Treasure 49: a letter from Congreve Butt, 1839

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.

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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

Treasure 22: Servants’ Wages book, Derby Royal Infirmary

This treasure is chosen by David Jenkins, who used to be one of the archivists, but now works as Derbyshire County Council’s Corporate Records Manager.  He writes:

I have chosen a Servants’ Wages book from the Derby Royal Infirmary which details the wages paid at the Infirmary from 1828 to 1855. The Infirmary was built by voluntary contributions in 1804 with the first patients being admitted in 1810. The ‘servants’ mentioned in the book span a variety of occupations including cooks, kitchen maids, laundry maids, porters, and nurses. The book provides a snapshot of the staff employed at the hospital in that period – this is especially valuable because records of an individual’s employment from the 1800s can be very hard to find.

Treasure 22 Wages book

The wages book was one of the most memorable archival collections I have dealt with because of the unusual addition that came as part of the same auction lot.  We had not paid attention to the last line of the auction house’s description, and were very surprised when we received a package which contained both the wages book and a Victorian death mask! Sadly we know no further information about the mask, who the deceased was or if she even had a connection to the Infirmary.

Treasure 12: Clara Palmer-Morewood’s Recipe Book

The Record Office has many household recipe books (or receipt books as they were known), dating back to the 17th Century.  Our twelfth treasure is the 1830s recipe book of Clara Palmer-Morewood of Alfreton Hall.

Recipe books of this time combine cookery recipes with medicinal and veterinary cures as well as beauty treatments.  Clara’s is a great example, with recipes for fashionable foreign dishes such as ‘fromage fondue’, ‘petty shoes’ (petit choux!) and ‘Spanish fritters’, but also ‘a cure for dogs who are troubled with the snort’, lip salve and a recipe to wash chintz amongst other delights.

Many of Clara’s recipes have been contributed by friends and relations, whose names are given beside each recipe, so the book also gives an insight into Clara’s social circle.  You can see a full list of recipes and their contributors on our online catalogue here, or read some of Becky’s transcriptions of the recipes for rabbit soup, lobster curry, sponge cake, gingerbread, pancakes, ginger beer, mince pies, and biscuit puddings on this blog.

What really makes Clara’s book a treasure, though, is that it has a recipe for Bakewell Pudding dated 1837.  It is a really delicious and easy recipe, which I’ve now made several times!  Legend has it that this local speciality was invented by accident in the 1860s.  Clara’s book shows that this local legend can’t be completely true – and Ivan Day’s excellent research into this question has revealed some even earlier Bakewell Pudding recipes.

D7555/1 Clara Palmer-Morewood recipe book, Alfreton Hall

If you’d like to make the pudding yourself, here’s how to do it:

Line a 7 inch (18cm) metal pie dish with puff pastry.  Spread a couple of tablespoons of jam over the bottom and scatter over some candied orange peel, if you like it, and flaked almonds to taste (about 50g).  As an alternative to jam you can use dried cherries or raisins, finely chopped.  Cherries are better as they are a bit more tart.

In a bowl put 4 egg yolks, 1 egg white, 4 oz (100g) melted better, cooled, and 4 oz (100g) sugar.  Beat for a couple of minutes with an electric whisk until fluffy, pour into the pie dish and bake in the middle of the oven at 180 degrees centigrade (gas mark 5) for 30-35 minutes.

If you give it a try, do leave a comment to let us know whether you enjoyed it!

A volunteer solves a mystery: not Jane Borough of Chetwynd Park but D’Ewes Coke of Brookhill Hall

Cataloguing can be a tricky business.  We are all human, and it’s easy to make mistakes – but isn’t it nice sometimes to put one right?

We had a researcher in last month who spent some time looking at D5369/15/31-42, described in our catalogue as the personal diaries of Jane Borough of Chetwynd Park, Shropshire.  However, the researcher was kind enough to let us know about some anomalies: an entry of 30 October 1815 mentioned sending William and Edward back to school, which sounded a warning bell because those were not the names of her children; and, just to put the kibosh on the Jane Borough idea altogether, there was an entry dated three days later, which referred to “my wife”.

