Derbyshire Coat of Arms

As we are using the opportunities of lockdown to convert old catalogues and resources into a digital format, I thought I would include this information about the Derbyshire coat of arms – the notes appear to have been written by Miss Sinar, the first County Archivist for Derbyshire, in the 1960s or 1970s.  I have re-typed almost word for word.

Derbyshire County Council were granted their current arms on 17 September 1937.  Until then the Council had used for its seal (on the advice of J. Charles Cox at its establishment in 1889), the old county badge of a rose with an imperial crown above it.  The imperially crowned rose is a royal device reserved for use by the crown or reigning monarch and those who have received the crown’s permission to use it.

John Reynolds of Plaistow, an 18th century antiquarian, wrote in 1750 that Edward IV granted the badge of the rose to Derbyshire and Charles II permitted the county to use his own device of a crowned rose – Charles II like his father and grandfather actually used a rose and a thistle beneath a crown.  The red and white Tudor rose imperially crowned was worked into the initial H on a number of Henry VIII’s charters.

Cox claims that Derbyshire was using the imperially crowned rose in the early 16th century and that Henry VIII or even Henry VII must have given permission.  Neither Plaistow nor Cox produce any evidence to support their claims and no-one really knows when and why Derbyshire began to use the rose or when and why the imperial crown was added.

The old badge was not authorised by the College of Arms, and when in the 1930s the County Council needed a new seal, it was decided to seek a grant of arms.  The Heralds could not use the crowned rose in the arms because no royal grant of the right to use it could be traced.  So a rose of the same type above a buck in a park was suggested.  Several towns in Derbyshire use a buck as their badge and the buck in the park is the old heraldic pun on Derby – a Scandanavian name which probably means the farm of the deer.  Deer were in fact plentiful in early medieval Derbyshire for many places have names associated with deer: Derby, Darley, Buxton, Hindlow, Harthill, Hartshay, Hartshorne (but not Hartington).

The council did not like the suggested design and asked the Duke of Devonshire, then Lord Lieutenant, if they might use the three stags heads from his arms.  There were two reasons – the three stags heads and the rose made a better balanced and more attractive design, and the Cavendish family have a long history in the county, both as land owners and in public service.  The duke agreed and the present design for the arms was then prepared by the College.

The heraldic description of the arms reads:

Or a rose gules surmounted by another argent both barbaed and seeded proper on a chief stable three stags heads caboshed of the third

County coat of arms 1937

The 1937 coat of arms (from a stamp in one of our library books)

The council also adopted, at the same time the motto: Bene Consulendo, by taking good counsel.  This is part of a phrase of Sallust, a classical Latin author, and is not actually part of the grant of arms.

Following local government reorganisation, the arms were re-granted to the new Derbyshire County Council in 1975 and supporters and a crest were also granted.

Coat of Arms

Coat of Arms granted 1975

The basic coat of arms is that first granted to the County Council in 1937, a Tudor rose with three stags heads above.  The rose was taken from the centuries old county badge, and the stags heads from the Cavendish arms by the permission of the Duke of Devonshire.

The new supporters, a stag and a ram, have special significance for Derbyshire.  Deer are very closely associated with the county, founded by the Danish invaders of the 9th century, who named their first fort, Derby, for the wild deer were so abundant in the area.  Sheep were introduced in the New Stone Age.  They were the foundation of local farming, and later provided the raw materials of the early cloth and leather industry on which many of the county’s towns are based.  The ram was the county’s regimental mascot.

The dragon of the crest, with his plainly turned out metal collar and golden pick, symbolises at once the county’s foundation by the Danes (men of the dragon ships) and also the county’s mining and engineering enterprise.  Dragons traditionally amass underground and guard great mineral wealth.  Derbyshire has mined, quarried and worked its raw materials for centuries to build the heritage of the present and future county.

Anglican ecclesiastical records

A guide to the archives of the Church of England in Derbyshire.

In 1969, Derbyshire Record Office was legally designated by the Bishop of Derby as the Derby Diocesan Record Office and parish records are also deposited under the Parochial Registers and Records Measure 1978.  The office is also approved by the Master of the Rolls for the deposit of tithe records.

The Diocese of Derby was created in 1927.  Prior to this, the whole county was an archdeaconry in the Diocese of Lichfield to 1884 and then in the Diocese of Southwell.

Diocese of Derby

Most the of diocesan records held at Derbyshire Record Office date from the creation of the diocese in 1927, although some series (including glebe terriers and tithe records, ref: D2360) were transferred from the diocesan registers of Lichfield and Southwell.  The records of these dioceses are held at Staffordshire Record Office and Nottinghamshire Archives respectively.

