The Pentrich Rebellion – Bicentenary commemorations

What do Napoleon Bonaparte, the French Revolution, an Indonesian volcano and Derbyshire framework knitters have in common? They all played their part in one of the first truly working class rebellions in British History.

This June marks the bicentenary of the Pentrich Rebellion.

In April 1815 Mount Tambora in Indonesia erupted. This volcanic eruption was one of the most powerful in recorded history and resulted in two years of poor harvests, due to sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere preventing sunlight from reaching the earth’s surface. Sir Henry FitzHertbert of Tissington Hall wrote in his dairy, which forms part of the FitzHerbert family papers held at the record office:

This was the worst year which was ever recollected. The Spring was most severely cold, the snow falling as late as the 7th of June; and there was no grass till the end of June.”

As a result harvests failed and people could not produce bread to feed themselves or their families.

British soldiers returning from the Napoleonic Wars found an economic crisis at home and very few jobs to return to. Due to the Industrial Revolution new trades were emerging, demanding new skills, served by semi-skilled factory workers. Demand in some long established crafts decreased and many craftsmen lost their livelihood. Nowhere were the changes more marked than in the East Midlands, traditional home of framework knitting.

Unrest was growing. The success of the French Revolution led to the spread of revolutionary ideals across much of Europe. This brought fresh fears to the British monarchy and landowning classes, who stamped down on and severely punished any opposition to their authority.

It was within this atmosphere of unrest that on the night of 9th June 1817 men from villages on the Derbyshire-Nottinghamshire border, including Pentrich, South Wingfield and Alfreton, set out to march to Nottingham. They believed they were part of a general rising across the North and Midlands to bring down the unjust and oppressive government.  They were met, however, by military forces, who had known about the uprising thanks to a network of government spies, sent all over the country to uncover rebel plots.  The punishment was severe; for some, such as rebel leader Jeremiah Brandreth, it meant death, for others transportation to Australia.

There is, of course, much more to the story so come along to the record office to delve deeper into this fascinating aspect of Derbyshire’s history. We are holding an exhibition featuring original material from the time which runs from the beginning of June until the end of September.

Or why not join us at the Bicentenary Commemorative Day event being held by the Pentrich and South Wingfield Revolution Group, which takes place this Saturday (10th June) at the Social Club in South Wingfield.  We‘ll be there from 1pm till 5pm with lots of information on our collections and services, along with some original archive material taken from our exhibition.

For more information on the Bicentenary Commemorative Day see the Pentrich and South Wingfield Revolution Group’s website

No time to watch the grass grow

Here I am at the Chesterfield and District Family History Society Open Day at the Proact Stadium, home of Chesterfield football club, but there is no time to turn around and enjoy my rather impressive view of the stadium.

With around 35 stalls the event is proving a great success and enquiries into DRO collections and services are flooding in.

We attend this event every year along with many family history societies and local history organisations.  This year the theme is Crime & Punishment, so I have given those attending a rare treat and brought along one of the favourites from our collections – the volume of criminal portraits from 1888.  It doesn’t get out much as at nearly 130 years old it’s showing its age, but I thought it was worthy of an outing just this once.

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Accompanying the volume is the almost compulsory parish register (I never attend a family history event without one!). This example is the very earliest register for St Mary & All Saints Parish in Chesterfield, dating from 1558 to 1634, and is one of the best surviving examples of a plague era register in the country.

Some Calendar of Prisoners have also come along and feature very interesting and sometimes unexpected crimes, including Nathaniel Walters, 65, who on the night of 23rd July 1849, at Ripley “feloniously stolen two hives containing honey and bees” and Henry Widdowson, 29, who on the 15th day of August 1849 at Killamarsh, “feloniously and fraudulently milked a cow.”

Wonderful stuff.

Here are a few more examples of photographs from the Volume of Criminal Portraits.  At the beginning of the volume there are examples of professional portraits by photographers operating in Chesterfield – the two I have found are Seaman & Sons and S. Whiting.  The volume provides a wonderful opportunity to study the development of criminal photography as the style changes from traditional portraiture to, what appears to be, more functional and taken by the police themselves?  As we move through the volume we see examples of prisoners with and without their hat, holding slates with their details written on , handcuffed to police officers, showing hands (so show any missing fingers or scars etc), with mirrors attached to their shoulder – an early example of taking a profile shot, and not to mention the occasional nonchalant pose.

Want to look through all the images in the volume?  Visit us and ask for the Volume of Criminal Portraits ref. D3376/OS/7/1 – to protect the original we have scanned it in it’s entirety so you’ll use the CD version.