Coming up this summer: Ashbourne Treasures

Ashbourne Library, St Oswald’s Church and the Ashbourne Heritage Centre are to host what promises to be an informative and inspiring exhibition during July, August and September of this year.  The exhibits in “Ashbourne Treasures” are all of vital importance to the history of the town, and they include the original charter of Queen Elizabeth’s Grammar School, of which we are the proud custodians.  Go and see the treasures if you can.  While you are at it, you could book yourself a ticket for one of the associated events, running throughout the summer, such as Dan Cruickshank’s talk on Georgian Towns.  More information is available at

Weather history and parish registers

We have some pleasantly summery weather in Derbyshire just now.  If it should get too warm and you wish to be transported to cooler climes, you could always try reading a new article by the University of Nottingham’s Lucy Veale and others, entitled “‘Instead of fetching flowers, the youths brought in flakes of snow’: exploring extreme weather history through English parish registers”.  It features a reproduction of a descriptive ‘Memorial to the great snow’ of 1615 which can be found inscribed in the Winster parish register.

A sense of open-ness and intrigue…..

Project Evaluator Dr Sara Giddens shares her first experience of The Amazing Pop Up Archives Project when the project team met back in June 2016.

So here we all are, gathered together in a hot sunny day in Matlock, at the Derbyshire Record Office (DRO). What stunning surroundings. The meeting room looks out over the hills and valley of this Market Town and is exquisitely furnished in wall-paper designed by Paula Moss in her former role as artist-in-residence. Paula is now here in the capacity of our co-host, with a DRO Archivist, Karen Millhouse. I take to the project and the project leaders immediately. The artists, although defined as creative facilitators for this project, archivists, lecturers and students are given time and space to listen to each other, to dwell for a while in their similarities and differences. No-one is rushed, there is a sense of open-ness and intrigue.

DRO Panorama1

I’m sure, like many of the others I am wondering what process might evolve?

The archivist Karen and project researcher Kate Henderson clearly know their stuff, they give off an air of considered confidence, with more than a little passion thrown in for good measure. There are 3 million items in their collection, where might we start?


We begin somewhat appropriately from a map, which we learn was also the inspiration for the colours used in the recent re-design of the interior of the record office. The poet Matt Black, one of the four lead creative facilitators, reads us his poem, written for the record office, inspired by a tiny detail in the map, a ladder propped up against a tree and his wonderings of who went up that ladder. He matches the archivist’s knowledge and passion with his own obvious mastery of his craft.

He is WONDERING, we are delighting in his wondering and before the close of the meeting, those on The Amazing Pop Up Archives Project team have been re-branded as Agents of Wonder.

Draco dormiens nunquam titillandus…

… Or: Never Tickle A Sleeping Dragon.  It is twenty years since the publication of the first Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.  I admit that this anniversary has little to do with archives – if it were the anniversary of The Order of the Phoenix, we could argue that what went on in the Hall of Prophecies is a classic illustration of why delicate records need appropriate storage facilities – but it does give us another excuse to show off some more cartoons by George Woodward (1760-1809).  Here’s a 1785 drawing of a magician, with something of the Dumbledore about him:


And here’s an 1813 print showing a pair of witches in a hayloft, complete with some fantastic beasts:


For more about the Woodward collection, have a look at some of our previous Woodward posts.

A Taxing issue for Sir Nigel

Sir Nigel Bowyer Gresley (1753-1808) was similar to many a rich or powerful person in the modern era – he got into trouble with the Tax Man. In 1800, he was accused by the Board of Taxes of entering a false tax return for the year April 1798- April 1799.

The above tax return relates to a tax on male servants, horses, dogs and carriages. Now it seems very odd for servants to be listed almost as objects themselves who can be taxed. The tax covered only male servants deemed as ‘luxury’, such as gamekeepers and butlers.

Nigel Bowyer Gresley was accused of not including three or four servants on this tax return, including his butler of many years service. Despite his claims that these servants no longer lived or were employed at his ancestral home of Drakelowe Hall, he was found guilty. This meant he had to pay £50 per undisclosed item. The fine eventually amounted to around £250-300. Thankfully, his daughters, Wilmot Maria and Emma Sophia, appear to have been better with their money, as can be seen in their marriage settlements and further documents that show they brought up tithes for grain.

For more information on the court case for incorrect tax returns please visit the Derbyshire Record Office quoting the reference number D770/C/EZ/169-184. The marriage settlements are also to be found at the Record Office with the references D3155/7166 and D3155/7167. Estate and personal papers of Sir Nigel can also be found upon request. Alternatively, feel free to come and visit us at the Measham Car Boot (postcode DE12 7HA) on Sunday the 25th of June between 8 am and 1pm, where we will be ‘popping up’ with these and other items from the Record Office’s collections.

Danielle Burton, University of Derby Intern for the Amazing Pop Up Archives Project.

The Pentrich Rebellion – Bicentenary commemorations

What do Napoleon Bonaparte, the French Revolution, an Indonesian volcano and Derbyshire framework knitters have in common? They all played their part in one of the first truly working class rebellions in British History.

This June marks the bicentenary of the Pentrich Rebellion.

In April 1815 Mount Tambora in Indonesia erupted. This volcanic eruption was one of the most powerful in recorded history and resulted in two years of poor harvests, due to sulphur dioxide in the atmosphere preventing sunlight from reaching the earth’s surface. Sir Henry FitzHertbert of Tissington Hall wrote in his dairy, which forms part of the FitzHerbert family papers held at the record office:

This was the worst year which was ever recollected. The Spring was most severely cold, the snow falling as late as the 7th of June; and there was no grass till the end of June.”

