Baby Loss Awareness Week and records of stillbirth

This week (9-15 October) is Baby Loss Awareness Week.  Understandably, this is an incredibly emotive issue and one that many people don’t think about if it is not something they have direct personal experience of. However, in the UK fourteen babies a day die before, during or soon after birth, so the chances are you know someone who has experienced such loss, even if you didn’t realise it.

Today, there are many organisations offering support and campaigning for better care and understanding about pregnancy and infant loss, and parents are encouraged to spend time with their baby being as involved as they choose to be in organising the funeral and/or remembrance services.  Memory boxes are often created containing photographs, hand and footprints, a lock of hair and perhaps verses and other mementoes that may offer support for grieving parents.

However, before the mid-1980s parents were rarely consulted about funeral arrangements for stillborn infants, and many mothers were unable even to meet their baby.  It may seem incomprehensible to many people (then as well as now), but this lack of engagement was often thought to be in the mother’s best interests – little, if any, thought was given to the father.  In fact, in a Commons debate earlier this year it was acknowledged that parents were still not fully involved in arrangements for the post mortem care of their baby well into the present century (see Hansard, 6 Feb 2020, Historic Stillbirth Burials and Cremations).

As a result, many parents do not know what happened to their baby and have never been able to visit a grave.  Occasionally, we receive enquiries at the record office from people looking for a grave or for any information relating to stillborn infants, often from younger siblings who didn’t even know about them until their elderly parents, considering their own mortality, want to find answers to the questions that have been with them for many decades.

Registration certificates

Under the Births and Deaths Registration Act of 1874, a declaration of stillbirth was required so that babies who had been born alive but died shortly afterwards could not be buried as stillborn.  However, there was no local or national register of these declarations and it was not until 1 July 1927 that it became a legal requirement to register a stillbirth (until 1992, this included all babies born dead after 24 weeks, since 1992, it includes babies born dead after 28 weeks).  In contrast, to the birth, marriage and death records maintained by the General Register Office (GRO), copy certificates for stillbirths can only be requested by the mother or father of the child, or by a sibling if their parents are no longer alive.  Contact the GRO for further advice.

Searching for a grave

Unfortunately, it is not always possible to identify a grave location or find information relating to babies who were stillborn, and even less so to those who died during pregnancy, such loss usually referred to as a miscarriage.  Sands (Stillbirth and neonatal death charity) and Brief Lives Remembered who have lots of experiences in supporting parents and families to find graves and other records have produced very helpful guides which I have relied on heavily to produce this Derbyshire-specific guide.

Before the 1970s and 1980s, stillborn infants or their ashes would often have been buried in a communal grave or with an unrelated female, and probably unmarked.  Although cemeteries were not legally required to record burials of stillborn children before 1975, it may still be possible to identify the churchyard or cemetery in which the burial took place (this is often the case for other churchyard burials as well where no grave plan exists). 

For infants who born alive but died shortly after a full burial entry ought to be included in the relevant church or cemetery register – see our guide to Derbyshire burials for information about what these records may tell you and how to search them.  For stillborn infants, it may be worth checking the registers which are generally arranged chronologically, but if stillbirths are recorded, this may be at the end of the volume (for example, Parish of Heath, ref: D1610/A/PI/41/1).

Derbyshire Record Office does not generally hold original records for civil cemeteries or crematoria.  Copies of most cemetery registers up to 1997 are available on microfilm at the record office, but records of cremations can only be obtained through the relevant district or parish council (see  A small number of parish councils have deposited registers explicitly relating to stillborn infants, including Shirebrook, 1944-1961, and Chellaston, 1934-1944.  

There are also other records for the civil cemeteries – first established after 1852 and run by Burial Boards – which may offer some information about arrangements for burials of stillborn infants, though not naming individuals, though occasionally there are also accounts relating to grave purchases for individuals.  Burial Board records are often found amongst the archives of the successor borough, district or parish council, though a few are held in collections specifically relating to the board itself.

Occasionally, it may also be possible to trace information through the records of the funeral director.  Although Derbyshire Record Office does not hold any of funeral directors, many firms are still in operation and could be contacted directly with regards to their records.  Where the firm is no longer operating, local studies sources such as newspapers and directories may help identify a successor company, but this is likely to take some time and may not always be possible.

Other records

Before 1927 and for loss in pregnancy before 28/24 weeks, it is unlikely that there will be any surviving records because there was no requirement to keep or method for recording this information.  However, there are other records that might be of some assistance depending on individual circumstances.

Where they survive, hospital records may also include references to women in the maternity ward or maternity home.  The Derby Borough health visitors registers covering 1944-1977 (ref: D5118) often include records of stillbirths, usually at the end of the volume.  The same may also be true for similar registers covering the county (ref: D3193).  There are also a very small number of records deposited or donated by individual midwives, including information about individual births. In the 19th and early 20th century, the admission registers and case books for the county and borough asylums (ref: D1658 and D5874 respectively) often include agonising cases of women who have suffered the loss of a child. 

According to the Family Tree Forum the church sexton may have maintained a list of child burials.  Although no such records appear to survive in Derbyshire, there are several sexton’s records relating to graveyard and interments that may include some information.  The website also refers to that fact that notices may appear in 19th century newspapers, though these are likely to be few and far between and concern only the higher classes.

There are very few other references to stillborn children and baby loss in the archives at the record office.  Some of these can be found in the catalogue, usually amongst family collections containing letters or other personal records, others will be “hidden” in registers or other records and there to be discovered.

Support and further information

Sands is the lead partner of the Alliance that runs Baby Loss Awareness Week, and a full list of other members and supporters can be found at

Baby Loss Awareness Week culminates with the global “Wave of Light” at 7pm on Thursday 15 October to remember the babies and the families who died before, during or soon after birth.  For more information about taking part, see or see #BLAW2020 #waveoflight on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram

I shall be lighting mine in memory of the two babies whom I shall never meet but often think of, for their mothers who I have known a long time and for their fathers who are still all too often overlooked.

The First World War

A guide to material held at Derbyshire Record Office about the First World War.

