Sue’s Soldier: the mystery letter

mystery letter 1915 2

There was so much in George Henry Slater’s World War One memorabilia that we couldn’t display it all in our vitrine wall (Sue’s Soldier: on at Derbyshire Record Office until the end of April)

One of these items is the Mystery Letter. On Buckingham Palace headed notepaper, dated 3rd November 1915, it reads: “The Private Secretary begs to acknowledge the receipt of Mons: G Vermenlen Geelhand de Mergem’s letter of the 2nd inst: which has been submitted to the King, and for which the Private Secretary is commanded by His Majesty to thank Mons: de Mergem”.

We have no idea what this very official-sounding communication is doing in the archive of a humble rifleman’s family, so if anyone can throw any light on it, we’d be most grateful.

Treasure 12: Clara Palmer-Morewood’s Recipe Book

The Record Office has many household recipe books (or receipt books as they were known), dating back to the 17th Century.  Our twelfth treasure is the 1830s recipe book of Clara Palmer-Morewood of Alfreton Hall.

Recipe books of this time combine cookery recipes with medicinal and veterinary cures as well as beauty treatments.  Clara’s is a great example, with recipes for fashionable foreign dishes such as ‘fromage fondue’, ‘petty shoes’ (petit choux!) and ‘Spanish fritters’, but also ‘a cure for dogs who are troubled with the snort’, lip salve and a recipe to wash chintz amongst other delights.

Many of Clara’s recipes have been contributed by friends and relations, whose names are given beside each recipe, so the book also gives an insight into Clara’s social circle.  You can see a full list of recipes and their contributors on our online catalogue here, or read some of Becky’s transcriptions of the recipes for rabbit soup, lobster curry, sponge cake, gingerbread, pancakes, ginger beer, mince pies, and biscuit puddings on this blog.

What really makes Clara’s book a treasure, though, is that it has a recipe for Bakewell Pudding dated 1837.  It is a really delicious and easy recipe, which I’ve now made several times!  Legend has it that this local speciality was invented by accident in the 1860s.  Clara’s book shows that this local legend can’t be completely true – and Ivan Day’s excellent research into this question has revealed some even earlier Bakewell Pudding recipes.

D7555/1 Clara Palmer-Morewood recipe book, Alfreton Hall

If you’d like to make the pudding yourself, here’s how to do it:

Line a 7 inch (18cm) metal pie dish with puff pastry.  Spread a couple of tablespoons of jam over the bottom and scatter over some candied orange peel, if you like it, and flaked almonds to taste (about 50g).  As an alternative to jam you can use dried cherries or raisins, finely chopped.  Cherries are better as they are a bit more tart.

In a bowl put 4 egg yolks, 1 egg white, 4 oz (100g) melted better, cooled, and 4 oz (100g) sugar.  Beat for a couple of minutes with an electric whisk until fluffy, pour into the pie dish and bake in the middle of the oven at 180 degrees centigrade (gas mark 5) for 30-35 minutes.

If you give it a try, do leave a comment to let us know whether you enjoyed it!

Who watches the watchmen?

Here’s some more evidence of how useful we have been finding our volunteers. Our volunteer Mavis recently wrote a fuller description of a volume in the archives that had previously been described in only three words: “Belper Watchman’s Journal”.  The full description, courtesy of Mavis, can be read on the catalogue, under reference D5917.

The first thing that had to change was the word watchman, which should have been watchmen.  There was not one of them, but a whole team, charged with keeping good order in the town overnight, and maintaining a record of the people they encountered as they patrolled the streets.  It had been a legal requirement to employ watchmen since 1233, but these records date from the 1840s, and the men were not, so far as I can tell, employed by the state.  (Please correct me if I’m wrong! I won’t mind.)  Instead, their wages were paid by textile giants the Strutt company, which owned such a high proportion of the property in Belper.  Among their principal duties was the checking of gas for street lighting and water levels.  This was not what I had been expecting to be told, so in curiosity I checked the catalogue for our Strutt collections and realised that there was a whole series of similar records which we received separately from D5917 (reference D6948/11).  The volume that Mavis had described was a sort of long-lost brother to the others.