Broadly speaking the diocesan records here at Derbyshire Record Office fall into five categories:

  • Administration including induction papers, reports and files
  • Finance including minutes, accounts and reports
  • Churches and property including minutes, deeds, architect’s files and drawings, glebe terriers and tithe records
  • Education including minutes, reports and accounts
  • Social responsibility including minutes, accounts, reports and case books.

Some early boards created on an archdiaconal basis continued as diocesan organisations and these records are also held.  A list of all the archive collections for the Diocese of Derby can be seen here via our online catalogue.


The basic unit of the Anglican hierarchy is the parish, sometimes with missions or chapels and sometimes united with other benefices or operating as part of a team ministry.  Changing patterns of population led to the creation of many new parishes in urban areas, particularly in the 19th and 20th centuries, some of which have now been amalgamated.  County boundary changes have sometimes been reflected in the transfer of parishes to different dioceses.  

A full list of parish archive collections can be seen here, or search the online catalogue using the place name and word parish in the Title field, and select Fonds as the Level:
Parish Search

Parish records may include:

  • Registers of baptisms, marriages, banns and burials (some as early as 1538), and occasionally services from the late 19th century
  • Faculties and other documents relating to the income of the church and to the church building
  • tithe maps and schedules
  • records of church schools and charities
  • accounts (and occasionally other records) of parish officials – churchwardens, constables/headboroughs, *surveyors of the highways and *overseers of the poor including settlement papers, removal orders, bastardy papers, pauper apprenticeship indentures, some as early the 17th century
  • minutes and other records of the *vestry and later the Parochial Church Council.

*Until 1894, the parish was also a civil administrative unit.

The commencement date of surviving registers and a brief history indicating when each of the non-ancient parishes was created and from which other parish/es can be found in our Parish Register Guide.

Rural Deaneries

When the Diocese of Derby was created in 1927, new archdeaconries of Derby and Chesterfield were established.  Within the archdeaconry, parishes were, and are, organised into rural deaneries.  Clergy within the deanery meet regularly in chapter or conference – no deanery chapter or conference minutes survive before the 1840s. 

A list of the archive collections for rural deaneries can be seen here via our online catalogue.

Presbyterian National Church

Episcopacy (rule of the church by bishops) was abolished in 1646 during the civil war and a Presbyterian national church came into being.  Fully developed, a Presbyterian church would have consisted of four levels of organisation: the congregation or parish presbytery; the clerical assembly (or classis) formed of delegates from the parochial presbyteries within a specific area; the provincial synod; the national assembly.

This system was never fully implemented in England but, in the 1650s, groups of ministers came together to establish “classical” assemblies such as the Wirksworth classis (ref: D125).  Much of its business consisted of the examination and ordination of candidates for the ministry, chiefly, but not exclusively, within the area of Wirksworth Wapentake. When the monarch was restored in 1660, the Church of England was also restored as the established church.


Building control plans

A guide to the history of building control and to the surviving plans at Derbyshire Record Office.

Building plan

In the early Victorian period, outbreaks of disease – especially the cholera epidemics of 1848 – aroused public concern over poor housing and defective drains and sewers. The Public Health Acts of 1848 and 1872, as well as the Local Government Act of 1858 framed important legislation for the evolution of building control.

When building regulation was first introduced in 1848, requiring that all new buildings or alterations to existing buildings were approved, this applied only to those areas covered by the new Local Boards of Health (established in populated areas not covered by Borough Councils) and the existing boroughs. For most parts of the country, building regulations were not established until 1894 under the new Rural and Urban District Councils (replacing rural and urban sanitary authorities established in 1872). 

Note: Building control plans should not be confused with the plans submitted for planning permission since 1948, although sometimes the same plans may have been used for both purposes.

About the records

Registers: of the plans submitted give varying levels of information over time. Typically the register includes the date the plan was deposited, a plan reference number, situation and description of the property, name of the person who submitted the plan and the address of the owner. Very occasionally the name of the builder is given and often the decision of the planning committee. Some, but by no means all, are indexed by street name and/or the property owner.

Plans: the existence of plans varies significantly between authorities, as due to the significant storage space required to house the plans, some files may have been destroyed by the authority or its successor after 1974.  For some authorities, only a selection of the plans have been retained.

Where they survive, the plans are detailed scale plans, usually with elevations, sections and a site plan, and often in colour. They were generally produced by professional architects, surveyors, or occasionally, builders. In the case of alterations to existing buildings, there may be both before and after plans.

The surviving plans are usually part of the building control file that includes a copy of the application form and sometimes additional correspondence about the project.

