The very last of our 50 Treasures (D77/1/23/58) is believed to be the very first, chronologically: the oldest document we hold. Dating from approximately 1100-1115, during the reign of Henry I, this deed records the gift of a virgate of land by Walter of Ridware to Robert Mellor. The land in question was in Seale, more familiar to us today as Overseal and Netherseal. The term “virgate” was not used with great precision – but it means about 30 acres.
Recently, I’ve been blogging about William Porden’s journeys, taken from diaries (archive ref D3311/4/1-7) written between the 1790s and 1820s. There is more to these diaries than travel, however.
In 1820, William Porden recounts a sorry tale about his housemaid, Eliza Watson, which shows that he still retained the merciful attitude towards criminals he showed over 25 years earlier when he recounted the tale of an escaped prisoner. On 5 October 1820 he has two visitors:
I was summoned to attend two Gentlemen whom I found to be Mr Mortlake [actually Mr Mortlock], the eminent manufacturer & dealer in Ornamental China and an Officer from the Police Office of Marlborough Street. They came in search of Eliza Wilmot, my House maid who was to have left her place that Evening and to be married on Saturday morning. She was accused in being concerned with the Man she was going to marry who was her cousin & confidential servant of Mr Mortlock, in robbing Mr M of a considerable quantity of China, a practice that had been continued some years. She was questioned and confessed that she had received money from him, and it appeared by a Book that was found that she had placed in the Saving Bank upward of 70£ the last deposit of £20 being Feby last. Her Box was afterwards searched and China Cups, Smelling Bottles and other articles were found that sufficiently proved her guilty of receiving them to be stolen. I was much shocked at this discovery, for although Eliza was not a good servant in her situation my daughter thought her a Good Girl and often spoke of her in those words as a reason for retaining her, and she had taken some pains that day to find a handsome shawl to be given to her when she left the House.
Mr Porden is torn between wanting to assist the police and his desire not to let Eliza incriminate herself, although the next morning…
I had the mortification to find that I also had been robbed for many things were discovered at Mr Mortlock’s with my name upon them and in Eliza’s trunk was found a work-box of my daughters. She was taken to Marlborough Street for Examination.… calling at the office I there identified 4 Sheets, a table Cloth, a Napkin and 2 Brushes which had had my initials cut upon them by order of my Wife to prevent the stealing of them by the servants which frequently happened.
Although distressed by the theft, Mr Porden appears more upset on Eliza’s behalf, when she is remanded to the Clerkenwell Bridewell [prison]:
What must have been her distress to find a comfortable home, a plentiful table, and society of her own rank and creditable in their Stations, exchanged for a cheerless Prison – the Prison fare and the company of wretches who have lost sight of every moral or religious feeling. Whatever sentiments of this nature she still retained were now to be changed for the depravity of her associates till she became as wicked as themselves. … I believe that no punishment that she will hereafter receive will be so severe as what she will feel during the first 24 hours of imprisonment.
Mr Porden recovers his stolen property and doesn’t prosecute Eliza. He hopes that she has learnt her lesson and writes:
It appeared that she had at first resisted the temptation of her Cousin to whom she was going to be married, but as he continued the practice of robbing his Master she was at length drawn in to aid him in nefarious conduct…. The Articles she stole [from] me such as Sheets & blankets seemed preparatory to House keeping. If I had prosecuted her, she would have been sent to Prison and if a single feeling of religion was left it would have been extinguished and she would have come out seven times worse than she went in, even if she was not brought to trial. If she were brought to trial and escaped either transportation or death, one or other of which would in all probability have been her doom, her character would have forever blasted and she would have no other resource than vicious courses till she was gradually ripened for the Gallows.
Eliza calls on him to thank him on 12 October, and it sounds as if he may have read her a bit of a lecture! Her fiancé did not benefit from such leniency from Mr Mortlock. Eliza’s fiancé was Daniel Gentle, aged 26. He was actually Mr Mortlock’s Warehouseman, who, with William Read (the confidential servant), was indicted at the Old Bailey on 28 October 1820. Both were sentenced to death. The Criminal Registers for Middlesex are on Ancestry and show that Daniel Gentle was executed. After his execution, it looks like Daniel’s body was claimed by his relatives and a Daniel Gentle, aged 27 years, was buried in the Gibraltar Burial Ground at Bethnal Green on 14 December 1820. You can read the account of his trial on the Old Bailey Online website.