An article of 1835, published in The Mirror of Literature, Amusement, and Instruction, Volumes 25-26 (J. Limbird, 1835), gives a detailed description of the system devised by William Strutt to ensure diligence among the watchmen employed by the company.  The article states that the system had been emulated in Derby, and credits it with halving the number of watchmen required in that town, from twenty to ten.  The men walked separate rounds from 11pm to 5am.  Rather than carrying out the traditional watchman’s function of calling the hour, they were instructed to proceed silently and to use their lanterns “on urgent occasions” only.  In addition, the men’s routes and timings were periodically changed, with a combined effect of making it harder to predict the arrival of the watchman, who should therefore be better placed to detect bad behaviour.  The article continues:

In order to compel each watchman to go the route that is fixed for him at the times appointed, watch-clocks are provided at certain stations.  These clocks effect their object by means of certain pegs, each of which is required to be put down by a bolt within a quarter of an hour of the time fixed upon; and unless so put down, it remains up, and in the morning registers every quarter of an hour of neglected time.  The clocks are examined by a steady, responsible man every morning, and the results noted down in a book under the same number and route of each watchman.  If any one of them has omitted putting down a single peg, the superintendent copies the time and number of each omission in a book, which lies at the house where every clock is fixed, to enable the occupier of the house to examine if the superintendent enter [sic] those pegs right, which are missed, and into another book in which he copies all omissions and remarks.  These omissions are explained by the watchman to the superintendent every morning at five o’clock, and if he gives an account of his his having taken up disorderly persons, of having watched suspicious ones, or having been otherwise properly occupied … the omissions are allowed

Do bear in mind that this describes the system in Derby, but it is said to have been modelled on that of Belper, so it looks like this is a decent explanation of how these records were created.

Dick Whittington

Dick Whittington

Dick Whittington

We’re just about still in the pantomime season. Oh no, we’re not! oh yes, we are! (Sorry, I won’t do that again.) It is, therefore, just about time to let you know that a document was found in the Harpur Crewe collection which shows that there was indeed such a person in history as Dick Whittington. The document in question is an indenture which is part of a series of documents which were written to help ensure the conveyance of the manor of Repton by Sir John de Strauley to Henry de Knyveton and others in 1412. In the indenture there is reference to a binding financial commitment of £500 having been made publicly in the the Court of Staple by Sir John in front of Richard Whittington (spelled Whityngton in the text) who was serving in his capacity as the Mayor of the Staple of Westminster . The sum of £500 was being used as security to make sure the conveyance went through, and it would have been a massive sum for the time, roughly equivalent to £250,000. (OK, so not massive by Premier League footballer standards, but you get the picture.)

It is an undeniable fact that Richard, or Dick, Whittington came to London and made his fortune, becoming lord mayor of London on at least three separate occasions. He made his fortune as a mercer in London, dealing in the purchase and sale of textile goods, usually at the higher end of the market and he notably became the major supplier of such goods to King Richard II, a particularly flamboyant follower of fashion. Dick also developed as a leading player in the money market of the time, lending heavily on several occasions to the Crown. It was largely through the medium of such mercers that the international banking system developed in the late Middle Ages, with the extension of substantial credit at substantial rates of interest. On the whole Dick’s hero status has not been damaged in recent years by the falling stock of super rich bankers, and it would be something of a shame if it was. His reputation of philanthropy was fully deserved, as he does seem to have used his wealth extensively for the common good and even willed that all his estate after his death in 1423 was to be sold off to be used for good causes.

Although he wasn’t exactly born a pauper, his status as the third son of a lesser Gloucestershire landowner did mean he probably did have to move to London if he was going to make a real fortune. Whether he had a cat with him or not is unknown, but the association of one with Dick seems to have already been established by the early 17th century. Cats would, of course, have been extremely useful in the London of the times to help keep down the size of the rat and mice population, regardless of any comfort, psychological well-being or material assistance they might have given their owners. There is no mention, believe it or not, of a cat in the document, but if you are looking for a Puss, here are picture of a few bootless ones taken from late 19th century Harpur Crewe family scrapbooks.


Mining the Archives Project – Conservation Update

I’ve been working away on the conservation of documents as part of the Mining the Archives Project, and have so far repaired over 50 individual pages of D248: Barmaster’s Lot and Cope account books, 1831-1870.

damaged cope account book before repairs damaged cope account book before repairs

Each page is extremely fragile – the book has been badly damaged by damp and mould, which has caused the paper to lose all of it’s strength and it is literally falling to pieces. The book had been dismantled years ago, so the pages are in no particular order with fragments muddled up and all over the place. Before I can begin the treatment process the first task is to puzzle all the pieces back together so that all the bits are in the right place. This can be very tricky due to the extent of the damage, a bit like a very complicated mouldy jigsaw puzzle!

lead mining puzzling pieces

Once I am sure everything is in the correct place I can begin the repairs. I have to be certain about this, because otherwise the information may not appear accurate, particularly as these are account books, so contain a lot of complicated numbers and arithmetic. After painstaking attempts, if I can’t find where a piece definitely goes, it will be saved in case researchers (or jigsaw enthusiasts) want to try and attempt to find where it fits in the future.

