Who owned my car?

This is a pretty common question for us at the record office.

Did you know? Vehicle registration was introduced in 1903 under the responsibility of the Borough and County Councils.

Although in other parts of the country many vehicle licensing records do survive, unfortunately, this is not the case for Derbyshire, so enquirers may be left disappointed with our answer.

The few records that do survive for Derbyshire are registers of fees for local taxation licences 1909-1910 and local taxation police reports and ‘failure to licence’ reports 1910-1911 (ref: DCC/UL).  There are more records surviving for Derby Borough including Registers of motor cars and motor cycles, plus some other vehicles between 1903 and 1947 (registration numbers CH were used up to 1933 and RC thereafter) – see D1890 for a full catalogue list.

A central system for was established in 1965 under the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Centre (DVLC), now DVLA.

For records after 1974, contact the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency.   We do know that some people have been successful in obtaining information from the Kithead Trust relating to vehicles registered in Derbyshire before 1945.

Occasionally, you might also find records in other collections.  In particular, the archive of Kennings Ltd of Clay Cross (D4547) includes new and second hand car registers, 1949-1974 and licence registers 1954-1969.  If the vehicle you are interested is was purchased by a business (particularly a transport business such as a bus company), search the catalogue for records of that company.

If you want to find out more, try Philip Riden’s How to Trace the History of Your Car (1998).

Here is an absolutely fascinating story from Mike, a recent enquirer who was trying to find out more about his vintage car…

A History of Sunbeam 14/40 Registration number NU2525 – by Mike (current owner)

Mike’s Sunbeam at home…

This Sunbeam 14/40 open tourer was purchased by Mrs Grimshaw-Taylor on 28 February 1924 for her son Sydney (Sidney). He kept and used the car for many years, until in 1939 he stored it on a farm in Ockbrook. The story as told by the owners of the farm was that a gentleman, who had gone abroad during the Second World War, had left the car on their farm with the intention of collecting it upon his return from the conflict. However, he had not showed up and they had assumed that he had been ‘lost in action’.

In 1957, the car was purchased for £12 by Bryan Barton of Chilwell on behalf of Ken Wilson who had previously restored Bull Nose Morris, and was keen to purchase the Sunbeam, but did not have the necessary funds. Ken would repay Bryan by doing work for him until the debt was repaid, rectifying a TR2. The Sunbeam was registered to Bryan on a continuation log book, dated 30 October 1957, and later re-registered to Ken on his birthday, 27 August 1971.

One evening, possibly in the 1960’s or 1970’s, when visiting Eric O’Dell in Kidderminster, Ken was presented with “some old books on cars” and on top of the pile was a Sunbeam handbook. Ken immediately opened it, and just as quickly put down. “That is the chassis number, and that is the engine number of my Sunbeam”. At the end of the war, Lieutenant Eric O’Dell, ex Royal Engineers, had returned from Italy by train with his commanding officer, Captain Sydney Grimshaw-Taylor: “What are you going to do when you get home Eric?” “Well the first thing that I am going to do is to buy a car”. “You can have mine. I will send you the books”. Eric received the books but never collected the car.

Ken was given the books relating to the Sunbeam, now realising that he was the second owner. Sometime later, Ken discovered in a local newspaper the obituary of a prominent local solicitor and ‘war hero’, Mr Sydney Grimshaw-Taylor.

After 36 years of ownership, Ken decided that it was time for a younger fellow to look after his pride and joy. Initially, when I first saw the Sunbeam I was not taken, mainly due to it not having a driver’s door, which is impractical in my small garage. We went for a drive in the car to view the spares that would be sold with the car, and I drove it back. We said our goodbyes with a promise that we would be in touch, knowing full well that that was not going to happen due to the impracticality of having only three doors. But for the next 2 or 3 days I could not get the car off my mind.

…and in France, with Mike

As a result we returned to Nottingham and have now celebrated 27 years as the custodians of the Sunbeam, registration number NU 2525.

 

 

With thanks to Mike for sharing his story and his photographs.

Clay Cross Treasures – one volunteer’s quest through the archives

It seems logical to have an introduction. I’m Phil, I’ve been volunteering now at the Record Office for 4 ½ years. Prior to this I had worked here for 2 ½ years and got very attached to the place! I couldn’t be got rid of that easily!