Mr Porden’s last mention of Eliza was when she called for a letter for a Mrs Foy on 15 October 1820, so it’s hard to know what happened to her after that. Searching for Eliza Watson in the Old Bailey Online brings us several similar thefts over the years, some of which may have been committed by the same Eliza Watson, but it’s hard to be sure, as it’s a common name.
The most likely ones are an Eliza Watson, aged 25, who is indicted for stealing some fabric from a draper in 1824. She pleaded distress, had a good character, and was recommended to mercy and fined a shilling. In 1830, an Eliza Watson, aged 32, is indicted for stealing fabric from a linen draper in 1830, again pleaded poverty, had a good character, and was recommended to mercy and confined for 1 month.
These could possibly be Mr Porden’s former housemaid, who, despite not being prosecuted the first time around, might have found it difficult to gain employment without a good reference and been forced, by poverty, back into crime – but that’s just supposition. Let’s hope instead that Eliza recovered from the tragedy of her fiancé’s execution, and was able to avoid having to take recourse to ‘vicious courses’ as Mr Porden feared.
You may recall a previous blog post about Osmaston Manor, describing the accidental rediscovery of some building plans. They had not been listed (perhaps because of their poor condition) but nor had they been repaired, and their existence had been more or less forgotten.
They have now been cleaned and packaged and, in some cases, repaired. They have also been described in clearer terms in the D1849 catalogue. If you would like to have a look at these records, you can order them out for use in the search room or you can log on to one of our Netloan computers and look for CD number 397, which contains good quality copies.
We’re jumping to 1816 this time, and a diary documenting William Porden’s travels in France (archive ref D3311/4/7). The crossing (his first sea voyage) is described in detail.
In early August, William Porden and his daughter Eleanor embarked for France on the ‘Eliza’ packet (a ‘packet’ is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘a ship travelling at regular intervals between two ports, originally for the conveyance of mail’). Mr Porden has conveniently drawn us a little diagram to show how the ship was arranged:
The journey took about 18 hours and just getting to and from the ship wasn’t easy:
About 8 o’clock in the Evening we embarked in a large row boat and were pushed into the water by the sailors as usual. … There was little wind but a very considerable Swell & when we arrived at the Vessel Eleanor was much disordered. With the assistance of the Gentlemen present she was got into the Packet and I deposited her in a Cot on the floor of one of the Inner Cabins in which there were four of these Catacombs or Cabinettes, two on each side one over the other. I took my birth in the Cabinett over Eleanor. Opposite to me was another young Lady and the Stewards Wife on the Ground floor below.
I found my situation comfortable and notwithstanding the motion of the ship and the noise of working the Vessel I should have slept very well if the Steward’s Children and Friends had not been perpetually in and out to relate the State of their friends and the other passengers for it seems all were ill except myself. We had a brisk breeze till two o Clock when the wind fell and we were becalmed at the distance of 20 miles from Dieppe.
At 10 o’clock we were approached by a Clumsy Sailing boat from the Shore, manned by 4 Rowers and a Steersman. Into this we entered and were rowed toward the Shore; but our Seamen were so awkward and lazy, as well as too few in number that we were four hours before we arrived at the Beach before Dieppe on which the boat was run aground and the passengers carried to shore on the Shoulders of men that waded from the Beach.
If you’re wondering about the practicalities of the accommodations and being sea sick on a vessel like this, then wonder no longer. I can’t help feeling sorry for the cabin boys:
All the business of the Cabins was conducted with decency and though men and women were in the same apartment and within reach of one another All were in their cloaths and shut up by Curtains in their Cabinetts. Even the disagreeable circumstances attending Sea Sickness was very little offensive as it was managed. The Cabin Boys attended and removed the Basons in silence and returned clean ones so that nothing was left of Annoyance. Eleanor was sick every half hour; but slept well in the Intervals.
