Have you heard the one about the woman who lived on a tram?

Few virtual postbags can be quite as varied as our regular slew of email enquiries – this one’s a belter.  Val Howels of Devon has written to ask if we have any information on “the indomitable Miss Florence Sharpe”.  Val asks for the best and noblest of reasons – she is writing a children’s book.  The book is set to be a true story about the life of a woman who really did live on a tram, for a number of years (specifically, Chesterfield Tram No. 7).  Florence herself died in 1982 at the age of 90 – so what the author would like most of all would be the chance to chat to any relatives, who might be able to pass on any informative snippets.  Florence was the sister-in-law of a Mr Harry Cocking, who owned the tram before his death in 1949.  Are there any surviving members of the Sharpe or Cocking families who would be able to help?  If so, please email record.office@derbyshire.gov.uk and we will put you in touch with Val.

It’s always nice to have something to illustrate a blog post, so here’s a link to a YouTube clip filmed on board Chesterfield Tram No 7 at Crich Tramway Village.




The Record Office is Accredited!

archive-accred-weblogoWe’re celebrating here because Derbyshire Record Office is now officially an Accredited Archive Service.  If you are an archive user (and if you read this blog, then you are) then you may not be very aware of the Archive Service Accreditation  Standard.  It’s a relatively new standard and archive services that hold public records (like hospital or court records) all have to be Accredited by 2017.

So what does it mean to be Accredited?  Well in the words of The National Archives, who run the Accreditation scheme,

Accredited archive services provide a high level of service to their users, preserve their collections in line with national standards and are robust, sustainable services which plan and deliver ongoing improvement.

Becoming Accredited involved taking a good hard look at the service we provide, thinking about what we do well and what needs to improve.  There was a hefty online form to fill in, and finally, a small group of assessors came to visit, talk to staff, check that we can back up our statements with real documents (like our disaster plan and the truly enormous staff manual!) and get a sense of what the service is really like.  It’s thankfully a very pleasant and friendly visit – nothing like I imagine an OFSTED inspection would be, for instance.

Going through the Accreditation process is hard work for all (including the assessors) but a very helpful exercise and it’s great to get an external assessment of how we’re doing.  The assessors particularly praised our bright and welcoming public spaces, and the ways we try and share our collections with everyone, including through this very blog.

Being Accredited doesn’t mean we rest on our laurels, as there is always room for improvement, but it’s good to know that we are heading in the right direction.  Huge thanks go to all the staff at the Record Office for helping to prepare the Accreditation application, and for all the hard work, ideas and dedication that go into making us a service worthy of Accreditation.

We’re the first archive service to be Accredited in Derbyshire, but we don’t intend to be the last.  Accreditation is open to all sizes of service, including volunteer-run archives.  We’ve already been talking to one such group about how we can support them to become Accredited so if you’re involved with an organisation that keeps archives, do think about having your service externally recognised through Accreditation.

If your organisation might be interested, more information about the standard is available on The National Archives’ website.  Don’t worry that you’ll be assessed as if you were a large service like ours (with a 200 page staff manual.  I think perhaps we need to cut that down a little…).  The assessment is scaled down for smaller services, and if it looks a bit daunting, don’t panic!  Get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to provide some advice to get you started.


Discovering Ilkeston

Yesterday morning I visited Ilkeston Library to deliver a new workshop  introducing people to the various sources available for researching the history a Derbyshire building. It was a quiet session, with only two in attendance – though one had travelled all the way from Aston on Trent which took me quite by surprise!

With the opportunity to handle examples of all the original sources we talked about, learning how to use the record office catalogue and discussing more specific aspects of the research each was undertaking (one doing a history of their own house, the other looking more generally at their street and surrounding area, including a former laundry and former chapel), it was a very interesting and enjoyable session all round.

So what did we look at? There are a number of key sources we would always recommend consulting whichever part of Derbyshire you are researching – not all of these sources exist for all parts, though these are the ones you are most likely to come across either at the record office, your local library or elsewhere. There is one very useful source not mentioned below, and this is the tithe map and award as there was never one created for Ilkeston                                                                                                                         title deeds … enclosure map and award … land values map and domesday book c1910 … photographs … electoral registers … sale catalogues … building plans … local publications … official town guides … rate books … local authority records … (click an image for more information)

We also looked at the census – available to access for free at your local Derbyshire library – and talked about newspapers available across the county.

Many of the sources we used during the session were picked somewhat at random purely as an example of what was available, but the stories we found we really quite fascinating – I can’t go into details now, though I do hope to be able to do so very soon.

If you want to find out more about doing a building history, we will soon be publishing a series of new research guides on our website, including three guides relating to building history. We will also be re-running this introduction to sources for building history in the coming months so keep an eye out for more information in the next Events brochure. In the meantime, do contact us for more advice if you want to get started now.



Joseph Waterfall – Poet of the Peak with ability

Do you ever get side-tracked by a subject while researching another? Most of us have at some point! This is probably one of the strangest and most interesting ‘distractions’ I have encountered. As part of a future exhibition about cycling, I have been searching through the Record Office for interesting bicycle-related items. During a thorough search of the Local Studies card index catalogue,  I came across a reference to ‘Waterfall, J Poems (broadsheets) published by J Waterfall 1890s.’

