Authenticity Hoo-Ha pt. 2: Did Lord Byron and Princess Victoria etch their names on the windows?

Sir Hilary Jenkinson held that authenticity is one of the defining characteristics of the archive. Here is the second of three blog posts about some recent authenticity issues.

On being asked to visit a former hotel to pick up a donation of records, any archivist would expect there to be guest books. Less expected is a pane of window glass. In fact, I would go so far as to say that the “Byron Window” is the most unusual item I have accessioned in twelve years as an archivist. Why is it called the Byron Window? Because it is said that Lord Byron (i.e. George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron, 1788-1824) scratched a poem onto it. The lines read:

Where so ever is folly court
Mortal unthinking will resort
For want of reason, still,
Shame on our sex! As for the fair
They all want something everywhere
And something want they will

These etched lines have not gone unnoticed. The Byron Window is mentioned in a variety of magazine articles, including a feature in Derbyshire Life in 2010, and the sale catalogue from when the Temple Hotel was auctioned in 1975.

But how do we know this to be the work of Byron? We don’t, really – in fact, I am not even sure that the squiggle nearest the poem says Byron!

D8116/3/1: The Byron Window

D8116/3/1: The Byron Window

An article on the Andrews Pages cites William Adam’s 1840 guide book “The Gem of the Peak” as evidence that the poet visited the Old Bath in Matlock Bath, and at first glance, I thought the Adam reference extended to the etched window itself – however, it certainly isn’t mentioned in any of the editions we hold here.

William Adam describes The Temple as “originally built as a lodging house or appendage to the Old Bath for the comfort and convenience of those visitors, who wished to be out of the noise and bustle of a crowded Inn”, and observes that the house had been “much improved and enlarged” by its owner, Mrs Evans. He also remarks that the name of Walter Scott is inscribed on a window in room 5 (without making any claim as to who made the inscription).

So, hang on… William Adam was interested enough in Byron to mention his visit to Matlock Bath and interested enough in inscriptions on windows to mention Scott – but did not think to tell us about Byron inscribing a window?

What puts the kybosh on the thing is the date right next to those lines. “6 Oct 1784” is the easiest bit of the whole thing to read, and dates it to before Byron’s time.  (Unless the date and the poem are unrelated?  I would be delighted to be proved wrong!)

The window pane is, transparently, something that a large number of people have inscribed over the course of centuries – so whether or not their number includes Lord Byron, this is an amazing addition to our collections.  I don’t think I have the heart to investigate the other claim, which is that a young Princess Victoria put her name on the same bit of glass!

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A sense of open-ness and intrigue…..

Project Evaluator Dr Sara Giddens shares her first experience of The Amazing Pop Up Archives Project when the project team met back in June 2016.

So here we all are, gathered together in a hot sunny day in Matlock, at the Derbyshire Record Office (DRO). What stunning surroundings. The meeting room looks out over the hills and valley of this Market Town and is exquisitely furnished in wall-paper designed by Paula Moss in her former role as artist-in-residence. Paula is now here in the capacity of our co-host, with a DRO Archivist, Karen Millhouse. I take to the project and the project leaders immediately. The artists, although defined as creative facilitators for this project, archivists, lecturers and students are given time and space to listen to each other, to dwell for a while in their similarities and differences. No-one is rushed, there is a sense of open-ness and intrigue.

DRO Panorama1

I’m sure, like many of the others I am wondering what process might evolve?

The archivist Karen and project researcher Kate Henderson clearly know their stuff, they give off an air of considered confidence, with more than a little passion thrown in for good measure. There are 3 million items in their collection, where might we start?

 

We begin somewhat appropriately from a map, which we learn was also the inspiration for the colours used in the recent re-design of the interior of the record office. The poet Matt Black, one of the four lead creative facilitators, reads us his poem, written for the record office, inspired by a tiny detail in the map, a ladder propped up against a tree and his wonderings of who went up that ladder. He matches the archivist’s knowledge and passion with his own obvious mastery of his craft.

He is WONDERING, we are delighting in his wondering and before the close of the meeting, those on The Amazing Pop Up Archives Project team have been re-branded as Agents of Wonder.

I love it when a plan comes together…

… with the original survey book alongside which it was created.

Plans and survey books are easily separated.  They are superficially very different: a survey may look like a standard hardback of several pages, and the plan that goes with it may be a single sheet, rolled up or folded.  The difference in size and shape means the pair of items are unlikely to be stored on the same shelf or in the same box.  In fact, each might be so useful on its own that from time to time, their custodians forget that they two items were designed to complement one another.

Here’s how they work together.  See the plot numbered 358 on this poor rate plan of Brimington dating from 1827? I have highlighted it with a black arrow.

D177 A PC 37

If I want to find out more about it, I can look at the survey book, and see that it was a Blacksmith’s shop and hovel, owned and occupied by George Richards, amounting to three perches in area.

