Sir John Franklin’s signature

After the disappearance of Sir John Franklin in 1845 his wife, Lady Jane Franklin, was inundated with requests for copies of his signature. She responded by cutting out his signatures from letters he’d sent and posting these to the grateful collectors.  The damage this did is immediately obvious in this example, a letter Sir John wrote to his sister, Hannah Booth, in 1833:

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The severity of the damage however only becomes apparent when you view the letter on a light box:


All the sharp cuts show where a knife went through the paper – we can’t be sure these slashes were made when the signature was removed, but as they don’t occur on any of the other letters it’s reasonable to assume the two are linked.

The letter has now been repaired and is ready for one of our volunteers to read.

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Adopt a whole collection!

We’ve made it even easier this year to give one of our Adopt a Piece of History certificates as a Christmas present: it’s now possible to adopt a whole archive collection.  For still only £35 you could let someone adopt the archive of Calke Abbey, our Woodward cartoons collection, the records of a school or parish, the Franklin archive – even all our railway plans!  Just have a look on our catalogue or email us at if you can’t quite find what you’re looking for.

piece of history cert 000001

Of course there are also still our 50 Treasures which can all be adopted for only £20 each and if you feel like splashing out take a look at our £50 option, which allows you to become part of the record office’s official archive.  See our Adopt a Piece of History page for all the details and an order form.

All adoptions directly benefit our collections as they help pay for specialist packaging materials, so a great big thank you from the Conservation Team to all our Adopters out there!

Nellie Kirkham: archives of busy local historian

This post about the arrival of the Nellie Kirkham collection is almost three years old. I was saddened yesterday to read on the PDMHS Facebook page of the death of Dave Williams. Dave is pictured mid-way down the post, on the day he deposited the Kirkham material. He will be much missed.

Derbyshire Record Office

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 traysTwo 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…

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What do you have about dwarves in Norse Mythology or the future colonisation of space?

These are just two of the themes I have been looking into yesterday as part of a visit from students at the University of Derby doing a Creative Writing degree. This has now become an annual visit that challenges me every time to come up with items from the collections to inspire and inform the students, as part of an introduction to the opportunities for supporting their work that can be found amongst the archives.

Two of the students had been in touch in advance to advise what their interests were and what they were currently working on. There have been struggles in past years in identifying a selection of documents related to the students’ interests and current projects but when this year I received an email referring to “representations of Dwarfs in Norse myth and perhaps other representations of dwarfs or dwarf-like humans in folklore” and “space, future planet colonisations”. Fortunately, the latter also included a reference to “accounts of colonisation of British colony’s in the words of eye-witnesses”, which is much more what we might expect amongst our collections given the official roles undertaken by a number of Derbyshire gentry in the 18th-20th century (see in particular the Fitzherbert connection in the West Indies;- Gell family in South Africa;- Wilmot-Horton in Ireland and elsewhere).

After an ill-advised search in  the catalogue for ‘space’, which primarily turned up records relating to graveyard spaces, I tried terms such as planet, Mercury, Venus, Mars, solar, lunar, astronomy, etc. which was a little more successful. Knowing the relationships of Derbyshire personalities with The Lunar Society, and of John Flamsteed of Denby, some terms were less successful than I hoped. I also already knew that we had a couple of collections relating to the Rocketry department at Rolls Royce (see D4907 and D5290), so the selection also included a few drawings and lecture notes.  However, I was thrilled to find a reference to the Mars Colony Project of the 1960s amongst papers of the Derby Group of the British Interplanetary Society (ref: D317).  Fortunately, the student in question was also very pleased and fascinated with the selection, learning that whilst the US had plans to colonise the moon, the British (and European) aim was for the colonisation of Mars – obviously neither got very far!

Putting together a selection relating to dwarves and Norse mythology required a little more abstract thinking. Whilst Derbyshire is full of its own myths, legends and folklore, they don’t tend to contain many references to dwarves or Norse traditions. Based on my extremely limited knowledge of such fantasy fiction (primarily as a result of repeated viewings, though never readings, of the Lord of the Rings) the obvious Derbyshire connection was to mining (lead especially) and caving, and mountains. The resulting selection included;-

  • photographs of various Derbyshire lead mines and caves, notably Peak Cavern at Castleton which is particularly famous for Blue John (e.g. D4959, D1502, D869 and a large number from the local studies library, also available on Picture the Past)
  • an 18th century copy of civil war era lead mining customs and laws (D7676/Bagc/550)
  • a recipe for “spring mountain wine” (D307/H/28/1) – although the catalogue entry had read ?strong, which might have been more dwarf-like
  • several illustrations and caricatures by George Murgatroyd Woodward (1767-1809) of Stanton-by-Dale (ref: D5459).

