Nellie Kirkham: archives of busy local historian

It was in November this year that we heard from Dave Williams of the Peak District Mines Historical Society, to say that the Society had recently taken on responsibility for the papers of the historian, artist and writer Nellie Kirkham (1896-1979).  Dave, and other active members of PDMHS, were anxious to find a permanent home for the papers, lest the information contained in Kirkham’s research notes be lost to future generations.

Dave brought in box-files, folders, and index cards at regular intervals over subsequent weeks.  The final lot of material came in metal trays that had been removed from a filing cabinet:

Empty trays Two trays

I then began the process of transferring the papers to our own folders.  I shouldn’t really have used the acid-free folders until the papers had gone through our quarantine procedures, but they were all I could lay hands on at the time!  They may well be replaced by custom-built packages later on.  Here’s Dave standing next to some of the last batch of material:

Dave Williams of PDMHS

When we accept collections of personal papers, we like to furnish the catalogue with basic biographical information in the Administrative History section, so I have done a bit of digging.  I started out with an obituary penned by Douglas Nash for the October 1979 issue of the PDMHS Bulletin.  I recommend following the link embedded in the previous sentence if you want to know more about her working life – but be warned that the date of publication appears on the top of the page as October 1978, when it should say 1979.  Note the assertion that some of Nellie Kirkham’s best stuff never made it into print: this is precisely why the archive is so valuable – although how easy it will be to retrieve information from it remains to be seen!  Her published output also was very considerable: if you look for Nellie Kirkham’s works on Amazon, you will find a large number of titles – but most of them out of print.  Happily, however, there is a large number of Nellie Kirkham books on the library catalogue, which makes them very accessible.

Mr Nash also makes mention of Nellie Kirkham’s work as an artist and illustrator in the 1920s.  If you want to see some examples of her artistic works, you can see them on the Bonhams website, from an old auction catalogue.  They are rather lovely, and very evocative of their time.

The obit gives Nellie’s married name as Mrs J H D Myatt, although she always published under her maiden name.  I found on that a marriage between Nellie Kirkham and James H D Myatt was registered in the Stoke-on-Trent district in the second quarter of 1928.   Registration indexes also show that there was a James Harold Douglas Myatt, who was born on 9 December 1889 in the Stoke-on-Trent district, and whose death was registered in the same place in the first quarter of 1980.  On the 1911 census he appears as a 21-year old dental assistant, living with his parents on London Road in Stoke.  If anyone believes this to be the wrong J H D Myatt, please let me know!

The PDMHS obituary gives Nellie Kirkham’s date of death as 28 May 1979, from which I was able to find the relevant entry on the death index, which gives her date of birth as 28 August 1897.  However, her birth was actually registered in the final quarter of 1896, in the Stoke-on-Trent district.  (I’m grateful to Joan Fleet for spotting this: it’s an entry that does not reveal itself on Freebmd but does show up on Ancestry.)

The 1901 census shows only one really decent match for her, and that’s Nellie Kirkham, daughter of earthenware manufacturer Harold G. Kirkham and his wife Agnes, who lived at “Gladwyn”, Minton Place, Stoke.  It may be pure coincidence, but I note that the family had a servant by the name of Myatt!  The family is at the same address on the 1911 census.  One feature of this census which proves very useful to historians is that married couples were asked how many children they had ever had, and how many of those were still living.   In the case of the Kirkham household, we can see that they had only ever had two children, so Nellie’s only sibling was her sister Daphne.   Nellie herself was not at home on census night, but there is a Nellie Kirkham of the right age and birthplace at Queenwood Ladies’ College in Eastbourne.  Until December 2018, the list of notable former pupils to be found on Wikipedia included but one name, that of the actor Martita Hunt (1900-1969).  Hunt was not a contemporary of Kirkham, and can’t have stayed at Queenwood for long, as she apparently only arrived at the age of 20 – whereas on census night in 1911, the oldest pupil was 19.  Since the original edition of this blog post, John Page has added the name of Nellie Kirkham to the Wikipedia page, for which we are grateful.