Eleanor, though, doesn’t seem to have suffered as much as another passenger, Miss Elizabeth Appleton:
She was dreadfully ill from the Moment she entered the Row boat at Brighton to her landing at Dieppe. She was so unable to assist herself that she was left in the packet (I know not whether by neglect or no) when all the other passengers got into the french boat and followed us in the ships boat. We received her and placed her as well as we could but she lay helpless and almost insensible till we reached Dieppe and scarcely knew herself how she got into the Inn or any thing that had passed.
Miss Appleton was certainly an intrepid young woman to be travelling alone on the continent in the early 19th century. Mr Porden describes her thus:
She is a tall and Elegant figure, not unhandsome – well-bred, sensible, speaks French fluently and has a literary turn. She is active, courageous as appears by her venturing alone on such a journey and fully adequate to take care of herself on land. I have found her very useful from her knowledge of the French language and my daughter has found in her a very agreeable companion.
After passing through customs, the travellers were collected by Mr Taylor of the English Hotel, where they subsequently stayed and “dined in the English way for which we paid English prices, though our dinner was far from having the English elegance of a Good Inn”.
This Saturday, 11 March, the Derwent Valley Mills celebrates fifteen years of recognition as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Between 11 am and 4 pm there will be all kinds of events at the Strutts Centre in Belper, including children’s activities, guided walks, talks, and stalls from forty heritage organisations. We’ll be there with our stall, giving advice on how to use original records for your research and how to look after the old family photographs, letters and books we all have tucked away in a drawer or a box somewhere.
We hope to see you on Saturday!
On Friday 21 August, 1795, William Porden set off from London to Lincoln in the stagecoach. On this occasion his travelling companions were:
My old friend Staveley, a Lieutenant Bromwich of the Navy, a Mr Thick, a miniature painter on a professional expedition to Hull and a young man whose name I did not learn and in whom there appeared to me nothing worthy of notice but a want of feeling for a portly little brown dog that he had with him in the coach.
They young man certainly is very unfeeling towards his pet:
According to his own account the little creature had been unable to follow him so fast as he wished, through the streets of London in a heavy shower, and in a rage he had struck him such a violent blow with a cane as to stun him so much that he roll’d over as dead. In the Coach he found the care of him attended with some little inconvenience, and after having stewed up in the heat (for very hot it was) for several hours he inhumanly turned him into the Basket exposed to the cold and rain of a severe night, in spight [sic] of the remonstrances of all his fellow travellers.
On the journey, Lieutenant Bromwich recounted some of his experiences in Naval engagements at Guadeloupe and Quiberon Bay, but I confess to being somewhat more interested in the other passenger, Mr Thick:
Mr Thick our other companion was a little fat jolly facetious man, as illiterate as an artist could be desired and seemingly taking small interest in the Arts or in subjects relative to them. His mis-pronunciation w[oul]d rival Mrs Slipslops. He abounded in jests and smutty stories which he told tolerably well, though sometimes, as it must happen, with men who are always telling stories, lost the spirit of the story and seemed not always to know where the joke lay.
This miniature portrait painter is someone that I have at last been able to positively identify. A search on Ancestry found William Thicke, miniature portrait painter of Marylebone, in London directories of the time. A Google search also brought up several images of miniatures painted by him that have been through auction houses.
His miniatures aren’t of the first quality – they’re somewhat naïve in style – but perhaps that befits a painter who has little interest in the arts and prefers telling ‘smutty stories’.
For our next journey with Mr Porden, we climb aboard the ‘Eliza’, where we get to experience a channel crossing in 1816 – not an experience that many on board enjoyed!
This letter (D5605/2/6) was written by a medic, Congreve Butt, to his brother Revd George Butt, who was vicar of Chesterfield from 1851 until his death in 1888. It was nominated as one of our 50 Treasures by Vicky, a Record Assistant at Derbyshire Record Office, who picked it out for our “Thank You For Your Letter” outreach project in 2009. “I was surprised to find the content of this letter much richer than described in the catalogue entry”, says Vicky. “Although George went onto become a much respected Vicar of Chesterfield we don’t hear directly from the louche doctor again. Relatives say in much later correspondence that he became a ship’s surgeon bound for Calcutta – I just wonder what he got up to there?”