As you can see it requires a lot of patience, but it is very satisfying when you manage to match one up successfully!


A volunteer solves a mystery: not Jane Borough of Chetwynd Park but D’Ewes Coke of Brookhill Hall

Cataloguing can be a tricky business.  We are all human, and it’s easy to make mistakes – but isn’t it nice sometimes to put one right?

We had a researcher in last month who spent some time looking at D5369/15/31-42, described in our catalogue as the personal diaries of Jane Borough of Chetwynd Park, Shropshire.  However, the researcher was kind enough to let us know about some anomalies: an entry of 30 October 1815 mentioned sending William and Edward back to school, which sounded a warning bell because those were not the names of her children; and, just to put the kibosh on the Jane Borough idea altogether, there was an entry dated three days later, which referred to “my wife”.

So who is the diarist?  I passed this query on to Roger, one of our volunteers, who ordinarily helps with box-listing some of the unlisted collections.

Here’s what he found:

There are eleven diaries, each covering one calendar year between 1801 and 1842.  I decided to look first at that for 1841, given that the diary might offer some biographical details that could be compared with the census returns of 1841.

It immediately became apparent the author of the diary was a man.  There are references to fishing and shooting and notes about attending court sittings and meetings of a Board of Guardians and other public bodies.  Many long walks are recorded at locations in north-east Derbyshire and in the Sheffield area.

The only surnames to be noticed were those of visitors to the author’s residence.   At intervals through the diary, however, I noticed entries of forenames followed by a number.  These entries stood out: they displayed a slight variation of script in comparison with day-by-day entries. I wondered if these entries might be names of relatives – perhaps the author’s children – entered at the beginning of the year to show the age achieved on their respective birthdays in that year.  (I was briefly confused by entries of name and number about an individual whose name was abbreviated to Temp., until I realised that there were many such entries and they were thermometer readings: the diary includes many weather observations.)

The ages noted (if indeed the numbers did represent ages) implied there might be entries in one or more of the earliest diaries that referred to births.  I looked at the diary for 1802.  I read a note of 14 April that “my dearest Harriett was safely delivered of a second daughter” followed on 12 June by a reference to the baptism of Elizabeth Anne.  In the diary for 1801, I read a note of the first birthday on 11 November of Harriett Frances.  On 22 December the author records his own 27th birthday.

I then interrogated the International Genealogical Index for the birth/baptism of a Harriett Frances born in Derbyshire in 1800.  In this context a crucial property of this index is that it can be searched without the need for a surname as a search term.  The first item yielded by this search was the baptism at Pinxton of Harriett Frances Coke, daughter of D’Ewes and Harriett Coke.  I had a likely surname.

Pinxton was a location frequently mentioned in the diaries.  I then carried out a web search using “D’Ewes Coke” as the search term, which clinched the identification of the author: he was D’Ewes Coke (1774-1856), one of the Cokes of Brookhill Hall, Pinxton.  The results gave the same date of birth as that shown in the diary; his family residences at Totley Hall, Totley and Brookhill Hall: his occupation as a barrister and his membership of the Ecclesall Bierlow Board of Guardians.

Well, I call that a job very well done, and have updated the catalogue accordingly.  I have also added an entry under Related Material on the D1881 collection, the Coke of Brookhill Hall family archives, which include at least one other diary kept by the same man. If you have a look at the catalogue entry using the link above, you will find a working interim list to download – but I am afraid this is a collection that needs more work.  There may well be further discoveries in the future!

There is an article about the father of the diarist (also D’Ewes Coke) on Wikipedia, if you would like to read more.