Unfortunately, registers and plans only survive for a small number of Derbyshire authorities.  Please see our catalogue for a list of pre-1974 authorities where building regulation registers and/or plans have survived.  If the authority is not listed, unfortunately this means no plans or registers have been deposited at Derbyshire Record Office.

Using the records
  1. Unless you already have a good idea of when the property was built (or altered) it is advisable to consult Ordnance Survey maps to help narrow down the date at which the work occurred.  Other sources can also help with this.
  2. Identify the local authority that was responsible for the area in question – we are working on making this information available via our online catalogue. In the meantime, please use this list: derbyshire-place-names-database (Download)
  3. Check our online catalogue to see if any building plans and/or registers survive for that authority – enter the authority name in the Title field (e.g. Chesterfield Rural District Council) and then select ‘Fonds’ from the Level field.  Alternatively, click here for a list of the 31 local authority collections containing building regulation records.
  4. Consult the registers and/or indexes if there are any – this is especially helpful for those collections for which no list of plan numbers is currently available.
  5. We are grateful to our volunteers who have recently catalogued the surviving building plans for a small number of the local authorities. For the remaining authorities, if you have identified a plan number from the register we can check the boxes to see if a corresponding plan survives.  Alternatively, you are welcome to work through the unlisted boxes for a particular authority to see if any relevant files are available.
Research Possibilities

Building control plans can provide useful information on the history of notable buildings, houses, mills, factories, cinemas, new streets, housing estates, and so on.  They can also be used to provide evidence about the development of local landscapes and topography, to examine the relationships between the built environment and public health, to compare different building types and styles, to trace the development of factory design, and as historic data about the influence of individual builders and architects.  Plans can also help in dating modern additions to older properties – particularly the installation of modern utilities and amenities.

Other Building Plans

This guide specifically looks at the records created as part of the local authority building control system from 1848 and planning permission from 1948.   However, other building plans do survive amongst the collections at Derbyshire Record Office, including in the family and estate archives and business archives.  For schools and other public buildings a large number of building plans are held under references D335 and D2200.

Ordnance Survey maps c1880 and c2005, at the 25”:1 mile scale giving sufficient detail to be able to see building shapes. For larger towns, 50”:1 mile scale gives even greater detail.

Other records

As the applications required approval from the relevant committee within each local authority, occasionally some useful information may be found amongst the minutes of that committee.  Check the catalogue list to see what is available for the relevant authority.

Further Reading

For a brief overview of the development of planning regulations, see Riden, Philip (1987) Record Sources for Local History.

Wonderful words

I first came across the word wapentake about 12 years ago when I started working at the record office – I understood that it described an ancient jurisdiction, similar in meaning (though not necessarily in geography) to the district and borough jurisdictions we have today.  I also discovered that the term hundred was also an area delineating a particular ancient jurisdiction.

I am currently reading Viking Britain, a very interesting book by co-curator of the British Museum’s 2014 Viking exhibition, Thomas Williams and actually learned the etymology (origin) of the word: it comes from the Old Norse vápnatak meaning weapon-taking thus telling us about the people (men) who would have attended the meetings from that area, i.e. those who carried weapons (Williams, 2017, p. 222).

This got me thinking about lots of other words that we come across quite regularly at the record office but perhaps just take for granted without thinking about where they come from. So here is a bit of, did you know… as well as some words unfamiliar to the modern vocabulary that favourites amongst our staff.

manuscript – comes from the Latin, manu meaning ‘by hand’ and script meaning ‘to write’

mortgage – a word common in the world outside of historical research, but do you know where the word comes from? Literally meaning ‘dead pledge’, as per the mort in mortuary, and the Old French for pledge gage

frankpledge – a medieval system of self-governance whereby men in groups known as tithings accepted mutual responsibility for the good behaviour of other members of the group. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word itself comes from a mistranslation of the Norman word friϸborh [frithborh] which in turns translates as peace-pledge

wardrobe – did you know that this was also a royal financial institution, evolving out of the role of the keeper of the king’s robes who was also responsible for managing his personal expenses?

hundred – in context of local administration, hundreds, like the wapentake was a subdivision of the shire. First explicitly mentioned around 940 AD but the hundreds with their regular judicial gatherings are undoubtedly earlier.

infangthief: formed from the following components – (1) the adverb in (2) fangen, being the past participle of fon meaning ‘to seize’ and (3) ϸéof meaning ‘thief’. Literally it means “thief sized within”, and in practical legal terms meaning the right of the lord to of a manor to try and to amerce (i.e. fine) a thief caught within the manor. By contrast, outfangthief is the right of the lord to pursue a thief beyond the boundaries of his jurisdiction and bringing him back to the manor court for trial.

