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.