More on lead-mining…

Last month, we heard from a researcher based in Ottawa, Canada, who had decided to get in touch after seeing the video post about the Gregory Mine Reckoning Book. She was hoping we could answer a question about another source that has historical information on the lead industry, to wit, the early 18th century day books of William Hodgkinson of Overton Hall. The subject of the research in question was the Cowley family of Ashover, who were involved in farming and lead mining in the 16th to 17th century. The researcher’s interest in the lead mining angle was piqued by Stuart Band’s article in the Peak District Mines Historical Society’s Bulletin in Summer 1996, entitled “An Ashover Lead Mining Tithe Dispute in the Seventeenth Century”, which mentions a Gyles Cowley. According to the researcher’s best information, this Cowley inherited mines, groves and mine shares in the Ashover area from his great uncle Leonard Cowley (gentleman, of Chesterfield), via his grandfather Gyles, a yeoman farmer, and his father Gyles, both of Ashover and both some time lead miners. She then found references to this same Gyles Cowley in our catalogue descriptions of the Hodgkinson day books. She noted the page numbers from the catalogue and ordered copies. Here’s what we sent her: D2086 p99 Are you wondering why the images are so dark, and hard to make out?  It’s because they were taken from microfilm, which is all we have: the original William Hodgkinson day books remain in private hands.  However, if you click on the image, you should be able to zoom in on it, depending on your browser. The questions for us to answer (slightly paraphrased) were these:

  • What is the difference between the amounts listed on the left-hand pages and those on the right-hand pages? – is one side outgoing expenses/costs and the other incoming monies? – or vice versa?  In particular, there are references, mostly on the right-hand pages to periodic ‘reckonings’ involving loads of ore and Gyles Cowley. (I understand that a periodic ‘reckoning’ would take place between mine owner & miner when wages would be paid out for a previous period of work, based on numbers of loads of ore taken.)
  • Would Gyles Cowley have been delivering loads of lead ore to Hodgkinson (for him to smelt or sell on)?  Or was he paying duties (lot, or even leased tithes) to Hodgkinson for lead ore taken from his own mines in the area?  Besides ore, there are also lots of references to mortgages and loans. I am assuming that Hodgkinson was lending money and not the reverse? If so, does this mean he would have acted like a bank in the Ashover area at that time?

Let me not be coy about my shortcomings.  I had not a clue. I relayed the queries on to Matthew Pawelski.  Now then. I would be letting the side down if I did not say at this point that my decision to do this was highly exceptional – Matthew is a very busy doctoral student and isn’t normally involved in record office enquiries.  But he was able to help on this occasion.  Here is what he thought (also paraphrased):

  • This is a double-entry account book: there is a “D” on the left hand page denoting debit and a “C” on the right denoting credit. I also noticed the name Cowley written at the top of the left hand page, meaning this refers directly to Hodgkinson’s dealings with Cowley, so Hodgkinson is purchasing raw lead ore from Cowley. The debit on the left shows how much money Hodgkinson owed Cowley and the right hand page shows the value of lead ore Cowley owed Hodgkinson (the classic double-entry layout).
  • Hodgkinson was a major lead merchant in the parish of Ashover, with dealings at the local, regional, national and even international level. For more information on his foreign dealings Philip Riden has written an article entitled: “An English Factor at Stockholm”, which is very useful for getting a better idea about the nature of his business dealings.  Riden has also published an article about Hodgkinson in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which you can access online.

Have you a Derbyshire Library card?  If so, follow this link to find out how to use the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free.  Matthew continued:

  • Generally speaking, lead was not sold on the market in raw form, it would be taken to a smelting furnace where it would be melted down and processed to form bars, pipes, sheets etc.  Thus we can assume that Hodgkinson was a more established merchant, while Cowley is involved more in the extraction of lead as perhaps a miner and/or shareholder in a mine. Hodgkinson was certainly not involved directly in any extraction, he was of a higher social station.  Men of his station (if involved in the lead industry) were more likely to be merchants, furnace owners and “absentee” shareholders in the mines. The process of extraction was, at the dawn of the 18th century, mainly left to independent teams of miners with very little proprietorship oversight.

Matthew also tackled the question about whether Hodgkinson would have acted like a bank for the Ashover area:

That Hodgkinson established an account for Gyles Cowley implies a long term financial relationship. Borrowing and lending in the eighteenth century was not as it is today. Even after the establishment of the Bank of England in 1694, credit was extremely hard to come by and there were no local banks as we would understand them today. There were a number of financial difficulties facing people outside of London in the pursuit of business expansion or investment. There was a severe lack of currency. Money was hard to come by, workers were often paid in kind, usually in the form of resources, such as wood, food or even manufactured metals such as lead or iron. This meant that a far greater emphasis was placed upon assets such as land, property and buildings. These were relatively stable forms of wealth and people who controlled these assets became central figureheads in society, in both business and domestic realms. Hodgkinson would have been one of the few people in Ashover with substantial assets and thus he became became an important source of credit within the parish.

