Horses and horticulture – Heritage Open weekend at Calke Abbey

Specially selected items from the Harpur-Crewe family archive, held at the record office, will return home to Calke Abbey this Saturday. It will be our third visit in as many years, and we are delighted to be invited back to this unique estate.

Visitors to the National Trust property can view original records of those who lived and worked at Calke. We are taking a fascinating selection of records with us, including family letters and diaries, photograph albums, tenant’s registers, maps and one of the oldest documents in the collection – a deed dating from the 12th century. This year we have been asked to include material relating to the gardens at Calke and the families’ interest in horses.

Our staff will be based in the Learning Room and will be on hand to talk to visitors about these historic documents and offer advice and information about the work of the record office and the services we offer.

As part of the Heritage Open weekends this event is free as is entry into the house, so come along and see us, we’ll be there from 12pm-4pm.

For more information visit or telephone Calke Abbey on 01332 863822.

Calke Abbey, Ticknall, Derbyshire, DE73 7LE


Happy Valentine’s Day

To all our visitors, either in person or online:


Card sent to Frances Harpur Crewe by an anonymous admirer in the early 20th century (D2375/M/295/5/24)


If you love history as much as we do and would like to help us preserve Derbyshire’s past for the future, then do have a look at our Adopt a Piece of History scheme.

Archives at the Abbey: 1 (un)stately home, 4 boxes, 8 hours, 600 visitors (well almost)

It was the busiest weekend I think we have ever had for staff from the record office, you have already heard about how we popped up at the Wirksworth Festival, which sounded amazing. I couldn’t make it along myself as I went along to Calke Abbey, home of the Harpur-Crewe family, with a small selection of original archives from their large collection (ref: D2375).

Oh my God! I can really touch it?! Oh my God!

It’s mouth watering stuff – are you putting up beds? I could stay all night. It’s wonderful

With over 580 visitors over just two afternoons, we were thrilled with how much people enjoyed handling the original material and amazed at some of the things they found out. Continue reading

9 of diamonds discovered in court book

Improvised bookmarks – we all do it, don’t we?  I have several dozen nice, presentable bookmarks knocking around the house, yet somehow end up with a well-worn train ticket stuck between the pages of whatever novel I have stashed in my work bag.  In this case, we have a 9 of diamonds – a 17th-century 9 of diamonds, at that – found seven minutes ago in between the pages of the court book for the manors of Alstonefield, Warslow and Longnor, Swarkestone, Breadsall, Repton and Hemington and for the hundred of Repton.

D2375 M 57 2 playing card

The volume dates from 1674 to 1677, which is why I say the card is a seventeenth-century one.  If there is an expert in this field who cares to contradict or confirm this, please do so using the comments box below!

Preservation volunteers are go!

Back in May I mentioned that we were looking for preservation volunteers to help us clean and package the Calke Abbey archive – I’m happy to report that we now have two very dedicated volunteers who come in every Thursday afternoon.


Our volunteers in action

Our volunteers in action

Linda recently retired and was looking for a volunteering opportunity that would suit her interests, when Derby Local Studies Library suggested us. The fact that our current project deals with the archive of Calke Abbey is an added bonus for her, as she lives near the house and knows it well. Jennifer joined in order to learn new skills and because she has a passion for history and genealogy; she’s very pleased she can now help preserve the past.

We’re extremely grateful to both for all the work they’ve already done and will do in the months (even years!) to come. As you can see, there’s enough room for two more volunteers to join the project, so if you think this is something you might be interested in, you can find more details here.


Believe It or Not?

In the summer of 1826 Sir George Crewe, 8th Baronet, and his wife, Lady Jane Crewe, took an extended trip in North Wales. While visiting the town of Conway (or Conwy, to be more accurate linguistically), they took in the parish church there. Although they thought there was little worthy of attention in it, Lady Jane’s journal does record one gravestone that did impress them.

“We were particularly struck with one bearing the following inscription, “Here lyeth the body of Nicholas Hookes of Conway, Gent, who was the 41st child of his Father Wm. Hookes Esqre by Alice his wife, & father of 27 children, who died the 20th day of March 1637.”

It should be noted that Sir George and Lady Jane went on to produce only the paltry 8 children.

Jane Crewe journal extract D2375/M/44/10

Jane Crewe journal extract D2375/M/44/10

Jane Crewe Journal D2375/M/44/10

Jane Crewe Journal D2375/M/44/10


Flying high in the sky

Among the many characters who appear in the Harpur Crewe records a personal favourite is emerging in the shape of Richard Fynderne Harpur Crewe (1880-1921). Richard (or Dickie, as he was known to family and friends) was the only son of Sir Vauncey Harpur Crewe, the 10th Baronet (1846-1924). There was certainly a contrast between the two in how they lived their lives. Sir Vauncey was what could reasonably be called “an old stick in the mud”, someone who settled down to a somewhat sedentary existence and resisted all intrusions of modern life into his life. He famously refused to countenance the introduction of such new-fangled inventions as electricity, cars and telephones at Calke Abbey.