Archives and local studies materials relating to the First World War have been well indexed in our online catalogue and this guide gives only a brief overview and selected highlights of what is available. To see everything we have identified for the First World War, search for ‘First World War’ in our online catalogue. You can also add other terms to narrow down your search results, e.g. ‘aerial bombardment’, ‘military personnel’, ‘military recruitment’ or ‘conscientious objectors’.

Letters and diaries

Diaries and letters between members of the armed forces and their friends and families survive in many personal collections. Examples include Harry Chandos Pole of Hopton Hall, Wirksworth, Arthur Bryan of Derby, Arthur Hodgkiss of Baslow, William Bertram Weston of Chaddesden, Charles Sisum Wright of Eyam Hall, and Anthony Herbert Strutt of Belper.

On the home front, Maria Gyte’s diaries record her grief at the loss of her son in the war.

Posters and photographs

We have posters from the First World War that relate to public meetings, air raid precautions, military recruitment, fundraising and peace celebrations.

We also hold photographs, including studio photographs of soldiers in their uniforms before they went overseas. Many of these have been digitised and are on  A collection of picture postcards relating to the war, including propaganda photographs, is in the archive of the Thornhill family of Great Longstone

Former County Librarian, Edgar Osborne, served in Egypt and the Middle East during the First World War and his collection includes watercolours and photographs taken in Egypt, Jerusalem and Palestine.

Local Tribunals and conscientious objection

In 1916 military conscription was introduced. Men who had received their conscription papers could apply for an exemption, which would be taken to a local tribunal who would decide their case. Some of these men were conscientious objectors, but many sought exemption on the grounds of health or their work.

Local Tribunal papers survive for Alfreton, Chesterfield, Derby, Long Eaton and Ripley.   We also hold some papers of the Reverend John Norton who was a visitor to conscientious objectors held in Derby.

The Courage of Conscience project researched and documented Derbyshire conscientious objectors. More information about their project can be found at The project archive is also held at the Record Office.


Records of military hospitals aren’t held locally, but we do hold a few autograph books which were kept by nurses at local hospitals where soldiers were sent. These were signed by the patients, who sometimes also drew pictures or added poems. We have two for the Derby Royal Infirmary, D5250/1/1, and D1190/249 and one for the Royal Devonshire Hospital in Buxton (D5952/1).

The published war diary of the Canadian Convalescent Home for Officers in Buxton, 1917-1919 is in our Local Studies Collection (class number 940.5474 Over/Oversize).

The Home Front

Rationing was brought in at the end of the war as people began to suffer food shortages. Our local studies collection includes an article in which describes how rationing was first trialled in Chesterfield (LS/PER/REFLECTIONS/312/Lomax). We also have the minutes of the Chesterfield Local Fuel and Lighting Committee which dealt with fuel rationing. A few ration cards also survive, such as seven year old Maggie Severn’s ration book and the ration books belonging to the Ogden family of Stanley.

In the early hours of 1 February 1916, there was a Zeppelin air raid on Derby. The raid is sometimes mentioned in school log books, such as Egginton School, and St Andrew’s School in Derby.


Horace John Rylands of Bakewell served in France and was a talented artist. His collection contains his drawings and cartoons of life in the trenches.

Sergeant Oliver Holmes of Clay Cross served in the 12th Battalion Sherwood Foresters. The soldiers in the battalion published the satirical trench magazine, the ‘Wipers Times’ and we hold Sergeant Holmes’ personal copies of the Wipers Times.

Peace and commemoration

At the end of the war, there were peace celebrations throughout the county. The records of these include posters, programmes and committee papers. In the early 1920s, people commemorated the men who had served in war memorials and rolls of honour.

To commemorate the 100th anniversary of the war, in 2014-2018, many local groups carried out projects to research and commemorate the war in Derbyshire. You can find out more about these projects on the website which also includes a handy timeline of the war.

Searching for people in the catalogue

Our online catalogue contains nearly 400,000 entries relating to the archives and local studies collections we hold but it is not necessarily the easiest or most user-friendly site to search.  We’re working on several improvements and in the meantime, here is a short guide to how to use the catalogue to find information about individuals – but the advice works for whatever your search might be.

The first thing to know is that the catalogue describes what records are held in the record office not specifics of what is in the records themselves.

It is a bit like buying a book online – the online catalogue tells you the book’s author, title, publication date and gives a brief summary of what the book is about, but you have to actually buy the book (or borrow it from the library) to find out exactly what the book says.

There are thousands of records containing lots of names (not just at Derbyshire Record Office, but also at The National Archives, and other archives around the world).  Whilst some of these records have been digitised, shared online and made searchable by name – the most popular being the census returns, birth marriage and death indexes, church registers, pre-1914 school registers and military service records – there are many more that are only accessible by searching through the original archives.

Searching for other sources

If you want to find your ancestors – or indeed a non-relative – you will need to search the catalogue for the records they will be mentioned in rather than searching for the person themselves.  Often the best way to do this is to search for the archives of the organisation that will have created the records in the first place.  For example:

1. When was my ancestor married?

Search the catalogue for the church where the wedding took place – if it wasn’t a church ceremony, we don’t hold the records.  The catalogue for that church will list the marriage registers available, and you will then need to browse the original register (or ask us to search for you) to find the specific details.

Tip: type church and the place name in the Title field (e.g. church Killamarsh) and select Fonds from the Level drop-down menu – click the top result as this will give you a link to the full catalogue

2. Where did my ancestor go to school?

Search the catalogue for the name of the school (or possible schools) they might have attended.  The catalogue for the school will list the records available, including any admission registers.

Tip: the catalogue entry for each collection (i.e. each school, business, etc.) which usually gives a brief history of the organisation and summary of records also includes a link for you to browse the whole list of available records.

3. Where did my ancestor work?

Even more so than with school records, the difficulty with this search is knowing which company (or sometimes industry) the person was employed by (in) so as to be able to search for the right records.  If you do know – or at least have an rough idea – search the catalogue for the business name or family estate (i.e. if they worked for a landowning family).  If they worked in the coal or lead mining industries then our other research guides may also be of assistance (follow links in text).