roods and perches – historically land was measured in acres, roods and perches (a r p). Whilst we are still familiar with acres today, roods and perches have been lost to posterity. Traditionally, an acre is the area that can be ploughed by eight oxen in one day (the word itself coming from the Latin for field), there are four roods in an acre, and 40 perches in a rood.

messuage – an Anglo-French word originally referring to the portion of land for a dwelling place. It is probable that the word originated from a misreading of mesnage referring to economical management and the verb ‘to husband’

husbandman – husbandry refers to work in the domestic economy, not with respect to the domestic duties we think of today, but rather the agricultural side of domestic life. Husbandman refers specifically to the occupation of those employed in the field of husbandry. Although the original Middle English use of the word does relate more to the management of the household.

hereditament – from the Latin hereditamentum and referring to property that would be inherited by the common law descendent of its owner unless explicitly stated otherwise in a will. This is a common term in early modern and later title deeds, but the specific legal implication may not always be appreciated by its modern reader.

appurtenance – another very common term in title deeds referring to a ‘thing’ or minor property that pertains to another. It comes from the Latin appertinentia, and has equivalents in Middle English and Anglo French.

demesne – historically pronounced de-main, but now usually pronounced de-mean, this word has the same origin as the word ‘domain’ and ultimately comes from the Latin for lord, dominicus. It means the land owned and occupied by the lord rather than being let out to tenants – nevertheless, the work on the land was generally done by his feudal tenants.

nervous – did you see Melanie’s recent post about a letter in the Miller Mundy collection sent two days after the Battle of Trafalgar, which includes the following sentence relating to Admiral Nelson’s message to the sailors before the battle: “The Captains of course turn’d their men up and read the short but nervous sentence to them”. It was pointed out to me that ‘nervous’ did not mean apprehensive (perhaps about the impending the battle), but rather it is the Middle English meaning sinewy, vigorous and strong.

What about place names?  We can’t unfortunately provide a full list here, but here are some of the favourites of record office staff:

Fenny Bentley – meaning boggy grass pasture.

  • Like the Fens, fenny refers to marshy or boggy land
  • ‘bent’ comes from the Old English beonet and refers to ‘grass of a reedy habit’ or to a ‘place covered in grass’
  • -ley is a very common place-name ending meaning pasture

Nearby Hungry Bentley probably relates to the poor quality of the land or possibly the poor food of its inhabitants.

bourne – there are lots of places in Derbyshire and across the country ending with ‘bourne’ and it means small stream or brook. Ecclesbourne then means ‘church by the small stream’. Although it might be tempting to read Ashbourne as referring to a tree by a small stream, ash also means stream so Ashbourne literally means ‘stream stream’.

And did you know that the £ sign evolved from the abbreviated form of the Latin word for pound – libra. Contracted to li with a line through to indicate that it was abbreviated.


Thomas Williams (2017) Viking Britain: a history (link to library catalogue)

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1959)

Kenneth Cameron (1959) Place-Names of Derbyshire

Do you have any favourite words or Derbyshire place names with an interesting origin?

Divorce records

A guide to finding divorce records

The main official record of a divorce is the Decree Absolute, copies of which can be ordered online via the UK Government website.  The earliest of these records is dated 1858.

Up to 1937, case files are held by The National Archives, and can be searched online by the name of petitioner, respondent or co-respondent for divorce suits in England and Wales, both successful and unsuccessful.  The files up to 1918 can be searched and downloaded via Ancestry.

Records available at Derbyshire Record Office

Although the main records of divorce are held centrally, we do hold registers of summary jurisdiction for various Derbyshire Magistrates Courts which include  references to the decree absolutes being granted after 1858.  The registers are arranged chronologically and tend not to be indexed but there aren’t too many divorce entries and they do tend to stand out from the other entries so it doesn’t necessarily have to be too time consuming to identify an entry if you don’t know the date.

Beware: as they contain personal information about individuals who may still be alive, the registers are generally closed to public inspection for 100 years.  We can supply information from the registers dated within the last 100 years to the data subject (i.e. the person to whom the information relates) or when proof is provided that the individual is no longer alive.  See our Data Subjects in Archives Privacy Notice for more information.

A list of the archive collections for Derbyshire magistrates courts can be seen via our online catalogue, including links to a full list of records for each court.

A very small number of deeds of separation and other divorce records are held in some of the family archive collections (including those that are part of solicitors collections) available at Derbyshire Record Office.

Further Reading

See The National Archives guide for more detailed information about records of divorce, including records before 1858.


Tithe maps

A guide to finding and using Derbyshire tithe maps and awards

Tithe maps were created for a large number of Derbyshire parishes between 1836 and 1853, and are a great resource for local, family and house historians as they are large scale maps accompanied by a schedule giving a range of information including showing who owned and occupied land and property in a particular parish at that time.