Over those 4 ½ years I have helped out by working mainly with first hand archive documents, which have ranged from First World War soldiers’ diaries, planning applications in Long Eaton, the Sheepbridge archive (which I have only half completed!) and the current ‘task’, which I seem to have been engaged on for many months… More of this in a minute. First some background…

I believe it was one of the archivists, who set me off on, what has for me, become something of an obsession! Becky first asked me whether I would be prepared to do it- it might take a while to complete! The task: sift through the Clay Cross Company’s archive (which up until then had not been catalogued) to seek out an original blueprint for Stephenson’s Rocket, supposedly buried somewhere in the archive!

What a challenge. I was asked to check all the boxes, ledgers, maps and plans looking for this piece of history’s legends. Becky provided a catalogue of all the places where I could locate the Clay Cross archive, and warned me that there were aspects of the collection that had simply ‘disappeared’. The recorded boxes were easy to locate in one of the main archival stores, the others (and there were lots of these) were somewhere in ‘Room Q’. Now Room Q is to be found in the basement of the new extension. It is the place where mould has a footing, dust has accumulated on archives that have arrived ‘raw’ in the record office- yet to be cleaned, and treasures lie undisturbed, awaiting discovery.

So, the search began. At first, I was merely skimming through the boxes and then returning them to the shelves. But that seemed to be wasting an opportunity, for such is the nature of life these days, it is uncertain when or if the archive might ever be catalogued. So, I asked would it be okay if I catalogued the contents of each of the boxes and identified where each part of the archive might be found?

I embarked on the journey of ‘discovery’ months ago- so many in fact, that I can’t remember exactly when I started. I have looked through all the archive, found the hiding places of much ‘lost’ material. I can say for certain that the Stephensons’ blueprint is not to be found in the Record Office. I still have a sizeable chunk of the archive to catalogue, but I have found so many treasures, so many connections to the Stephensons. It was George, that incredible man of vision, a true pioneer, who founded the Clay Cross Company all those years ago…

It has been an amazing experience and one which I have felt privileged to have been asked to do. I shall, in future blog posts, talk about some of these treasures. … One sad fact remains: the Clay Cross empire has gone, along with all of the physical signs of the collieries, blast furnaces, iron works, quarries… the legend lives on though- I hope, never to be forgotten…

An Archivist without Archives

As you know Derbyshire Record Office is now closed to the public until further notice due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.  At the beginning of this week we had hoped that record office staff would still be able to go to work and be able to spend lots of time working on collections to improve access to them once we re-opened as normal.  Unfortunately, this has not proved to be possible and all staff are now working from home with no access to the collections.  Several staff have joined a rota so that someone is still regularly accessing the building to undertake essential maintenance tasks such as monitoring environmental conditions in the strong rooms to make sure we can keep the collections safe even though the building is empty for most of the time.

So, the question becomes if we don’t have access to the archives and local studies collections, how can we all still continue to work?  It is far from ideal, but there is actually a lot more we can do at home than you might imagine, and we will be keeping you updated about what we’re working via the blog.

I’m now on my third day working from home, and although I can’t give you a long list of things I have achieved, I’m going to take the risk of suggesting a long list of things I would like to achieve, and rely on our followers to keep me on track by seeing how I am getting on.

The first thing that will be a priority for us is answering email enquiries.  As we can’t access the collections, the hard copy indexes and some other systems that require you to be on site, we can’t answer all enquiries as fully as we would normally be able to.  However, we can still access a lot of information via the online catalogue and a couple of other backup systems.

That brings me on to the second thing, which is working through the collections information that is currently not available to the public via the online catalogue to make sure that it is – this includes a lot of work that several volunteers have been working on and can now be edited for publication. There is a lot of work to do on this front, and it is something all the staff are working on during the closure period.  For the time being, we can do the preparatory work but only publish the information online was we are back in the office because of the way the system works.

In terms of improving the catalogues, for a while we have discussing how we can make the collections more searchable and accessible through the use of indexing.  You may have noticed that the Local Studies items in the catalogue are indexed by name and place, and can link through to other items with that index term.  This is not currently the case for the archive items.  In particular, I hope we will be able to create detailed index files for all Derbyshire parishes so that where an item is indexed you can see full information about that place (e.g. which poor law union it was in, which local authority was responsible before 1974, etc.).  Actually indexing the catalogue entries is not something we can currently do at home, but the prep work will make it more useful when we do.