All of this is good advice for whatever information you might be searching for –

Search the catalogue for the type of record that will contain the information required not for the information itself.

This is also the reason (or part of it) you can’t search for a postcode in the catalogue either.

But… it is usually worth searching for a name, just in case

Although the vast majority of names cannot be searched in the catalogue because it doesn’t contain lists of those mentioned in the original record or book, it is often worth searching because some entries do include personal names.

Tip: Sometimes it might be worth just searching for the surname rather than the full name.

Some records can only really be described by including the name of the person to whom they relate, for example the will of Jane Smith.  Some records have been catalogued in more detail than others, so some parish poor relief papers – such as apprenticeship indentures and settlement certificates – might list each record individually (others will just indicate that a bundle of indentures exists).

You may also find that a relative (perhaps from a different branch of your family tree) has donated material to the record office – whilst most families haven’t, some have.  If not, it could also be that your family had a connection with another family whose archive is at the record office, perhaps writing a letter to them.

This is also true for material in the local studies library – where the comparison is even more similar to buying a book online.  If a book or an article has been written about an individual person or family, the catalogue is likely to include a reference to that person.  However, if a book or article about a town includes references to named individuals in the text, then their names won’t appear in the catalogue, you would need to read the book.

Of course, the difficulty is knowing in the first place that the book, or article, or archive is worth looking at in the first place.  For this you will need to use your judgement and decide how much time you want to spend searching for information that provides context to an individual’s life.


There are lots of records that include information about people, and the best way to find out what is available is to start with our family history research guides.  Remember, don’t search for the information you are looking for, search for the record that is likely to contain that information.

With thanks to Celia for her help in writing this guide.

Societies and Voluntary Bodies

A guide to the archives of charities and self-help societies such as associations for the prosecution of felons, friendly societies and nursing associations as well as societies with a social purpose.


Major series of charity records concern education, almshouses, or general and parish interests.  Educational charities are chiefly about the maintenance of a school and provision of schooling for poor children in their locality, while those relating to almshouses (hospitals) deal with the building and running of these institutions.

Returns and other records from Derbyshire charities to the Charity Commission from 1886 can be found under reference D2723.   A list of all the archive collections for Derbyshire charities held at the Record Office can be found via our online catalogue.  The following links can also be used to browse shorter lists by type of charity:

Note: where charities fall into more than one category, they are found in all appropriate lists.

Co-operative Societies

The modern Co-operative Society originated with the 28 poor weavers calling themselves the Equitable Pioneers of Rochdale, and the food shop they opened in 1844.  Food the poor could afford was often heavily adulterated and the Rochdale Pioneers chief object was to supply pure food.  They bought wholesale, sold at reasonable prices and divided the profits amongst members as dividend.  From the 1850s, the movement spread rapidly, particularly in the North and Midlands.  The co-operative societies also increased the range of goods sold, expanded into the provision of services such as undertaking and widened their objectives to include the promotion of education, some providing scholarships, organising cultural (and social) events and paying evening class fees.

A list of archive collections of Co-operative Societies can be found via the online catalogue.  It is also worth searching the Any Text field for other items relating to these societies that might be amongst family and other archive collections – there are over 250 entries containing the words co-operative (or cooperative) society.

Friendly/Benefit/Sick Societies

Mutual self-help societies have existed for centuries, for example, medieval trade guilds.  In the mid-18th century, the principle was applied to social concerns too and operated as insurance.  Members of the society would pay a subscription and then be able to submit a claim if they were sick or unable to work, and depending on the society’s rules, their families may have been able to claim after the member’s death.

The Friendly Society Act of 1793, and subsequent amendments, required the deposit with the Clerk of the Peace of a variety of documents relating to these societies.  (The Unlawful Societies Act of 1799 led, slightly indirectly, to the registration of freemasons’ lodges – they were exempt from the provision of the Act if their members’ were certified annually).  The surviving documents can be found under reference Q/RS/2Click here for a list of collections relating to mutual benefit societies.

Associations/Societies for the Prosecution of Felons

Prosecuting societies were common before the establishment of police forces in the 1830s.  They offered rewards for information and paid the expenses of prosecuting offenders.  A small number of archive collections survive for Derbyshire association, please see the catalogue for a full list.  Other collections also include items relating to these organisations, so a search of the Any Text field is always useful.

Poor Relief and Workhouses

A guide to the records of the poor before and after the establishment of union workhouses.

Parish Poor Relief

An Act of Parliament in 1531 was really the first occasion where it was recognised that a formal system of aid was required for the poor, with an act of 1536 legislating for organised relief at the parish level.  Various other acts were passed throughout the Tudor period, including the Act for the Relief of the Poor of 1601 – the Elizabethan Poor Law, later known as the Old Poor Law.  The Act required parishes to appoint two local people to serve as Overseers of the Poor, collecting money through the poor rate to redistribute it to those in need.  After 1662, the Act of Settlement required that parishes were responsible for the poor who were legally settled in their parish.  This resulted in the creation of a series of records (see below) concerning individuals right to claim and settle in a particular parish.

Overseers of the Poor records can be found the archives of individual parishes.  Survival of records is patchy for most parishes, but may include:

  • accounts: relating to the collection and/or disbursement of the poor rate
  • settlement certificates: giving name(s) and parish of settlement.  These were handed to the overseers when people moved into a new parish so that they could be sent back to the parish of settlement if they became paupers and needed to rely on poor relief
  • settlement examinations: created at the time the parish attempted to determine which parish an individual or family was settled in and therefore responsible to.  They often give a potted biography of the individual or family
  • removal orders: where there was a dispute over the parish of settlement, the county Quarter Sessions would issue a removal order from and to the parishes concerned relating to the individual or family
  • bastardy papers: for example examinations to determine who the father was and therefore who was responsible for the child, bonds for putative fathers and filiation orders for maintenance
  • apprenticeship indentures: since 1598, pauper children could be apprenticed by the parish to reduce the burden on the parish.  From 1723, children of vagrants could be apprenticed against the will of their parent/s.  Sometimes indentures survive amongst the parish archives, occasionally indentures of non-pauper children may also be found amongst the parish record.