What are tithes and what is the Tithe Commutation Act?

The tithe was a tax payable to the Church of England calculated as one tenth of annual produce (i.e. crops, goods or livestock).  In 1836 the Tithe Commutation Act attempted to regularise this and commuted the levy into cash payments.  To determine what amount should be paid a tithe award and map were produced.  The total amount paid in tithes for the previous 7 years and rent charges were calculated.  The rent charge was divided among landowners according to the area and quality of the land involved.

Detailed surveys were required as each field had to be precisely measured and cultivation; the surveys were usually carried out by local surveyors with detailed instructions and supervision.  The original strict designs of the maps were relaxed by Parliament, meaning they were not standardised in scale or detail, and the surveys were carried out over a 20 year period, much longer than originally envisaged.

Tithe Maps

The scale of the maps is large, often showing individual buildings in block plan.  The best maps (first class), produced to the original proposals, were detailed and accurate enough for use to prove boundaries, however only 3% of Derbyshire maps are of this quality e.g. Duffield.  The main reason for choosing to produce a second class map was cost, as the landowners had to pay for them.  Scales vary, and some are very irregular, but often one inch to 6 chains was used.  Some of our tithe maps are also very large. Derbyshire tithe maps are considered a good record of woodland and parkland, but give poor detail of agricultural land use, only 2% of Derbyshire maps show actual crops recorded.  Field boundary ownership is not well recorded but the mapping of industrial use is, e.g.  lead, slate, smelting and paper.  Urban areas are often not mapped in detail if at all, but Turnpike roads are often distinguished.

The vast majority of Derbyshire’s tithe maps have been digitised and can be viewed on the public computers at the record office.  Alternatively, we can supply copies via email, please contact us for current costs.  Some maps can also been seen on CD at the relevant local libraries.

Tithe Awards

The accompanying schedule records owner, occupier, name, acreage and state of cultivation (e.g. arable, meadow, coppice, orchard) of each plot.  The entries in the award are arranged alphabetical by owner’s name, so it does take some time to identify the entry for the occupier or the plot number.

Extract from the Ashover tithe award, 1849 (ref: D253/A/PI/22/1)

A small number of tithe awards have been digitised and are available on the record office public computers, along with a small number that have been transcribed by local volunteers.

Tithe Map Coverage

There is a tithe map and award for each parish with land subject to tithe, with the Derbyshire records dating between 1836 and 1853.  Theoretically there are three copies of each map and award, the Parish and Diocesan copies (where they have survived) are held at the record office, with the Tithe Commissioner’s copy held at The National Archives.

This does not include any land free from tithes before the 1836 Act, so there are many places which are not be covered.  Search the online catalogue for using the words tithe map and the place name in the Any Text field.  Glebe land is also omitted and village centres may not be shown.  About 58% of the total area of Derbyshire was subject to tithes in 1836.  In some districts not all of the area was tithable.  The main reasons for exemption were modus, or small customary payments in lieu of the tithe, commutation at enclosure which replaced the tithe with an annual monetary payment, merger of tithes in the land if the owner also owned the tithe and exemption by prescription.

Uses of tithe maps and awards

Tithe maps and awards are particularly useful for village and building history, land use and field patterns, field and building names, property ownership and development.  Every dwelling and field subject to tithe is included on the map with a number that refers to the tithe award. The award records owner, occupier, description, use, acreage and sum payable.

Further Reading
  • Kain, Fry and Wilmot (2011) The Tithe Maps of England and Wales: A Cartographic Analysis
  • Kain and Prince (2000) Tithe surveys for historians
  • Harley (1972) Maps for the local historian: a guide to the British Resources
  • Hindle (1999) Maps for historians
  • Evans and Crosby (1987) Tithes Maps, Apportionments and the 1836 Act: a guide for local historians
  • H.C. Prince (1959) ‘The Tithe Surveys of the Mid-Nineteenth Century’ in Agricultural History Review Vol 7 Issue 1 Pages 14-26.  Back issues of this journal can be accessed online via the British Agricultural History Society website.

Lockdown Stories: How History is Always There

My role as Archives Assistant on the Mining the Seams project has changed rather a lot in the last few months. Before lockdown my main task was to check through a variety of different records donated to us through the Coal Board and creating spreadsheets of information on them ready to add to our catalogues in the future. Since going into lockdown however, it’s felt like forever since I last held an original document and I definitely miss wondering what the next document I come across will be. Now my role mainly involves transcribing compensation forms for claims made by injured miners  and writing up draft colliery histories. Each form has the same information and this can be tedious, I must admit. However, a slight breakthrough with this came yesterday when found a fraudulent claim made by a teenage lad, including a written statement from his father to the Butterley Company (the boy’s employer), admitting his son’s guilt. Unearthing these intriguing stories is what I’ve missed the most, as they make an industrial past that I never knew seem more real and human.