So who is the diarist?  I passed this query on to Roger, one of our volunteers, who ordinarily helps with box-listing some of the unlisted collections.

Here’s what he found:

There are eleven diaries, each covering one calendar year between 1801 and 1842.  I decided to look first at that for 1841, given that the diary might offer some biographical details that could be compared with the census returns of 1841.

It immediately became apparent the author of the diary was a man.  There are references to fishing and shooting and notes about attending court sittings and meetings of a Board of Guardians and other public bodies.  Many long walks are recorded at locations in north-east Derbyshire and in the Sheffield area.

The only surnames to be noticed were those of visitors to the author’s residence.   At intervals through the diary, however, I noticed entries of forenames followed by a number.  These entries stood out: they displayed a slight variation of script in comparison with day-by-day entries. I wondered if these entries might be names of relatives – perhaps the author’s children – entered at the beginning of the year to show the age achieved on their respective birthdays in that year.  (I was briefly confused by entries of name and number about an individual whose name was abbreviated to Temp., until I realised that there were many such entries and they were thermometer readings: the diary includes many weather observations.)

The ages noted (if indeed the numbers did represent ages) implied there might be entries in one or more of the earliest diaries that referred to births.  I looked at the diary for 1802.  I read a note of 14 April that “my dearest Harriett was safely delivered of a second daughter” followed on 12 June by a reference to the baptism of Elizabeth Anne.  In the diary for 1801, I read a note of the first birthday on 11 November of Harriett Frances.  On 22 December the author records his own 27th birthday.

I then interrogated the International Genealogical Index for the birth/baptism of a Harriett Frances born in Derbyshire in 1800.  In this context a crucial property of this index is that it can be searched without the need for a surname as a search term.  The first item yielded by this search was the baptism at Pinxton of Harriett Frances Coke, daughter of D’Ewes and Harriett Coke.  I had a likely surname.

Pinxton was a location frequently mentioned in the diaries.  I then carried out a web search using “D’Ewes Coke” as the search term, which clinched the identification of the author: he was D’Ewes Coke (1774-1856), one of the Cokes of Brookhill Hall, Pinxton.  The results gave the same date of birth as that shown in the diary; his family residences at Totley Hall, Totley and Brookhill Hall: his occupation as a barrister and his membership of the Ecclesall Bierlow Board of Guardians.

Well, I call that a job very well done, and have updated the catalogue accordingly.  I have also added an entry under Related Material on the D1881 collection, the Coke of Brookhill Hall family archives, which include at least one other diary kept by the same man. If you have a look at the catalogue entry using the link above, you will find a working interim list to download – but I am afraid this is a collection that needs more work.  There may well be further discoveries in the future!

There is an article about the father of the diarist (also D’Ewes Coke) on Wikipedia, if you would like to read more.

Dramatic accident at Kilburn, 1830

Here’s a recent (?re-)discovery from the burial register for Holbrook.  The minister, William Leeke, made a marginal note relating to William Shaw, who was buried on 5 Sep 1830, aged 15.  It reads: “Killed with three others in descending Kilburne Pit on the morning of the 3rd.  Two other boys, Kilburne lads, were wonderfully preserved from death, by their legs becoming fixed in the machinery, and they were suspended with their heads downwards for two hours and more.  Their names are Charles Hailley and Henry Hickenbottom”.

Isabella Thornhill’s letter home from Nice, 1838

[2018: images from the “Thank You For Your Letter” project have been deleted to make space for new posts.  The images have been retained within Derbyshire County Council’s internal records system so that we may re-use them in the future.]


Nice, March 1st 1838

My dear Father, I wrote to you from Pisa a short time since, and after my letter was gone, it occured to me, that though I had given you a sketch of our plans for the journey we were then pausing upon. Continue reading