The Gratitude of First World War Prisoners to Margery Swanwick of Chesterfield

A post from catalogue volunteer, Roger.

The Record Office recently purchased several letters and postcards at an auction which illustrate aspects of humanitarian work during the First World War.

Margery Eleanor Swanwick (1880-1959) a resident of Whittington, Chesterfield was active both in providing parcels of food and other comforts to Allied soldiers imprisoned in Germany, and in supporting Belgian refugees accommodated in Chesterfield.  This post concerns her support of a number of prisoners of war.

Surviving documents include postcards and letters sent to Margery Swanwick.  The postcards, purposely printed by the German authorities, convey messages of thanks from four prisoners who received parcels.  There are also four letters from organisations involved in the despatch of parcels and one letter from the wife of a prisoner.

It is not clear from the documents how the four recipients of Margery Swanwick’s parcels were selected: the beneficiaries were not from Derbyshire.  The collection includes two postcards sent by William Marshall, a private in the Sherwood Foresters Regiment, whose expressions of thanks give no biographical details. 

There are six cards from William Leonard Gothard, also a private in the Sherwood Foresters Regiment.  His home was at Old Westwood, Jacksdale, Nottinghamshire.  He was so grateful to Margery Swanwick that he had his wife write a letter of thanks.  William Gothard had left home in August 1914, just a week after the birth of his first child, and was taken prisoner two months later.  It is clear that Margery Swanwick corresponded with both William Gothard and his wife, and there are indications that Margery Swanwick may have visited Mrs Gothard. 

The third English prisoner to receive parcels from Margery Swanwick was William Marke.  He tells of his birth in Hanwell, Middlesex; he joined the East Sussex Regiment in 1904 and was later a gymnastic instructor attached to the Devon and Cornwall Light Infantry at Bodmin where he met his wife.  He writes of his two daughters, one of whom he had not seen. 

Intriguingly the fourth recipient of parcels was a Russian soldier, Alex Petrow.  Five of the postcards sent in his name convey a printed message in German acknowledging receipt of parcels.  A sixth card contains a message of thanks written on Alex Petrow’s behalf by a fellow prisoner.

Postcard from Gothard to Mrs Swanwick, ref: D6287/5/3/1
Postcard from Private W. L. Gothard at Kriegsgefangenenlager, No. 1 Camp, Munster to Mrs Swanwick, 28 Feb 1916 (ref: D6287/5/3/1)

The cards illustrate the range of goods sent in parcels and convey not only thanks but specific requests.  The Russian soldier’s fellow prisoner confirms that “socks and underclothing would be of great comfort – winter is now here and very cold.”  William Gothard asked for, and was sent, a French dictionary: “I am endeavouring to master the French Grammar in my spare time.”  His parcels also contained a sewing kit and a small heater, for which he later asked for refills.  William Marke was appreciative of a spirit lamp.  He politely asked for biscuits to be replaced by bread.  He even asked for, and was sent, specific physiology and anatomy textbooks “for which you will have to write to the Board of Education.”

In December 1916 came a substantial change.  The sending of parcels was formalised.  It was no longer open to private individuals to choose items and to send parcels themselves.  Parcels were assembled and packed at depots established by organisations such as regimental associations.  Margery Swanwick’s role changed from sending items of her own choice to making a regular financial subscription.  The document collection includes four letters from organisations concerned with these arrangements. 

Two of the prisoners continued to correspond with Margery Swanwick.  They regretted the changed arrangements.   William Gothard wrote: “the parcels under the new scheme arrive regularly but they are not like the old home ones.”  William Marke regretted the loss of a personal link: “the parcels under the new scheme are quite good, although they have not the pleasing effect the ones packed by yourself had.  You know we miss those fancy things that we have been used to, which we know has pleased our friend in packing.”

The writers expressed hopes for the future.  William Marke was thinking about his Army work after the War: “I am sure [the physiology books] will help me considerably in my branch of the service when the war is finished.”  William Gothard’s wife was looking forward to when “this terrible war is over, and he is safe home again.”

Detailed descriptions and transcriptions of the postcards and letters can be seen in the Record Office catalogue under reference D6287/5.

Addendum: Thank you to Roger for his admirable work in transcribing these letters, several of which are in French. We are very grateful.

The Mysterious Mrs Munday

October is Black History Month, which is the ideal time to write about research I’ve been doing on an early figure in Derbyshire’s Black History, Mrs Munday.