The letter is an entertaining read, but the handwriting is not easy – Vicky’s transcript follows beneath the scanned copy.
Martley [Worcestershire] Nov 4th 1839
My Dear George,
Enclosed in some rough envelopes I have sent you a ham – which I trust will turn out well- and if it will not be unacceptable to you – I have received your two last letters which gave me great satisfaction as I wanted to hear from you having been kept in a long continued state of ignorance as to your state of health and progression in other matters. In fact I have not had any family communication since we met. With the exception of seeing Ewen whom I heard address a jury the other day. He performed his part far better than I could have expected, from the little I heard only at the fag end of the learned counsel’s speech –and I should not be surprised to see him worming his way to some eminence “nator fit” we all know & the youth possesses perseverance – Speaking of orators – what do you think of the poet Kilpins production? I have not yet read it but I have heard some persons speak of it in high terms – Kilpin says you are very amusing and find him matters for his wit – Did you find matter for “the man in the moon ?”
I heard of Lovery lately from the hearths of Wick – I think the second sister is staying in Oxford – Pray tell me if she is, and what you think of her – she took wonderfully with me not so much for her personal appearance as for her good qualities – which were remarkable – I found a strong contrast to some other members of her family . If old Conway Lovery (or rather, young ) is in Oxford pray tell me & remember me to him as I should like him to come a & spend two or three days at Xmas.
As I am now getting established in the opinions of many of my neighbours – and I am progressing as this thinly populated and poor neighbourhood will admit of – I am making enough to keep myself in pocket money & boot leather & not of any fresh debts – having received perhaps £20 altogether – and If I get the remaining £10 in my books paid by Xmas – I think I can strain a point to see an old friend for a day or two – especially as I have been requested to take my friends to some neighbouring families – where I always have a knife & fork & a welcome. Old Captain S when he sees me always sneaks away like a canine animal in a quandary – leaving my circle of acquaintance almost confined to Mrs Sparkes, Mr Kenton, Eginton,& Archy[…]
We have a pleasant curate just arrived. He was at East Garlton in the summer months cooking at the curacy – His name is Davis – he is very gentlemanly – keeps two carriages & preaches extempore in a manner not unwitting of a metropolitan pulpit – I have not visited Price recently – I rather think that he has voted me a bore, as he has hinted two or three times on the expense of going to Worcester to see Mr Lechmore, so I trouble him as little as possible – I suppose you know old Sir Winnington is translated to another world – I do not know his son.
[The curate referred to was Revd Edward Acton Davies M.A., who was rector of Areley Kings by the time he died in 1880, aged 74.]
It is a great difficulty this to lie by and let my “wanton zeal mould in roosted sloth” – but I groan & endure & read books of a voluminous size from the library being relieved from my monotony by being visited by about one patient a day – & an occasional bit of cheating at vingt un with some of the fair agricultural nymphs of this vicinity – among whom I am sorry to say that I cannot help maintaining my ancient character for being fond of a bit of “getting upstairs and playing the fiddle”. I say sorry, because all the world expects a medical man to be always wrapt up in an odour of gravity – in fact to assume a humbugging puritanical deportment which it is my misfortune to lack – time, however, which will soon turn me bald, may perchance give me a due share of that other inestimable quality.
[Vingt-et-un is the French version of the card game known as blackjack or pontoon – but somehow I don’t think this is what he is alluding to.]
In your letter of October 4th – you describe my letter as a non descript one – What will call this? – Something of the same sort. My hand is quite out – I have written to no one & for no one. I am obliged to take up with the subjects of conversation I meet with, instead of enjoying the company of any rationally educated people – It is therefore marvelous that the product of my brain should be a rambling hodge podge , a pot pourri as the Gauls have it. Besides when I take up my pen in your behalf I have so much to ask you & so much to say that I scarcely know where to begin far less where to end. I thought therefore that your reverence will not measure my feeble epistolary power by your own signature ones – but will be taken into your generous consideration that, however great a jumble & even concentration of ideas – distinct or otherwise there may be in my cranium – yet I am not weekly exercised by the utterance of them in writing of humour (not that I mean to say you with your own nor anything to the contrary) as you are. Nor am I in a classical soil – Genius within this country – men whose talk is of bullocks abound here to the exclusion of all others.
