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…

Beware who you call a fool (April or otherwise)

Ok, I’ll admit that this may be a tenuous link to April Fool’s Day but on searching our catalogue for documents mentioning the day so favoured by pranksters I came across this document from 1661 within the Court of Quarter Sessions papers.

Q-SB-2-630

It tells of the case of John Hague from Aston who, when at Sara Barbors’ house in Derwent, spoke of the “act of oblivion” (The Indemnity and Oblivion Act of 1660) and called King Charles II a fool and a knave.

The Indemnity and Oblivion Act (its full title being ‘An Act of Free and General Pardon, Indemnity and Oblivion’) gave a general pardon to those who had committed crimes during the Civil War and Interregnum, with exception of crimes such as murder, witchcraft and piracy.

According to this witness statement, given to the Justices of the Peace on the 30th May 1661, John Hague voiced his opinion that the King was a fool not to void the Act and punish the Roundheads who had, of course, supported Parliament during the Civil War.

… [G]raynefoote in … gent taken oath before … Eyre Esq[uire] one of his Ma[jes]ties Justices of [the Peace] for the s[ai]d County, the thirtyeth day of May in the thirteenth yeare of the Raigne of o[urr] Suvaraigne lord King Charles the Second, as fouloweth

This informant saith that upon the nyneth day of this instant May he being in Company with one John Hague < an inhabitant within Aston in the said County >, Thom’ Thornell & [?others] at one Sara Barbors House in Derwent in the s[ai]d County: He the s[ai]d John Hague, in this informants heareing, tooke upon him to speake of the act of oblivion, & said the Kinge was a foole & a knave, if he made it not voyde, & hanged not upp all the Roundeheads, whereuppon this Informant ap[re]hended him, the said Joh Hague, telling him of the dangerous Consequences of the words: for by him speaken as afores[ai]d, but this informant furth[er] saith th[a]t the s[ai]d John Hague grew high in his languadge, & repeated the words over & over,

Roger Barber

Robt: Eyre

We may have more freedom to voice our opinions these days but in 1661 this was not a sensible course of action and could indeed have “dangerous Consequences”.  I don’t know what happened to John but it seems he was foolish to share his opinions!

N.B. those eagle eyed out there may have noticed the date as written in the document.  Documents written during the reign of Charles II are dated from 1649, which would have been the year Charles II began his reign following the death of his father, had there not been an Interregnum.

 

Owd Sammy Twitcher

Before the record office closed due to the Covid-19 virus, Melanie, one of our Archives Assistants, discovered the tale of an interesting Derbyshire character….

With delight, I came across an account of Owd Sammy Twitcher’s visit to Matlock – or visit ‘tu’t Watter Cure Establishment at Matlock-Bonk’, held at the Derbyshire Record Office in Matlock.

For those of you new to this beloved character, Owd Sammy is fictional character featured in a series of booklets written by Joseph Barlow Robinson in the late 1800s.

At the time, there was rise in popularity of affordable weekly almanacs and books for adults and children alike in Derby and across the county; many – such as this – were published by Bemrose, a respected and prolific publisher in Derby.

Owd Sammy is highly entertaining and comical; uniquely his various escapades in and across Derby.  Accurate details are provided about Derby and the county at that time.

As with all Owd Sammy accounts, the book is ‘roat, kompoazed, an hillustarted by a Darbysher Mon’ – written, composed and illustrated by a Derbyshire man, and written entirely in Derbyshire dialect! This wonderful book was published in 1871 and contains cartoon illustrations and descriptions of the multiple water treatments available in Matlock at the time. There is also an account of a fight with the bath man!

To help the reader understand the dialect, there is even a glossary, and when read out loud, the reader will sound and speak with a true fluent Derbyshire tongue!

So, as a non-Derbyshire person, ah’l teych mysen, cos weel, ahm sure, ah canna spok Darbysher varry weel!

The second part of the book does describe Matlock at the time, with detail about the establishments and treatments that were available, as well as activities and entertainment available for tourists. Mr Smedley’s, Rock House, Matlock House, Jackson House, Tor House, Prospect to name a few. Another delightful snapshot of the period, is detailed in the advertisements at the back of the book. Other than for Mr Smedley’s Hydro and Matlock-Bank, these are mainly for businesses based in Derby itself, where the publisher Bemrose was based. The last advertisement includes a few lines penned by a patient.

Owd Sammy Twitcher 2

Melanie, Archives Assistant

When truth may be stranger than fiction?

Record Office volunteer Roger Jennens sets the scene for a Victorian melodrama.

Consider this rich Victorian narrative. Does this accumulation of events seem plausible? The story begins with the birth of the heroine: a collier’s daughter born in a small village located on the border of Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire. As a young woman she is employed as a domestic servant, moving to live in the big house on the outskirts of the village, the home of an elderly widowed barrister.

Over a period of twelve years the heroine gives birth to seven children. All remain in her care, living with her in the big house where as well as caring for her children she continues to work as a servant. The narrative offers no information about the paternity of the children nor is there any indication of how, shortly before the birth of her seventh child the heroine has the resources to buy from her employer a property in the city of Derby. Following the subsequent death of her employer the heroine receives from his estate a bequest of land and cottages. Thus, now living in Derby, she is able to describe herself as a landed proprietor. The subsequent story of the lives of our heroine and of her children reflects a remarkable world-wide compilation of achievement, tragedy, cruelty and intrigue.