We already had a small Nellie Kirkham collection (D5675), which we accepted in 2002, so I arranged to allocate the same collection reference number to the incoming material.  I noticed that D5675 was unlisted, so added some rudimentary details to the catalogue – it comprised a bundle of her handwritten poems.  This leads me on to two final points:

  • I have been adding descriptions of the material to the catalogue each time a new accession comes in.  You can read the D5675 list straight away, but the material is still going through our quarantine procedures so may not be available immediately.  Contact us if you would like access to it.  The list will hopefully be fleshed out in the course of time, as it is very low on detail just now.
  • Dave did just the right thing by contacting us to discuss the possibility of passing this material on to us, and arranging an appointment each time there was a new accession to come in.  If you have something you want to let us have, please follow this fine example!  The process of accessioning new records is a time-consuming one, which must be fitted in around the other duties of busy day – a Duty Archivist’s heart sinks at the sight of a depositor arriving unannounced and laden with boxes and bags.






Advent Calendar – Christmas Day

Merry Christmas. We hope you are all having a special day.

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Christmas Day Menu from Smedley’s Hydro, Matlock, 1915 (Ref: D7314/2).
How does it compare to your Christmas dinner? Lovely as it sounds I’m definitely looking forward to mine more.


A special Christmas dinner, 100 years ago today

What became Smedley’s Hydro, at Matlock Bank, was originally opened by Ralph Davis in 1851, and taken over by John Smedley in 1853. Thoroughly convinced of the medicinal benefits of water treatment, since his illness and recovery in Europe, John Smedley considerably expanded the number of clients and the buildings over the next twenty years.

In the 1920s and 1930s the business declined as the popularity of hydropathy decreased. The building was requisitioned by the War Department during the 1939-1945 war. There was a short-lived revival of the business after 1945. The buildings and grounds were bought by Derbyshire County Council in 1956 as its main administrative centre, and they are still there today, just up the road from the Record Office.

Along with Riber Castle, originally designed as a home for John Smedley and his family, County Hall (Smedley’s Hydro) is the most impressive and imposing view from Matlock town centre, and further afield.

Unfortunately there is relatively poor survival of a lot of records for the hydro business, but there are a number of archive collections containing a range of different sources as well as a host of published books, articles and photographs in the local studies collection. Search the online catalogue and on site indexes for more information.

Advent Calendar – Day 24

Almost there…

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Christmas card painted by John Chaplin, with Edgar Osborne, sent from Palestine in 1917, during World War One (Ref: D5063/3/3)




Inside the card reads:
Palestine 1917
Christmas 1917
Two campaigners send you Greetings, dear Lill
John Chaplin





Born in Bournemouth in 1890, Edgar Osborne was County Librarian for Derbyshire for 31 years (1923-1954). During World War One Edgar served on the Bulgarian Front and in Palestine, from where he sent this card to Lill, possibly his future wife Mabel Jacobson, whom he married in 1918, not long before the end of the war. Other papers of Edgar’s from this time are available to view online via our catalogue, as part of our WW1 digitisation project. Although not available to read online, this series of papers contains a very moving story about Edgar’s experience in Palestine, including how he spent Christmas Day 1917 (ref: D5063/3/2).

After the war, Edgar resumed his career in librarianship, becoming County Librarian of Derbyshire at the age of just 33. During this time, he introduced new services, such as mobile libraries, and developed his own interests in literature, especially in children’s books – an interest featuring heavily in his archive collection, which also includes Edgar’s diaries written during World War Two and papers relating to his retirement in 1954.