I wish you would lend me your pistols for a short time when you don’t want them – they would afford me a small variety in my retreat & I want to shoot a dog or two which always fly at me – & in kicking of whom I hurt my toe – you shall have them back honor bright.
The day after I sent your box , Perrott sent me a new copy of Coleridge – all three vols which is the one you have – as I may as well keep the other I send you the two. You did not tell me whether all the books were right – I think my “Bacot on Syphilis” is amongst your books – Please take care of it. [John Bacot’s “A Treatise On Syphilis” (London, 1829).]Can you tell me how long Henry will be in Paris ? I would like to commission him to get some bougies [A thin flexible surgical instrument] if I knew his address – Bloxham knows a gentleman in the customs at Dover who would pass anything for him – It is the india rubber bougies & catheters which I mean and which are made so much better in Paris than anywhere else. Plague upon it – I just see by referring to your letter that Henry is in London – when we get the penny postage I’ll write him a letter. Apropos Remember me to Penny – and B.M.
Your very affectionate brother Congreve
We continue our travels with William Porden, beginning in Hull on 1 June 1795, where his diary (archive ref. D3311/4/4) records that he is in his town of birth, Hull:
I found my mother tho’ very infirm yet chearful and happy. She now approaches her 80th year.
I amused myself at my leisure in ranging over the scenes of my boyish days, where every stone and every tree appeared as an old acquaintance and strongly interested my heart. For this reason a visit to Hull is never a visit of chearfulness. There are too many objects to awaken by feelings and to induce a comparison of the present with the past, and my emotions are too strong to admit of any sensation of Gaity.
On 4 June he set off in the stage coach to Lincoln…
My companions in the stage were a young Lieut of the Navy & a farmer & his mother, [and] a venerable old officer in the army whose name and rank I did not learn. He had been a General Officer in the East India Service but as he did not name his rank in the line I conjectured that he held a much lower rank now. He was upward of seventy, tall, strong and healthy, had a last few of his teeth and was good tempered and cheerful. I conjectured that he had been at Hull to seek out a habitation for himself and family which consisted of a Wife and Daughter to which place he was attracted by an idea of living cheaper there than elsewhere which I believe to be the case. He had lost the fire of Youth and had nothing of military insolence.
The ‘venerable old army officer’ relates a story about what happened between the sailors and the ladies of the town when his ship arrived at Portsmouth which is a bit too racy to relate on this blog (you’ll have to read the diary for yourself for that).
William Porden quite often seems to encounter sailors on his travels. On his previous journey to Newark in 1794, he is joined by two merchant seamen, whom he describes as ‘displaying the true sailors character – Rough, cheerful, careless, eating hearty, drinking hard, and at home every where.’ The officers of the Navy whom Mr Porden meets on his various stage coach journeys are somewhat better behaved than the sailors in the Portsmouth story, but make hit and miss companions. On this occasion:
The Naval Officer was a stout healthy looking man, but though he had been in many countries to Asia, Italy &c and spoke of Naples, Rome, Smyrna & other places yet he was so illiterate, and so little knowledge out of his profession and perhaps so little of imagination or Understanding that I could derive neither information or pleasure from his conversation. We were joined by a sprightly Woman at Spittle. As the young sailor rode with his face towards the Horses I gently hinted to him that possibly the Lady might prefer that seat; but he was not galant enough to resign it.
They stayed overnight in Lincoln and then took up a new passenger, a child with a sad story:
June 5 this morning we left Lincoln having parted with our farmers and taken up a beautiful Girl of 12 years going from school to visit her parents and sister at Sleaford. She was in high spirits and enjoyed the idea of the Romp she should have when she got home; but at Sleaford she learn’d with sorrow that her hopes would be disappointed as she had arrived only time enough to take her last leave of her dying mother. Whether she had been sent for or had left her school of course at the vacation for the holidays I know not; but if her friends had sent for her at the request of her sick mother they had acted most inconsiderately and cruelly in not making her acquainted with her mother’s danger; Also in raising high hopes of pleasure only to plunge the child into the greater misery.