Similarly, we (though not me) will be looking to create similar index files for individuals, families and companies.  Such a task is a bit like painting the Forth Road Bridge as it will never end, but it would be great to start having some collections indexed by name.

Depending on how long we are working from home and the extent to which we can access the systems, I would really like to make lots of improvements to the catalogues that are published so it is clearer how much material is in a collection, what the covering dates are, whether there are any access restrictions to the material, identifying who the creator of the archive was (or is).

Having said we don’t have access to the collections, as we have taken in various digital records recently, I am able to access at least some of these without being at the record office, so I am hoping to spend some time developing our digital archive procedures further, to make the material more accessible and streamline our processes of taking receipt of the records.

Finally, I shall be spending some time developing our offer to schools and making more content available to them for when they need it.  Of course, there are still plenty of children and teachers at school as well as lots of parents home schooling, so I will be looking at what resources we can share with them sooner rather than later to support them in exploring new ways of learning.

What have I missed?  Lots, perhaps that’s enough to be getting on with for now, especially as we don’t know yet how long we will be closed for.  Of course, a lot of this would be easier with access to the collections, but we certainly have enough work to keep us busy and we hope you will see some positive changes to come out of this awful situation.

We all be sharing our experiences on the blog so at least you should have some relief from any boredom of being stuck at home.

Take care and stay safe everyone

Accessing our resources from home

As we cannot provide access on site at the moment due to the coronavirus, here are some links and tips for research you can do from your computer at home.

Do your family history

  • Baptism, marriage and burial registers for Church of England parishes, some as early as 1538, are on Ancestry (charge applies).  See the guide below for advice on the best way to search and browse these records
  • Baptism, marriage and burial registers for some non-conformist churches in Derbyshire have also been made available by The National Archives on The Genealogist website (charge applies).
  • Over 550 Derbyshire school admission registers and log books (i.e. head teacher’s diaries) up to 1914 are available to search and browse on Findmypast (charge applies), plus thousands more from across England and Wales.
  • Find My Past also includes Derbyshire wills before 1858 and marriage licences held by Staffordshire Record Office and selected Derbyshire electoral registers up to 1932
  • Information about Derbyshire wills between 1858 and 1928 can be searched via our catalogue using the person’s name and reference D96/*, but we are unable to provide copies at this time.  Wills after 1928 can usually be ordered online from the Probate Service
  • Any skeletons in your family closet?  Search our database of prisoner records from 1729-1913

Discover local history

  • Family History websites like Ancestry and Findmypast can also be useful for local history. Take a look at sources like the census and trade directories on these websites.
  • Browse and search nearly 60,000 historic photographs of Derby and Derbyshire on Picture the Past
  • View old maps and explore how the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site has changed over the last 200 years on the Derbyshire Heritage Mapping Portal.
  • Many historic Ordnance Survey maps for Derbyshire are also available from the National Library of Scotland
  • Several Derbyshire newspapers are searchable on the British Newspaper Archive (charge applies)

Learn something new

Don’t forget you can still search our catalogue online to discover what is held in the archives and local studies collections and start planning a future visit?

During the closure, staff will be working on several projects to make more information about our collections available online.   We will be sharing our progress here on the blog and via Twitter and hope we can provide some relief from the stresses and boredom of being inside.

If you are doing any research, why not let us know below, we are sure our other followers will be interested or even have some tips for you.

From all the staff at the record office, stay safe and well, take care.

Leonard Cheshire Photographic Exhibition

This is not a directly Derbyshire post, but our followers may be interested in an exhibition in Burton-on-Trent curated by the Leonard Cheshire Archive (based in South Derbyshire).

Royalty Carers and Residents, Leonard Cheshire life through the eyes of a Fleet Street photographer features the work of Norman Potter (a Fleet Street photographer who worked for the Daily Express and others from the 1960s to the 1980s) and provides a snapshot of life as a disabled person around the world, showing some of the work of the disability charity Leonard Cheshire.

The free exhibition runs until 29 February 2020.  Archive volunteer Susan Nield will be giving a free talk on the life of Norman Potter on 31 January at 10am.

The exhibition and talk can be found at: The Brewhouse Arts Centre,  Union Street, Burton on Trent, DE14 1AA

What are your plans for Christmas this year?

How many times have you been asked this already this year?  Hands up if you are planning a trip away – where are you going?

