Derbyshire’s first County Archivist: Joan Sinar

We recently heard the sad news that Joan Sinar, Derbyshire’s first county archivist, died in January.  She was 89 and had been living in Northern Ireland with her husband until her death.Photo Joan Sinar Matlock Mercury

Joan Sinar first came to Derbyshire in 1962 and was responsible for setting up the Record Office.  She’d spent the previous ten years in Devon, where she established Devon Record Office.  Having been born in Lancashire, she moved from Devon to Derbyshire because she missed the north.

When she started at Derbyshire, the Record Office was based at County Hall in Matlock and consisted only of the county archivist and some clerical assistance.  Joan’s office acted as the workroom, for processing collections, and the public searchroom – not an arrangement we would consider ideal!  As she brought in more and more material, this accommodation proved entirely unsuitable.  You can get a sense of how cramped the accommodation was from this photo, taken in 1967:


By1968 the set up had been improved, with a separate searchroom and additional storage within county hall in what used to be the old Smedley’s Hydro kitchens.  The search for bigger and better accommodation continued, though, culminating in the move to the former Ernest Bailey school on New Street, Matlock, where the Record Office remains today.

Miss Sinar retired in 1988, just as the Record Office began moving across to New Street.  Over her 26 years as county archivist, she had overseen the acquisition of many important collections and built up the office from one room to a large building.  Even after she left, she still maintained an interest in the Record Office and sent her congratulations when we reopened after our extension project in 2013.

Joan Sinar was one of the legendary and redoubtable women who characterised the archive profession in the ‘heroic age’ of archives, as the county record office network was set up.  Derbyshire certainly owes her a huge debt of thanks for the preservation of the county’s history; you can read more about her in The Daily Telegraph obituary which was published on Saturday.

Treasure 17: The George Woodward cartoon collection

This treasure is a collection of nearly 500 prints and drawings by the artist George Murgatroyd Woodward (1765-1809). Brought up in Stanton by Dale, Derbyshire, Woodward’s artistic talents were apparently evident at a young age, and according to his father ‘he used to draw before he could speak plain’.

The Woodward collection includes his earliest known drawings, a series of pen and ink sketches produced when still in his teens, as well as a series of portraits of actors in Shakespearean roles from between 1782 and 1787.  These include an image of Nick Bottom from Midsummer Night’s Dream, which is available for adoption on our Adopt A Piece Of History page.  In this video, Lien and Mark have a look at this and other illustrations:

Depictions of the earliest balloon flights in England are also included, as are a number of preparatory drawings for his published caricatures.  Here are some of the balloon pictures:

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We have now added digital images of all the Woodward cartoons to our online catalogue.  You can browse them by following this link – this takes you to an overview page showing each image’s file title, but you can then click on any given entry to see the full description and a thumbnail image.  If you click on the thumbnail image, you will see your chosen cartoon in all its full-screen glory.  To search within the collection, click on Advanced Search, then use a keyword or two in conjunction with the reference D5459* (don’t forget the asterisk).  I tried using the word “clown” in the title field and got a single image of a clown – if you try the same thing, you may see why some people have nightmares about them!

During his brief career Woodward collaborated with some of the best known caricaturists of the day in order to produce his prints, and the collection includes examples of work produced in conjunction with Thomas Rowlandson, Isaac Cruikshank and Thomas Newton.

Woodward was more interested in the humour to be found in everyday life than in high politics and his caricatures provide a fascinating insight into the tastes and fashions of 18th century England.

As our Senior Conservator Lien explains in the video, she nominated the Woodward collection as one of Derbyshire Record Office’s 50 Treasures after being introduced to the archive during her job interview.  ‘There was this massive heap of dirty and damaged prints, drawings and watercolours lying on a table and I was asked what I would do with them…we certainly ended up doing all the work I’d suggested.’

As mentioned above, the Nick Bottom illustration is one of the Treasures listed on our Adopt A Piece Of History page – but if you have a personal favourite Woodward cartoon, you can still adopt that.  Just give us the details after choosing “adopt a unique piece of history”.

Mining the Archives… Literally!

I never thought that during this project I would literally be mining the archives… until this week when I began work on dismantling the 18th Century account book of Robert Thornhill, and to my surprise, hidden between the pages, I discovered what appeared to be deposits of lead!