I’m possibly slightly obsessed with identifying Mr Porden’s travelling companions, but I suspect that, if the girl’s mother did indeed die, a diligent search of the parish registers for Sleaford and environs for June-July 1794 should reveal a suitable burial which could then be used to find the baptism of a daughter about 12 years before. If anyone frequents Lincolnshire Archives and wants to do a search then please do let me know what you find.
These notebooks are a series of medical practice records, covering the 1740s to 1780s. Each entry deals with an individual patient, recording symptoms and treatment. It’s clear that there is more than one style of handwriting in the books, but we believe the later entries to be the work of Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) who moved to Derby in 1783.
They are nominated by our Assistant Conservator, Clare, who repaired them over the course of a year – all 1316 pages! Clare says: “It was an extremely satisfying project to do even if there were occasions when I was still repairing them in my sleep…”
Here’s what was prescribed for Thomas Bamford of Ticknall, who was suffering from cramps:
Two drachms of Gammoniacum To ss. pint of penny royal water. Two spoonfulls occasionally repeated. January the 15th. When the pains return to loose some blood, and then take at one dose a Quarter of a Pint of common Sallad oil, after an hour or two if the pain continues. Take one Pill, and repeat it every hour till the pain ceases or till he has taken four.
At the intervals of his pain he should take one of the 2nd Box Pills every nights.
Small beer posset drink made by mixing equal parts of beer and milk warm, then taking off the Curd and 15 Drops of Laudanum in it every night. Jan[uary] 27th Six powders Rhubarb 15 grs. Ginger. 19. Infusion. z ii Marshmallow root boild to one
On Monday 17 November, 1794, William Porden left London in the Newark stage coach on his way to Lincolnshire. His fellow travellers didn’t particularly impress him:
My companions were a Quaker from Sheffield and a young man of York, neither of them entertaining in any shape whatever and not possessed of so much civility as may generally be found under the meanest Garb and in the most untutored mind. They however were not positively disagreeable.
Things got a bit more interesting when they got to ‘Kates Cabbin’, which now seems, appropriately enough, to be a service station by Peterborough. There, a new passenger joined the coach: a Bailiff from York who had been taking a prisoner under sentence of transportation to London.
The Prisoner has been a servant to a Gentleman near Hull and having paid his addresses to a female servant either in the same or another family, the woman had robbed her master and prevailed upon the youth to secrete the stolen goods. This was the crime. In other respects his character was uncommonly Good and his master and others had solicited his pardon. He was low in stature and of a mild character, yet altho he was handcuff’d and had irons on one leg and was chained to an iron bar or rail on the top of the Coach he had the courage and dexterity to make his escape which he effected by throwing himself off and thereby breaking his chain. This was about two o’clock in the morning, extremely dark. The Bailiffe the Coachman and the Guard got down to pursue him but in vain, under cover of the darkness he eluded their search and got off but whether he was afterwards retaken or not I have not heard. I think it probably that he had thrown himself into one of the ditches by the road and laid quiet otherwise the noise of his irons must have discovered him. The Chain which he broke by the jerk was as thick as a common waggon-trace chain. A piece of it was found next morning on the Road.
William Porden here, and in other diary entries (archive ref. D3311/4/4-5), , shows himself to be more merciful than the justice system of the day:
As his crime was not great and he had suffered a long confinement if the Bailiffe could justify himself, I wished he might not be retaken. The end of punishment would probably be as perfectly answered by his future fears and anxieties as by transportation and perhaps his mind might escape the contagion and corruption of Newgate and the voyage to Botany Bay and he be preserved a useful and worthy member of society in his own Country.
With a bit of digging in the York Quarter Sessions or Assizes records for 1794, it would probably be possible to find out the name of the prisoner. Whether it’s possible to find out what happened to him after his escape is another matter. Like William Porden, I rather hope he got away, changed his name, and lived a long and happy life. Of course if he did, he may well have created a future nightmare for some poor family historian trying to find his birth in the parish records!