As a result harvests failed and people could not produce bread to feed themselves or their families.

British soldiers returning from the Napoleonic Wars found an economic crisis at home and very few jobs to return to. Due to the Industrial Revolution new trades were emerging, demanding new skills, served by semi-skilled factory workers. Demand in some long established crafts decreased and many craftsmen lost their livelihood. Nowhere were the changes more marked than in the East Midlands, traditional home of framework knitting.

Unrest was growing. The success of the French Revolution led to the spread of revolutionary ideals across much of Europe. This brought fresh fears to the British monarchy and landowning classes, who stamped down on and severely punished any opposition to their authority.

It was within this atmosphere of unrest that on the night of 9th June 1817 men from villages on the Derbyshire-Nottinghamshire border, including Pentrich, South Wingfield and Alfreton, set out to march to Nottingham. They believed they were part of a general rising across the North and Midlands to bring down the unjust and oppressive government.  They were met, however, by military forces, who had known about the uprising thanks to a network of government spies, sent all over the country to uncover rebel plots.  The punishment was severe; for some, such as rebel leader Jeremiah Brandreth, it meant death, for others transportation to Australia.

There is, of course, much more to the story so come along to the record office to delve deeper into this fascinating aspect of Derbyshire’s history. We are holding an exhibition featuring original material from the time which runs from the beginning of June until the end of September.

Or why not join us at the Bicentenary Commemorative Day event being held by the Pentrich and South Wingfield Revolution Group, which takes place this Saturday (10th June) at the Social Club in South Wingfield.  We‘ll be there from 1pm till 5pm with lots of information on our collections and services, along with some original archive material taken from our exhibition.

For more information on the Bicentenary Commemorative Day see the Pentrich and South Wingfield Revolution Group’s website

No time to watch the grass grow

Here I am at the Chesterfield and District Family History Society Open Day at the Proact Stadium, home of Chesterfield football club, but there is no time to turn around and enjoy my rather impressive view of the stadium.

With around 35 stalls the event is proving a great success and enquiries into DRO collections and services are flooding in.

We attend this event every year along with many family history societies and local history organisations.  This year the theme is Crime & Punishment, so I have given those attending a rare treat and brought along one of the favourites from our collections – the volume of criminal portraits from 1888.  It doesn’t get out much as at nearly 130 years old it’s showing its age, but I thought it was worthy of an outing just this once.

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Accompanying the volume is the almost compulsory parish register (I never attend a family history event without one!). This example is the very earliest register for St Mary & All Saints Parish in Chesterfield, dating from 1558 to 1634, and is one of the best surviving examples of a plague era register in the country.

Some Calendar of Prisoners have also come along and feature very interesting and sometimes unexpected crimes, including Nathaniel Walters, 65, who on the night of 23rd July 1849, at Ripley “feloniously stolen two hives containing honey and bees” and Henry Widdowson, 29, who on the 15th day of August 1849 at Killamarsh, “feloniously and fraudulently milked a cow.”

Wonderful stuff.

Here are a few more examples of photographs from the Volume of Criminal Portraits.  At the beginning of the volume there are examples of professional portraits by photographers operating in Chesterfield – the two I have found are Seaman & Sons and S. Whiting.  The volume provides a wonderful opportunity to study the development of criminal photography as the style changes from traditional portraiture to, what appears to be, more functional and taken by the police themselves?  As we move through the volume we see examples of prisoners with and without their hat, holding slates with their details written on , handcuffed to police officers, showing hands (so show any missing fingers or scars etc), with mirrors attached to their shoulder – an early example of taking a profile shot, and not to mention the occasional nonchalant pose.

Want to look through all the images in the volume?  Visit us and ask for the Volume of Criminal Portraits ref. D3376/OS/7/1 – to protect the original we have scanned it in it’s entirety so you’ll use the CD version.

Quitclaim: the Interns delight

Yesterday, whilst introducing our new ‘Pop up‘ project Interns Danielle & Kristian to the wonders of the store room, we got to see and hold a document, signed by Anne of Cleves, fourth wife of Henry VIII, in 1551. Relinquishing her rights to particular land and property, this gem of a record wrapped in its own bespoke, hand made box, was an astonishing document to have held.

Treasure 39: Florence Nightingale’s letters to C B N Dunn

Today is Florence Nightingale’s 197th birthday, and (not coincidentally) also International Nurses Day – to mark the occasion, here is one of our 50 Treasures posts, about the Florence Nightingale correspondence held here. You can read any of the letters at Boston University’s very user-friendly website,

Derbyshire Record Office

Florence Nightingale’s letters to Crich surgeon C B N Dunn are a fascinating read, for their social history content as well as for the insights they can provide into the life of their author.  You can find out more about them in some of our previous blog posts.  In this example (D2546/ZZ/54), Nightingale tells Dunn of candidates for membership of the local Women’s Club – not a recreational club, but a benefit society, which provided a form of insurance against sickness and death.  It was hoped that Dunn could “pass” people as being in good health on joining the club. Collection D1575 (deriving from the Nightingale family’s estates) includes the rules of Lea Friendly Society dated 1832 – this society may well have been the forerunner of the Women’s Club mentioned in the letter.


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50 Treasures – an easier way to explore

A few weeks ago, we finished blogging about Derbyshire Record Office’s “50 Treasures” series of documents, specially selected to illustrate the depth and variety of our archives and local studies material. It’s a project that began back in 2012, as the record office celebrated its 50th anniversary. All 50 posts can be found by searching the blog in the usual ways, but you might like to know that it is now possible to get a bird’s eye view of the full project from our new 50 Treasures page. It is also now possible to adopt your favourite – have a look at the Adopt A Piece Of History page for details.