The group were also fascinated by the people in the Victorian asylum admissions register and what their stories were (ref: D1658/1/5), a Great Seal of Charles I granting a pardon to Francis Leeke in 1639 after he purchased land without permission, (ref: D315/1) and an illustration of woman who grew four sets of horns (ref: D303/30/7). Other students spent time using the online catalogue to search for items relating to Irish immigration and seafaring, and made plans to come back during normal opening hours to pursue their own interests and research.

I look forward to hearing and reading what they come up with. It was good to hear from their lecturer that after last year’s visits one of the students who was interested in pirates on the high seas wrote a book partly inspired by records she consulted at DRO particularly relating to an individual who chased pirates across the seas – unfortunately I don’t have any details of the records she consulted, but we do hope to add a copy of the published book to our Local Authors collection in due course.

A Bolsover matchmaker?

As I promised at the end of last week, here is another happy outcome from The Art of Letter Writing project.

When the residents of Fulleylove Court retirement housing complex in Bolsover visited the record office I was delighted to get talking with Yvonne who mentioned that she had letters from her grandfather dating from 1901. For years she had been wondering what to do with these letters and, seeing the work the record office can do with such material, she kindly donated them to us.

The letters are a glimpse into the lives of Yvonne’s grandfather, George Henry Mason, his wife Sarah Ann and their small daughter Midgie (also Sarah Ann).

George was a butcher from Bolsover and the family lived next door to their shop which was situated in the Market Place, now The Pump Tea Rooms. George was writing home from Buxton where it appears he was receiving treatment for sore legs and ankles.  In his letters he makes reference to taking baths and receiving water treatments.

From these letters we can tell how much he cared for his family and how keen he was to return to the business, which was being looked after by his father-in-law while George was away. He gives his opinion on Buxton which he finds very expensive “Buxton is the dearest place that ever I was in my life…

Mason envelope

Within one letter I found a small scrap of paper with a most amusing note of romantic advice for Richard, who may have been a relative or friend of George and Sarah Ann:

“Tell Richard there is a young widow at Buxton (Butcher) grand Front[?] shop, doing plenty of business, I have seen her in the shop once.

Good Looking tell him

plenty of Money”

Mason note

Sadly, we don’t know if Richard ever pursued this wealthy widow!

A huge thank you to Yvonne for donating these letters to the record office.

A ditty of thanks for The Art of Letter Writing project

Back in February you may recall that I blogged about my visit to Ashgate Hospice in Chesterfield. The visit was for The Art of Letter Writing Project which I have been working on in conjunction with Junction Arts, the Chesterfield based arts charity.

The project celebrates the art of the letter and looked at historical letters (which is where the record office came in), the participants’ own letters from home, and the art of illuminated letters.

Over the summer I also visited residents of Caroline Court in Hope, and Granby House in Bakewell, and residents of local sheltered housing schemes in Hulland Ward. I took along a selection of letters from our collection, which included letters from a Chesterfield soldier writing home from the First World War; letters from a ladies maid working at Chatsworth in 1805; letters from badly behaved school boys in Derby writing to their headmaster seeking forgiveness for ‘bad deeds’, and a letter from students at a Derbyshire sixth form college writing to Sir George Bernhard Shaw complimenting the famous writer on his neat handwriting.

The letters sparked conversations, memories and anecdotes, inspiring participants to hunt out their own letters from family and loved ones and share them with the group.

For the fourth session the residents of Fulleylove Court in Bolsover visited the record office and shared stories of their own childhood memories of the Secord World War. One lady and I chatted about the experiences of soldiers in the First World War compared to those of service men and women today, her son being a Royal Marine.

One participant, Sylvia, was so taken with the sessions that she wrote a wonderful poem which sums up the project to a tee!

We gather round the table

With letters on our mind.

Little gems from long ago

Hopefully we will find.

Documents and papers

All from ages past

Need saving from oblivion

Preservation will make them last.


News of foreign travel

Thoughts from overseas.

Some written in the trenches

With water up to knees.

Serving girls complaining

Employers all so grand.

Of France she is quite scathing

It’s not the promised land.


Illuminated lettering once an ancient art

Some doubted they could do it

But everyone took part.

We admired each others efforts

Hidden talents to the fore.

And if you were to ask us,

We would like to do some more.


The poets entertained us

with stories from Carr Vale.

Characters who lived there

Some beyond the pale.

Long forgotten happenings

Some designed to stun,

Read with tongue in cheek

It added to the fun.


I have gained a lot of pleasure

With visits to the Court.

How could I say thank you?

So I gave it some thought.

I’m sorry it’s all ending

It really is a pity

And to say a big thank you

I wrote this little ditty.  


I’ll be posting next week about another unexpected outcome of the project, so look out for that!