D307 B 19 1 Lead particles found in between pages (1)

D307 B 19 1 Lead particles found in between pages (5)

This caused quite a scare for our health and safety team – Lead is a highly poisonous metal, and if it is inhaled or swallowed it can cause serious damage to the nervous system or brain. This being so, I stopped working on the book immediately, and our health and safety manager rushed to the scene to advise us on how to proceed.

Lead is dangerous if it is inhaled or ingested, but to inhale it the particles must be very fine and dust-like. Luckily the particles of lead we found were relatively large, and there was no evidence of dust, so we were told we were safe to proceed with precautions – wearing a mask, gloves and protective clothing; hand washing and proper disposal of the gloves and masks; and ensuring that the work area is cleared of all debris with Hepa filter vacuum cleaner…

D307 B 19 1 dismantling and numbering sections (1)

…Panic over!

However, in the midst of all this excitement, we had a thought…  the discovery of lead in this account book might tell us something about its history – the environment in which it was written, and where the work was carried out. We have collected samples of the lead and debris from the guttering of the pages and are hoping to get these tested using Infrared Spectrometry, a method of analysing the samples to identify the substances present. The findings could give us more clues about the provenance of the book, and lead mining history in general, which would potentially be valuable information for researchers.

Who knew this long neglected account book would cause such a stir?!




Manorial Documents Register Launch

Last Thursday (16 April) we held an event to launch the Derbyshire section of the Manorial Documents Register (MDR). This was the culmination of the process which the Derbyshire Record Office, with the help of its partner organisation, The National Archives, started over two years ago to revise and update the Derbyshire entries on the MDR.

The event included talks from three speakers: Neil Bettridge,the MDR Project officer for Derbyshire, who spoke in general terms about manors and manorial records; Liz Hart of the Development Section of The National Archives, based at Kew, who spoke about the Manor Documents Register, providing valuable background information on its history, its development and its current aims and objectives covering the overall project for England and Wales as a whole; and Kate Henderson, a professional record agent, who spoke positively and enthusiastically about how the records could be used to help people trying to trace their family history in manorial records. After the talks and light refreshments, people were able to look at a display of manorial documents in the Searchroom and to take the opportunity to try out the Manorial Documents Register online for Derbyshire.

One aspect of the project, and possibly, the most important, was that it would make the information available online. Previously the MDR could only have been inspected by going to The National Archives in person, and although researchers could enquire through the post or by email, it inevitably meant it took people a lot of time and effort to find out what they wanted. Now it is much easier for people to see what manorial records there are and where they are just by going straight to the appropriate webpage for the MDR, which can be found at The MDR online also has information which is more detailed and up to date, reflecting any changes which might have been made to the location and listing of manorial records.

The event seems to have been well received, with several people taking the opportunity to inspect the Register many positive comments on it. We would like to thank everyone who attended and helped things go so well.

DSCF0450DSCF0453MDR cropDSCF0458

Copying before the photocopier

If you’ve ever used late 18th century or 19th century business records, you may well have come across ‘wet copy’ letter books.  These distinctive volumes are made up of letters on very flimsy, thin paper, with rather blurred writing which appears in reverse – although because the paper is so thin, you can read the writing from the other side.

Wet copy letter books are definitely not one of my favourite kinds of record.  Because the paper is so thin, you get hundreds of  fragile blurry letters in each volume; I’m always impressed by the researchers who have the patience to go through them.

Despite their drawbacks, you have to admire the ingenuity of the invention, which was patented in 1780 by James Watt.  There’s an excellent article by Dr Brian H. Davies about the invention of wet copies on the Ceredigion Archives blog, which explains how they were produced.  There are also pictures of wet copy letters, so if you’ve never seen one before, do take a look – and be glad you don’t have to use them!

Mining the Archives Project – Conservation Update

I have now completed the bulk of the conservation work on  D248: Barmaster’s Lot and Cope account books, 1831-1870. Here are some of the repaired pages:



It really has made such a difference to all those pages which were in many pieces, as they can now be handled safely. The final few pages we came across in this pack were slightly different in appearance and texture to the others, and we think there may have already been some historic conservation procedures carried out on them which now requires some extra special treatment.

Whilst we investigate and decide what to do with the above, in the meantime I have begun work on the next document identified as part of the project; D307/B/19/1: Account book/ledger of Robert Thornhill, 1768 – 1829.