Matthew concluded that:

Gyles Cowley appears to be a man who dabbled in various elements of the lead industry; a self styled business sort – who were becoming increasingly common in the Derbyshire Lead Industry during the eighteenth century. These men conducted business at all the various levels of production from extraction, preparation and sale. What I have been presented with here would suggest to me that Cowley was primarily focused on the extraction of lead and was merely dabbling in merchanting and lacked the capital necessary to establish a smelting operation to process the raw lead he had obtained from the mines he was involved with. It must also be noted that he might be selling this ore on behalf of a partnership or a collection of miners (known as a cope), I don’t believe he will be receiving all the money directly into his own accounts. Rather, this money would be required to pay wages, buy new mining equipment and to be divided among other partners.

As I say, we don’t expect Matthew to spend his time dealing with enquiries, but it was nice to make an exception on this occasion – I think it shows just how useful it is to have a doctoral student with a formal attachment to Derbyshire Record Office as well as Lancaster University.

Lead-mining seminar (and please like PDMHS on Facebook)

We have just concluded the second in a series of seminars on the Derbyshire lead-mining industry, chaired by Matthew Pawelski (pop that surname into the search box just below the Derby City Council logo to see related earlier posts).  Steve Thompson kicked us off with a presentation on the usefulness of tithe and enclosure records for historians in this field, and Matt then spoke about what can be discovered in account books.  Both speakers were exemplary at keeping to time, which meant that, as hoped, the majority of the event could be devoted to discussion around the table. I was pleased to see we had a new participant who had made the decision to come along on the strength of the video about the Gregory Mine reckoning book which was posted here last month.  So do feel free to join in: we will publicise the next in the series as soon as the date is settled.


Among the assembly was George Jaramillo of the University of Edinburgh, who has been looking after the Facebook page of the Peak District Mines Historical Society.  He remarked that the page is close to the 100 “likes” threshold, beyond which it can be picked up by search engines.  If you are a Facebook user, please do like the page and share it with your friends!

Goodbye Helen, and Thank You


Helen Ellis, a long-serving member of the Record Office team, left us on 30th January 2015 after 11 years of service, to follow paths anew.

Helen had previously worked as an Assistant at Newbold Library, but it is her commitment to the job and the knowledge which she brought to Derbyshire Record Office, both in archives and with local studies, which has made Helen such a valued member of staff.

Helen is setting up as an independent researcher in the near future, but will be sorely missed by all at DRO.

We would like to thank you, Helen, for your dedication and hard work. We wish you every success in your new job, and look forward to hopefully seeing you again from time to time.

IMG_8221 IMG_8222

Treasure 11: An Exact Mapp of Risley and Breaston

This wonderful map was purchased by Derbyshire County Council in 1966 for £20.  It was surveyed by Matts [Matthias] Aston, in 1722, and the man standing beside the scale on the map is presumably Matts Aston himself.  The scale is 20 perches:1 inch; a perch was an old form of measurement (also called a rod or pole) equal to 5 1/2 yards.

D393 1 resized photomerge

In the top left corner is the coat of arms of the baronets of Aston in Cheshire, so this map must have been made for the 3rd baronet, Sir Thomas Aston (1666-1725).  It measures 60 x 30 inches (about 150cm x 75cm) and is made of parchment which has been backed with linen.  These are two very long-lasting materials, which explains why the map is still in such good condition.

Paula Moss, our Artist in Residence between 2011 and 2013 chose the map for our 50 treasures.  She says:  “I love the fact that as well as being a beautiful map, it’s also bursting with visual and poetic narrative.  Small details such as a ladder propped up against the tree and the game keeper and their dog are exquisite – it’s a piece that I keep on coming back to.”

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Nearly 300 years after its creation, the details in this map are a constant source of inspiration.  The fruit tree with it’s ladder inspired the poem which is on the wall in our customer break room: ‘Somewhere in this Building’ by Matt Black, Derbyshire Poet Laureate 2011-2013.  Matthias Aston also features on a mug, designed by Paula, which you can buy here at the Record Office.  And you might recognise the compass rose, which has been reworked to create the ‘Made in Derbyshire 2015’ logo.