The task that has kept me most sane and you can tell I’ve enjoyed doing the most is writing up blog posts. These are a mixture of ideas that I had before lockdown or at the beginning of lockdown, when I was still focusing more on research. Finding out interesting stories as always been my most favourite thing about history and I always have loved to share them, which is probably why I set up my own personal history blog a couple of years ago. Before I started this role, I must admit that I was never keen on industrial history, but the personal stories I’ve come across make it much more bearable and relatable.

The main one I’ve come across lately, and quite enjoyed, during lockdown are related to Blackwell Miner’s Welfare Football Club. A couple of their players went on to be well known professionals: Willie Foulke was Chelsea’s first ever goalkeeper and Willie Layton went on to be part of Sheffield Wednesday’s FA Cup winning team. There is a blog post on Willie Foulke that will be posted in the future so do look out for that.

Willie Foulke

Photograph of Willie Foulke

I’ve never really liked football myself but one of my cousins did actually play professionally under Brian Clough for a while, until he ended up at Bradford City at the time of the famous fire. This made him leave the game to become a footballer. It’s a tangible link to how football was played just over 100 years ago, but actually some of the footballers then, especially as they were also from a working class background like my cousin, had a very similar personality and drank a lot like him too.

Despite the challenges of working from home, it does give me a much needed sense of routine. I still live at home and my mum is over 70, so we’ve had to be careful at this time. This has been very hard at times, especially when we don’t see much of people other than through a computer screen. Our dog Star has been a good companion though, but every so often though there’s still a ball dropped at your feet or barking at the evil deliveryman or postman. Much to my embarrassment, this has happened some times during conference calls, so apologies to anyone who’s had to witness that!

star (2)

My dog Star

An elderly gentleman who lives on his own across the road from us has become an unexpected contact at this time. He doesn’t usually talk to anyone but after offering to help him with shopping after we finally got some online deliveries, we began to talk over the phone. My dad took over a couple of things for him and the next thing I knew, after a very tough and emotional week dealing with things, he’d sent over about 7 or 8 Royal Doulton figurines of Victorian looking women. He said they were from his late wife’s family and as he had no children of his own or anyone interested in old things, he wanted me to have them. I’ve hardly ever spoken to the man before now as life got in the way and he was usually to be found at the local Welfare Club, didn’t expect this gift at all. I must admit it made me emotional. Now though, we’re sharing print outs of Victorian history with one another.

doulton (2)

One of the Royal Doulton figure

Despite all this, coal seems to be not far behind. When not working or doing other history related things in my spare time, I do enjoy watching TV or catching up on my rather enormous to read pile. No matter what I’m doing, there seems to be mention of either coal or collieries somewhere in all of that, so it’s become a bit of a running joke in the house that it just follows me everywhere. I do play along and make it look as if it annoys me, which it can do sometimes when I just want time to myself, but most of the time, it just reminds me of how much I miss doing my job properly.


A guide to the uses of local newspapers and where to find them (updated Jul 2020).

From the 18th century to the present day, newspapers are an invaluable source of information for family and social historians: births, marriages, deaths, advertisements, crime, coroners’ reports, sports and entertainments, elections, farm and property sales, bankruptcies, disasters, scandals, and the price of fish are all reflected in their pages.

By the end of the 19th century, 94 Derbyshire newspapers had been published and you can read most of them in Derbyshire libraries and/or Derbyshire Record Office.  Click here for a list of the main titles and where you can access them.

Most of titles are on microfilm, apart from very recent issues of current newspapers.  Please contact the relevant library or Derbyshire Record Office in advance to book a microfilm machine, and please let us know if you require a printing facility.   We have a partial index to the Matlock Mercury and The Derbyshire Times from the late 1980s, but most newspapers are not indexed so it will usually be necessary to have a firm date for an event or be prepared to search through the microfilmed newspapers.

Free access to the British Newspaper Archive is available at the record office and all Derbyshire Libraries.  This site includes many local titles including The Derbyshire Times.  You can also search for free and then use the reference given to look the article up on our microfilms.

A word of warning: most of these sites use OCR (Optical Character Recognition), rather than human indexing, so you need to think laterally and use different search terms for the same thing to maximise results.

We also hold files of local newscuttings from the 1960s to 2015 which are currently being digitised, and will soon be available via our onsite computers.