How about skating and tobogganing on Mont Blanc – just 10 guineas

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Or perhaps a Mediterranean cruise to welcome the New Year – 25 guineas

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And if you’re still hunting for that last minute Christmas present, why not show someone how much they mean to you with a tour of Rome – from just £10 (oops, perhaps that should be £820)

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Don’t forget to read the small print…

If you’d rather stay at home, why not treat the children to a stylish new hat

Wherever you go and what you do, Derbyshire Record Office wishes you a Merry Christmas and Happy New Year (that is for 2020 not 1899!)

Images courtesy of

Historic Derbyshire maps available online

With the new Derbyshire Heritage Mapping Portal you can now see how the Derwent Valley from Derby to Matlock has changed over the last 200 years.  Featuring selected maps from the collections at the record office, the portal enables free access to digital copies of the maps and an “overlay” feature so you can see the present and the past at the same time:

1811 estate map (ref: D769/B/11/3) of Kedleston Road, Derby laid over current Ordnance Survey map

Watch this video to discover what you can find on the portal:

 

Although there only a handful of maps are available at the moment (out of the thousands in the collections), we hope that we will be able to add many more to eventually cover the whole county – so something to look forward to for 2020 and beyond!

The biggest map in the collection is over 4.5 metres long and over 3 metres wide (ref: D1564/3)

The portal was made possible with funding from Heritage Fund and the Arts Council, with the tremendous effort and support of Derbyshire County Council’s GIS Officer, the Derwent Valley Mills World Heritage Site Co-ordinator and several volunteers who helped to identify the maps for digitisation, and provide additional descriptive information for the online catalogue.

Thanks must also go to the creators and benefactors of the original maps, not only for their existence in the first place, but also for the detail and accuracy with which they surveyed the land and produced the maps – the success of the overlaid images is entirely credit to their incredible skills.

 

Three Maps, Three Men and One Town

From Roger, Cataloguing Volunteer

Recently I have been listing a collection of records that have been in the custody of the record office for several decades, although a few additions were made in the last couple of years (ref: D1622). The wide range of subjects, dates and locations of the documents in this collection can be fully appreciated only from the lists (not yet available online but soon). The items were assembled by Charles Blockley (1838-1927), a life-long resident of Chesterfield, variously employed as clerk at the County Court, clerk to the Town Clerk of Chesterfield, and clerk to the Chesterfield and Tapton Burial Board and High Bailiff of Chesterfield. He was an acquisitive antiquarian.

The most substantial component of the collection is documents relating to the Rotheram family of Dronfield, and to families associated through marriage.  The individuals and families principally involved are:

  • ROTHERAM: John Rotheram (ca 1620-1696); John Rotheram (1645-1720); John Rotherham (1671-1706); Samuel Rotheram (1680-1743) and John Rotheram (1717-1771).
  • FENTON of Gleadless, Handsworth and Little Sheffield, Yorkshire: Elizabeth Fenton married John Rotheram at Sheffield in 1748: this collection includes a substantial number and range of earlier documents of the Fenton family and of families associated through marriage; particularly William Fenton (ca 1602-1685/6) of Gleadless; Alexander Fenton (1638-1708/9) of Gleadless and Richard Fenton (father and son) of Handsworth
  • DRABLE[S] of Dronfield: Ellen Drable married John Rotheram at Dronfield in 1643
  • HANCOCKE of Dronfield: Elizabeth Hancocke married John Rotheram at Dronfield in 1668
  • HAYWOOD of Wallingwells, Nottinghamshire: Eliezer Haywood married Helen Rotheram at Northowram, Yorkshire in 1699
  • HOLLAND of Chesterfield: Thomas Holland married Hannah Rotheram at Dronfield in 1707
  • HOUNSFIELD of Dronfield: Francis Hounsfield married Helen Rotheram at Dronfield in 1670
  • UPPLEBY of Wootton, Lincolnshire: John Uppleby married Elizabeth Rotheram at Dronfield in 1701
  • WRIGHT of Hipperholme: Hannah Wright married Samuel Rotheram at Coley, Yorkshire in 1715.

