Another great result for Derbyshire heritage!

It was a wonderful night of celebrations on Tuesday 24th June when 130 guests attended the Biennial Regional Heritage Awards in the magnificent setting of the National Civil War Museum and Palace Theatre in Newark.



The awards are organised and funded by Museum Development East Midlands and recognise excellence and innovation in museums, historic houses and heritage sites across the region.

There were a record number of 83 entries from 48 different organisations at this year’s awards, the competition was fierce and the judging team had some difficult decisions to make. The breadth and quality of the entries, and the range of organisations that had entered, really demonstrated how much extraordinary and excellent work is taking place in heritage organisations throughout the East Midlands.

The record office was up against stiff competition from 14 fantastic projects in the ‘Reaching New Audiences’ category and were awarded the Highly Commended prize for our ‘Amazing Pop Up Archives Project’.

We were also there to accept an award on behalf of our colleagues at Buxton Museum who won the ‘The Sky’s the Limit’ category for their ‘Hoards: a hidden history of ancient Britain’ exhibition.

Well done to all!

Derbyshire perspectives – reading landscape

Derbyshire artist Peter Knight celebrates his love of the craft of print media with the layered continuum of exploring this remarkable county.  His exhibition ‘Derbyshire perspectives – reading landscape’ is on show at the record office.

Here, Peter tells us about his work and inspiration.

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I’d always been interested in books and illustrated books in particular. I was developing my work with a strong printmaking approach and discovering historical work by George Cruickshank, politically focused and beautifully etched, and other historical graphic artists. I was struck by how ‘current’, applicable and entertaining their work was.

I enjoyed the combination of printmaking and book structures and crucially in the late 1980’s I had discovered letterpress which in my time was available cheaply from junk markets if not from skips.

I was researching the history of chapbooks and street literature, eventually writing a small article for the Society of Bookbinders newsletter as a by-product – I’m interested in traditional forms of book structure; methods materials and conservation – but informing my activity with plenty of references, prototypes and conceptual starting points in the process.

My work is varied in concept and starting point – exploring and recording the existential threat to life in ‘Four Horsemen Approaching’, exploring history and carved archetypes in ‘An Unreliable Derbyshire Bestiary’ and collecting and classifying flotsom and jetsom in ‘a Scottish Rainbow’.

The work stems from a love of printing in many forms.

My work is at its most basic, essentially focussing on recording and listing. It sometimes involves classification, e.g. ’Twigs that say Y’, but my locality and the history, geology and received narratives of ‘place’ are normally the starting point.

Additionally I produce engraved pop-up cards and letterpress ephemera as a strategy to break even and pay expenses which just allows me to keep producing in volume – and they are often, but not always, fun to do.

I paint in my studio in Wirksworth. I show work at bookart shows and print shows so there is often a bit of a cross-over effect of different print forms on my exhibition stalls. I decided to call my imprint ‘The Common Press Crich’ as I live on The Common.

For public consumption I continue, amongst other things, with my interest with the effects of lead mining in my locality in Derbyshire; mining landscape, mining place names, mining vein names, even the names of wildflowers that thrive on spoil tips are fascinating, see ‘Scrins, Flats and Pipes’.

Also it was printed as a page matrix on one sheet of etched metal so references basic book signature structures.

I’m a member of the Society of Bookbinders so I get exposed to a wide range of traditional and experimental approaches to bookbinding. A number of my books have variable structures that are not limited editions; they have been evolving with time, so they continue.

For my own consumption I continue with what I call ‘My Mnemosyne Atlas’ project. Started in earnest six years ago, it is a series of ‘perfect bound’ annual volumes that collect all the bits of reference material, drawing, photocopying, material ripped out magazines, text and found material; essentially the detritus that accumulates in sketchbooks and falls out when you give them a shake. It is literally the material that falls through the gaps. It is the marginalised supporting material that has no other existence – mainly for copyright reasons, it has an audience of one.

