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


The House of Wonders:

The Randolph Douglas Collection

House of Wonders poster

Discover the world of Randolph Douglas, escapologist, engineer, skilled miniaturist, model maker and extensive collector. Douglas was a talented performer of “self-liberating” illusions and became a friend of contemporary escapologist Harry Houdini during the early part of the 20th century.

Douglas established The House of Wonders museum at Castleton, where he displayed a collection of curiosities from all over the world, from geology, natural history and art, to locks and tools of the escapology trade, and intricate miniatures he made himself.

In the 1980s Derbyshire County Council bought the Douglas Collection with the kind support of the PRISM Fund and it is now held at Buxton Museum & Art Gallery.

The Record Office is delighted to display specially selected highlights from this eclectic collection.  The exhibition will be ‘in the wall’ at the Record Office from Thursday 27th November 2014 to Saturday 31st January 2015 – normal opening times apply and it’s free to see!

Derbyshire Record Office, New St, Matlock, DE4 3FE

Tel: 01629 538347

Treasure 2: 19th century papers about slavery

The title on the spine of this volume (our reference D3155/WH/2939) is Confidential Papers on the West India Question.  It’s a hefty thing, as you can see from the video below, in which I show point out just four examples of the contents.  There are another two in the same collection.

Those three volumes form just one section of the papers of the parliamentarian Sir Robert Wilmot-Horton (1784-1841); and his papers are in turn only a part of the enormous archive of the Wilmot-Horton family of Catton Hall in Derbyshire.  Sir Robert Wilmot-Horton held the post of Under Secretary of State for the Colonies during a crucial period in the struggle against slavery – after the abolition of the trade, but before the legislation that abolished slavery as an institution.  These official papers show how both sides worked hard to lobby parliament on the issue.

Mark Smith

Conservation of an account book of the Overseers of the Poor

In order to help us prioritise which of our thousands of documents to repair next, we keep a record of everything that gets requested in the Searchroom but we’re unable to give access to because of its poor condition.  This account book of the Overseers of the Poor for Great Longstone and Holme from 1789 to 1829 (D307/C/4) has been requested several times and is my latest project.

The account book in its original binding

The account book in its original binding

In the above picture the volume doesn’t actually look very damaged: its original parchment binding is still sturdy, so you would expect the paper textblock to have survived equally well.  However, when we take a closer look, we can see how badly the bottom quarter has suffered from water and mould damage.  The volume was probably stored in damp conditions for a long time, with that lower quarter getting especially moist, which encouraged mould to grow.  The combination of the water and the mould seeped all the strength out of the paper, so although it has long since dried and there’s no more live mould the paper crumbles into dust as you touch it.

The bottom edges of the volume, affected by damp and mould.

The bottom edges of the volume, affected by damp and mould.


Close-up of the damaged area.

Close-up of the damage.


Paper crumbling when pages are turned.

Paper crumbling when pages are turned.

My first task will be to take the whole volume apart, as that is the only way to get to the pages to repair them properly.  I’ll let you know how that works out…








That 2039 rule in UK copyright law: a recent example (Or – What a 19th Century Feminist Looks Like)

We have been working with some new volunteer cataloguing assistants in the past few days.  One of them, Roger, listed what turned out to be a fascinating and eclectic assemblage of 18th to 20th century documents which were transferred here from Derby Local Studies Library in 2001.  Among them is a short essay by one Joseph Shepherd, entitled “A Vindication of the Rights of Women and Thoughts on their Position in Society”.  Continue reading

Mining the Archives Project – Conservation of Lead Mining records

You may have heard that we recently received funding from the National Manuscripts Conservation Trust to conserve some of the rare and important lead mining documents we have in our collections.

The lead mining history of Derbyshire is unique – its roots run deep into our local cultural heritage, and its legacy is still visible today in the landscape and traditions of the Peak District. Much of the written material which relates to this important part of our history is held here at the Record Office.

With the help of lead mining researchers we have identified the most important documents which are in need of attention.  These documents have been severely damaged by damp and mould, and many of them are falling to pieces, which means they are in no fit state to be handled (or even digitised) and are currently unavailable to researchers. Its up to us to ensure their survival – without vital conservation work they would never be seen, and the information contained within them would be lost forever.

As project conservator on the Mining the Archives project, its my job to carry out the conservation work on the documents. Last week I began the first part of this work – repairing D248: Barmaster’s Lot and Cope account books, 1831-1870.

Damp and mould damage

Barmasters account book 2This item has around 100 loose pages, which were at one time bound together in an account book. Continue reading

Treasure 1: Beautiful bindings

Derbyshire Record Office’s 50 Treasures project began in 2012 as a way of marking our fiftieth anniversary. Each treasure has been chosen from our archive and local studies collections because it holds special meaning for one of our staff or users.

The first treasure, however, is not a single item, but the attractive bindings that do the important job of holding pages together. And they are lovely, aren’t they?

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Items in our collections can be appreciated simply for their beauty, such as these wonderful examples of binding on volumes in the local studies collection. – Lisa, Local Studies Librarian

Guest bloggers wanted

Hi everyone,

Would anybody like to have a go at writing occasional pieces for this lovely blog of ours?  We have started up a Guest Bloggers page (you will find it on the menu under Treasure!).  Just now, it contains some of the posts written by our work experience people as they have come and gone, but it would be terrific to get some regular contributors.  All you really need is an interest in the history of Derbyshire and a willingness to have a go.  If you are a user of the record office in one way or another, that would be a bonus.  Perhaps you are doing your family tree, or a history of your village, and would like to pass on tips to others in the same boat?  Maybe you are an avid reader of books by local authors and would like to write a review or two?  Or your angle could be something totally different.  Drop us a line at if you are interested.


PS – Yes, I know you can’t blog with a quill pen.  But I couldn’t resist the urge to illustrate this post with one of George Woodward‘s wonderful cartoons.

Preservation – Edmund Potter & Co. Shirt


A few weeks ago we blogged about the Beatrix Potter connection with our collection of archives from her grandfather’s printing company, Edmund Potter & Co, Calico Printers of Dinting Vale, Glossop (D1589). The collection contains some beautiful original pattern books, and also a rather amazing shirt which we think dates from around 1883. The shirt was found in one of the archive boxes, folded up and stuffed into an old brown envelope – an entirely unsuitable way of storing such a unique and historic item. D1589 potter shirtD1589 Shirt (8)D1589 Shirt (2)Potter shirt wrapped upPotter shirt in box

The conservation team have now re-packaged the shirt by carefully wrapping it in acid-free tissue, supporting the folds using conservation padding, and making a made to measure box out of acid-free archival box-board for it to live in. We think such a lovely item is worthy of such care and attention (much better than being stuffed in an envelope!) don’t you agree?