History of the newspaper

The first English “newspaper” was perhaps the “Trewe Encounter” of 1513, reporting on the Battle of Flodden.  Local news pamphlets about unusual events “where it rayned wheat the space of six or seven miles” continued to appear, as did “corantos” of news published abroad, but the Civil War during the 1640s gave the newspaper its first real start, as hunger for news of the struggle combined with greater freedom of the press. Provincial papers began with the Norwich Press in 1701, though stamp duty made newspapers expensive and they were often read in coffee houses rather than bought for reading at home.  Stamp duty continued to restrict expansion until it was repealed in 1855.  Increased literacy, better printing technology, railways and the electric telegraph all powered the growth of national and local newspapers.  Early newspapers contained mainly national and foreign news and very little illustration, but by the late 19th century drawings and even photographs were becoming more common.

Derbyshire newspapers

The first Derbyshire newspaper was the Derby Postman in 1721, followed by the Derby Mercury in 1731.  Chesterfield is well represented by the Derbyshire Times from 1854 and the more radical Derbyshire Courier from 1831.  For early news, check all available county titles; later coverage is both wider and more in-depth, so check the title for a specific area first.  However, not all the local variant editions, for example of the Derbyshire Times, have survived.  It is not always easy to pinpoint the title you will need for a particular town or village, so do ask us for advice if you’re not sure.

Some areas may be better covered by non-Derbyshire titles, for example the Burton Mail for Swadlincote (a good run of which is available at The Magic Attic) or Nottinghamshire papers for the east of the county (see Nottinghamshire’s Inspire Culture) – use the Newsplan database online to find out titles held at libraries across the East Midlands.   The British Library also holds copies of most titles.

What you can expect to find

Apart from births, marriages, and deaths, ancestors are more likely to have “got into the papers” by wrongdoing, or witnessing wrongdoing.  Court cases were reported with relish, especially murders.  Most coroners’ reports only survive in newspapers.  If your ancestor ran a business they may also feature, including advertisements.  Social historians will find the growth of railways and canals, the rise and fall of companies, strikes and many social trends.  Road accidents, war news including deaths, prizes, sporting events and sales of all kinds may be reported.

The official Government newspaper, the London Gazette, contains a wealth of historical information including bankruptcies, and is free to view online.

Further reading
  • Chapman (1993) Using newspapers and periodicals
  • DFHS (2004) A Derbyshire medley: lists of Derbyshire people from newspapers… [CD]
  • Gibson (2011) Local newspapers 1750-1920
  • Gordon (2007) Local newspapers in Derbyshire libraries
  • McLaughlin (2000) Family history from newspapers
  • Murphy (1991) Newspapers and local history
Shocking ancestral find from the Derby Mercury, 23 October 1878

Derbyshire Probate: Wills and Administrations

A guide to locating Derbyshire wills and administrations 

A Will is a legal document by which a person outlines their wishes for how their property and estate should be managed, divided or disposed of after death.

Letters of Adminstration/Admon were granted to an administrator where a person died intestate, i.e. without making a valid will.  The Letters are granted by the court of probate.

Probate is the process by which a will is proved to be legal and valid and confirms that the executor or administrator can begin fulfilling the wishes of the deceased as outlined in the will.

Wills would usually have been proved by the court or registry covering the county where the biggest proportion of property was owned, but is also affected by where the person died and how much their estate was worth.

When searching for or obtaining a copy of a will, it is usually the probate copy that survives, i.e. the copy that has been proved to be legal by the relevant court.  This means it is not the original as dictated or possibly written by the individual, very few of these survive, and without comparison to the probate copy there is no way to know whether it was the final and therefore legally valid will.

Probate before 1858

Before 1858, proving wills and granting letters of administration was an ecclesiastical responsibility.  Derbyshire was not a Diocese in its own right until 1927, but was part of the Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry until 1884 (then the Diocese of Southwell to 1927).  Therefore, most pre-1858 Derbyshire wills are held at Staffordshire Record Office and wills proved in the Consistory Court of Lichfield from c1520 are available online through Find My Past.

Wills of persons holding property in more than one diocese would have been proved in one of the two Prerogative Courts depending on where their property was located.  The Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) wills (including those proved 1653-1660 in a court of civil commission which transacted all testamentary jurisdiction during the Commonwealth) are held at The National Archives.  Many of these wills, including over 1 million from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury can be searched and viewed online:  For information about the wills proved at the Prerogative Court of York, please see the Borthwick Institute website.

A small number of Derbyshire wills before 1858 (usually originals that do not record a note of probate) are available in the archive collections, often amongst bundles of title deeds.  Search the online catalogue, using the ‘AnyText’ field – search for the full name in the first instance, with the parish of residence if necessary.