This 18th Century account book is still in its original, parchment-covered binding, which has considerable damage from a damp storage environment.  The book has suffered extensively from damp penetration, leaving the edge of every page extremely fragile and crumbling away. In its current condition this item cannot be used by researchers, as turning the pages will result in significant loss of information.

D307 B 19 1 crumbling pages 1D307 B 19 1 back end leavesD307 B 19 1 text block edge damage close up 2

Before I can repair the pages, the first job is to very carefully take the whole book apart. Each page will then be cleaned and washed before repairs are carried out. The original binding is too badly damaged to be re-used, so it will be kept with the item as part of the collection, and the repaired pages will be re-bound in a new binding.

So… scalpel at the ready, I will update you on how dismantling it goes!


Treasure 16: a Soviet military map showing Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire

It’s easy to take maps for granted nowadays, when we can go online and quickly find an accurate map of any given spot on the planet.  This Soviet military map dates from an era in which knowledge of terrain was harder to come by, and of correspondingly greater strategic value.  It has been chosen by Sue Peach, Local Studies Librarian.

Treasure 16 Soviet map

Sue writes: “Produced in the 1980s, before the breakup of the Soviet Union, these maps would have enabled the Red Army to find even the smallest hamlet. The maps conform to the standard Warsaw Pact specifications for military topographic maps, using the Krassovsky/Pulkovo system, and carry the standard Gausse- Kruger military grid, enabling artillery to use the mapping. For ease of reading the text is all in Cyrillic script.”

The main place names visible on this shot of the map are Sutton in Ashfield, in the centre left of the image, followed by (working clockwise) Mansfield Woodhouse, Mansfield and Kirkby in Ashfield.

Now available: our latest events programme

Our latest events programme is now out, giving details of what’s on at Derbyshire Record Office from spring to autumn 2015, as well as events we are organising in other venues.  Highlights include:

  • A session at Spondon Library which draws on original letters and diaries from the First World War
  • A writing workshop with novelist Jill Dawson
  • The Harpur Crewe archives returning to Calke Abbey for its annual Heritage Weekend

Not forgetting our regular taster sessions, of course.  To view the programme, click here: Events Programme.

Guilty of High Treason – the Pentrich Revolution

Reading Sarah’s post about the Pentrich Revolution of a few days ago, made me think of the material we have in the Local Studies Library, here at the Record Office, on this important local event.  Over the years there have been many books and articles published, which you can come to the library to look at.  You can even request many titles to borrow from your local library – just put Pentrich Revolution into the online catalogue (follow the links from for a list of available titles.

We also have more contemporary accounts.  For a more detailed look at the trial you can’t go far wrong than with the report of the whole proceedings, which I should warn you contains a no holds barred description of the executions of the men involved.  For the faint hearted, look away now!Bookpart

There is also a copy of a letter written by Jeremiah Brandreth, dubbed the Nottingham Captain, to his wife written from his gaol cell which is amazingly stoic considering the situation he was in.  Although his sentence hadn’t yet been passed, he had been found guilty so must have had a good idea of what was in store.  Letter

It is easy to concentrate on the main figures in this story but the letter makes you think of the families of those involved, and following along those lines we have a ‘Lamentation of the widows, families and orphans of the three unfortunate men’, which is a call to think of those who were left behind. If you would like to see these or any of the other items we have on the Pentrich Revolution then please come along to the Record Office, and ask for the Local Studies collection.Poem

Treasure 6: A how-to guide to handwriting from 1571

This book, dating from 1571, was chosen by archivist Karen Millhouse, who writes:

Palaeography, the study of ancient handwriting, is a skill which those who work in archives have to develop quite quickly!  This handwriting exercise book contains not only beautiful examples of script but also provides the opportunity for us to chart how styles of handwriting have developed over the centuries – which in turn helps us to date documents more accurately. I particularly like seeing how the owner of this book has practised the letters – with varying degrees of success!

Our Artist in Residence, Paula Moss, shares my love of this volume and has used illustrations from it as her inspiration for window coverings in our microfilm room – why don’t you take a look?

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Concerned about the physical condition of this book? So are we – that’s why our Assistant Conservator has chosen it as the basis of a forthcoming project. We will use the blog to let you know when the work has been done.