D636 A PO 1

When Brimington Parish Council was created, as a consequence of the Local Government Act of 1894, the civil functions of Brimington parish began to be administered under a separate authority for the first time.  The church parish, meanwhile, retained its ecclesiastical duties.  In the division of assets, whether by accident or design, the new parish council got to keep the book, while the church held on to the plan.  Come the 1960s, each of these bodies began to deposit its historic records here, so that the survey and plan ended up in separate collections.

Today I added a cross-reference to the catalogue, and I believe it was the first time that anyone at our end had linked the two things together – although I gather from a researcher who visited today that both documents are mentioned by Philip J Cousins in his “Brimington : the changing face of a Derbyshire village”, published to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the parish council.

If you ever want to visit us to use the documents in our search room, or order a paid search of their contents, here are the all-important reference numbers: the book is D636/A/PO/1, and the plan is D177/A/PC/37.

GRO latest

 

 

office-picture

 

Great news for family historians, courtesy of the Lost Cousins website:

The General Register Office has just launched new online indexes of births and deaths for England & Wales which not only make ordering of certificates easier, they provide additional information that will make it easier than ever before for family historians to find the right entries.

See

http://lostcousins.com/newsletters2/specialnov16news.htm

and

http://lostcousins.com/newsletters2/nov16news.htm

Sue Peach

Finding your feet with Family History

Starting to do family history can seem a daunting task! Although there is now lots of information online with the help of websites such as Ancestry and Find My Past there are also numerous books which are a fantastic, tangible source of information and knowledge. These are excellent in providing a background of the type of sources you might come across, and why records appear in the they way they do! Forewarned is forearmed, as they say…

I asked an experienced colleague what she would recommend (thanks Vicky!) and she came up with two titles from our reference library:

‘The Oxford Companion to Family and Local History’ by David Hey

Family  History 5

David Hey’s guide is about as comprehensive as you can get! The thematic articles range from getting started with your family tree, to dealing with tracing your background by nationality and ethnicity, to searching agricultural and industrial histories. There is an absolutely indispensable A-Z glossary of terms you might come across and a useful list of all Record Offices and Special Collections in the UK.

‘Tracing your Ancestors through Local History Records’ by Jonathan Oates

Family History 7

Oates’ useful guide is easy on the eye, with illustrations and photographs of examples of the types of local history records that you might encounter in your search.  It explains the historical background to records in England, and looks at lots of different sources: books, journals, illustrations, maps and newspapers.  Although parish registers are the most popular way of searching a family tree, these other sources can provide a wider feel for the time and place family members lived, and how they lived.

I’d also recommend ‘Essential Maps for Family Historians’ by Charles Masters – it’s incredible how much information maps have – from Estate maps, enclosure and tithe maps to The National Farm Survey.

Family History 8

In addition to the more general guides, there are also specialist books which can help you trace ancestors who were in the Armed Forces, in a lunatic asylum, worked as a coalminer, lived in the colonies, in the clergy or were travellers, to name a few! The series of books ‘My Ancestor was a…’published by the Society of Genealogists are well illustrated and explain in plain language the historical background that these people would have lived in as well as the sort of records you could search to find information about them.

There is also a light-hearted look at the potential pitfalls of researching your family in ‘Granny was a Brothel Keeper’, which provides useful tips on how to avoid being led up the garden path, and a subtle warning about not believing everything you might see (and hear from well-meaning family members!) Written in no-nonsense terms (as you may have gathered from the title), there are real life researchers’ stories and lessons to be learned.

Family History 4

Of course, if you are desperate to get back to a computer screen, you might find ‘The Family History Web Directory’ extremely handy!

Family History 6

All the books mentioned can be found in our Local Studies library, along with our research guides at the Enquiry Desk. Libraries also have subscriptions to the Ancestry and Find My Past websites, so these can be accessed on the Library computers.

Please let us know if you have any personal recommendations or tips when researching family history, and we’ll be happy to pass them on!

Treasure 30: The photographs of Frank H Brindley

This treasure was nominated by our erstwhile colleague Mark Higginson, who has recently left Picture the Past to become manager of the museum and visitor centre at Belper North Mill.  We wish him all the best in his new role.  Mark writes:

A recent addition to Picture the Past has been a collection of prints taken by Sheffield-based freelance press photographer Frank H Brindley, who photographed northern parts of the Peak District.

Often Brindley’s pictorial submissions to local newspapers would be accompanied by a caption or even a short typed article.  Some of these have survived and give a unique insight into both the man and life from the 1930s through to the 1950s.

This has been a fascinating collection to work with and demonstrates how preserving this information enables a better understanding of the context in which such pictures came to be taken.  A picture may well be worth a 1,000 words, but a 1,000 words, or even a few dozen, certainly adds something to an image!

To see more of Brindley’s work, go to www.picturethepast.org.uk and click Advanced Search, then choose “Brindley F H” from the “Search by Photographer” menu.

These photographs form part of the 50 Treasures exhibition currently in our vitrine wall.