‘Derbyshire perspectives – reading landscape’ is at the record office from Thursday 19th September 2019 to Friday 17th January 2020.  Normal opening hours apply.

Peter will be giving an insight into printmaking techniques as they relate to his work in a talk ‘A drawn response to Derbyshire Landscape – printing from metal’ being held at the record office on Monday 30th September 2.30pm-3.30pm. The talk is free, click here to book a place.



Moon Stories

A invitation from our friends at Adverse Camber:

Moon Stories

An oral history project recording Derbyshire people’s memories of the 1969 Moon Landing and local stories about the Moon.

An invitation to share your story

Adverse Camber is one of the UK’s most celebrated storytelling companies, based amongst the historic mills in Cromford, Derbyshire. We work with some of the UK’s best storytellers and musicians from around the world to produce outstanding storytelling performances. We also run projects connecting people with storytelling in creative and involving way and have been working on projects with young people in care and care leavers to engage them with storytelling and astronomy.

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 Moon Landing, we have been awarded a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant for the ‘Moon Stories’ project, to record over 40 Derbyshire people’s stories and memories of watching the first human walk on the Moon in 1969. The results will form a comprehensive archive to be kept at the Derbyshire Records Office and also to be used by the young people as inspiration to create art.

We are looking for Derbyshire residents who would like to share their Moon stories and memories.

On Saturday 28 September 2019 our team of young people will be at Derby Cathedral at the same time as the spectacular, Museum of the Moon as part of Derby Festé – ready to record your story! We will be allocating time slots between 10.30am and 3pm and each session will last for around 30 minutes.

If you would like to share your memories please get in touch with the Moon Stories Project Coordinator, Jan Reynolds at or 07446343114.  If leaving a phone message, please say if you would prefer a morning or afternoon slot and make sure to leave your name and contact details so we can get back to you as soon as possible.

We look forward to hearing from you!

The Adverse Camber team.

To find out more about Moon Stories, follow this link.

Moon Stories is being developed in collaboration with Derbyshire Virtual School and has also received support from the Royal Astronomical Society so young people can learn more about lunar science. Adverse Camber is also grateful for support from Derbyshire Record Office, East Midlands Oral History Archive and Scopes4SEN.

Jan Reynolds


Adverse Camber Project Manager for Moon Stories’  Supported by The National Lottery Heritage Fund  and the Royal Astronomical Society

Participation Associate Adverse Camber Productions

Happy Historic County Flags Day!

You may be as surprised as I was to discover that Derbyshire did not have a county flag until 2006.  The county has had a badge since 1470 but the flag was a much later creation.

It’s introduction came about in rather unusual circumstances.   A listener to a BBC Radio Derby programme had visited Cornwall and seen their county flag flying proudly and wondered if Derbyshire had an equivalent.  Well, the answer was ‘no’.

A campaign was then started by BBC Radio Derby to design a county flag.  The winning entry was designed by Martin Enright of Derby.   The design features a green cross on a blue background – green representing Derbyshire’s countryside and the blue it’s rivers and reservoirs.  A gold Tudor rose appears at it’s centre – gold representing quality and helping to differentiate it from the emblems of Lancashire and Yorkshire.

derbyshire flag

The flag was officially registered with the Flag Institute in September 2008.

National County Flags Day is a celebration of the nation’s historic counties through the flying of flags.  It is an initiative of the Association of British Counties, endorsed by the Flag Institute and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

So, if you have a county flag, today is the day to fly it with pride!

Derbyshire Noir crime fiction festival

Derbyshire Noir

Derbyshire Arts Service and Derbyshire Libraries are holding their first ever Derbyshire Noir Book Festival 2019! A one-day crime festival for readers and writers. The event will be held at Chesterfield Library on Saturday 17th August.

The fantastic line up of authors and speakers include Stephen Booth, Roz Watkins, Sarah Ward, Jo Jakeman, Sophie Draper, Andrew Lowe, Tony R. Cox, Caroline England, Sylvia Marsden, James Ellson, John Martin, Fran Dorricott, forensic scientist and academic Jonathan Wright and the record office of course!