The Elizabethan poor law placed an emphasis on requiring people (including children) to work rather than claim out (i.e. outdoor) relief.  In 1723, Knatchbull’s Workhouse Test Act allowed for a single parish or group of parishes to establish a workhouse, but very few records survive relating to these institutions, at least in Derbyshire.

A large number of settlement, removal and bastardy records are also held amongst the county Quarter Sessions records.

Poor Relief from 1834

Bakewell Union Workhouse, c1900 (ref: Picture the Past, DCHQ002788)

Poor Law Unions, consisting of several parishes grouped together, were created by the Poor Law Amendment Act 1834.  Each Union built its own workhouse administered by Boards of Guardians elected by parishioners.  This meant that the majority of the poor were housed, fed and set to work (if able) rather than given money to look after themselves.  Over the years Guardians were given other duties relating to non-poor law issues such as civil registration and public health.

The Unions also appointed Relieving Officers who took over most of the responsibilities of the parish Overseers (though the Overseers continued to be appointed and now answered to the Union Relieving Officers.  Other officers appointed by the Boards of Guardians include medical officers, a master and mistress of the workhouse and a school teacher/s for the pauper children.

Poor Law Unions and Boards of Guardians were abolished in 1930, when County Councils took over their functions, including the running of workhouses, which became known as Public Assistance Institutions, and children’s homes.

Poor Law Union records may include:

  • Board of Guardians minutes of meeting, financial accounts and property papers
  • Workhouse admission and discharge registers (arranged chronologically with no indexes, giving name, age, parish and reason for admission and discharge); creed registers (giving name, age, faith and parish); and registers of births and deaths in the workhouse

A list of the Derbyshire Poor Law Unions (see below) and the records available for each can be seen via our online catalogue.  Registers relating to individual inmates only survive for the workhouses at Belper and Chesterfield.

The Derbyshire unions were Ashbourne, Bakewell, Belper, Chapel-en-le-Frith, Chesterfield, Derby, Glossop, Hayfield and and Shardlow.  The unions did not respect existing county boundaries, so some of the Derbyshire unions were responsible for parishes in Staffordshire and other neighbouring counties, and some Derbyshire parishes were covered by other unions, namely Ashby-de-la-Zouch, Basford, Burton-upon-Trent, Mansfield, Rotherham, Tamworth, Uttoxeter and Worksop.

Charities and Other Support

The record office holds over 200 collections for local charities and assistance organisations, including many for local branches of national and international charities.  A fuller guide to these collections will be published in the coming weeks.

Local Studies

A selected list of books and other publications relating to the poor law generally and individual Derbyshire workhouses can be found in the online catalogue indexed under Poor Law.   Further items can be found in the Derbyshire Libraries catalogue, including: 

Records held elsewhere

The National Archives holds a selection  of plans of workhouse buildings between 1852 and 1914, including for Belper, Derby, Glossop, Hayfield, .  Search their catalogue by name of union for plans of workhouse buildings in MH 14 and HLG 6

Also available is correspondence between individual unions and the Poor Law Commission (later Poor Law Board).  The records are catalogued under department code MH, but they are not particularly easy to use, as the file descriptions are very uninformative, so any search may be lengthy.  Search by name of Poor Law Union for correspondence between the Union and the government department responsible for the Poor Law in MH 12.

As always The National Archives also has some handy guides on the records available.

Land Values Maps and Domesday Books

A guide to records of the district Valuation Offices after 1910.

The Finance Act of 1910 legislated for a new duty on land and required a detailed survey of the whole country to determine the value of the land and the duty payable.   The Valuation Office was set up by the Inland Revenue in 1910 (1911 for Scotland) to carry out the work of the survey, with district offices around the country.

Originally there were four valuation offices covering Derbyshire: Chesterfield, Derby, High Peak (which also covered parts of Cheshire which are now in Greater Manchester) and Matlock.

By 1979, the districts were:

  • Chesterfield – covering by Chesterfield Borough, North East District and Bolsover District local authority areas
  • Derby – covering Derby City, Erewash Borough and South Derbyshire District
  • West Derbyshire – covering High Peak Borough, West Derbyshire District and Amber Valley District
Duties on land values, 1910

Four series of documents were created for or by the Board of Inland Revenue Valuation Offices as a result of the provisions of the 1910 Act concerning duties on land values:

  • The valuation precis (or “Domesday Book“): prepared by the Inspector of Taxes.  They contain entries for each property, known as a hereditament, giving basic information for the valuation of the property: the valuation assessment number, map reference, owner, occupier, situation, description, and extent.  In cases where there are unexplained gaps in the hereditament numbers, this has been caused by the numbers having been pre-selected, regardless of the actual quantity required.
  • The “form 37 land“: contain information extracted from the Domesday book, arranged in a different format
  • The field book: prepared by the district offices, and contain all the information found in the precis with additional detailed descriptions of the premises
  • The terrier map: at a scale of 25 inches to the mile, based on Ordnance Survey maps (usually the second edition) and are marked up with each hereditament number.

In addition to the above, the valuation offices created working sheet maps.  These were produced at an intermediate stage of the survey, and the information from them was then transferred to the terrier maps.


The Domesday books and working sheet maps were transferred to Derbyshire Record Office in 1979, along with some of the “forms 37 land” for those cases where the Domesday book does not survive or is held elsewhere.  The terrier maps and the field books have all been retained by The National Archives (TNA) for permanent preservation and are held at Kew (reference IR 58).

Together the maps and books provide a unique snapshot,  of property ownership around the time of World War One.  All maps and associated books can be found under reference D595 – we tend to refer to the records as Land Values maps and schedules as that was the name of the tax.

After all this work, the 1910 land value tax was abolished following the 1920 Finance Act.

Using the records

The best way to use the records depends on what you are trying to find.  They are particularly popular with house historians who are trying to find out who owned and occupied the property just prior to the outbreak of the First World War.  In this case, you should use the map first and identify the hereditament number which can then be found in the relevant Domesday Book.