There are also:

  • Manor Court records for Beighton, Bolsover, Calow, Chesterfield, Handsworth (Yorkshire), Ilkeston, Mansfield, Owlerton, Temple Normanton, plus a number of locations in Norfolk
  • a significant number of documents relating to the history of Chesterfield, including Chesterfield Corporation and Chesterfield parish church
  • a number of deeds relating to property in the parish of Dronfield refer, amongst others, to the following local families: Blyth, Burton, Fanshaw, Heathcote, Rossington.

 Amongst smaller but distinctive clusters there are:

  • Poor Law records such as bastardy and settlement examinations and one removal order
  • wills with probate certificates
  • correspondence and other documents of Wotton Byrchinshaw [Burkinshaw?] Thomas of Chesterfield (1769-1835), including letters from Sir George Sitwell in relation to the parliamentary election of 1832
  • terriers of Sutton cum Duckmanton

Of particular interest to me were three maps of Chesterfield that each have a personal connection to notable individuals.

1. D1622/36/2: This is the earliest of the map, bearing the date 1837. The streets of Chesterfield are shown in detail on a scale of 88 yards to one inch.  Particularly noticeable is a prominent double line running from north to south, marked at intervals with the words “excavation” and “embankment”. A clue to the significance of this line, if one were needed, is in the name shown on the map: Jonas Chapman.

Jonas Chapman (1814-?1880) was a land surveyor who undertook work for the North Midland Railway. Construction of this company’s line from Derby to Rotherham and Leeds was begun in 1837.  Perhaps Jonas Chapman anticipated that public interest in the construction of the railway would create a demand for his map. The Derbyshire Courier newspaper of 20 May 1837 contained a preliminary advertisement; and the map was published in August in a variety of formats: “price 7s [shillings] plain; 8s coloured; 9s coloured and stained and 12s 6d coloured and mounted on canvas”. The Courier offered unreserved praise: “Mr Chapman was determined to produce a work deserving the patronage of the public, it is needless to say that he has succeeded, and no eulogium of ours is necessary for its introduction”.

In subsequent years Chapman, land surveyor and engraver, met with ill-fortune. In 1840 he married a widowed mother, Hannah Ward, but in the census returns of 1851 and subsequent years her name is absent from Jonas Chapman’s entry. Chapman ceased to work as land surveyor, taking up his father’s trade, operating a fertiliser manufacturing enterprise, first in Chesterfield and then in his native Mansfield. This was not always successful: Chapman was brought before magistrates in Mansfield for causing unacceptable offence by the processing of animal bones; and in 1854 he had to face insolvency. It was said that at some point he was knocked down in the street, suffering a significant injury which so impeded his ability to earn a living that he was admitted to the Mansfield workhouse.

2. D1622/36/3: is essentially the same as the first, reprinted in 1890 for a different purpose. For many years, from a modest beginning in 1864 through to 1905, a Chesterfield wine and spirit merchant, Thomas Philpot Wood (1840-1911), published an annual almanac, freely distributed and highly regarded as a useful compendium of both local and general information. In 1890 T P Wood heard that someone living in Chesterfield held an old copper plate engraving of the town: this turned out to be an engraving of Chapman’s 1837 map. Wood had the map enclosed as a frontispiece in his 1891 almanac, to which he added a commentary emphasising changes and developments in the town in the years between 1837 and 1891. (Copies of the almanac are held at the Record Office and Chesterfield Local Studies Library.  Although the surviving 1891 edition no longer has the frontispiece map, you can see it in other editions, including 1890).

Thomas Philpot Wood was a life-long resident of Chesterfield. He served on Chesterfield Borough Council between 1863 and 1910; served three times as mayor and was made an Honorary Freeman of the Borough. Amongst many contributions to public life he played a leading role in the campaign by the people of Chesterfield to raise money to purchase the land for Queen’s Park.

3. D1622/36/7: shows the boundary of the Chesterfield Parliamentary constituency. The title of the map indicates the purpose of its publication: “What Mr Byron (The Unionist Candidate) Has Done for the Chesterfield Division”. The sites of Byron’s supposed achievements are highlighted, as is the location of his home at Duckmanton Lodge. To add emphasis the map carries text describing Byron’s involvement with local agricultural organisations and with developments in mining and railway building. The map bears no date, but Byron was a candidate in the 1895 and 1900 Parliamentary elections.

