Another archival mystery

Cover the notebook

The theme for Explore Your Archive during July is An Archival Mystery, and this notebook (left) which was donated at the end of June is a perfect example. As you can see it isn’t very much to look at, and most of the unused, but the notes made by its first author in 1910 are very intriguing.

I say first author, because this book has been used by at least three different people. Although the first author clearly dated his notes (6 and 7 December 1910) the other authors didn’t.

List of cable/satellite TV channels at the back of the notebook

The final author is quite easy to date as their notes are a list of cable/satellite TV channels, some of which were not very long-lived, so we have been able to determine that they were certainly written before 2002, probably in the late 1990s.

The second author uses a biro pen and again the notes pre-date 2002, but is less clear by how much. This item is a draft letter to Eversheds solicitors regarding transfer of their (husband and wife) affairs to Warren & Allen of Nottingham, which had a branch in Ilkeston and closed in 2002.

However, it is the story told by the notebook’s first user that is the most intriguing and the reason why we have added the donation to the archive collections. The two memorandums recorded (of 6 and 7 December 1910) relate to meetings and discussions with and about the unidentified author’s business partners “JTF”, “AF”, “TBF”, “CJFT” and “JF”, at least some of whom were brothers, and perhaps the author was also a brother? The notes are detailed enough to enable us to determine that the firm in question is a printing and newspaper business as the discussions taking place concern the suggestion by the author that either the printing and newspaper arms be separated or that he retire, and JTF’s concern about breaking up the firm and dividing the premises.

The notes include references to a visit by Mr Bemrose [presumably of Derby, printer], Dudley (“a free trader not a churchman”) and Bailey. Bailey had been taken into partnership in the firm c. 1906. The author writes the difference in view between himself and JTF about “recent election advertisements” has led to his considering his position. Reference is also made to “Street Traders matters… the Betting Question and to the time of the leading articles (particularly those of a year or two back) when it was repeatedly assumed that a Radical could do no right and a Conservative could no wrong…”. The only other person mentioned in the memo by name is Mr Hunter who is trying to persuade the author to go to London regarding “the photogravure matter”.

First page of the notebook, dated December 6th 1910

Who was the first author of this notebook? Who were JTF, AF, TBF, CJFT and JF? Are they from Derbyshire? What was the firm they all ran? Was it a Derbyshire firm? What caused the tensions being referred to? What happened to the firm? Was it separated into different departments? Who were the other people using the books so many decades later?

We do know that the book came into the custody of the former Shropshire County Archivist (1975-1989), Mrs Marion Roberts (d. 2008), probably after she retired when she undertook some freelance work. It seems unlikely that Mrs Roberts would have used the book herself, but perhaps this can’t be ruled this out.

I have checked Derby trade directories and newspapers, and endeavoured to find a reference in the London Gazette to a Bailey being admitted as partner in about 1906, but thus far I have not been able to identify a firm run by a family with the surname beginning with F. However, if the firm could be identified I think the content of the notebook could be of particular interest and importance depending on the context in which it was written.

Like the Archival Mystery of the 19th century London register of sickness and mortality used as a scrapbook, there is no information in the book to directly connect it to Derbyshire, the reference to Bemrose and to printing is the reason behind it acquisition. Without any information about the firm or family to whom the book belonged, we have had to add it to a new artificial collection of documents, from various sources, under reference DA/FE/F/1. Whilst it is questionable that the item is of Derbyshire origin – I hope it is – I feel sure one day a researcher will come across this item and be able to say exactly which firm it belongs to. If that does happen we will be able to re-catalogue it so it is held in its own collection for the business or family, which will mean transferring it to another archive service if it turns out not to be a local firm.

5 thoughts on “Another archival mystery

  1. Re-used books are fascinating. In our family we’re lucky enought to have a little Victorian “birthday book” with a Bible quote for each day. It had belonged to my young great aunt, who died in 1899 aged 19 of TB, and it was no doubt kept as a memento of her. She wrote in her family’s and friends’ birthdays very neatly. Then her younger half-sister, my grandma, filled in her friends in a different handwriting. The third and last person to write in it was her daughter, my mother, who put in the names of her dolls and teddies as well as school friends!
    Re the Bemrose printing firm, my grandfather on the other side of my family worked for them as a bookbinder.

    • Personal notebooks can be really fascinating, and I think we sometimes underestimate their value as historic objects (as opposed to an archival record). As archivists we want neat records, used chronologically for one specific purpose – mostly because it makes cataloguing easier, and therefore easier for people to find them, but I know from professional experience and personal experience of the way I use my notebooks (I use the plural because I usually have several on the go at once) that this is almost never the case.

      I suppose as paper and books were so expensive, later generations would have wanted to continue using the same item for various reasons, but it does make such notebooks so special when they are used by several generations of the same family

  2. Wow Roger, that’s great – thank you! Thomas Bailey was the son of John Thomas Forman, and one of the titles the family ran was the Nottingham Evening Post (see Although I must confess I’m disappointed it is not a Derbyshire story, and I’ve certainly learnt my lesson to share a mystery online before accessioning it because now I shall de-accession it and offer it to Nottinghamshire Archives.

  3. This is an interesting challenge. Wish I had more time today to devote to it but hungry grandchildren must take precedence. The fmp website offers the following for CJFT: Charles Frederick James Taft/ Charles James Frederick Taft (1895 – 1941) was a Derby based chartered accountant.

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