The First World War

A guide to material held at Derbyshire Record Office about the First World War.

Archives and local studies materials relating to the First World War have been well indexed in our online catalogue and this guide gives only a brief overview and selected highlights of what is available. To see everything we have identified for the First World War, search for ‘First World War’ in our online catalogue. You can also add other terms to narrow down your search results, e.g. ‘aerial bombardment’, ‘military personnel’, ‘military recruitment’ or ‘conscientious objectors’.

Letters and diaries

Diaries and letters between members of the armed forces and their friends and families survive in many personal collections. Examples include Harry Chandos Pole of Hopton Hall, Wirksworth, Arthur Bryan of Derby, Arthur Hodgkiss of Baslow, William Bertram Weston of Chaddesden, Charles Sisum Wright of Eyam Hall, and Anthony Herbert Strutt of Belper.

On the home front, Maria Gyte’s diaries record her grief at the loss of her son in the war.

Posters and photographs

We have posters from the First World War that relate to public meetings, air raid precautions, military recruitment, fundraising and peace celebrations.

We also hold photographs, including studio photographs of soldiers in their uniforms before they went overseas. Many of these have been digitised and are on  A collection of picture postcards relating to the war, including propaganda photographs, is in the archive of the Thornhill family of Great Longstone

Former County Librarian, Edgar Osborne, served in Egypt and the Middle East during the First World War and his collection includes watercolours and photographs taken in Egypt, Jerusalem and Palestine.

Local Tribunals and conscientious objection

In 1916 military conscription was introduced. Men who had received their conscription papers could apply for an exemption, which would be taken to a local tribunal who would decide their case. Some of these men were conscientious objectors, but many sought exemption on the grounds of health or their work.

Local Tribunal papers survive for Alfreton, Chesterfield, Derby, Long Eaton and Ripley.   We also hold some papers of the Reverend John Norton who was a visitor to conscientious objectors held in Derby.

The Courage of Conscience project researched and documented Derbyshire conscientious objectors. More information about their project can be found at The project archive is also held at the Record Office.


Records of military hospitals aren’t held locally, but we do hold a few autograph books which were kept by nurses at local hospitals where soldiers were sent. These were signed by the patients, who sometimes also drew pictures or added poems. We have two for the Derby Royal Infirmary, D5250/1/1, and D1190/249 and one for the Royal Devonshire Hospital in Buxton (D5952/1).

The published war diary of the Canadian Convalescent Home for Officers in Buxton, 1917-1919 is in our Local Studies Collection (class number 940.5474 Over/Oversize).

The Home Front

Rationing was brought in at the end of the war as people began to suffer food shortages. Our local studies collection includes an article in which describes how rationing was first trialled in Chesterfield (LS/PER/REFLECTIONS/312/Lomax). We also have the minutes of the Chesterfield Local Fuel and Lighting Committee which dealt with fuel rationing. A few ration cards also survive, such as seven year old Maggie Severn’s ration book and the ration books belonging to the Ogden family of Stanley.

In the early hours of 1 February 1916, there was a Zeppelin air raid on Derby. The raid is sometimes mentioned in school log books, such as Egginton School, and St Andrew’s School in Derby.


Horace John Rylands of Bakewell served in France and was a talented artist. His collection contains his drawings and cartoons of life in the trenches.

Sergeant Oliver Holmes of Clay Cross served in the 12th Battalion Sherwood Foresters. The soldiers in the battalion published the satirical trench magazine, the ‘Wipers Times’ and we hold Sergeant Holmes’ personal copies of the Wipers Times.

Peace and commemoration

At the end of the war, there were peace celebrations throughout the county. The records of these include posters, programmes and committee papers. In the early 1920s, people commemorated the men who had served in war memorials and rolls of honour.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the war, in 2014-2018, many local groups carried out projects to research and commemorate the war in Derbyshire. You can find out more about these projects on the website which also includes a handy timeline of the war.

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery is open again and it’s a good time to visit!

Looking for something to do? You can now visit Buxton Museum and Art Gallery again.

Buxton Museum and Art Gallery

After almost six months, we are pleased to be able to open the front door to visitors again. The place has been too quiet.

Of course, we’re not out of the woods yet so there have been lots of changes to keep both visitors and the staff covid-safe. Firstly, you must book your visit in advance so please don’t just turn up, expecting to come in. This is so we can control the amount of people in the building and make sure there is ample social distancing and surface cleaning throughout the day.

The second big change is that visitors must wear face coverings for the duration of their visit, in keeping with current government guidelines, unless they are medically exempt or under the age of 11.

There have also been lots of small adjustments; we’ve had to temporarily remove the toys and games and dressing up box. The public…

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An Insider’s View of north Derbyshire Libraries around 1950 – part 2 (Buxton)

Last week, Roger shared some stories from Dora Axon relating to her experiences as a librarian in Whaley Bridge and Chapel-en-le-Frith; this week, we hear about her experiences in Buxton, where she started work in 1949.

