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! Continue reading

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 “bedferlowe 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