At least three of the heroine’s sons benefit from an education at a prestigious school. There’s nothing humdrum about their subsequent occupations.   One prospers as an architect and one becomes a solicitor. Remarkably for one brought up in landlocked Derbyshire a third moves to Liverpool to become a ship’s mate making voyages across the Atlantic.

The story reveals, however, that for the heroine and her children life is not all plain sailing. Three of her children die during her lifetime and others suffer distress and shame. Her eldest daughter dies at home when aged just seventeen. One son dies while still a schoolboy: the narrative has him falling to his death while looking for birds’ eggs, climbing rocks during a school outing to Dovedale. The son who goes to sea perishes during a voyage along the coast of North America.

This sailor son is by no means the only one to go abroad. After working for a time in England the architect son emigrates to Canada. The solicitor son practises in Derby for a few years but then abandons his wife and children and settles in New South Wales, Australia. The circumstances of his emigration remain unexplained; although the story does have him admitting in court a charge of disorderly conduct in a public house, including threatening a police officer with a poker.   In Australia he starts a new career as a mining engineer; and starts a new family, too, claiming at his marriage to have been born in Leeds, perhaps seeking to minimise the chance of being recognised as a bigamist. He is not the only one of our heroine’s children to reach New South Wales. One of her daughters tells the divorce court a harrowing tale of violence suffered at the hands of her drunken, unfaithful husband; then takes her children to Australia where she marries a farmer. Hers is not the only divorce in this elaborate story. One of her sisters, while still aged sixteen or seventeen, marries an engineer, but within a few years the engineer presents the divorce court with evidence of his wife staying at an hotel in Paris with a man not her husband, a bottle manufacturer whom she subsequently marries.

And what of the heroine herself? Having reached the age of fifty years she marries a man more than twenty years her senior, in poor health, who is none other than the widowed father of the drunken husband of one of her daughters. The narrative avoids having to describe the impact on the heroine’s marriage of her daughter taking her husband’s son to the divorce court by having the elderly husband die before the divorce court proceedings.

No doubt that while reading this you have realised that this is not a work of Victorian fiction. It is indeed the factual story of Elizabeth Hill of Pinxton, and later of Full Street and Duffield Road, Derby. As a young woman she became a servant at Brookhill Hall, one of the homes of the barrister D’Ewes Coke (1774-1856). [He, incidentally, was an energetic diary writer. His diaries are currently on display here at the Record Office until 1st May as part of the 50 Treasures exhibition, although none have survived from the time when Elizabeth Hill’s children were alive.] It seems likely that in his lifetime D’Ewes Coke was not publicly acknowledged as the father of Elizabeth Hill’s children: they were given their mother’s maiden name. But after the death of D’Ewes Coke the children assumed the name Coke as a second forename or as part of a double surname; and when each of the children married the name of D’Ewes Coke was entered in the register as father.

D5369-15-39-000001

Diary of D’Ewes Coke, 1835 (D5369/15/39)

The story of Elizabeth Hill and her children can be followed through documents here and through internet records available here at the Record Office and at Derbyshire libraries. Such records include census returns every ten years between 1841 and 1911 and parish registers showing baptisms and marriages. There is much of relevance in the British Newspaper Archive. The deeds of Elizabeth Hill’s purchase in 1854 of property in Derby are here (D4058/8), as is her will (Elizabeth Jay: D96/1/48/p339 – available on DVD 400 and microfilm M823). D’Ewes Coke’s will is held at Staffordshire Archives but is freely available at this Record Office on the Find My Past website: (note that the length of the will means that it is divided into two sections). Some details of Elizabeth Hill’s sons can be seen in The Derby School Register 1570-1901, available on line. The Ancestry website offers divorce records of Catherine Maud Jay and of Eleanor Coke Banks. The Ancestry site also gives some records of those who went to Australia: Thomas Coke Hill and Catherine M R Jay, later Catherine Coke Minter. Confirmation of Alfred Coke Hill’s qualification as a ship’s mate is also available on the Ancestry website.

As well as documentary sources there are in Derby tangible reminders of this story. Amongst buildings designed by Arthur Coke Hill is the church of St Barnabas in Mackworth. Elizabeth Jay, nee Hill died in Derby in 1905: her grave in Nottingham Road Cemetery in Chaddesden is marked with a memorial stone.

Roger Jennens, Record Office volunteer

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.

 

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

Routes to Derbyshire for refugees in the event of an invasion (1916)

This morning we received an enquiry from the School of Geography at the University of Nottingham asking about any further records we might hold relating to a map in their collection entitled Map Showing Routes for Refugees from Eastern Counties in case of Invasion, which was produced in January 1916 when the threat of an invasion from hostile forces resulted in preparations being made for civilians to be evacuated from coastal areas in the East into the landlocked county of Derbyshire.

View the map and find out more about it in this blog post by Professor Matthew Smallman-Raynor.

In answer to the enquiry, unfortunately, I couldn’t say for certain whether we do hold any records that might provide further information.  However, we hope that further investigation by the team at the University, particularly using the County Council (see ref DCC) and County Constabulary records (see ref D3376) might provide some additional insight into the scheme that fortunately never needed to be put into action.

If you’re interested… we do have a number of records relating to First World War refugees from Belgium (search the catalogue for refugees).