Lockdown Stories: Working from Home

From earlier blog posts, you will have realised that I, like my colleagues at the Record Office, am working from home during this period of lockdown.

For me, in my modest cottage, this has taken some adjustment. Firstly, child number two, aged 21, arrived home from University with a friend in tow – both with the huge pressure of deadlines to meet for coursework, dissertations to complete and final exams to pass for their undergraduate degree courses. Hmmm, a puzzle to solve. Three adults into a small cottage has meant one of us in the basement bedroom (fondly known as the ‘dungeon’), one in the dining/sitting room (also referred to as the ‘yoga studio’) and me in the kitchen (near the food).

Archivist Becky dropped off a laptop, keyboard and mouse, which after 72 hours of quarantine were ready for use. With some assistance from the Derbyshire County Council IT department, I had already set up my personal PC and phone to allow limited access to the Record Office databases and communications system. Once switched over to the laptop and equipment Becky had dropped off, full access was enabled and I was ready to go.

The work task assigned to me has been a pleasure to work on, for which I feel extremely grateful.

The Miller Mundy family of Derbyshire has provided us with a true insight into their lives as landed gentry and politicians from the 1700s onwards. Based at Shipley, Markeaton and Walton, the family was extremely large and unravelling the different strands of this family has been challenging at times, particularly with their fondness for the names Edward, Frances/Francis, Godfrey, Robert, Nellie, Georgiana and Alfred, used in almost every generation. The astounding number of children born to each generation, with Edward Miller Mundy (1775-1834, son of Edward, father to Edward) fathering 13 children with his wife, Nellie, adding to the puzzle.

Aside from the family seat in Derbyshire, there is a long history of involvement in both local and national politics. Several members of the family became Members of Parliament, High Sheriffs and Magistrates. With so many children, it was usual for sons other than the first born heir to enter the military or church.

I have been transcribing letters from George Miller Mundy written to his Father, Edward Miller Mundy. George was in the navy, Captain of The Hydra, and wrote extensively about the Napoleonic War. George’s writing style is clear, and he is well educated, sometimes quoting Shakespeare, although not always entirely accurately. He writes of battles and strategies naming ships familiar to us, as well as naval officers such as Collingwood, Hardy and Nelson, the enemy Villeneuve and Napoloeon; politics as well as his feelings. Reading them transports me to another era.

It has become clear that in spite of the size of the family, there is a deep affection and respect for one another, which is very touching to read.

My working day is a stimulating break from being stuck at home baking, reading, learning Spanish and playing the Ukulele. As a part-timer, I work four hours per day over four days, which is ideal for this task. I have now rigged up a large monitor, discovered in child number one’s room (on a sabbatical and currently isolating in Panama). The large screen has helped considerably in trying to decipher the somewhat tricky handwriting. Zooming in on a big screen aids with seeing how letters are formed, leading to understanding specific words.

Generally, the internet connection has been very reliable for all three of us working. Today has been the first day of failing, which has made me realise how reliant we are on technology. I fear this lockdown would have been far more isolating without our Skype and zoom meetings with colleagues and friends. Working from home would have been a completely different story, and may have been nigh impossible in some cases.

Melanie's workstation


This image shows my home office set up in my kitchen; I am lucky to have enough space for a desk. The handwritten/highlighted notes show my first attempt to plot the Miller Mundy family structure! I choose to work with the radio on (Radio 4 or 6) as I like some background noise. This is not heard by the two students elsewhere in the house.

Not far from wherever I am, you will find my two dogs, Nora the Greyhound and Nelson, my Jack Russell. Nelson is 13, and when I named him as a nine week old puppy, I did not envisage I would be reading letters about Lord Nelson’s heroic actions, victories and demise.

So, here is ‘my’ Nelson.

Nelson the dog

Melanie Collier, Archives Assistant


Lockdown Stories: What work can we do without access to our collections?

Well the answer to that is quite a lot actually. One of the tasks that I have been given/been volunteered for (?), has been responding to the email enquiries that have been received by the office during this unusual time.

As you can imagine, the number of enquiries at the beginning of lockdown was quite small. I, along with most of the population, I would think, thought this situation would probably last a few weeks and everyone thought they could wait that long for any information they required. However, as time has gone on the enquiries have started to increase in number, and a few people have found that, even though we are all staying at home, there are some things that just cannot wait! Several of the enquiries are from people needing copies of documents for legal purposes and one enquiry was from someone who needed a copy of their baptism certificate for their wedding to take place in August. As all Record Office staff are working from home without access to the collections and all the finding aids, we are striving to reply to enquiries as fully as we possibly can under the circumstances, but I should stress that we are very far from business as usual. We have very limited access to the building currently, just for security purposes and to check, for example, the humidity levels to ensure the documents are stored in optimum conditions, especially during the incredibly sunny couple of months we’ve just experienced!