Augustus William Byron (1856-1939) was born in Somerset and educated at Rugby School. By his mid-twenties he was employed as a land agent to William Arkwright, with homes in London and at Duckmanton Lodge near Chesterfield. Byron was unsuccessful in the Parliamentary election of 1895 and again in 1900 by which time he had become an officer in the Leicestershire Imperial Yeomanry, seeing action during the Boer War. He was involved in the promotion of the Lancashire, Derbyshire and East Coast Railway, opened from Chesterfield to Lincoln in 1897, and in the development of iron works and tube manufacture in Chesterfield, taking risks which led to bankruptcy in 1912. He died in 1939 in France where he had lived for some years.

Lost Legacies

Last week, I attended the annual Black History Month event at County Hall and have previously blogged about the first speaker, Paul Crooks, who “pioneered research into African Caribbean genealogy during the 1990s and is credited with an upsurge in the interest in Black and British ancestry” (ref: www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk).

Like Paul, the second speaker, Dr Gabriella Beckles-Raymond (Senior Lecturer in Womanist Theology, Philosophy and Culture at Canterbury Christ Church University) talked about several women who have made significant contributions to social and racial justice in the UK, but none of whom the audience had heard of.

Gabriella conceives history in very much the same way I have come to:

“History is not in the dates, but in the stories and in the lessons we learn”.

Again, like Paul, the black women Gabriella showcased were ordinary people, of black women living their own lives and making a difference to the lives of others along the way.  All the heroes and legends we remember started out as ordinary people.  People like Rosa Parks, (remembered and honoured for her symbolic ‘stand’ in December 1955 of refusing to give up her seat on the bus for a white passenger) were once just “ordinary”.  However, as Gabriella pointed out Rosa Parks was one of many women who made the same “stand” and were arrested for doing so – including Irene Morgan in 1944, Lillie Mae Bradford in 1951, Claudette Colvin in 1953, Aurelia Browder in April 1955, Susie Macdonald and Mary Louise Smith in October 1955, and Jeanette Reese.  All these women contributed to the cause, and some directly participated in the landmark case (Browder vs. Gale) that ended legal segregation in the United States.  But, Gabriella says “change agents do not appear from nowhere”, Rosa Parks had been involved with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People for over 20 years and was a civil rights activist for the rest of her life:  it is “small actions that lead to big changes” – the social butterfly effect.

Gabriella talked about the strategic, structural and personal lessons we all must learn in order for progress to be made and quoted the title of Angela Davis’ 2016 book “Freedom is a Constant Struggle”.  A struggle represented in the lost legacies of the three women she went on to discuss;-

  • Born in Guyana where she was a teacher at the most prestigious school in the capital, Georgetown, Beryl Gilroy arrived in the UK as part of the Windrush generation and became the first black headteacher in the country.  She went on to write children’s books, pioneering the reflection of black British life in literature, and later novels for adults too.
  • Olive Morris was born in 1952 in Jamaica and arrived in the UK aged 8.  Olive died aged just 25 (from non-Hodgkin Lymphoma), but achieved so much as a black feminist and nationalist in just a few years, as well as campaigning for squatters rights.
  • Recently made a Dame, Elizabeth Anionwu was born in Birmingham to an unmarried Irish mother and Nigerian father in 1947.  Having started her nursing career aged 16, she has made significant contributions to understanding and improving the disparities in healthcare provision for black and ethnic minority communities, particularly with regards to Sickle Cell Disease which is mostly found in people of African descent.  Dame Elizabeth also established the Mary Seacole Centre for Nursing Practice and was responsible for the first UK memorial statue to a black woman: to Mary Seacole at St Thomas’ Hospital unveiled in June 2016.

The real lesson of Gabriella’s talk was not necessarily these women in themselves, but the fact that none of us in the room, including those from the BME community groups, had heard of them:  “history is something we all need to be taught”, to learn and discover because (as with all history) “the danger of not knowing black history is that history will repeat itself”.  A point brought into sharp focus by the fact that both Gabriella and a member of the audience explained that they have started writing their own children’s books because the books their children were reading at school again failed to include a reflection of themselves – an issue that had inspired Beryl Gilroy over 40 years ago.

Of course, the legacies of these and other black women are not lost, just a little concealed.  “Legacies are far more complicated than we realise”:  Gabriella is a part of Beryl Gilroy’s legacy as she was a pupil at Beckford School when Beryl was the headteacher.  “We are all a legacy of everything that has come before us”, and we will all leave a legacy to everything that comes after us.  Nowhere is this more true than in the work we do at the record office, in collecting and preserving the evidence of who we all are and what we all achieve, or sometimes fail to achieve, and then in providing access so that stories and legacies can be remembered.  We deal in “histories, not a single narrative”, and Black History Month encourages us all to remember that  stories are there to be found, shared and preserved now and for the future.