I first came across Mrs Munday around ten years ago, when I was working for Sandwell Community History & Archives Service and doing some Black History research there on a completely different person. A parish register at St Martin’s Tipton (now in Sandwell but historically in Staffordshire) reads:

John an Ethyopian boy page to ye Lady Pye was baptized ye 29th day of July 1705.

Extract from St Martin's Tipton parish register 29 July 1705
Extract from the parish register for St Martin’s, Tipton from

This is a very early mention of a person of colour in Sandwell, but the Pyes weren’t a local Tipton family. The only way to find out more about John was to trace ‘ye Lady Pye’ and it turned out there were two Lady Pyes at the time. One was the wife of Sir Charles Pye baronet (1651-1711) of Hone [Hoon], Derbyshire and MP for Derby in 1701 and the other Lady Pye was his mother in London.  I couldn’t find out anything about the older Lady Pye, but the younger seemed more likely anyway, partly because the Pyes lived in Derby (slightly closer to Tipton than London, although it was hardly round the corner) and partly because as a younger woman she might be more fashion-conscious.  At the time, a black page boy was a fashionable status symbol.

Credit: Yale Center for British Art, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

As slavery was legal in England at the time, Lady Pye’s page, John, may well have been enslaved. This 1708 painting of slave trader Elihu Yale (seated in the middle), with the Duke of Devonshire (on the left, wearing red) shows an enslaved page boy like John, standing on the right.

Letters from the younger Lady Pye to her cousins, Abigail and Robert Harley, survive in the archive of the Duke of Portland, and what’s known as a ‘calendar’ of the archive was published in several volumes as a report by the Historical Manuscripts Commission (HMC) – a calendar is a list that includes a detailed summary of the contents of each document.   I took a look at the HMC report in case Lady Pye mentioned in a letter that she had been to Tipton and baptised her page.  She didn’t of course, but there was a letter written at Derby on 4 May 1706 which ended with this sentence:

We have now Mrs Munday in our neighbourhood that is thought as pretty a black woman as most is.

What a find!  Not only might John, the African page, be living in Derby with the Pyes in the early 1700s, but there was a high-status woman of colour, presumably married to one of Lady Pye’s neighbours in or near Derby.

When I moved from Sandwell to Derbyshire, it seemed the perfect opportunity to find out more about Mrs Munday.  The Mundy family of Markeaton Hall and Allestree Hall in Derby, seemed highly likely to be the family that Mrs Munday belonged to – spelling wasn’t consistent at the time, and Mundy was sometimes spelled Munday.  The Record Office holds archives of the Mundy family, so there was hope of tracing Mrs Munday.  Unfortunately, the archives aren’t fully catalogued and there was only a rather confused paper interim list for the collection.  I just didn’t have time to try and make sense of the archive… until lockdown.   Whilst the Record Office was closed due to the pandemic, a number of us worked on getting those paper lists into our online catalogue.  The work isn’t yet complete (I’m slowly going through one set of boxes to check the contents) but the bulk of the collection is now on our online catalogue.  So, what did this mean for Mrs Munday?

I initially had high hopes of Edward Mundy as her husband.  I’ve already blogged about his beautifully written account book dating from 1682 to 1697 – in it he mentions expenses for transporting goods to and from Barbados so perhaps he had visited himself and married a Barbadian?  Sadly, he died in 1702 and his will (proved at Lichfield in 1705) mentions no wife or children.  

Vogages to Barbados in Edward Mundy's account book
Extract from Edward Mundy’s accounts ledger (D517/BOX/13/2)

Even more promising was another Edward Mundy who lived out in Barbados.  He was born in 1603, so he seemed a bit too old to be Mrs Munday’s husband, although of course she could have been a much younger widow or a daughter (the term ‘Mrs’ didn’t necessarily mean a woman was married).  Although I couldn’t find his death or marriage, there are some very useful Barbados records on, with which I found his wife Elizabeth’s will.  However, she died in 1687, by which time he had already predeceased her, and although her will mentions their three daughters, it is clear that they were all married at the time of her death.

There is an excellent family tree of the Mundy family which was deposited in 2006 (reference number D6611/1) but this gives no clue as to who might have been the husband of Mrs Munday.  I began to wonder if the letter mentioning her had been transcribed correctly in the HMC report – maybe I was on a wild goose chase.  The Duke of Portland’s papers are now at the British Library, so I asked my sister (who lives in London) to go to the British Library and have a look at the original letter.  The HMC report gives a good summary of the contents of each letter but isn’t a complete transcription, so could my sister check the original and see if there was more information in the letter?   Here was another problem, however.  The letters haven’t been fully catalogued by the British Library, and when she checked the bundle that should have had the 1706 letter from Lady Pye it wasn’t there.