As the working sheet maps were drawn onto existing Ordnance Survey maps, the Ordnance Survey county series map reference should be used to order the correct map.  The grid reference number can be checked on site in the search room, or by using The National Archives Valuation Office Map Finder – The National Archives Catalogue Reference (see X below) can only be used to order the terrier map at TNA.  To order the working sheet at the record office, use the Ordnance Survey reference, with the prefix D595/LV/ – e.g. D595/LV/50.6.

Map Finder

The best way to find the relevant Domesday Book is to search the catalogue using reference D595/* and entering the parish name in the AnyText field:

D595 catalogue

To identify the property owned or occupied by a particular person or people, you should start with the Domesday Books and identify the hereditament numbers to then find on the map.  The main difficulty with this is that the numbers are not applied numerically on the maps, and it is not always obvious (particularly for the larger towns) which map numbers will appear on.

Other records of the District Valuation Offices
  • Derby (ref: D2138) – provisional valuation forms and amendment forms and associated documents c1911-1916
  • Chesterfield (ref: D3010) – Valuation lists, 1956 and 1963 with direction sheets 1956-1963
  • West Derbyshire (ref: D3643) – selected valuation lists 1948-1975, with some earlier Ordnance Survey maps marked up to show valuation information
Further Reading

Coroners Inquests and other Records

A guide to the surviving records of the Derbyshire Coroners.

It has been the duty of county coroners since 1194 to investigate the circumstances of unnatural, sudden, or suspicious deaths, and deaths in prison, with additional functions acquired over time.

There are two coroners for Derbyshire:

  • Derby and South Derbyshire, based in Derby
  • High Peak, Chesterfield and North Derbyshire (Hundred of Scarsdale), based in Chesterfield
Surviving records

Very few coroners’ records survive for Derbyshire until the mid-20th century.  Before then researchers are advised to look in local newspapers to discover more about deaths in Derbyshire.  The following coroners’ archives survive at Derbyshire Record Office:

Q/SS/1/1-38 Coroners’ Inquests, 1877-1890

From 1752 to 1860, coroners were required to file their inquests at the County Quarter Sessions. Until 1926 all inquests were held before a jury.  Only 38 examples of coroners’ inquests survive amongst the Quarter Sessions records.  It is believed that all other early inquest reports were pulped during the Second World War, meaning that the principal primary source in this area is the coroners’ expenses returns (see below).

These inquests give: date of inquest; name of deceased; the verdict; date of death; cause of death; name of coroner; names of jurors; and constable’s receipt.

Q/AF/8/1-41 Coroners’ expense claims, 1754-1869

Under the Act 25 Geo II c29 (1752) fees and travelling expenses were payable to coroners.  The claims submitted by the coroners usually giving place of inquest, name of victim, mileage and sometimes verdict.

DCC/RG/3 Coroners records, 20th century

  • Derby and South Derbyshire Coroner: Inquest files 1979-1994; post mortem reports 1979-1994; depositions file 1976-1979 (currently held under reference D3346).
  • High Peak Coroner: Registers of reported deaths 1954-1983; inquest notebooks 1964-1979; correspondence etc., other miscellaneous papers and files 1940s-1970s (currently held under reference D3682).
  • Chesterfield Coroner: Inquests and post mortum reports, 1976-1992; Records of deaths and Inquests, 1995-2000

D6144/UL Expenses Ledgers, 1832-1916

Amongst a large collection of business papers and client records from Robothams Solicitors are three ledgers of William and William Harvey Whiston who acted as Coroners for County.  The detail in the ledgers varies over time, but are similar to those in the Expense Claims that survive in the Quarter Sessions collection.

Access arrangements

Due to the highly sensitive information held in the coroners files, the records are not generally available for public consultation.  Please contact the relevant coroner directly if there is a specific inquest file that you require access to.

Further Reading
  • Jean A Cole and Colin D Rogers (1995) Coroners’ Inquest Records (Historical Association Short Guides to Records No. 46)
  • The National Archives guide to Coroners Inquests


Lead Mining Records

The Miners Tearms are like to Heathen Greek – Edward Manlove, 1653

A guide to the brief history of lead mining in Derbyshire and notes on the sources available for research (written March 1993, updated June 2020).

Administration and Customs

There are few primary series for the study of Derbyshire lead mining before the 16th century.  By this time the unique set of laws and customs which govern Derbyshire lead mining were already well established.  Most of the ore fields within the county were within the estate of the Duchy of Lancaster and thus belonged to the Crown.  A royal inquisition held at Ashbourne in 1288 recognised the “immemorial” right of miners to dig for lead anywhere on the Crown’s estates except under churchyards, gardens, orchards and highways, but it also codified the mining laws in order to regulate this activity.  The mining laws of 1288 remained substantially unaltered and were accepted as the basis for the Derbyshire Mining Customs and Mineral Courts Acts in 1852 (see D163/1 and Local Studies 622.344).

The Crown’s ore fields were divided into the Kingsfield of the High Peak in the north and the Kingsfield of the Low Peak (also known as the Wapentake of Wirksworth) in the south.  Each field had its own Great Barmoot Court, which met twice a year and had exclusive jurisdiction over matters connected with mining.  The Great Barmoot Court was presided over by a steward, who could also summon a more frequent small Barmoot to hear lesser cases.  Both the High Peak and Low Peak ore fields were subdivided into smaller administrative units known as liberties, each of which corresponded to a mining township, and an officer called a Barmaster was appointed for each liberty. There were some lead mining areas outside the Crown’s estates on private lands.  These are known as the Private Liberities and had their own Barmoot Courts, Barmasters and mining customs, modelled on those of the Kingsfields.

Barmoot Court Books/Rolls: are the official minutes of the mining courts.  At the beginning of each session should appear the title of the court, the name of the Lord of the Court (if a Private Liberty), the date of the session, and the name of the steward presiding.  The business of the court will then follow and may include the appointment of the Barmaster and his deputies, the swearing-in of jurors, the delivery of accounts (of “lot” and “cope” collected) by the Barmaster and his deputies, and the details of cases of plaints brought before the court.  There may be subsidiary papers such as jury lists, the articles of the court, court orders, case notes, and notes on mining laws and customs.