Advent Calendar – Day 23

Not many doors left now…

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Derbyshire Archaeological Journal, Vol. 1 (1879) available in Book Room 1

Published in January 1879, the first volume of the Derbyshire Archaeological Journal included

  • an article on the ‘Inscription on the Font at Chelmorton’, by C. S. Greaves, Q.C., M.A.;
  • two articles by J. Charles Cox on ‘The Registers, and Churchwardens’ and Constables’ Accounts of the Parish of Repton’ and ‘The “Mortuary Chapels” of Lichfield Cathedral’;
  • ‘An Account of the Ring of Bells now in the Tower of the Church of All Saints, Derby’ – now better known the Cathedral;
  • ‘A List of the “Alehouses, Innes, and Tavernes” in Derbyshire in the Year 1557’, by W. H. Hart, F.S.A.
  • an article by Rev. J. Magens Mello, M.A., F.G.S. on ‘Palaeolithic Man at Creswell’.

The most recent volume (number 134) now available at the Record Office was published in 2014 and includes articles such as ‘Prehistoric Rock Art, Dobb Edge, Baslow’, by John Barnatt; ‘Archaeological Investigations at Bakewell Churchyard and Hassop Road Roundabout, Derbyshire’, by Alvaro Mora-Ottomano and ‘A Hardwick Scandal of the early seventeenth century: William Cavendish, Lady Arbella Stuart, and the Case of Margaret Chatterton’, by Timothy Raylor.

The Society itself was ‘founded in 1878 as an archaeological and natural history society to foster and encourage interest in the past life and natural history of the county. Though natural history has been taken over by other societies, the Society has widened its archaeological and historical work in response to new needs’ – extracted from Derbyshire Archaeological Journal Vol 134 (2014).

The Society’s extensive Reference Library is stored at Derby Central Library, and a large collection is preserved here at the Record Office (ref: D369). The collection includes the Society’s Council and committee minutes from 1874; accounts 1927-1981; correspondence, 1885-1958; archaeological reports and plans 1940s-1960s; publications, 1950s -1970s, and miscellaneous title deeds and a large number and variety of papers, prints, maps and photographs.

More information about the Society is available on their website –

Advent Calendar – Day 22

Have you finished work yet? We’re still open for another two and half days so come by and find out more about some of the items featured behind our Advent doors…

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‘A Collection of Hobgoblins’ by George M. Woodward, featuring ten grotesquely caricatured figures, 25 Feb 1796 (Ref: D5459/2/6)

22. D5459-2-6 A Collection of Hobgoblins by George M Woodward 1796

D5459/2/6 A Collection of Hobgoblins


George Murgatroyd Woodward was baptised in Hackney, London, in 1767, but grew up in Stanton by Dale, where his father, William, was land agent to Earl Stanhope of Chevening. William Woodward was required to travel frequently in the course of his work as he was also responsible for overseeing the Earl’s estates at Holsworthy in Devon, and Hoggeston in Buckinghamshire. Until 1787 the family also had a house in London, first at 115 High Holborn, then from 1783, at 30 Carey Street, Lincoln’s Inn Fields.

As early as 1782 Woodward was helping his father with his work, carrying letters, and running errands. By 1787 he was working on the Earl’s estates in Buckinghamshire, overseeing the unsuccessful prospecting for coal. He resigned his position with Earl Stanhope in 1791, embarking on his career as caricaturist. He died on 5 November 1809 at the Brown Bear Tavern, Bow Street, Covent Garden.

Woodward’s artistic talents were apparently evident at a young age, according to his father ‘he used to draw before he could speak plain’. His earliest drawings are mostly humorous scenes of everyday life, and caricature portraits. Between 1782 and 1787 he drew a series of portraits of actors in Shakespearean roles, as well as a number of depictions of the earliest balloon flights.

Woodward’s first prints were published at the family’s London home in Lincoln’s Inn Fields in 1785. By the time he resigned from his position with Earl Stanhope in 1791, he had already produced work for several London publishers, notably Holland and Fores.