Derbyshire 1858-1928

Since 1858, proving wills (and granting letters of administration) has been a civil responsibility.  In Derbyshire, this work was carried out by Derby Probate Registry until 1928 when the Derby office was closed.

The Record Office holds the Probate Books which include copies of all the wills proved at the Derby District Probate Registry between 1858 and 1928, and and letters of administration granted to 1875.

Search the online catalogue entering the person’s name in the ‘Any Text’ field and D96/* in the ‘RefNo’ field.  The catalogue entry gives the name of the testator, the year the will was proved (note, this is not necessarily the same as the year of death), place of abode and the total number of pages.  The reference number includes the first page number of the will within the book.  The catalogue entry also includes the reference number for the DVD or microfilm that the will can be viewed on.

UK after 1858, including Derbyshire after 1928

Following changes within the Probate Service in the last few years, all wills and administrations from 1858 are available to search and purchase through This includes all wills from 1858, including for Derbyshire.

Further Reading

The Monocled Mutineer’s early career at Blackwell Colliery

On the 100th anniversary of the death of Percy Toplis, I thought it appropriate to look into the connections he had to the local mining industry. Toplis, better known as the Monocled Mutineer, is a bit of a local celebrity for being an imposter, claiming to be an army officer, being mutineer, deserter and a criminal. With that fairly long list of wrongdoings, it is clear that Toplis was a ‘wrong ‘un’, as we’d say in Derbyshire. It is not known how real the character created by the media at the time, who viewed him as Britain’s most wanted man at the time, actually was. It is clear that he was a troubled soul from an early age.

Having been born to poor parents in Chesterfield who couldn’t afford to keep him, he was passed around family between the Mansfield and Alfreton/South Normanton area. The main guardians for him were his grandparents, who lived in South Normanton. It was here that he went to school and was known to get into trouble often for bullying other children. They cared for him until his first criminal conviction in 1908 for obtaining two suits under false pretences. It was then that his grandparents admitted that they didn’t know what to do with the boy. He was passed on to his Aunt Annie Webster, who lived in Colliery Row, Blackwell.


Photograph of Percy Toplis

His connections with Blackwell Colliery started when he left the school at South Normanton he’d been attending until he reached the age of 13. He then took up a blacksmith’s apprenticeship at Blackwell Colliery. An apprentice to a blacksmith was expected to learn the job for around four or five years until they were deemed qualified. Their job was an important one in the daily running of a colliery. They would help to create and maintain tools, mend machinery and shoe the pit ponies. However, the thoughts of a steady job appeared too much responsibility for Toplis and he didn’t enjoy the work at all. He seldom attended and was eventually caught skipping his night shift, in favour of spending a night in the pub at the Blackwell Arms. For this he was sacked and Toplis decided to become a wander, mainly in Scotland, and partaking in petty crime.

What happened to him following the outbreak of the First World War is widely known, so this post won’t go into the mutiny he was supposedly a part of or his various attempts of defrauding soldiers’ salaries or disguising himself as an officer, although I would recommend researching into that if you wish. Instead, I have tried to look at how Percy Toplis didn’t wish to conform to the Derbyshire tradition of working at a colliery, despite living in a time when it would have probably been expected of a boy growing up around many pits in the area around Alfreton, Blackwell and South Normanton. During Toplis’ lifetime, these places were built on the unity and pride that colliery working provided within a community built around this industry. Instead Toplis became famed for not conforming to any of society expectations, instead walking his own line at every given opportunity, no matter how wrong this was.

percy toplis

Headline from the Aberdeen Press and Journal, 09 June 1920

As we mark the anniversary of his death today, during a police shootout in Cumbria, after being recognised by a local constable, perhaps it is best to remember the charity given to him following his death. The Penrith Board of Guardians organised his burial in Christian ground at the Beacon Cemetery. There was opposition to this because of his many crimes but the Rev R H Law, Vicar of Christ Church, insisted upon a Christian burial, reminding others that Percy Toplis had been “violently removed from this life before he could be judged on earth.”


‘How he deluded hotel guests’, Dundee Courier, 8th June 1920

Eden District Council, Percy Toplis,

Emery, J., ‘Belonging, Memory and History in the North Nottinghamshire Coalfield’, Journal of Historical Geography, 59 (2018), pp. 77-89.

National Mining Museum, Skilled Colliery Craftsman,

Pixel Surgery, Percy Toplis Bothy, Tomintoul – The Enchanting Secret Behind the Monocled Mutineer, 17 March 2018,

Mining the Seams is a Wellcome Trust funded project aiming to catalogue coal mining documents, originally held by the National Coal Board, so they can eventually be viewed by the public. Alongside the Warwickshire County Record Office, the project aims to focus on the welfare and health services provided to miners.