So is there any proof that Mrs Munday ever existed?  One day I may well go to the British Library and work my way through some of the other bundles of letters in the Portland papers, in case the letter got mixed in with them.  But what if I can’t find it?  Without the original letter, we only have the HMC report to go on, although this is a pretty reliable source.   We know the Mundy family had links with slave plantations in Barbados, so it’s possible that one of them married a Barbadian woman.   It’s also possible that Mrs Munday was an illegitimate daughter of a Mundy and an enslaved woman in Barbados, who was brought back to Britain, as was the case of Dido Elizabeth Belle in the 1760s.  She may have been the wife of a London cousin of the Mundy family who was just visiting Derby – or the Munday name might have nothing to do with the Markeaton and Allestree Mundy family.

Portrait of Dido Elizabeth Belle Lindsay and her cousin Lady Elizabeth Murray by David Martin. Original at Scone Palace. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

I would love to be able to identify her, but like anyone who is trying to research people in the early 1700s, I’m hampered by the lack of available records.  In the meantime, she’ll just have to live in my imagination, elegantly dressed and walking around the bustling streets of Derby, socialising with those fashionable women like Lady Pye, who may themselves have had African servants, probably enslaved, in their own households.

Being Human – a festival of the humanities

Being Human is the UK’s only national festival of the humanities. The festival showcases how humanities researchers work every day on issues that shape the world that we live in.

The 7th annual Being Human Festival takes place between 12-22 November with the theme of ‘New Worlds’, perfectly timed to reflect on the radical global changes of 2020. The festival is led by the School of Advanced Study, University of London, in partnership with the Arts and Humanities Research Council and the British Academy.

This year sees Derby as a festival hub. As a festival hub the University of Derby is hosting a series of online events celebrating Derbyshire’s rich heritage as a global industrial powerhouse. The University of Derby‘s hub programme is rooted in partnerships with museums, archives and schools, and will include digital illustrated talks, ‘draw-along’s, public performances and ‘citizen curating’ of some of Derbyshire’s collections. The record office is delighted to be taking part in some of these events. See the University of Derby’s website for more information on this year’s festival events

Baby Loss Awareness Week and records of stillbirth

This week (9-15 October) is Baby Loss Awareness Week.  Understandably, this is an incredibly emotive issue and one that many people don’t think about if it is not something they have direct personal experience of. However, in the UK fourteen babies a day die before, during or soon after birth, so the chances are you know someone who has experienced such loss, even if you didn’t realise it.

Today, there are many organisations offering support and campaigning for better care and understanding about pregnancy and infant loss, and parents are encouraged to spend time with their baby being as involved as they choose to be in organising the funeral and/or remembrance services.  Memory boxes are often created containing photographs, hand and footprints, a lock of hair and perhaps verses and other mementoes that may offer support for grieving parents.

However, before the mid-1980s parents were rarely consulted about funeral arrangements for stillborn infants, and many mothers were unable even to meet their baby.  It may seem incomprehensible to many people (then as well as now), but this lack of engagement was often thought to be in the mother’s best interests – little, if any, thought was given to the father.  In fact, in a Commons debate earlier this year it was acknowledged that parents were still not fully involved in arrangements for the post mortem care of their baby well into the present century (see Hansard, 6 Feb 2020, Historic Stillbirth Burials and Cremations).

As a result, many parents do not know what happened to their baby and have never been able to visit a grave.  Occasionally, we receive enquiries at the record office from people looking for a grave or for any information relating to stillborn infants, often from younger siblings who didn’t even know about them until their elderly parents, considering their own mortality, want to find answers to the questions that have been with them for many decades.

Registration certificates

Under the Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1874, a declaration of stillbirth was required so that babies who had been born alive but died shortly afterwards could not be buried as stillborn.  However, there was no local or national register of these declarations and it was not until 1 July 1927 that it became a legal requirement to register a stillbirth (until 1992, this included all babies born dead after 24 weeks, since 1992, it includes babies born dead after 28 weeks).  In contrast, to the birth, marriage and death records maintained by the General Register Office (GRO), copy certificates for stillbirths can only be requested by the mother or father of the child, or by a sibling if their parents are no longer alive.  Contact the GRO for further advice.