Unsurprisingly, many of the enquiries have been from people who have taken up or have decided to re-visit their family history and are trying to solve that elusive family connection. One of our researchers has even traced her family back to 1044 (a very unusual occurrence!).

House history has also proven to be very popular (unsurprising since we are all spending so much time there at the moment!). Fortunately, there are many online resources available to whet your appetite, until such times as we are able to access the collections at the office again.

Hopefully, the Research Guides we have been publishing on the blog are proving useful to both novice and experienced researchers.

One of the more unusual enquiries we have received was from someone trying to find out the place and date of death for an Arthur Rodgers, who was born in Derbyshire on February 18, 1885. Apparently, Arthur was a footballer for Nottingham Forest, and, later, Turin FC. Unfortunately, I had to refer the enquirer to the General Register Office, as I am sure many of you are already aware, Derbyshire Record Office doesn’t hold copies of birth or death certificates.

A lot of the enquiries have been from overseas researchers, one, for example, looking for the reason an ancestor was transported in the 19th century and another, looking much more recently, for their parents records at St Christopher’s Railway Servants Orphanage in Derby.

As you can see, I certainly haven’t been bored whilst locked away in my makeshift office (spare bedroom!). Responding to your enquiries has kept me intrigued, entertained and above all still in touch with our researchers. I look forward to continuing to try and assist with your research and, hopefully, in the not too distant future, once public health restrictions allow, to meeting you in person at the Record Office.

Anne Lawley, Assistant in Charge

A letter from Trafalgar

Part of a very moving collection of letters in the Miller Mundy collection (D517) from October and November 1805, George Miller Mundy wrote an account to his father just two days after the Battle of Trafalgar.  George was captain of HMS Hydra and spent many years patrolling the seas around Cadiz and Gibraltar, engaging in combat.  It is clear that Lord Nelson was very much admired and respected by his men, and his demise at Trafalgar was sorely felt, in spite of the tremendous victory.

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Letter from George Miller Mundy to his father, 1805 (D517 BOX a 3 part 2)

George writes about the day of the battle, and describes how Commander-in-Chief, Admiral Lord Nelson inspired his men to victory:

“One of the most characteristic circumstances of his conduct on the great day was a Telegraphic message to the fleet in general just as they were going into action. It was!

“England espects [sic] British Seamen will do their Duty, this Day”

what could have been more expressive and more exhilarating to men who looked to him as a father? Can you conceive any more to the purpose? The Captains of course turn’d their men up and read the short but nervous sentence to them. Imagine the unanimous response of

“We will do it”

and three lusty Cheers”

The letter continues to describe how Lord Nelson’s unique and inspired strategy repeatedly broke the French line of ships, demolishing the fleet of their enemy.  The cost was:

“the loss of Lord Nelson. A Frenchman shot him of the Fore tops thro’ his shoulder which lodg’d in his back, he liv’d some hours, and when Hardy went down & told him the Trinidad (the pride of Spain) had struck! & some others. He said, he was satisfied it was a victory, and almost immediately expir’d, so departed, this wonderful man.”

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Letter from George Miller Mundy to his father, 1805 (D517 BOX a 3 part 2)

History tells us that Nelson was recognised as a hero by the nation.  The monument, Nelson’s Column, in Trafalgar Square in London, has the inscription ‘England expects every man will do his Duty’ at it’s base, the same message described by George in his letter.

Melanie, Archives Assistant

Stay connected, get creative and keep learning

Over the past few years the record office has been working with our friends at Junction Arts, the Chesterfield-based arts charity, on the project The Art of Letter Writing. The project celebrates the unique relationships we make with each other by writing and receiving letters, using historical letters from the record office’s collection, the participants’ own letters from home, and the art of illuminated letters.

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Excerpt from a letter written by Elizabeth Winchester, lady’s maid at Chatsworth House (D5430/76/23)

Usually a hands-on project, whilst we’re all socially distancing, the project has been specially adapted to go online. So what better time than now to connect with family and friends? The project is also connecting people with more vulnerable and isolated members of our community by offering people the chance to connect through letter writing. It might even be the start of a friendship that lasts beyond the lockdown!

For more information on the project and details of how to get involved see the Junction Arts website. If you do get involved, we’d love to hear how you got on.


Connecting families and creating history during COVID-19 and beyond

‘History Begins at Home’ is a new national campaign which aims to connect people through conversations about history and to capture and then share these conversations, memories and stories through the campaign’s Facebook page and Twitter.