Card Ref Waterfall

It turned out to be a large book of printed poems and articles about Bakewell and the surrounding area, by a gentleman called Joseph Waterfall. His writings are entertaining and interesting in themselves, but the book also revealed an amazing insight into the author’s life, which raises many questions. We live in a day and age where it’s easy to be sceptical, and this story really is sometimes quite hard to believe.

According to the available information about him, Joseph was born in Maidstone, Kent, without the use of his legs and with limited use of his arms and hands.  He was born of poor parents, had no education, and in addition to doing some shoe shining, mainly lived off parish relief due to his disability. He spent the last years of his life in an almshouse in Bakewell. He would cut out the letters of his articles and poems from old papers and place them on a sheet where they would then be printed.

Cut and Paste

These ‘broadsheets’ were sold for a penny to supplement his income, until he tragically died in a fire in his almshouse, in 1902.  This was apparently reported in a local Bakewell newspaper. His story is so unbelievable even a film or book about it probably couldn’t do it justice! This is a letter from a lady who bought one of his broadsheets:

A Letter

Having reached this point I decided to see what would happen if I searched for Joseph on the internet.  This turned up a published document (I am unable to provide a link but the search terms I used were “Joseph Waterfall Bakewell”) that a Mr David Trutt, from Los Angeles, California had written, called ‘Joseph Waterfall Poems: The Poet of the Peak.’ It appears he had been inspired by the author during a visit to the Local Studies library in Matlock in 2007, while researching Haddon Hall poetry. His interest was such that it prompted him to look at census records, parish registers and newspapers about Joseph. He obviously spent a great deal of time looking for information about him, and it’s extremely fortunate that he published this research. In Mr Trutt’s words:

“The poems and unusual life story of Joseph Waterfall were found by chance.

The editor has found no reference to Joseph Waterfall in books about Bakewell or

Derbyshire; and is loath to allow this information, which surfaced by chance, to

once again disappear.”

Having done a quick search of the Record Office online catalogue it appears that there is a little bit more information about him (which I will definitely be pursuing, along with the newspaper report!)

In the meantime here are some of his articles and poems.  If anyone has any further information about this incredible story please get in touch!

Remarkable Places and EventsQueen VictoriaDorothy's FlightChristmas

Oh, by the way, after realising I had been (gladly) waylaid by his story, yes, there was a poem in there about cycling that he wrote, which I hope will be appearing in our forthcoming exhibition!

Commissioned Officers… or Conscientious Objectors?

A First World War era photograph from our collections has thrown up an intriguing question… is this a group photograph of conscientious objectors in Breaston?


Picture the Past reference: DCRO100730

The photograph comes from collection D4978 ‘Breaston and Long Eaton Historical Notes’.  Our catalogue entry for this photograph reads simply: ‘”COs” Group’, c.1910, and when the photograph was put onto the Picture the Past website the “COs” were assumed to be Commissioned Officers.

This interpretation has now been challenged by a couple of Picture the Past’s users (including an expert on conscientious objection),  and there’s certainly good evidence to support the suggestion that they are conscientious objectors.  If they were commissioned officers, wouldn’t they be in uniform?  And why are some of the men holding what looks like newspaper front pages?  Might these be copies of ‘The Tribunal’, a paper published by the Non-Conscription Fellowship?

On the other hand, why is there a man in uniform on either side of the group?  They look like part of the group, not prison guards.  Were they objectors taking a non-combative role?  Many conscientious objectors became ambulance drivers, for instance, but these two men aren’t wearing red cross arm bands.

If anyone can solve the mystery, please leave a help us out by leaving a comment below…

Nothing but Nuns!

Index of Nuns

Following hot on the heels of the Record Office appearance at Derbyshire County Council’s International Women’s Day is a female-focused addition to the Local Studies Collection. It’s a searchable Index of Nuns from the Catholic Family History Society on CD.

It lists records of approximately 14,000 nuns who professed later than 1795, with information about their parents, birth, religious name, profession and death. It should provide a fascinating and useful reference to anyone who might be researching their family history and knows there might have been a nun in the family!

Fantastic females

First of all may I wish you a very happy International Women’s Day!  As I write I am taking part in an event celebrating women at Derbyshire Council Council’s headquarters here in Matlock.

The line up for the afternoon features talks on women, by women, on subjects such as life and work.  We’ll be joined later by the Leader of Derbyshire County Council, Anne Western, who will be followed by a performance from the Workvoice Choir (I also see a belly dancing lesson on the itinerary – but I’ll gloss over that).

I have come along to represent the record office and all the amazing and inspirational collections we hold featuring and relating to women – some famous names and those not so well known.  I’ve brought with me the letters patent of Bess of Hardwick, which granted the building of almshouses in Derby in 1597, right through to the letters of Florence Nightingale 1876-1890 and newspaper reports of the Derbyshire Women’s Action Group, who set up relief centres in Chesterfield in support of the miners during the strikes of 1984-85.

International Women's Day sml

Judith Greenhalgh, Women’s Champion and Strategic Director, has just given us a fascinating talk on the history of International Women’s Day, which celebrates its 100 year anniversary this year.  Did you know that rallies held for International Women’s Day in Russian during 1917 played a major part in starting the Russian Revolution?

The event has barely started and already I have had gasps from attendees, much along the lines of “Wow – Florence Nightingale actually wrote this and I’m allowed to touch it!!”.  Such enthusiasm for our collections so early on bodes well for a great event!