail-ways, which was about a mile long, is at Crich, and ran between a limestone quarry established by the Butterley Company there and a wharf on the Cromford Canal at Bullbridge. In 2015 the Butterley Gangroad Project published the above book of their research including a section reviewing documents in our collection at Derbyshire Record Office. The work also contains plans, photographs and other details of their research and they have donated copies to Derbyshire Libraries.

If you would like to see which Derbyshire libraries have a copy apart from ourselves, or request a copy you can do so here

Thoughts of Summer Meadows…


The bright sunshine today streaming through our windows was a relief from the dull wet days of the last few months. It brought to mind Alan Willmot and Nick Moyes new “Flora of Derbyshire”, ISBN 9781874357650, which we bought for our Local Studies Collection. A flora of the county hasn’t been produced since 1969, and this new work describes the occurrence and distribution of over 1,900 wild flowers, trees, conifers, ferns, horsetails and clubmosses, and has taken 18 years of work to produce.

 It’s illustrated in colour with English and scientific names for each species, and information about habitats and conservation status, and is set to become a standard reference work for the county. The Derbyshire Red Data List of the most threatened plants is also included which will be a useful resource for naturalists and conservationists.

 As well as distribution maps and colour photographs of many species there are also a chapters on “Where to see plants in Derbyshire”, and “Derbyshire – its landscapes and vegetation”. Just right for planning some walks in the spring and summer.

If you would like to see which Derbyshire libraries have a copy apart from ourselves, or request a copy you can do so here


Alison Uttley Book Collection

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The variety of research that visitors to the Record Office are doing, and the questions they have are always fascinating, whether it’s local or family history related. This week, one of the online enquiries we received generated childhood reading memories for a few of the staff. The question was whether we knew of any fictional accounts featuring the Cromford Canal.  The local Cromford author, Alison Uttley, immediately sprang to mind (although you could argue that as her work was based so closely on her life, that a lot of her writing was autobiographical, rather than fictional!)

Alison Uttley Portrait

Alice Jane Uttley (1884-1976) was born Alice Taylor at Castle Top Farm, near Cromford, Derbyshire, and was educated at the Lea School in Holloway and the Lady Manners School in Bakewell.  She is most well known for her children’s books, set in the countryside, featuring the popular characters Sam Pig, Grey Rabbit and Fuzzypeg and always beautifully illustrated. Many of her books were based on memories of her life in the Derbyshire countryside.

She started writing after her husband, James Uttley, the brother of an old university friend, Gertrude, took his own life.  James’ mental health had been permanently impaired by his service in the first World War. They had a son together, John Corin Uttley (1914-1978), and Alison needed to support herself and her son.  This she did by writing.

Her delightful animal characters and descriptions of nature made her a successful writer and later in her life, she wrote for older children and adults.  She also wrote recipe books, all based on her incredible ability to remember the details of her country life in Derbyshire. Her writing describes in colourful detail what life was like living on a farm in Cromford around the turn of the 20th century.

If you would like to find our more about Alison,  The Alison Uttley Society website is full of information about her life and works  There is also some information related to her life detailed in our archives on our online catalogue

Here are a selection of Alison’s books from our Local Studies Library (there are two whole shelves worth!) which show the variety and scope of her writing. Does anyone have a favourite, or remember reading some of her books as a child?




50 years ago: this week’s Hit Parade, from the Derbyshire Times

A New Year, and a new resolution…to highlight the number of newspapers we hold on Microfilm in the Record Office. This week, we bring you our most popular, The Derbyshire Times, dated Friday 7th January 1966.

In addition to the usual newsworthy stories (many, sadly, about road traffic accidents over the New Year period), there was a full page spread advertising holiday getaways, bookable in local travel agents, some weather statistics for December, showing not much change in our current January outlook!

Interestingly, there was also a music column written by Peter Murray, reviewing the previous year’s releases, as well as showing the Top Twenty for that week.


Who remembers any of these?  An attempt to find consensus among eleven members of Record Office staff has failed – but we generally like The Beatles, Peter Sellers and The Who.  But who doesn’t?