Records of the Barmaster: barmasters’ notebooks or diaries provide a day-to-day record of their activities, and cover the full range of official duties.  These included

  • recognising a new claim in return for a dish of ore (freeing the founder meer)
  • making (nicking) the windlass (stowe) of an idle mine and re-allocating its possession after it has been nicked three times
  • investigating the sudden death of any miner within the Liberty,
  • making summons for breaches of the mining laws
  • measuring lead ore, and
  • collecting the mineral duties.

Lot was the payment of a set fraction of the ore raised by the miners. Cope was a monetary payment per load of ore measured, which was normally paid by the lead merchants or smelters.  There are usually separate account books recording the amounts of ore measured and the lot or cope paid.

Derbyshire Record Office has three particularly good and complimentary collections for the study of lead mining administration and customs:

  • D258 Gell family of Hopton, near Wirksworth.  The Gell’s were prominent lead smelters in the 16th and 17th centuries and held the farm of cope from the Crown.  Their archive contains a lot of material on the operation of the Barmoot Court and the Barmasters in the Wapentake of Wirksworth.
  • D504 Brooke-Taylor of Bakewell, solicitors, contains a large amount of similar material for the Kingsfield and Private Liberties in the High Peak.
  • D1289 Rieuwarts Collection is an artificial collection of lead mining records covering the private liberties of the Duke of Rutland.
Development in Lead Mining Technology

Initially lead production was fairly limited: the smelting process was primitive and the depth of the mines was restricted by problems of ventilation and flooding.

Smelting: was originally carried out using boles, wood fired furnaces on westerly facing hilltops.  Smelting could only take place when there was a south westerly wind to fire the furnace, usually about twice a year, and would fail if the wind failed.  the second half of the 16th century saw the introduction of the smelting mill.  Lead was produced in a specially designed ore hearth, fired by bellows that were powered by a water wheel, thereby enabling production to take place continuously throughout the year.  In the 18th century the ore hearth itself was superseded by the Reverbertory Furnace or ‘Cupola’, which used coal instead of wood to generate the heat for smelting.  These changes in smelting practice can be followed using records including those relating to Sir John Gell’s smelting mill in the 1640s (see D258) and the county’s largest 18th century lead cupola in Lea owned by the Nightingale family (see D1575).

Soughs: were drainage tunnels designed to lower the water table, or free the mines of underground streams, by diverting the water into the near river valleys.  the earliest recorded sough is the Longhead sough, driven by the Dutch engineer Sir Cornelius Vermuyden between 1629 and 1636 to unwater the Dovegang mines at Cromford.  The Gell collection (ref: D258) contains material concerning early soughs including contemporary copies of documents concerning the draining of Dovegang.  The largest sough driven in Derbyshire was the Hillcarr Sough.  It was begun in 1766 and drained the mines at Alport-by-Youlgreave by carrying water a distance of four miles to the River Derwent at Darley Dale.  A good number of records for this project are held at the record office, including the minute book of the proprietors 1775-1821 (ref: D200), as well as a contemporary copy of the sough articles, title deeds, plans, accounts and other material (ref: D504 and D1575).

Other records

Individual Derbyshire lead miners have left few records, and will only appear as names in the Barmasters diary or the Barmoot Court Book.  From the beginning the lead trade was controlled by the wealthy smelters and merchants.  As mining became deeper and more expensive the merchants grouped together to form mining companies.  Many of the surviving records are therefore in family or company archive collections.  These include account or reckoning books for particular mines detailing expenditure on wages and equipment, against income from the amount of ore produced.

See our online for a list of the archive collections of lead mining companies, lead dealers Barmoot Courts and Barmasters and a list of items in Local Studies relating to lead mining.

The Barmaster’s Library

The Barmaster’s Library is a collection of publications and other items about the history of Derbyshire (particularly Buxton and the Peak District) including a number of items specifically relating to lead mining.  Originally brought together by William and George Eagle Esquires, Barmasters of Wirksworth, it was presented to the Whitworth Institute at Darley Dale probably in the early 1930s – the original catalogue was produced in March 1931 but it is unclear if the catalogue was produced at the time of the presentation or some time later.  It was transferred to the custody of the Local Studies Library (then based at Matlock Library) in 1968.

There are some early 20th century publications in the collection, but most of the items  date from the 18th to 19th century – the earliest items are from the 16th and 17th century

Further Reading
  • Edward Manlove Liberties and Customs of the Lead Mines (ref: Local Studies 622.344 for 1708 edition and D2193/1/1 for a photocopy of the c1653 poem)
  • Blog Post – Acquisition of lead mining plan of Winster, 1769 (ref: D8163/1)
  • J. H. Rieuwerts (1998) Glossary of Derbyshire lead mining terms
  • J. H. Rieuwerts (2007-2012) Lead Mining in Derbyshire: history, development & drainage (4 volumes)
  • J. H. Rieuwerts (1972) Derbyshire’s old lead mines and miners
    J. H. Rieuwerts (1988) A History of the Laws & Customs of the Derbyshire Lead Mines

A large number of records relating to lead mining in Derbyshire are held at Chatsworth Archives, including several items that originally formed a series with some items held under D504.

Records of Crime and Punishment

An introductory guide to historical records of criminals, policing, law and order in Derbyshire.

Most records relating to crime and punishment contain personal information – if the records relate to people who were born less than 100 years ago, access restrictions apply.  Please contact us to discuss arrangements for accessing these records.


Outside of London, Justices of the Peace were first permitted to establish county forces under the 1839 County Police Act, but it was not mandatory until the County and Borough Police Act of 1856.  It was under this later Act that the Derbyshire Constabulary was established on 17 March 1857.  However, the first constabularies to be established in the county were in 1836 by the boroughs Chesterfield and Derby (under the Municipal Corporations Act 1835), Glossop borough followed in 1867.  Following mergers in 1947 a single force covered the whole county, plus Derby from 1967 and the main archive collection for the county and borough constabularies are held under reference D3376; although some records are held in other collections.

