Manorial Documents Register Launch

Last Thursday (16 April) we held an event to launch the Derbyshire section of the Manorial Documents Register (MDR). This was the culmination of the process which the Derbyshire Record Office, with the help of its partner organisation, The National Archives, started over two years ago to revise and update the Derbyshire entries on the MDR.

The event included talks from three speakers: Neil Bettridge,the MDR Project officer for Derbyshire, who spoke in general terms about manors and manorial records; Liz Hart of the Development Section of The National Archives, based at Kew, who spoke about the Manor Documents Register, providing valuable background information on its history, its development and its current aims and objectives covering the overall project for England and Wales as a whole; and Kate Henderson, a professional record agent, who spoke positively and enthusiastically about how the records could be used to help people trying to trace their family history in manorial records. After the talks and light refreshments, people were able to look at a display of manorial documents in the Searchroom and to take the opportunity to try out the Manorial Documents Register online for Derbyshire.

One aspect of the project, and possibly, the most important, was that it would make the information available online. Previously the MDR could only have been inspected by going to The National Archives in person, and although researchers could enquire through the post or by email, it inevitably meant it took people a lot of time and effort to find out what they wanted. Now it is much easier for people to see what manorial records there are and where they are just by going straight to the appropriate webpage for the MDR, which can be found at The MDR online also has information which is more detailed and up to date, reflecting any changes which might have been made to the location and listing of manorial records.

The event seems to have been well received, with several people taking the opportunity to inspect the Register many positive comments on it. We would like to thank everyone who attended and helped things go so well.

DSCF0450DSCF0453MDR cropDSCF0458

Dick Whittington

Dick Whittington

Dick Whittington

We’re just about still in the pantomime season. Oh no, we’re not! oh yes, we are! (Sorry, I won’t do that again.) It is, therefore, just about time to let you know that a document was found in the Harpur Crewe collection which shows that there was indeed such a person in history as Dick Whittington. The document in question is an indenture which is part of a series of documents which were written to help ensure the conveyance of the manor of Repton by Sir John de Strauley to Henry de Knyveton and others in 1412. In the indenture there is reference to a binding financial commitment of £500 having been made publicly in the the Court of Staple by Sir John in front of Richard Whittington (spelled Whityngton in the text) who was serving in his capacity as the Mayor of the Staple of Westminster . The sum of £500 was being used as security to make sure the conveyance went through, and it would have been a massive sum for the time, roughly equivalent to £250,000. (OK, so not massive by Premier League footballer standards, but you get the picture.)

It is an undeniable fact that Richard, or Dick, Whittington came to London and made his fortune, becoming lord mayor of London on at least three separate occasions. He made his fortune as a mercer in London, dealing in the purchase and sale of textile goods, usually at the higher end of the market and he notably became the major supplier of such goods to King Richard II, a particularly flamboyant follower of fashion. Dick also developed as a leading player in the money market of the time, lending heavily on several occasions to the Crown. It was largely through the medium of such mercers that the international banking system developed in the late Middle Ages, with the extension of substantial credit at substantial rates of interest. On the whole Dick’s hero status has not been damaged in recent years by the falling stock of super rich bankers, and it would be something of a shame if it was. His reputation of philanthropy was fully deserved, as he does seem to have used his wealth extensively for the common good and even willed that all his estate after his death in 1423 was to be sold off to be used for good causes.

Although he wasn’t exactly born a pauper, his status as the third son of a lesser Gloucestershire landowner did mean he probably did have to move to London if he was going to make a real fortune. Whether he had a cat with him or not is unknown, but the association of one with Dick seems to have already been established by the early 17th century. Cats would, of course, have been extremely useful in the London of the times to help keep down the size of the rat and mice population, regardless of any comfort, psychological well-being or material assistance they might have given their owners. There is no mention, believe it or not, of a cat in the document, but if you are looking for a Puss, here are picture of a few bootless ones taken from late 19th century Harpur Crewe family scrapbooks.