The idea behind the campaign is to encourage family members of different generations to connect or re-connect by discovering previously unknown facts or family stories, sharing memories, experiences and expertise, and then capturing these conversations and findings for the future.

Gary Tuson, County Archivist at Norfolk Record Office and Campaign Lead at History Begins at Home, comments: “COVID-19 has created all sorts of challenges such as separation, isolation, hardship, the need for resilience, the power of community and the desire to help one another. History Begins at Home is the perfect antidote during this period when people can’t visit their family members due to the current restrictions. It’s a fun way to pass some time together on the phone, via FaceTime, Zoom, WhatsApp or other apps. And, with so much emphasis on mental health and well-being during the lockdown, the campaign is an ideal way for people to engage with the recommended ‘5 ways to well-being’: Connect, Give, Be active, Take Notice and Keep Learning.”

Gary adds: “The campaign will initially focus on the past within families, with the goal of sparking discussions around aspects of childhood and adulthood across the generations, such as toys, food, precious things and memories. Each week, we’ll focus on a different theme about the past and encourage people to start a conversation about it, engage in an activity relating to it and then record something about it and, if they like, share what they’ve found out on our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/historybeginsathome and Twitter https://twitter.com/BeginsHistory

Getting involved in History Begins at Home is easy – start off by asking a relative for one of their old recipes and share it, find and share a picture of a family member’s favourite childhood toy, an old love letter (or a new one), or ask them about a funny, incredible, interesting, remarkable or obscure story or memory from their past. Who knows what you might discover!

This week being Mental Health Awareness week, its even more important to stay connected. The record office is supporting the History Begins at Home project via Twitter, follow us at @FranklinArchive. This week we have memories of favourite toys!

Take a look and join the conversation on Facebook at:



and on Twitter:






Florence Nightingale Museum faces closure

The Florence Nightingale Museum is based in the grounds of St Thomas’ Hospital, London, the place where, in 1860, Nightingale established her School of Nursing. In this bicentenary year of her birth and the designated International Year of the Nurse and Midwife, the museum is sadly facing the threat of closure due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

If you’d like to help save this historically important collection, made up of almost 3000 artefacts relating to Florence’s life, work and legacy, including one of her famous lamps used during the Crimean War, then visit the museum’s website and click on the Go Fund Me link.

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“Every nurse ought to wash her hands very frequently”

Florence Nightingale, Notes on Nursing, 1859


Celebrating Florence

Tomorrow sees the 200th anniversary of the birth of the woman credited as the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale (12 May 1820-13 August 1910).

Florence served as a manager and trainer of nurses during the Crimean War, in which she organised care for wounded soldiers. Shocked by conditions in the hospital Florence began to campaign to improve the quality of nursing in military hospitals. On her return from the war she was instrumental in professionalising nursing roles for women and encouraged the development of nursing in Britain and abroad. Her birthday was chosen to be International Nurses Day and The World Health Organisation has designed 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse & Midwife.

Famously known D1575 Box 36 81 (i)as ‘The Lady with the Lamp’, making rounds of wounded soldiers at night, many people aren’t aware that Florence came from the Nightingale family of Lea, near Matlock, and retained strong connections with her family home and the people of Lea.

Throughout this week we will be celebrating Florence with posts on how she cared for the people in her local community, her connection to the Derbyshire coal industry and the impact her story has had on generations which have followed. It’s no surprise that, during the current threat facing the world, Florence’s name is back in the headlines. The NHS Nightingale Hospitals, seven critical care temporary hospitals set up by NHS England as part of the response to the COVID-19 epidemic, have been named in her honor.

We hope you enjoy our week of posts celebrating Florence, starting tomorrow with a post from record office volunteer Roger, who is transcribing the wonderful collection of Florence’s letters which the record office is fortunate to hold.

florence nightingale signature

If Florence has had an impact on your life, please share your stories with us, we’d love to hear them.

We remember – 75 years ago today

The Thornhills of Great Longstone, once a farming family, played an extensive role in parish life throughout the 19th century. Most of the parish records found in this collection (ref: D307) relate to Robert Thornhill, Overseer of the Poor, Clerk to the Commissioners of Taxes and the last High Constable for the High Peak Hundred. In addition to parish records, the Thornhill papers also include family papers from the 19th century onwards; Turnpike records and papers relating to the Arkwright family. The family papers also include ephemera relating to the First and Second World Wars.

The 8th May 1945 is the day on which Allied forces formally announced the surrender of Germany, which brought the Second World War to a close in Europe.