We’ll be there giving a talk on locally produced crime fiction and other genres and displaying original archives of crime and criminals – so lots of opportunities for inspiration.

Throughout the day there will be a choice of two events, a panel discussion in the library theatre or a smaller event in one of the library meeting rooms. Due to seating numbers spaces are available at meeting room events on a first come, first served basis. Each guest will receive the Derbyshire Noir 2019 candidate bag and there will be lots of chances to meet the authors and speakers and get your books signed. Tea, coffee and biscuits provided throughout the day. Please note that this event is suitable for adults.

Click here for the full itinerary and to book a place.

The Defalcation of Charles Biggs

If you tune into Andy Twigge’s BBC Radio Derby show at around 2.15pm, you may hear Sarah talking about a tale of embezzlement which involved a journey to Australia.  Here’s how we discovered this story.

In October 2017 Dr Paul Freeman, a regular visitor to the record office, started analysing census records for 1841 to 1911 covering the parish of Brimington. He was particularly interested in finding answers to questions about the male working population: where were they born; what work did they do; did they settle or were they just passing through?

As well as measuring trends and movements over time Paul decided to look in detail at one particular census. He chose 1891 because that was the census year in which the proportion of immigrants amongst the working men in the village reached its peak: in that year 26% of working men were born in the village, 26% were born elsewhere in Derbyshire and 52% were born outside Derbyshire.

He wanted to know how it was that these 78% who were born outside the village knew that if they came they would likely find work and housing. It was clear from the occupations of working men that the great majority would have worked for the neighbouring Staveley Coal and Iron Company. Consequently Paul turned to the Staveley Company’s records held with us at the record office to see if they contained anything of relevance. Thus it was that in February 2018 he chanced upon the intriguing records pertaining to Charles Biggs.

I was so intrigued when Paul told me of the story he was unearthing that I asked him if he might write an article which could be shared on our blog.

In the attached article Dr Freeman tells us the fascinating tale of the Defalcation of Charles Biggs, which shows us that when using archives, you never know what you might uncover…..

The Defalcation of Charles Biggs article

Exhibition: Franklin’s People

The latest exhibition on display at the record office throws light on some of the most important people in life of Arctic explorer Sir John Franklin, each with their own fascinating story.

There are his two wives, the poetic Eleanor, who died tragically young, and the formidable Jane, Lady Franklin, one of the celebrities of the Victorian age. There is also his daughter Eleanor, together with her clergyman husband John Philip Gell and their talented children.

There are also his friends and colleagues, noted explorers in their own right, such as Sir Edward Parry, Sir John Ross and Sir Leopold McClintock and John Rae, as well as people who briefly but spectacularly crossed his path such as the native North American known as Miss Green Stockings.

Items on display include (possibly) one of the last letters written by John Franklin, dated 6 July 1845.  Franklin and his expedition were last seen by Europeans only a few weeks later, on 26 July, after which they were never heard of again.

Visit us to see this and many more items associated with this fascinating individual and his incredible story.

This free exhibition runs from 23rd May –  13th September.

Derbyshire Record Office

New St





Searching for answers – the Derwent Valley Research weekend

Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage site are offering a free event designed to help budding Derwent Valley researchers get started.

  • Got a history question about your family, your house , your community?
  • Discover how and what to research in and around the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site.
  • This event will help you understand what information is out there and how you can access it.
  • Learn what’s available on-line and where to go to see original documents.
  • Hear stories from others on how they got started.
  • Information on how to archive your research so it can help other researchers with similar questions.
  • No charge for participants – a light lunch is included thanks to the Great Place Scheme.
  • Archives along the valley will be open the following day.

To book yourself a place email or telephone 01629 536830.

Friday 5 April, 10am-4pm, at the Gothic Warehouse, opposite Cromford Mills, Cromford, DE4 3RQ.