No doubt, he would have banned aeroplanes had he had the chance. Dickie, however, embraced the new technologies whole-heartedly, and it was in an aeroplane that he most clearly exhibited his more adventurous inclinations. On 25 February 1912, at about 5.20 in the afternoon, at the Brooklands Aerodrome, Surrey, he climbed into a 2 seated 70 Gnome Bleriot monoplane behind the pilot T.O.M. Sopwith. After a few basic instructions from Sopwith on how to position himself (legs in, with his weight as close to the pilot as possible), the engine was started, and after a short wait to warm it up properly, the signal was given to go, and off they rushed. Dickie did not know quite when they left the ground, but leave the ground they did. The plane was soon “very much up” and proceeded to make several circuits of the Aerodrome, climbing steeply one moment and then dropping suddenly the next, banking and circling, carefully avoiding another machine also out flying, before finally swooping down at speed towards the earth, straightening up and then touching the ground “with a slight bump” several times, and eventually landing “after a series of little jolts.”

Richard Fynderne Harpur Crewe with pilot T.O.M. Sopwith

Richard Fynderne Harpur Crewe with pilot T.O.M. Sopwith

We know all this from a written description made of the flight by Dickie, who wrote down his experiences after the event in his distinctive handwriting on five pages of notepaper, and which he kept in a small envelope which emerged from a box of photographs in the Harpur Crewe collection. Dickie’s response to it all was unequivocally positive, talking of “a magnificent sensation – a glorious feeling”. He summed up what he felt about flying with Sopwith in the sentence “The experience is a joy.”. You might like to read what he says in a full transcript I have made here of the document (reference number D2375/M/177/1).
Notes on Sopwith flight at Brooklands

What is most remarkable about it, to my eyes, is that only half an hour before another aeroplane had crashed, “a fearful wreck indeed”, from underneath which a certain Watkins had been dragged clear, looking pale and in pain, having apparently broken his thigh. I’m not sure I would have been quite so ready to become of one of “those magnificent men in their flying machines”, which, judging by the photograph, seem to have been held together with not much more than string.

For Dickie it was a clearly exhilarating and enjoyable experience in himself, but he also recognised the potential use of aeroplanes in military engagements. He talks about being able to see objects in a wide field of view clearly at a height of 2000 feet and that a trained observer could take in a lot which would be very useful to a military commander. His perceptive comments will go on to be proved correct in two years time on the outbreak of World War

Louis Bleriot had famously been the first to cross the English Channel in a plane in July 1909, less than 3 years before Dickie’s flight. Bleriot was a pioneering experimenter in aviation, designing and developing the first engine-powered monoplane, and formed his own aeroplane-building business. Following his successful Channel flight, he built and developed more flying machines, including the one flown by T.O.M. Sopwith.

Thomas Octave Murdoch Sopwith was a driven young man, excelling initially in motor cycling racing before turning his attention to aeroplanes. In 1910 he won the not inconsiderable sum of £4000 in achieving the longest flying distance from England to the Continent and used the winnings to found the Sopwith Flying School at Brooklands. A few months after his flight with Dickie, he and others followed Bleriot’s example and set up the Sopwith Aviation Company, which went on supply the allied forces in the Great War (later known as the First World War) with thousands of aeroplanes, including the famous Sopwith Camel. After the war ended, his company fell foul of anti-profiteering taxes, but he soon set up, with Henry Hawker, another aeroplane manufacturing company originally called Hawker Aircraft, later known as Hawker Siddeley. Sopwith lived to the grand old age of 100, dying only in 1989, not really that long ago, or so it seems to me!

Neil Bettridge
Harpur Crewe Cataloguing Project Archivist

Looking for preservation volunteers…

Would you like to help us look after Derbyshire’s history in a very direct and hands-on way?  If you have lots of patience, enjoy working delicately and precisely and are available on Thursday afternoons, this could be the project for you.  You may have seen previous posts by Neil about the work he’s doing regarding the archive of the Harpur Crewe family of Calke Abbey; we are now starting a volunteer project to clean and package this very large collection.  We are hoping to recruit up to six volunteers to work together on Thursday afternoons to clean off the dust, remove rusty staples and paperclips, put photographs in archival sleeves, sew protective pouches for the seals of medieval documents and pretty much do anything else the collection needs.  The photographs below give an idea of the variety of items contained in this collection, which range from the 14th to the 20th century, but if you’d like to know more details about the contents of the archive, you can follow this link to our catalogue: D2375

Bundle of 20th century documents

Bundle of 20th century documents

Envelope with 19th century contents

Envelope with 19th century contents

Envelope with stamps

Envelope with stamps

Early medieval deeds

Early medieval deeds

If you would like to know more about this project, please have a look on, then select ‘Services’ and ‘Volunteering’.  At the bottom of the page you will see the profile for Derbyshire Record Office Preservation Volunteers; the page also has details on how to contact us to express an interest in joining the project.

Meanwhile do keep an eye out for an upcoming post by Neil about the latest exhibition in our Vitrine Wall showing the artistic side of the family: Art and the Harpur Crewes.