Along with the parades and street parties marking the national holiday, services of thanksgivings were conducted throughout the country. A copy of the order of this Service of Thanksgiving can be found within the papers of the Thornhill family.

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Our plans to commemorate the 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe may have changed but there are still lots of ways to mark the day – take part in a national two minute silence to honour the service and sacrifice of the Second World War generation, decorate your home or give the Royal British Legion Industries’ online Lindy Hop lessons a try! Home schooling? The Royal British Legion have created a series of free downloadable VE Day Learning resources for children aged 7-14 years.

Share your family memories – we’d love to hear how your relatives have commemorated VE Day over the years.

Whatever you do, all of us here at the record office wish you a happy and safe bank holiday.

Escape from 200 French infantry on the beach in northern Spain using guile, cunning and some fish!

So in my earlier post, we heard how George Miller Mundy managed to be reunited with his ship HMS Hydra after a beach skirmish. However, not all his crew managed to board a fishing boat to do the same. In the letter dated 1st May 1809 written to his father, Edward Miller Mundy of Shipley, he describes the adventures of fellow Englishman Radford…

‘Radford had a narrow and rather extraordinary escape he had, like myself, been obliged to remain on shore at Castel de Fels in consequence of the great sea on the beach, and as he could not pass Barcelona very safely by land he went to Tarragona where he got a passage in a packet boat bound for Mataro and on the 27th when near Barcelona found himself in the midst of the French squadron which he took to be English and without hesitation went alongside the [French vessel]…‘

So, mistaking an enemy French vessel for an English one, whilst on board a Spanish packet boat with Spanish crew threatening to stab him (rather than being discovered harbouring an English seaman by the French), what did Radford do?

‘of course he soon discovered his error, but how to get away again was the business, and the Spaniards on the Boat were going to stab him conceiving that he had acted treacherously, in this disastrous situation he thought of asking, or rather holding up some fish to the French officer, who was attending at the side, who refused them, on which he immediately cut the rope and dropt astern, most fortunately for him, the ship was in the act of making sail in chase of the Hydra which occupied the whole crew’

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Excerpt from George’s letter to his father, 1st May 1809 (D517 Box A 3 part 2)


Quick thinking Radford tricked the French officer, who was more concerned with chasing the Hydra, into thinking he was simply crew of the packet boat, by offering him fish and so secured his escape!

Melanie, Archives Assistant

Captain Mundy’s close shave and a game of ‘la chase’

Almost two hundred years ago, Captain George Mundy wrote a letter to his father, Edward Miller Mundy I on May 1st 1809, detailing an encounter with the French fleet in the Napoleonic wars five days earlier on Thursday, 27th April 1809. This letter is part of the Miller Mundy collection, which is an enlightening and fascinating insight into life at that time.

There are so many historical books, films and television programmes centred on the Napoleonic Wars, but to be able to read a first-hand account written by member of a family local and renowned to Derby, elevates your imagination and creates a much closer idea of what these seamen endured.

Captain Mundy's letter

HMS Hydra captained by George Mundy was anchored off Mongat, North East of Barcelona. He left his ship and writes that he

“arrived in the neighbourhood of the beach and immediately between me and the ship – a party of 200 French infantry that had marched out of Barcelona and came to plunder the village of Mongat – on the beach so heavy a surf that none of our boats could land, a squadron of men of war coming towards the Hydra”

He continues how he wished he could engage in ‘la chase’ – a chase, relying entirely on the wind and sea

“however it was to no purpose stewing and fretting and with a little exertion and some threats, I got a fisherman to launch me thro’ the surf and put me on board the old Hydra – never have I felt half the pleasure of getting alongside a good blazing fire after a long journey…as I did in putting my foot on the deck of my wooden residence – all the miseries I had been suffering vanished and I felt strong in my castle and able to undertake a good deal.”

Capt. Mundy’s delight at being back on board is clear, in spite of the considerable threat from the enemy fleet blocking their route.

And what happened next? After firing shots at the French infantry on the beach and faced with a whole squadron of Men of War, the Hydra managed to escape having used a secret signal to identify the enemy, and by skilled seamanship and bravery.

“soon under weigh (sic) and having given my friends at Mongat a few parting shots I made all sail towards the enemy advanced frigates (which I had then discovered them to be by their not answering the private signal) knowing that it was the only way to get off – that is to say by a little gasconade – by which I completely succeeded in escaping from the cul de sac – they had put me in, or rather shut me in – do not imagine that they were alarmed by the asserations and manoeuvre of the Hydra – no! The truth of the matter was that they took for granted that we supposed the squadron to be British and that we were joining them.”

Melanie, Archives Assistant