When the county force was first established, it was overseen by the County Quarter Sessions (see below).  In 1889 Derbyshire County Council took over the administrative functions of County Quarter Sessions and a Joint Standing Committee (see D919/C/1/6) was established consisting of equal numbers of justices and county councillors to oversee the county police force, with Borough Watch Committees maintaining responsibility over their respective forces.  The Joint Standing Committee had exclusive control of all buildings used for police and quarter sessions purposes – for minutes of the buildings committee see D919/C/1/7/1-2.  The 1964 Police Act abolished the Standing Joint committee replacing it with a Police committee of the County Council with magistrates forming one third of its membership, see D919/C/1/58/1-3 for the committee minutes.

A small number of other collections and a larger number of records in a variety of other collections of individual police officers, local bodies working with the police and related activities are also described in the online catalogue, along with details of items in the Local Studies Library.  Further items can also be found by searching for the word ‘police’ or other relevant words in the Title field.

This article, written by the great-great-grandson of a Victorian police constable, shows just how much can discovered about individual officers.  

Petty constables

Prior to the establishment of the professional police forces, maintaining law and order was primarily the responsibility of a local constable appointed by Justices of the Peace from a list of eligible candidates produced by the parish Overseers of the Poor.  Although sometimes referred to as the parish constable, the area they covered was not necessarily contiguous with the parish boundaries.  The constable would “present” to the county Quarter Sessions accusations usually of minor wrongdoing against people in his jurisdiction.  Some records, particularly 18th and 19th century constables accounts may be found amongst the parish archives, and presentments are also held in the county Quarter Sessions archive.

Quarter Sessions

The County Quarter Sessions was the main administrative and judicial body for the County of Derbyshire from the early medieval period until the late 19th century, and records survive chiefly from the 17th century.  The Quarter Sessions dealt with minor or preliminary judicial cases and with the administration of local government including oversight of the poor and settlement laws. 

The records are divided into four categories, with the main records relating to crime and punishment are:

  • Order Books (from 1682) record the decisions (i.e. orders) both administrative and judicial issued by the court, often including the place of residence and occupation of defendants along with a description of the crime and sentence (ref: Q/SO/1).  They also give information about the appointment of county and local officials, including indictments against parishes and their officials relating to failure to carry out their functions such as maintaining bridges and highways
  • Calendars of Prisoners (from 1694) are quarterly lists of  prisoners in the county gaol and houses of correction, and charges against them (ref: Q/SP).  They are handwritten until 1820 and ultimately also include age and some indication of literacy.  The records between 1729 and 1913 can be searched online.  
  • Orders of and bonds for Transportation to America between 1720-1772 (ref: Q/AT).
  • Jury lists recording the names of those eligible for jury service primarily for 1775-1875, with a few entries as early as 1702 and late as 1922 (ref: Q/RJ)
  • The minutes of the Police Committee and other records relating to the management of the Derbyshire Constabulary after 1857 are currently unlisted.  See Cox’s Three Centuries of Derbyshire Annals (1890) and Calendar of Records of the County of Derbyshire (1899) for further information.

The borough (now city) of Derby fell outside the jurisdiction of the county Quarter Sessions with Court of Record established 1446 and Quarter Sessions in 1611.  As with the county, matters of civil administration were transferred to the Borough Council in 1889.  Unfortunately, a fire in the 19th century and a flood in the 20th century destroyed many of Derby’s official records.  Nevertheless, some early records (including Order Books from 1628) do survive and are catalogued under reference D3551.

In 1972, Quarter Sessions and Assize courts (see below) were abolished and replaced by Crown Courts.

Petty Sessions, later known as Magistrates Courts

Since at least the 16th century, Justices of the Peace also presided over local courts of summary jurisdiction in cases of petty crime.  These Petty Sessions often covered very similar areas to the older hundreds and wapentakes.  From at least 1750 (when the earliest records survive) Derbyshire justices began to make returns of certificates of convictions to Quarter Sessions (ref: Q/UL).  There are also three registers of private jurisdiction between 1765 and 1859, but the main records begin in 1828.  They consist principally of registers of summary jurisdiction.  Separate registers may survive for licensing (particularly for public houses and theatres) from 1872, for juvenile offenders from 1933 and for minutes of special sessions, also called justices’ meetings.  A list of the archive collections for the Derbyshire Petty Sessions/Magistrates Courts can be found on our online catalogue

Petty Sessions also dealt with non-criminal business, particularly highways matters, appointments of parish officers, licensing and adoption cases.

TIP: as the majority of court records are limited in the information they provide, particularly with regards to witness statements, newspapers are often the most useful source for details of a particular case.

County Courts

The original County Courts developed out the Shire Courts of Anglo-Saxon England.  After the Norman Conquest, the Shire Reeves (Sheriffs) became their presiding officers and remained so until the establishment of the modern County Courts in 1846.  During the Middle Ages, the County Courts lost their criminal jurisdiction and their judicial competence was restricted to pleas of certain trespasses and actions for less than 40 shillings.  The only surviving Derbyshire records are the court books between 1826 and 1844 (ref: D2) and a book of pleas 1785-1795 (ref: D5836).  

The court books show that the County Court in the 19th century still considered many cases relating to small debts, but that the range of matters dealt with was very narrow, including arrangements for Parliamentary elections. 

County Courts in their modern form were established by Act of Parliament in 1846 as courts for the easier recovery of small debts.  Successive Acts widened their jurisdiction to any common law action, tort, contract, title to lands, probate, equity jurisdiction, bankruptcy and even Admiralty jurisdiction (though the latter of course doesn’t apply in Derbyshire).  Often the jurisdiction was limited considerably by the financial value of what was in dispute but undoubtedly they transacted a great deal of business, primarily relating to civil cases concerning debt and bankruptcy.   Unfortunately, only a small number of records have survived, including minute books (also known as plaint and minute books) and bankruptcy and Workmen’s Compensation Acts registers.  For further information about the collections and records available please see our online catalogue.

Assizes Court

The Assize Court was a national court that travelled to the counties on circuits.  Originally the assizes mainly dealt with property disputes, but eventually they began to try criminal cases.  From 1559 assize judges mainly dealt with the more serious criminal offences such as homicide, infanticide, theft, highway robbery, rape, assault, coining, forgery, witchcraft, trespass, vagrancy and recusancy.