At this time the library at Buxton was the responsibility of the borough council, in contrast to the libraries at Whaley Bridge and Chapel en le Frith which were Derbyshire County Council establishments.  After having failed to secure appointment to the chief officer’s post of librarian and museums officer at Buxton Dora Axon accepted appointment as first assistant.  Her letters include much detail of her thoughts about whom to approach for testimonials; about the conduct of the interviews, and about the merits or otherwise of other candidates.  After three weeks in the new job Dora Axon writes of enjoying the experience.  She writes approvingly of the recently appointed chief librarian.  She lists her responsibilities, believing that she might have more accurately been designated deputy chief, rather than first assistant:

I am consultant on administration and policy, and responsible for the Staff. I have never met so small a staff that required so much looking after in my life.  Three in number, they are free, untrained and uncurbed: they have never met a rule about librarianship and when introduced to one quite forget to carry it out – or don’t – the whole place is chaos.

Dora Axon records her hope of achieving an improvement within two months.  Her duties also included classification and cataloguing, book selection and ordering, and even acting as understudy to the borough meteorologist.  She anticipated that a large proportion of her time would be spent in her office and that she would not achieve the familiarity with readers that she had known in her previous job at Whaley Bridge.

Six months or so later improvements appear to have been elusive:

It is usual for a successor to deplore the shortcomings of his predecessor, but surely there has never been a place like Buxton.  Everywhere we found chaos, and no method of dealing with it except falsifying records and tearing up the evidence!  Worse still the staff trained on this happy-go-lucky lack of principle and system are incapable of recognising system – or even the need for it. … Our young and capable and enthusiastic new librarian is a thwarted and disgusted man, regretting, I think, his move to such an unprogressive hole.  You would term it Bumbledom at its worst. 

Dora Axon goes on to criticise the actions of committee men: appointing a qualified person, only to block every improvement he tries to make; and seeking to employ staff and stock a library service on the cheap.  Such improvements as were being made involved hard work:

The up-hill task, training the stupid glamour girls, is mine, and in all my work I have never encountered such a gradient.

Dora Axon felt further burdened by the presence of a young wealthy volunteer discovering whether she might like to pursue training as librarian:

So far as we are concerned she is an additional blot; she doesn’t want to work, won’t work, “downs” a job she dislikes, and objects to doing anything as told, or accurately.  She is with us for three months: I had had enough after the first morning.

In July 1950 Dora Axon wrote a long letter while on holiday in Ilfracombe – she includes her observations of the libraries in Ilfracombe and Bideford.  In relation to Buxton it seems likely that she was correct about the regrets of the recently appointed chief librarian: in less than a year he had left.  Her application for the chief’s post was not successful:

Though I had the backing of my own Committee, they were over-ruled by the Mayor. … who shouted “No women” and flung the six applications [from women] aside without consideration. To an appeal made by the Library chairman, who said: “She’s capable and she’s qualified – what more do you want?” the Mayor said: “She’s a woman and we can’t have a woman head of department.”

Three weeks after the successful candidate had started work Dora Axon submitted a claim for salary re-grading.  The salary claim was pursued for many months: Dora Axon accuses the town clerk of presenting, at the ultimate hearing, “lies and evasions.”  She was ultimately successful:

I have crashed into the Admin. Profess. And Technical Grades where no woman in Buxton has ever got before!

Having been in post for two years Dora Axon was able to list positive achievements:

The staff are “falling to” when given a job.  And I am getting an increasing number of people who introduce themselves with “I’ve been advised to come to you – I wonder if you can help me …”.

The Pacifist Directing Manager of Shirebrook Colliery Company

The Shirebrook Colliery Company was established in 1894 to work the pit at Shirebrook, on the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire border. Arnold Lupton was the company’s first managing director and was a controversial figure. With views linked to anti-vaccination, free religion and pacifism, it is clear to see why he was not a popular man.

His role as the managing director only lasted four years but ended on a sour note. He had to leave following a rather disastrous 17 week wage dispute in 1898 with employees. The anger of miners, who were striking because of poor working conditions and low wages, was made worse when miners from Glasgow and Wales were brought in to replace the striking miners. Eventually they were sent home and Lupton resigned. Ironically, in his later role as an MP for Sleaford in Lincolnshire, he was against the use of Chinese Labour in South African mines, seeing it as replacing the jobs of the more suitable white men. For this interest in international as well as domestic mining, he was known across the Commonwealth.

D3302-9-001 (2)

Abstract of title of Shirebrook Colliery Ltd to land and premises at Shirebrook, 1809-1891, D3302/9

Originally from Leeds, Arnold showed a keen interest in the mining industry. He had many different roles in the mining industry with many connections both in England and abroad. During his time at Shirebrook, he also held the title of Inspector of Mining between 1885 and 1898 and was Professor of Mining until 1905. Even after his connection with Shirebrook had ended, he still continued life as a mining agent, a type of manager involved in the technical and mechanical running of a colliery and wrote many books and pamphlets relating to the industry.