Merry Christmas from the Harpur Crewes

Xmas angel               Xmas fun

Among the records of the Harpur Crewe collection are a couple of Victorian scrap albums of Christmas cards collected by or for children of the family. One belonged to Richard Fynderne Harpur Crewe (called Dickie) in the 1880s and the other to his sister Frances in the 1890s.I have gathered together a number of images from these two albums (document reference numbers D2375/M/260/7 and D2375/M/246/10) to show the sort of Christmas cards they had then. They’re certainly different, perhaps unbearably so for some! Lots of cute cats and dogs and the like.

Xmas cat group                   Xmas cats

Xmas dog (2)           Xmas dog

There are a couple of Santa Claus cards which stand out. I particularly like the one on the left, not only because he is pedalling away on his penny farthing but also because he has on the red  tunic usually associated with him. You often hear that the modern image of Santa was the product of advertising in the 1930s by some soft drink company or other, so it’s nice to see that it was based on something that did have an earlier tradition.

Xmas Santa on penny farthing                   Xmas Santa

There are quite a few quirky ones.  Clowns, monkeys and soldiers feature on them more than they tend to do today. I do like the hopeful size of the girl’s stocking, but parents may disagree! Nothing, however, for me quite conjures up the true meaning of Christmas as the idea of kangaroos  prospecting for gold.

Xmas in bed   Xmas clown

Xmas kangaroos    Xmas mouse

Xmas veteran              Xmas umbrella cats

There are also a number of New Year’s greeting cards in the albums, of which these are two of the best.

New Year chicks         New Year scene

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!


Dramatic late news from the Battle of Trafalgar

Many of you may have been aware that this Tuesday (21 October) was Trafalgar Day. While working my way through the Harpur Crewe papers (not on the day itself, alas, but the one after) I happened to come across this item, which gives a slightly different version of events at the Battle of Trafalgar. I had thought that we had won it, but obviously it was the French (and Spanish) instead! Continue reading

Joys of the Harpur Crewe collection

I have recently started work revising the catalogue of the records of the Harpur Crewe family of Calke Abbey. There is a lot of wonderful stuff in this wonderful collection, and I am hoping to give you a flavour of what is held every few weeks or so by selecting a document for you to look at.

The first document I have selected is something of a mystery. It is a draft letter, supposedly from a dying mother to her son. It has been dictated by her to a person who would seem to have been writing it down straight onto a page in a book. She evidently had enough strength to put her initials, JH. The page has, however, been torn out rather badly from the book, as can be seen from the left hand margin. Did the mother change her mind and decide not to send the letter? Was she dissatisfied with it? Was she the one to tear it out so badly? Did the mother actually die before it could be sent? Whatever happened, the sheet of paper was actually re-used, as on the other side are notes about an indenture of 1587 relating to properties in Alstonefield, Staffordshire, and was found loose in a court book of the manor of Alstonefield.

D2375/M/1/3/1 - letter

D2375/M/1/3/1 – letter

Here is a Transcript of the document, with an update in more modern English.

I would like to believe the mother in question is Jane Harpur, who died in 1597 and was the widow of Richard Harpur of Swarkestone, a renowned lawyer and judge. The son to whom she may have been writing may possibly have been John, who was knighted in 1603. There are few very certainties, only that it was written from Swarkestone, where one branch of the Harpur family lived, and that it was delivered by George Hoult. There is a tantalising reference to “that noble mann”, which may be the Earl of Derby (Derby is referred to further down in the letter, “darby was our frend”) or Gilbert, Earl of Shrewsbury (John Harpur was said to be his right hand man). There is also a surprising reference to her niece Bennett and her “bedferlowe on knowen”.

Even if we can’t know at this stage what is really going on, I would like to think it does actually show that people’s lives in the past were always more complicated than we tend to give them credit for.