Because he was untrained as an artist, Woodward always relied on other artists to transfer his designs on to copperplates for printing. In the 1790s he collaborated with the young artist Richard Newton on a number of prints for the publisher William Holland. There are no examples of that work in the collection, but there many examples of the work he did in conjunction with Thomas Rowlandson for the publisher Rudolph Ackermann. This work includes several humorous series such as the ‘Horse Accomplishments’ and ‘Journals’ and ‘Prayers’, and also a collection of decorative borders. From 1807 Woodward began producing designs for Tegg’s ‘Caricature Magazine’. The quality of these prints is far lower than that of those published by Ackermann, and the subject matter is often somewhat coarser. Woodward also collaborated frequently with Isaac Cruikshank, father of the famous Victorian caricaturist George Cruikshank.

The Woodward collection in the archives at DRO consists of 276 are prints, 169 drawings, 2 pen and ink sketches and 47 pencil drawings. Of the 276 prints, 56 are by artists other than Woodward. There is reason to believe that the archive contains one or more editions of Tegg’s ‘Caricature Magazine’, to which Woodward contributed work. This would explain the large number of prints by other artists, and why a number of the prints by Woodward are reissues, published after his death.

As well as an artist, Woodward was also a writer, and he wrote and illustrated a number of humorous works, several of which are also held here at the Derbyshire Record Office (D6052).

The full catalogue for the D5459 collection is available via the online archives catalogue and includes downloadable copies of the images too.

Festive visit from Cycling Santa

We’re quite an environmentally friendly bunch here at the Record Office. Plenty of staff walk to work, a few use the train or bus, two people regularly cycle, and there’s the odd car share.  This frees up lots of car parking for visitors which may otherwise be taken up by staff cars. In addition, we also have cycle parking, for those of a two wheeled pedalling persuasion.

So as we have been so good and ‘green,’ this year, we were therefore very pleased to have a special visit from a VIP. Cycling Santa, from the Sustainable Transport Team at County Hall dropped in, and was especially impressed that he could park his bicycle and have a bit of a rest from his delivery rounds. He has promised to visit when he is less busy so he can find out about Derbyshire’s history, so we look forward to seeing him again. As you can see from the pictures he has slimmed down considerably due to his cycling regime. He did say this also means he can eat more mince pies without feeling it on his waistline like he used to! For anyone concerned about the reindeer, please be reassured that they are happily in retirement. Cycling Santa wishes all visitors and staff at the Record Office a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.


Advent Calendar – Day 21

Just a few days to go…

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Auntie Grace’s wartime Xmas cake, found loose inside the recipe book of Florence (Florie) Bednall, temp. World War Two (Ref: D3269/F/2/1).

There may just be some time to whip this cake together if you fancy it. Here is the ingredients list as it appears in Florie’s recipe book (transcript of the recipe below).


The Recipe:

  • Sift flour spices & carb soda.
  • Warm a basin & cream well the butter & sugar with the hand. (The whole cake should be mixed with hand. This is much better and quicker than using a wooden spoon).
  • Beat well in one egg at a time, then the glycerine. If there is any danger of the mixture becoming curdled add a pinch of flour (or beat in only the yolks afterwards adding the beaten whites separately). Add the treacle & vanilla then the brandy or sherry.
  • Now add the sifted flour & spices then the prepared fruit & nuts. If a little milk is necessary warm it just enough to take off the chill. The mixture should not be too stiff but must be strong enough to hold fruit in place.
  • Fill the cake tins about two thirds full levelling well & bake in a slow oven 3 1/2 to 4 hours.

As always, if you do give this one a go (even if it is next year), do let us know how it went.



Advent Calendar – Day 20

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Derbyshire Parish Registers, edited by WPW Phillimore. and Lt Lt Simpson, often referred to simply as Phillimore’s

Published in 15 volumes this incredibly useful resource (which is available on the open shelves in the Computer Room) provides printed transcripts of marriage records from the earliest extant registers for each of the 75 parishes covered.