As a national court, the records at held at The National Archives under reference ASSI.  Whilst you can search the catalogue for specific personal or place names, these records have not been fully catalogued and therefore searching by county may be more successful.  For Derbyshire, the following records survive:

  • Crown and Gaol Books, 1818-1945 (ref: ASSI 11)
  • Indictments, 1662, 1667, 1687 (ref: ASSI 80), 1868-1971 (ref: ASSI 12)
  • Depositions, 1862-1971 (ref: ASSI 13)

Other records for Derbyshire can be found under ASSI 15 and ASSI 88.  Some Calendars of Prisoners for Assizes cases 1830-1971 are held at Derbyshire Record Office under Q/SP, an index is available online up to 1875.

Manor court records

Some local minor crimes and civil offences relating to the management of the land came under the jurisdiction of the lord of the manor.  Use the Manorial Documents Register to discover what records have survived for each manor.

Further Reading
  • The National Archives research guides
  • Philip Riden (1987) Records Sources for Local History
  • Derbyshire Record Office (Archives First Series) Keeping the Peace: law and order in the past in Derbyshire. A Beginner’s Guide

School and College archives

A guide to archives of education in Derbyshire.

Before the Victorian period, there was limited access to formal education for most children because schooling was available mainly through fee-paying private, public and grammar schools.  In 1811 the Church of England founded the National Society for Promoting the Education of the Poor in the Principles of the Established Church and encouraged the creation of schools throughout the country.  The following year, the British and Foreign Bible Society supported non-denominational education through “British” Schools, sometimes also known as Lancastrian Schools.  Legislative developments (including the Factory Acts promoting the establishment of education for children at work and the 1834 Poor Law (Amendment) Act requiring three hours of education per day for children in the workhouse) were limited until the Education Act of 1870.

This Act established School Boards to build and administer schools where existing education provision was inadequate.  Acts of 1876 and 1880 made education compulsory for children up to aged 10 and in 1901 elementary education became free of charge.

The Boards were abolished by the 1902 Education Act and established County and County Borough Councils as Local Education Authorities (LEAs).  The LEA system remains in place today though it does not cover schools that have become academies.  After 1902, the next significant change came in 1944 when the Butler Act widened the availability of secondary education, laying the groundwork for comprehensive, non-selective secondary schools.

School Board records tend to include the minutes of the Board meetings and financial records.  A full list of archive collections for School Boards can be found here.

School records

Although many schools have transferred or deposited records (including non-denominational and some Roman Catholic schools) unlike for parishes and public-recording bodies, there is no statutory or other obligation on schools to transfer their archives to the record office. Dates of the records vary from school to school but most begin from the late 19th century.  We hold virtually no archive collections for fee-paying schools, and it is best to contact the schools directly as many of them have their own arrangements.  The main series of school records available:

  • Log books are the Headteacher’s record of daily activities and can include information relating to staff appointments and sickness, pupil attendance figures, curriculum information and comments on school buildings.  Occasionally they may refer to some pupils by name and almost always include useful information about the local area.  In the 19th and early 20th century, the report of the HM Inspector was usually copied into the log book.
  • Admission registers usually give dates of pupil’s entry and departure, often including reason for leaving, age and date of birth, name and address of parent/guardian.  Most Derbyshire pre-1914 admission registers and log books can be found on Find My Past (subscription required).
  • Minutes of the meetings of managers/governors/trustees, mainly relating to administration

Other records that might be found in a school archive collection include photographs, newscuttings, school magazines/newsletters, event programmes, a small number of schools rules and teaching schemes, some school scrapbooks and occasionally Inspection Reports.

Pupil cards are only held for a very small number of schools: Netherthorpe School at Staveley, Tapton House School, Chesterfield, William Rhodes Secondary School for Boys, Chesterfield, Violet Markham School, Chesterfield, Chesterfield Grammar School, St Mary’s Roman Catholic Secondary School, Chesterfield and Herbert Strutt School, Belper.

Finding the records

Lists of the archive collections for schools and colleges and universities can be found on our online catalogue.  To find records for specific school, college, school board (or all those in a particular town), search the catalogue entering the word ‘school’ (or ‘school board’ or ‘college’, etc.) and the school/place name in the Archive Collection Creator field:


Other records relating to schools
  • Parish archives for references to private and charitable educational foundations
  • D335 for school plans submitted to central government for building grants in the 19th century and D2200 for plans created by the County Architect’s Department
  • County Council’s School Organisation files (mostly for closed schools) are held under references D2080 and D5288, with other records from the county council’s Education department under reference DCC/ED, including a small number of Registers of Teaching and Caretaking Staff arranged by school are available between 1904 and 1946, along with some Pupil Teacher records 1904-1908
  • OFSTED Inspection reports are held in Local Studies
  • House of Commons report of 1841/2 on educational provision is also available in Local Studies (class: 370.94251, file).
A note about access

Under the Data Protection Act, records containing personal information less than 100 years old are not generally available for public consultation. Access to these records may be permitted if evidence is provided that the individual to whom the information relates is no longer living. In many cases, we may not be able to provide access to the full record in the search room, as other people mentioned in the records may still be alive. In these cases, our staff can undertake a search of the records on your behalf and provide relevant extracts from the record.

Records not held by the record office 
  • pupil records or personal files for individual pupils (excluding the pupil cards for schools mentioned above)
  • examinations results and certificates
  • current school records.
Further Reading
  • Marion Johnson (1970) Derbyshire Village Schools in the 19th century
  • A. Clarke (1983) Finding out about Victorian Schools
  • P. Horn (1978) Education in Rural England, 1800-1914
Appendix: Features of Victorian school education
  • Class monitors: older school children who acted as teaching assistants
  • Pupil-teacher system: introduced in 1846, 13-year old children were appointed as pupil teachers within schools.  At the end of this time, they could progress to college to formally qualify
  • ‘Payment by results’: from 1862 grant aid was linked to regular pupil attendance and performance in exams
  • Standards: from 1862, pupils in elementary schools were divided into six standards according to age, ability and successful completion of annual exams.