Treasure 29: Bryan Donkin’s day book

This treasure has been nominated by Maureen Greenland, on behalf of the Bryan Donkin Archive Trust, of which she is Secretary.  Maureen writes:

The many letters, diaries and records held in the Donkin Collection (D1851) throw light on both the personal and the working life of the brilliant engineer Bryan Donkin. Born in 1768, he started his career in London in the early years of the nineteenth century, bringing to perfection the first successful machine for producing paper. His firm moved to Chesterfield a century later, providing work for the town from 1902 for over a hundred years.

In the collection is a large ‘day book’, a hand-written tome that chronicles the company’s sales and outgoings from 1824 to the early 1840s.

D1851 Day book (outside)

Transactions at home and abroad were noted with care, recorded under the customers’ names – unfortunately not alphabetically. Those years were particularly fruitful and varied for Donkin, and the book reveals his dealings with notable paper makers, who set up their new businesses in the British Isles, European countries and even America, or mechanised existing mills with Donkin’s equipment, becoming regular customers for spare parts and improvements to their water-powered paper-making machinery. Men from the factory (sometimes Donkin’s son John) were sent out to set up the mills: the day book records their travelling arrangements and wages – a few shillings a day.

D1851 Day book (sample entry)

This entry (dated 15 August 1829) records Donkin’s travelling expenses (585 French Francs) for a trip from Nantes to Morlaix and back, to survey a paper mill for a machine, at the premises of Andreiux and Riou

By this time in his life, Donkin’s personal work had diversified: he was recognised as an excellent and trustworthy engineer with innovative ideas in many fields. As a member of the board of Marc Brunel’s Thames Tunnel project, he provided men to carry out the dangerous work under the river and helped young Isambard with one of his ideas. Famous makers of precision optical instruments came to Donkin for parts for telescopes and specialised measuring equipment; small inventors needed his assistance in preparing patents for their gadgets or parts to make their harpoon or invalid carriage. There are hints of all this and much more in the day book, and often descriptions in great detail of Donkin’s involvement in his own and other people’s engineering works.

Not only does the day book offer an insight into Donkin’s work with high powered scientists and engineers such as Thomas Telford and other luminaries of the learned societies, but it also gives a flavour of the man himself and his part in the Industrial Revolution. It makes fascinating reading!

4 thoughts on “Treasure 29: Bryan Donkin’s day book

  1. Pingback: Derbyshire Record Office

  2. I have some very old binder journels from 1939, I have about 7 hard metal cover books, wondering if you
    know the value? I can send pictures?

    • Hello. If the documents you have are financial journals from the Bryan Donkin Company, they may well have a high research value for people studying the history of that company, or looking at 20th century manufacturing more generally. As to their financial value, I’m afraid I have no idea – we avoid encouraging the trade in archival material if we can help it, so do not have an eye on current prices. We buy things from auctions or by private sale only very rarely. However, if the journals are original Donkin material, and you feel moved to deposit/donate them, we’d be only too glad to take them off your hands! Please email us at if so.

  3. Pingback: New exhibition: 50 Treasures, part 3 | Derbyshire Record Office

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