Phillimore’s ‘Derbyshire Parish Registers’

As any of you who have used early (i.e. mid 16th to early 18th century) parish registers will know, the handwriting and language you find does not make life easy for family historians – or indeed other researchers searching for information amongst these wonderful volumes. Fortunately, however, there are a good number of transcripts available to speed up the process and help along the way. Some transcripts, such as those by Phillimore, were created for publication; many of the transcripts available (particularly for Derbyshire) have actually been produced by enthusiastic and dedicated volunteers and we are grateful that copies are donated to us to make available to you.

The transcripts can vary in how useful they are (and with a small number being handwritten there can still be issues reading the handwriting occasionally). Some transcripts include merely a chronological list of the main information, some add a little more detail from the registers – if there is any that is – some will provide a name index to help you mop up all occurrences of the name you are looking for. Many transcripts are available in electronic format as well or instead of, which can make finding the information very quick indeed. You may already know that there are a large number of transcripts for Derbyshire parish registers available via the International Genealogical Index (produced and maintained by the Jesus Christ Church of Latter Day Saints), but comprehensive indexes and transcripts for some parishes are also available to search via the PCs at the Record Office.

Nevertheless, whatever transcript you might use, we would always strongly recommend following up that information in the registers themselves. All the transcripts have been made by individuals and are subject to human error, regardless of how diligent the transcriber may have been (and some are certainly more diligent than others). Besides seeing the information as it was actually written, particularly for post-1754 marriages where you are likely to find your ancestor’s signature or ‘mark’, does make the whole process even more rewarding.

Advent Calendar – Day 19

Less than a week to go, not many more doors to investigate now…

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Account of ‘Crismas Boxes’ given to servants of the Chandos-Pole family of Radbourne in 1772 (Ref: D5557/23/2)


Long before the welfare state, individual families would make charitable donations to the less well-off in their household or their parish. Donations might be in cash such as the Christmas boxes from the Chandos-Pole family to their servants (each man receiving 1s). Other records of such Christmas giving include:

  • beef given to local families by Lady Agnes Fitzherbert in 1857 (Ref: D6943/2/1)
  • List of persons receiving Christmas dole (to the amount of 5s 4d), 1880; recorded in the account book of the Little Eaton Churchwardens (Ref: D1293/A/PW 1)
  • Mr Cavendish’s bounty given at Christmas 1900 to the relatives of West Derbyshire men serving in South Africa during the Boer War(Ref: D504/115/12)
  • the poor of Belper each receiving an additional 1s each and 6d per boarded-out child in Christmas week, approved by the Board of Guardians (responsible for the workhouse and provision of out-relief in 1914 (Ref: D19/CW/1/28)

About the Chandos-Pole of Radbourne archive collection: The item behind today’s door is held amongst the archive collection of the Chandos-Pole family of Radbourne (see the D5557 online catalogue for details of other items in the collection). The collection dates from the time of Sir German Pole (died 1634), and includes estate papers,  surveys, rentals and accounts relating to Chandos-Pole properties and interests in Derbyshire. There is also a good series of correspondence, especially for the time of German Pole (1626-1683), who married Anne, daughter of Richard Newdigate of Arbury in Warwickshire.  The correspondents include John Gell (D5557/2/131) and members of the Mundy family (for example, D5557/2/35,36,42,43,45,51).  There are also letters from Barbados (D5557/2/120,126). Furthermore, there are papers of R W Chandos Pole relating to the Derbyshire Imperial Yeomanry and to Mugginton School which was founded by the charity of Rev Samuel Pole and Ann Pole in the 18th century.

About the family: Sir German Pole served against the Spanish Armada and was made a Knight Banneret for his services in Ireland.  The surname Chandos was assumed by Sacheverell Pole in 1807 as representative of Sir John Chandos.  The family estate based at Radbourne included lands in Barton Park, Dalbury Lees, Littleover, Barlborough, Mercaston and Brailsford in Derbyshire, and Hanbury in Staffordshire.