All quotes from Dr Gabriella Beckles-Raymond’s presentation unless otherwise stated.

“History is no good if it doesn’t empower you in some way” – Paul Crooks

October is Black History Month in the UK, and for several years the Record Office has taken part in the annual event hosted by the Council’s BME Employee Network.  Today I was fortunate to be able to attend on behalf of DRO, and take the opportunity to promote to local organisations our collections and deposit services, to learn more about how we can support BME historical discovery, and also to indulge in some amazing Caribbean food.

With so many of our visitors and enquirers researching their family history, I was really looking forward to hearing Paul Crooks speak about his own experiences of researching his African and Caribbean Ancestry, and perhaps even learn some tips to help us support others along the same journey.  In fact, Paul’s talk was much more wide ranging and after an introduction to the Maroon Wars of Jamaica between 1720 and 1739, he talked about two women he has discovered through his own historical and family history investigations.

The first, Nanny of the Maroons, was the matriarchal leader of “freedom fighters” who had escaped slavery in Jamaica and fought to liberate others from the island’s plantations.  A running theme throughout the day was the significance and value of individuals and individual actions on the wider world, and Nanny’s story highlighted this perfectly – the efforts of the Maroons of Jamaica may have delayed the coming of the Industrial Revolution, but they were certainly an early incarnation of the abolitionist movement of the later 18th century.  (Until today, I hadn’t heard of the Maroons – have you ever noticed how the heroes of the abolitionist movement who feature in our collective national memory are white men?  They were certainly the only people taught in my history lessons).

The second woman was somebody whose story may have remained untold had Paul not discovered her during the search for his own ancestors.  Ami Djaba was Paul’s great-great-great-great grandmother.  Born in 1777, from Krobo in Ghana, Ami was sold into slavery as a child, transported across the Atlantic and died aged 47 on a Jamaican sugar plantation.  Of all the slaves on that plantation, Ami was the only one to retain her African name.  Unfortunately, there was no time today to learn more about Ami and her life, but I shall certainly be looking up Paul’s books to find out more:

Ancestors: a novel inspired by Paul’s own forebears.

A tree without roots: the guide to tracing British, African and Asian-Caribbean ancestry

Without Paul’s fascination and determination (having been told in the 1980s that no records survive that would help him discover his ancestors), Ami’s story and her legacy could have lain hidden in the archives forever.  Archives – including at Derbyshire Record Office – are full of stories waiting to be told.  History still happened even if no-one has written it down yet and shared it with others.  The role of the archivist is to preserve the rich and wonderful evidence of people from the past who created, developed and inspired the communities we live in today so that their stories can be told.  Anybody (Everybody!) can be a historian, can discover a story, can uncover a hidden legacy, can share with the world the lives of individuals who have changed our world but are yet to be recognised.

We have been raised on a British history full of empire yet almost exclusively white (and for that matter mostly male too).  BAME individuals, families and communities at worst have been written out of our national and local histories, and at best have been merely overlooked.  Black History Month is just one way of starting to put this right, but it is through the efforts of people like Paul telling the stories of their own ancestors that as a nation we can start to put the black (and Asian, and Chinese, and all minorities) back into our shared history.

Putting the black back was very much the inspiration of the day’s next speaker Dr Gabriella Beckles-Raymond (Senior Lecturer in Womanist Theology, Philosophy, and Culture at Canterbury Christ Church University), but more on this soon.  For now, I want to end in the same way Paul ended his presentation as it genuinely brought tears to my eyes, thinking not only of the powerful story he shared of Ami’s stolen childhood and freedom, but of the power of or rather in history…

Having spent 13 years researching his ancestors (mostly before the availability on online research tools), in 2004 Paul visited Cape Coast Castle in Ghana where Ami had been imprisoned before walking through the ‘Door of No Return’ and onto the slave ship that transported her to the other side of the world in 1785.  From the 16th-19th centuries, over 3 million human beings were sold into slavery, walking through similar doors knowing that there would never be coming home.  When Paul visited,  he too walked through the door of no return, but in the opposite direction.