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 info@derwentvalleymills.org 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.

A ditty of thanks for The Art of Letter Writing project

Back in February you may recall that I blogged about my visit to Ashgate Hospice in Chesterfield. The visit was for The Art of Letter Writing Project which I have been working on in conjunction with Junction Arts, the Chesterfield based arts charity.

The project celebrates the art of the letter and looked at historical letters (which is where the record office came in), the participants’ own letters from home, and the art of illuminated letters.

Over the summer I also visited residents of Caroline Court in Hope, and Granby House in Bakewell, and residents of local sheltered housing schemes in Hulland Ward. I took along a selection of letters from our collection, which included letters from a Chesterfield soldier writing home from the First World War; letters from a ladies maid working at Chatsworth in 1805; letters from badly behaved school boys in Derby writing to their headmaster seeking forgiveness for ‘bad deeds’, and a letter from students at a Derbyshire sixth form college writing to Sir George Bernhard Shaw complimenting the famous writer on his neat handwriting.

The letters sparked conversations, memories and anecdotes, inspiring participants to hunt out their own letters from family and loved ones and share them with the group.

For the fourth session the residents of Fulleylove Court in Bolsover visited the record office and shared stories of their own childhood memories of the Secord World War. One lady and I chatted about the experiences of soldiers in the First World War compared to those of service men and women today, her son being a Royal Marine.

One participant, Sylvia, was so taken with the sessions that she wrote a wonderful poem which sums up the project to a tee!

We gather round the table

With letters on our mind.

Little gems from long ago

Hopefully we will find.

Documents and papers

All from ages past

Need saving from oblivion

Preservation will make them last.


News of foreign travel

Thoughts from overseas.

Some written in the trenches

With water up to knees.

Serving girls complaining

Employers all so grand.

Of France she is quite scathing

It’s not the promised land.


Illuminated lettering once an ancient art

Some doubted they could do it

But everyone took part.

We admired each others efforts

Hidden talents to the fore.

And if you were to ask us,

We would like to do some more.


The poets entertained us

with stories from Carr Vale.

Characters who lived there

Some beyond the pale.

Long forgotten happenings

Some designed to stun,

Read with tongue in cheek

It added to the fun.


I have gained a lot of pleasure

With visits to the Court.

How could I say thank you?

So I gave it some thought.

I’m sorry it’s all ending

It really is a pity

And to say a big thank you

I wrote this little ditty.  


I’ll be posting next week about another unexpected outcome of the project, so look out for that!



First World War commemorations

Over the next three weekends Barrow Hill Roundhouse will be hosting First World War Commemoration events for all the family.

Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st October – 10am-4pm

Sunday 28th October – 10am-4pm

Saturday 3rd and Sunday 4th November, 10am-4pm

The end of the First World War will be commemorated with the special pop-up exhibition ‘Derbyshire Lives Through the First World War’.  The exhibition charts the impact the war had on the lives of people living in the county.

The record office have been asked to go along and I’ll be there on the first and final weekends with a stall displaying original documents from our collection, including letters home from soldiers serving in the trenches and copies of the trench magazine The Wipers Times.  Come along and say hello.

Wipers times crop.jpg

The Wipers Times – document ref: D1712/4

Adults – £3, children (under 16) – £2, families (2 adults and 3 children) – £8.

Barrow Hill Roundhouse, Campbell Drive, Barrow Hill, Chesterfield, S43 2PR

Tel: 01246 475554


Kids get creative!

Kids get Creative crop

Looking for ways to keep the children entertained this summer holiday?  Then pop along to our children’s craft day this Thursday 16th August between 12noon and 4pm.  We will have lots for kids to do including our silhouette treasure hunt , creating a family tree or coat of arms and much more, and as children under 8 have to be accompanied by an adult – that means you can have a go too!

It’s a drop in event so no need to book and best of all it’s absolutely free.

Derbyshire Record Office, New St, Matlock, DE4 3FE

The Amazing Pop Up Archives Project film and resources – information and inspiration

We are delighted to bring you our project film.  If you didn’t catch us at one of our events you can see what we got up to and hear from the team on their experiences of working on the ‘Pop Up’ project:


Inspired?  Want to do something similar yourself?  Then click on the link below where you will find our case studies and Evaluation Report.  These documents provide information on how we created and delivered the project, the lessons we learnt along the way, the project’s achievements and our hopes for future ‘Pop Ups’:

Pop Up project resources – get inspired to ‘pop up’ in your local community

If you’d like to know more about the Pop Up project then do get in touch at karen.millhouse@derbyshire.gov.uk



History of Derbyshire’s Parish Registers

Want to know what links a tornado, lightning strikes, broken hearts, well-fed bailiffs and Henry VIII?  Then come along to our talk on the history of Derbyshire’s Parish Registers.

Recording the baptisms, marriages and burials which took place in the Church of England parishes throughout Derbyshire, they are a must for family historians.  They can, however, tell us much more, offering a glimpse into the lives of individuals and the communities in which they lived.

Our talk charts the history of parish registers from their creation in the time of Henry VIII to the present.  Learn how you can access them online and see some interesting original examples from the record office collection.

This talk is FREE but booking is essential.  Click the ‘Events’ tab at the top of the page to book your place.

Monday 11th June, 11am-12noon

Derbyshire Record Office, New St, Matlock, DE4 3FE







Pentrich Revolution Study Day


Join us on Monday 4th June for a free study day dedicated to the Pentrich Revolution, which celebrated its bicentenary last year.  The event is here at the record office and hosted by the Pentrich & South Wingfield Revolution Group.

Here’s what you can expect on the day:

  • A talk by Michael Parkin giving an overview and posing some unanswered questions that could provide suitable research topics
  • A genealogy session led by Sylvia Mason who has compiled the family trees of the Pentrich Rebels (potentially with an input from descendants, the group’s Chairman John Hardwick)
  • An illustrated talk ‘Transported for Treason’ dealing with the fate of the 14 men who were transported to penal colonies and the families they left behind
  • Some personal time for participants to look through archive material

The Study Day runs from 10am to 3pm. For more information contact Patrick Cook, of the Pentrich & South Wingfield Revolution Group, at patrickc99@hotmail.co.uk or call 07931 198707.

This event is free but places are limited. Click on the ‘Events’ tab at the top of the page to book at place.