On Saturday 6 April the record office will be open from 10am-1pm as part of this research weekend.  Will be offering behind the scenes tours of the office and drop-in sessions on accessing on-line resources.  There will also be information on the John Smedley Archive and Derbyshire’s Historic Environment Record (HER) Officer will show you how to access the HER database.

Don’t have a Derwent Valley connection?  That’s ok, the record office event is open to all.

Behind the scenes tours run at 10.30am-11.15am and 11.45am-12.30pm.  Tours are free, to book a place just click on the ‘Events’ tab at the top of this page and go to the ‘Eventbrite page’ link.

The Cabinet of Curiosities

Unsurprisingly, people don’t tend to think of an archive as a place where objects are held, but as many museums hold documents, often archive repositories can hold objects. Admittedly it’s not something which we seek to collect but on occasion objects come to us as part of an archive collection and it can be more sensible to keep them together than to separate them.

For example, back in 2009 the record office purchased at auction a servants’ wages book relating to the Derby General Infirmary. We were interested in the link the wages book had to Derbyshire and its possible use as a source of family history. The small book includes a list of servant staff at the infirmary which includes the job they performed, how much they were paid, and an indication of when the worked at the hospital.

Whilst the book itself is an excellent addition to our collection perhaps the most memorable thing about this acquisition was what arrived with the book. On the morning the document was delivered we were very surprised when, as part of the lot, we found a Victorian death mask.

We don’t really know much about the death mask, sadly it didn’t come with any supporting information, so whoever the cast is of will always remain a mystery.

As this is just one of many unusual and interesting objects held at the record office we decided to hold an exhibition to display a selection.

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Take, for example, a stoolball bat. Ever heard of stoolball? We hadn’t either. It’s an ancient English game, originating in Sussex, which has been played for over 500 years. It is believed to be the origin of cricket. Tradition has it that the game was played by milkmaids who used their milking stools as a wicket and the milk bowl as a bat. A stoolball bat is part of the collection we hold of the Gell family of Hopton Hall.

Alongside our death mask and stoolball bat you will see on display a pair of spurs which saw action in the Napoleonic Wars, a lock of flaming red hair given by the actress Frances Kemble to Robert Arkwright, son of Sir Richard Arkwright, on the eve of their wedding in 1805 and a printed nightshirt with links to Beatrix Potter.

The Cabinet of Curiosities exhibition is on at the record office until 17th May, normal opening hours apply.

A Bolsover matchmaker?

As I promised at the end of last week, here is another happy outcome from The Art of Letter Writing project.

When the residents of Fulleylove Court retirement housing complex in Bolsover visited the record office I was delighted to get talking with Yvonne who mentioned that she had letters from her grandfather dating from 1901. For years she had been wondering what to do with these letters and, seeing the work the record office can do with such material, she kindly donated them to us.

The letters are a glimpse into the lives of Yvonne’s grandfather, George Henry Mason, his wife Sarah Ann and their small daughter Midgie (also Sarah Ann).

George was a butcher from Bolsover and the family lived next door to their shop which was situated in the Market Place, now The Pump Tea Rooms. George was writing home from Buxton where it appears he was receiving treatment for sore legs and ankles.  In his letters he makes reference to taking baths and receiving water treatments.

From these letters we can tell how much he cared for his family and how keen he was to return to the business, which was being looked after by his father-in-law while George was away. He gives his opinion on Buxton which he finds very expensive “Buxton is the dearest place that ever I was in my life…

Mason envelope

Within one letter I found a small scrap of paper with a most amusing note of romantic advice for Richard, who may have been a relative or friend of George and Sarah Ann:

“Tell Richard there is a young widow at Buxton (Butcher) grand Front[?] shop, doing plenty of business, I have seen her in the shop once.

Good Looking tell him

plenty of Money”

Mason note

Sadly, we don’t know if Richard ever pursued this wealthy widow!

A huge thank you to Yvonne for donating these letters to the record office.