Neil Bettridge


Manorial Records talk update

A number of people have indicated that they were be able to attend the talk on Wednesday 9th July but have expressed an interest in obtaining notes about it. I am hoping that I will be able to put an edited version of the talk on our website, possibly with images of some of the manorial records I have chosen. This is likely to be a much less rambling and more coherent account than the actual talk given, so people who weren’t able to make it will probably have the better of the bargain.

I will be writing it up properly over the next few weeks, and once it gets past the censors, it will hopefully appear some time next month. Watch this space, as they say.

Neil Bettridge

Manorial Documents Register Project Officer for Derbyshire

Talk on Manorial Records 9 July

I am currently working on preparations for a talk I shall be giving at the Derbyshire Record Office on Manorial Records on the morning of Wednesday 9th July at 11 o’clock. The talk (which should last about an hour) will start with an outline of the history and development of manors, explaining what they actually were, how they operated and what people were to be found in them. I will then move on to show what types of manorial records there are, with illustrated examples of individual documents taken from the various collections held at the Derbyshire Record Office. Finally, I will explain the nature of the project I am working on (as a part of a nationwide project run by The National Archives), why the Manorial Documents Register exists, how to use it and what information will be found on it when it is all finished and available online. Well, that’s the plan, anyway.

The talk is priced at £3 (£2 for concessions). There are only a limited number of places available, so booking is essential. To book a place call us on 01629 538347 or email us at

Neil Bettridge

Manorial Documents Register Project Officer for Derbyshire

Lost and found

One of the most satisfying things about being an archivist is the opportunity it gives you to bring to light new documents which people will have the opportunity to look at in the future. It is doubly satisfying, therefore, to find documents which were once thought to be lost and can now be seen again.

Just recently, I received a specific request to locate a particular series of late 17th century documents for Elvaston manor on behalf of a researcher, Mr Jean-Baptiste Piggin, who had tried unsuccessfully in the past to locate them. He had found the reference to the documents in “Three Centuries of Derbyshire Annals”, Volume 2 (published 1890) by Reverend J.C.Cox. Cox states (page 275) that they were stored in the “record room” maintained by the Clerk of the Peace in St Mary’s Gate, Derby. This meant that they were held along with the records of the Derbyshire County Quarter Sessions, which were later moved to the County Offices in Matlock in the late 1950 and then eventually transferred to the Derbyshire Record Office in Matlock in the late 1980s.

It was assumed that the Elvaston manor items had been lost. There was no indication in the assorted lists and finding aids drawn up over the years for the Quarter Sessions that they still existed, and there is, indeed, no reason for them to have necessarily been retained, as they had absolutely no connection with Quarter Sessions. There are, however, quite a number of boxes of Quarter Sessions still unlisted, so I decided it would be worth checking in each one. And so it proved, even though, as is the way of these things, they were in the last box I looked at! The documents (numbering 60 items) have now been removed from the Quarter Session records and allocated a new collection reference number, D7687.

Mr Piggin has produced an excellent blog on this episode, which can be seen at

The equally excellent page on his website about Elvaston court leet can also be seen at He has transcribed everything that Cox published on the subject on pages 275-280.

One of the most intriguing aspects of the documents themselves is the way it shows the Elvaston jurors being able to fine the lord of the manor, John Stanhope, and members of his family for their minor misdemeanours. Lords were not above the law, so to speak, even in their own manors and had to abide by the “custom” or the by-laws of the manor the same as everyone else .

D7687 1_0004The top presentment by the jury members serving for Ambaston on 13 April 1692 fines Mr. John Stanhope 10 shillings for not scouring his watercourse. Notice that his fine is much higher than those for the other listed people for the same sort of offence. You can’t help feeling it’s pay-back time for the lord and master!

The manor court jury was expected to investigate incidents of potential misdemeanours and then present their findings to the court. These investigations would have taken place before the court actually sat, making the manor jury a very different beast from any present-day jury. There was also an implicit assumption of guilt for those named by the jury in their presentments: the matter had already been investigated, and if the person hadn’t committed an offence, he wouldn’t have been presented! You do find cases where people have appealed, in effect, against the “false words” of the jury, but these are very much the exception.