Searching for a grave

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to identify a grave location or find information relating to babies who were stillborn, and even less so to those who died during pregnancy, such loss usually referred to as a miscarriage.  Sands (Stillbirth and neonatal death charity) and Brief Lives Remembered who have lots of experiences in supporting parents and families to find graves and other records have produced very helpful guides which I have relied on heavily to produce this Derbyshire-specific guide.

Before the 1970s and 1980s, stillborn infants or their ashes would often have been buried in a communal grave or with an unrelated female, and probably unmarked.  Although cemeteries were not legally required to record burials of stillborn children before 1975, it may still be possible to identify the churchyard or cemetery in which the burial took place (this is often the case for other churchyard burials as well where no grave plan exists). 

For infants who born alive but died shortly after a full burial entry ought to be included in the relevant church or cemetery register – see our guide to Derbyshire burials for information about what these records may tell you and how to search them.  For stillborn infants, it may be worth checking the registers which are generally arranged chronologically, but if stillbirths are recorded, this may be at the end of the volume (for example, Parish of Heath, ref: D1610/A/PI/41/1).

Derbyshire Record Office does not generally hold original records for civil cemeteries or crematoria.  Copies of most cemetery registers up to 1997 are available on microfilm at the record office, but records of cremations can only be obtained through the relevant district or parish council (see  A small number of parish councils have deposited registers explicitly relating to stillborn infants, including Shirebrook, 1944-1961, and Chellaston, 1934-1944.  

There are also other records for the civil cemeteries – first established after 1852 and run by Burial Boards – which may offer some information about arrangements for burials of stillborn infants, though not naming individuals, though occasionally there are also accounts relating to grave purchases for individuals.  Burial Board records are often found amongst the archives of the successor borough, district or parish council, though a few are held in collections specifically relating to the board itself.

Occasionally, it may also be possible to trace information through the records of the funeral director.  Although Derbyshire Record Office does not hold any of funeral directors, many firms are still in operation and could be contacted directly with regards to their records.  Where the firm is no longer operating, local studies sources such as newspapers and directories may help identify a successor company, but this is likely to take some time and may not always be possible.

Other records

Before 1927 and for loss in pregnancy before 28/24 weeks, it is unlikely that there will be any surviving records because there was no requirement to keep or method for recording this information.  However, there are other records that might be of some assistance depending on individual circumstances.

Where they survive, hospital records may also include references to women in the maternity ward or maternity home.  The Derby Borough health visitors registers covering 1944-1977 (ref: D5118) often include records of stillbirths, usually at the end of the volume.  The same may also be true for similar registers covering the county (ref: D3193).  There are also a very small number of records deposited or donated by individual midwives, including information about individual births. In the 19th and early 20th century, the admission registers and case books for the county and borough asylums (ref: D1658 and D5874 respectively) often include agonising cases of women who have suffered the loss of a child. 

According to the Family Tree Forum the church sexton may have maintained a list of child burials.  Although no such records appear to survive in Derbyshire, there are several sexton’s records relating to graveyard and interments that may include some information.  The website also refers to that fact that notices may appear in 19th century newspapers, though these are likely to be few and far between and concern only the higher classes.

There are very few other references to stillborn children and baby loss in the archives at the record office.  Some of these can be found in the catalogue, usually amongst family collections containing letters or other personal records, others will be “hidden” in registers or other records and there to be discovered.

Support and further information

Sands is the lead partner of the Alliance that runs Baby Loss Awareness Week, and a full list of other members and supporters can be found at

Baby Loss Awareness Week culminates with the global “Wave of Light” at 7pm on Thursday 15 October to remember the babies and the families who died before, during or soon after birth.  For more information about taking part, see or see #BLAW2020 #waveoflight on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

I shall be lighting mine in memory of the two babies whom I shall never meet but often think of, for their mothers who I have known a long time and for their fathers who are still all too often overlooked.

A talk for Black History Month by Dr Susanne Seymour

Belper North Mill Trust are hosting a free talk on Zoom on Thursday 22 October at 7.00pm in which Dr Susanne Seymore will be discussing the contribution of enslaved African lives to the Strutts’ cotton spinning industry at Belper.

Susanne is Associate Professor in the School of Geography and a Deputy Director of the University of Nottingham’s Institute for the Study of Slavery. She’s been researching local slavery connections for many years and this is sure to be a fascinating talk.