Yet despite what already seems like an interesting life, it is actions during the First World War that contain the most controversy. As a pacifist he was against the war, writing pamphlets on his views, especially one entitled Voluntary Service versus Compulsory Service, written in September 1915. Inciting pacifism was a legal offence, one for which he received a 6 month prison sentence in February 1918 for distributing other pacifist leaflets. The printer he used was fined £90, (around £2600 in today’s money).

More of Lupton’s activities during the First World War came out in the press following the end of the war. In 1922, Arnold Lupton attended an arbitration court made up of a mix of English and German people, to try and claim some money back from a pre-war deal settled in 1913. The deal comprised Lupton leasing an area of coal in the Nottinghamshire coalfields to the German industrialist Hugo Stinnes in return for £2000 (nearly £118,000 in today’s money). The deal mentioned related to Lupton’s role in establishing the Anglo-German Northern Union Mining Company to oversee the development of Haworth Colliery on the Nottinghamshire/South Yorkshire border. Despite the development of the colliery and the Germans who worked it being interned during the way, the German side had refused to pay Lupton his money. The arbitration court ruled that Stinnes was to pay the £2000 and 5% interest dating back to 1913, as well as £50 for costs to Lupton. When these dealings with Germans were leaked to the press, alongside the background of the horrors of the First World War, the public viewed it in an extremely bad light.

N36-9-11-8-00001 (2)

Wells/Sitwell dispute papers: Notes of Arnold Lupton, Mining Engineer, early 20th cent, N36/9/11/8


‘English Pacifist Punished’, New York Times, 17 February 1918

‘German Industrialist Ordered to Live Up to Pre-War Contract with British Mining Engineer’, New York Times, 25 June 1922

‘Lunch for Mourners: Direction in a Will’, The Mercury, Austrialia, 24 Apr 1931

Amos, D. and Braber, N., Bradwell’s Images of Coal Mining in the East Midlands (Sheffield: Bradwell Books, 2017)

Chesterton, G. K., The Collected Works of G. K. Chesterton, Volume 20 (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2001)

King’s Speech (Motion for an Address), February 1906,

Lupton, A., Voluntary Service versus Compulsory Service (September 1915)

Workmen’s Compensation Bill, December 1906, Third Reading,

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. 


An Insider’s View of north Derbyshire Libraries around 1950

Nearly 40 years ago, the record office purchased a small bundle of letters primarily sent to Charles Kay Ogden, the founder of the Orthological Institute which was concerned chiefly with the development of Basic English. 

Cataloguing volunteer, Roger Jennens, has recently listed all the letters and here he writes of the rich observations they contain from a librarian working at in north Derbyshire around 1950 . 

The writer of the letters, Dora Axon of Buxton, returned to work in 1948 following the death of her husband.  A qualified librarian who had previously worked in Manchester, she had not been in paid employment during the fifteen years of her marriage.  She was appointed to a post at Whaley Bridge library but in the interval before that library was ready to be opened she was asked at short notice to assist at the library at Chapel-en-le-Frith.  At the time this was a busy centre for library provision in north Derbyshire, including a mobile library.  Dora Axon records her enjoyment of the work: she found every one of the staff welcoming.  Perhaps her assessment of the library users has a hint of condescension:

The borrowers are not bad – all kinds, but extremely friendly with just two or three intelligent ones. The library is a meeting ground for all the villagers and there appears to be no rule against talking, which everyone does, out loud. We never “shush” then as we used to do in Manchester; it’s awfully funny and delightful.”

Dora Axon was impressed by the mobile library service:

Extract of letter from Dora, 28 Sep 1948. Ref: D2313/2/58

She was, however, hopeful that she would not be required to go out on a round:

Some rounds are terribly hard going: the issues reaching 700 a day and  a handful of special requests that all need looking up and securing for the next call.

Early in 1949 a branch library was opened in the windowless basement of council offices in Whaley Bridge.  The library was open from 2pm to 8pm daily, with a half-hour closure at 4.30pm. The new provision soon proved popular: the initial book stock of 5,000 volumes was soon increased to 6,000. In the first few weeks 800 readers were registered:

They clatter down the stairs at 2pm prompt and only reluctantly do they clatter up at 4.30pm and 8pm. …  They are a nice public, the “Whaleys” from labourers to professional men, from country women who call me “luv” to nice middle-class “ladies” and from nice laddies of 14, (we don’t cater for younger), to university and college students. 

Dora Axon was kept busy, particular on days when no assistance was forthcoming from another library:

All my nice borrowers apologise for troubling me and some offer to help.  360-500 issues a day; new readers to enrol and help; a postal service to attend to and all the ordinary routine work – it would keep 3 staff occupied at all times and it’s all supposed to be done by one!

Before long, mindful of the potential impact of winter weather on her daily bus journeys between Buxton and Whaley Bridge, and reluctant to remain working in a basement Dora Axon applied for a post at the library in Buxton.

Whaley population has lapped me up and will, I know, be sorry to lose me.  And I shall never again have such congenial borrowers, nor such  a splendid collection of books, every one asking to be read.

Next time: Dora describes her experience in Buxton.

See the new catalogue in full under reference D2313.