Get your free ticket for the talk on the Belper North Mill Trust online booking system using this link:

Brinsley Colliery’s Connections to D.H. Lawrence

The industrial life of Nottinghamshire is a key feature in the life and work of David Herbert Lawrence. Most notable is that of Brinsley Colliery that is on the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire border. The colliery features in a short story Odour of Chrysanthemums, written in 1909, and is used as a reference point for the Beggarlee Colliery in Sons and Lovers, written in 1913. More recently the headstocks at Brinsley, what many would probably call the winding wheel or winding towers that moved the cage that transported miners either underground or to the surface, were featured in the 1960s film adaption of Sons and Lovers.

You may be wondering why a blog post on a Nottinghamshire based colliery at Brinsley may be appearing on the Derbyshire Record Office blog. When it comes to many collieries and their connected companies, the distinction between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire is not as clear cut as we perhaps may think. Many companies from either county often had collieries in both or as is the case of the ones discussed in this post, they lay on the border and may have had workings under both counties, whether incidental or accidental. Thus the Barber Walker Company who owned Brinsley would have had interests along this border.

D4774-13-16-000001 (3)

Part of the Brinsley Colliery Headgear in a photograph taken c. 1960. D4774/13/16

D. H. Lawrence decide to use Brinsley and the mining community in the Eastwood and Underwood area as inspiration because his father, Arthur Lawrence, was a miner from the age of 7 until 28 at Brinsley. He then left to be a sinker at Clifton Colliery owned by the Clifton family. This industrial environment was something that the writer Lawrence was used to, especially as was born in the typical terraced housing provided by companies to those employed in their mines. He said in later life that those he who lived an industrial life surrounded by engines and machinery felt that “engines have a sort of individuality”. There seems to be some truth in that as even though collieries are now a thing of the past, in Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, there is still a desire to remember those times, especially with the reuse of pit wheels as Town Council decorations or memorials.

The description of Brinsley Colliery given in Odour of Chrysanthemums would have been a familiar site to many, whether they lived in Nottinghamshire or Derbyshire.

“Just beyond rose the tapering chimneys and the clumsy black headstocks of Brinsley Colliery. The two wheels were spinning fast up against the sky, and the winding engine rapped out its little spasms. The miners were being turned up.”

In these mining communities, this would have not just been a description similar to any colliery in the East Midlands, but it would have been a description of their way of life. There was a sense of unity and pride within the workforce for doing the heavy work that collieries provided. This working class identity worked on both local and national level. The camaraderie this produced was reinforced by the social and physical welfare provided for the miners. For the Barber Walker Company this meant an attempt to copy feudal ideas of landlord and tenant relationships between the company and employees.

This way of life continued to be viewed by many who had only known the miner’s life as a family tradition and a job for life. The surviving headstocks of Brinsley Colliery alongside their description in D. H. Lawrence’s fiction are a surviving monument to those times. So when the colliery officially closed in 1970, the issue was what to do with these iconic structures. They were transferred to Lound Hall near Retford to be part of a mining museum and stayed there until the museum’s closure in 1989. The Nottinghamshire County Council asked for them to be reassembled at their original location and that is where they now are. The decision to send the headstocks to their homeland has prodigal son symbolism, again giving life to Lawrence’s words of the individuality of such machinery.


‘Brinsley Merged with Selston Colliery After 78 Years’,

Bate, D. G., abridged version of ‘Headstocks of Brinsley Colliery’, Mercian Geologist, 18.2 (2013)

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

Gilbert, D., ‘Community and Municipalism: Collective Identity in Late-Victorian and Edwardian Mining Towns’, Journal of Historical Geography, 17.3 (1991)

Humphries, A. F., D. H. Lawrence, Transport and Cultural Transition: ‘A Great Sense of Journeying’ (2017)

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. 


Somewhere in this building…

For National Poetry Day we thought it might be nice to re-visit this wonderful poem written for the Record Office by Matt Black, inspired by a beautiful 1722 map of Risley and Breaston from our collection.

Somewhere in this building

on an old map, a ladder climbs quietly

into the arms of an apple-tree.

Once a man stood on that ladder. Where is he?

I want to know him, he comes from Then

but must still live Here, among these records,

frayed books and letters writ in gooSe quill.

Somewhere in this building you might find

his mother, rummaging through last month’s bills.

We’re all here, amongst the litter of our lives,

our marks, traces, footprints on these shelves,

like a new layer in a town of strata

where sea-lily feathers once washed the lagoon.

He is our data, our DNA, on yellow paper.

Somewhere in this building, he is real,

he walks the fields, you can find his children.

I can almost smell him, that hot afternoon,

four centuries back, on the Breaston breeze,

golden scent-of-earth in apple-sun.

Matt Black                                                                                  Matt Black © 2013