Treasure 34: the autobiography and poems of Leonard Wheatcroft of Ashover

Leonard Wheatcroft of Ashover (1627-1707) is described in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography as “an exceptionally prolific author”.  His works were largely unknown until the 1890s, when extracts were published in the Journal of the Derbyshire Archaeological and Natural History Society.

The publication of his autobiography in A Seventeeth-Century Scarsdale Miscellany by the Derbyshire Record Society in 1993 brought the full text into print for the first time. It is a rich source of information on local literary culture in this period, and featured in the BBC television series “The Century That Wrote Itself” in 2013. The Derbyshire Record Society has nominated the autobiography as one of our 50 Treasures. It’s the smaller of the two volumes seen below.

Treasure 34 Leonard Wheatcroft

The large volume contains some of Wheatcroft’s poems, nominated by Christine Jackson of Ottawa.  Christine has made rather an unusual use of the poetry: as evidence in her genealogical research.  Wheatcroft wrote one poem on the death of his friend Giles Cowley, and another about the birth of one of Giles’s children. The latter is an acrostic, so that the poem spells out the name of Giles Cowley (here spelled “Cowly”).

Christine writes:
These two poems gave me the age of Giles and thence his year of birth, and his actual death date (rather than just the burial date, which is recorded in the parish register) – also confirmation of Giles’ wife’s first name, therefore confirming that their marriage was the one I had already found recorded in Darley Dale in 1631, plus the baptism date of their son Leonard (1637).

The research was published in 2013 as “The Cowley Family Saga” in the journal “Anglo-Celtic Roots”.  This is a publication of the British Isles family History Society of Greater Ottawa, to which we do not subscribe.  However, Christine was kind enough to let us have a copy of each of the three issues in which her work featured.  They are now available in our local studies section.


More on lead-mining…

Last month, we heard from a researcher based in Ottawa, Canada, who had decided to get in touch after seeing the video post about the Gregory Mine Reckoning Book. She was hoping we could answer a question about another source that has historical information on the lead industry, to wit, the early 18th century day books of William Hodgkinson of Overton Hall. The subject of the research in question was the Cowley family of Ashover, who were involved in farming and lead mining in the 16th to 17th century. The researcher’s interest in the lead mining angle was piqued by Stuart Band’s article in the Peak District Mines Historical Society’s Bulletin in Summer 1996, entitled “An Ashover Lead Mining Tithe Dispute in the Seventeenth Century”, which mentions a Gyles Cowley. According to the researcher’s best information, this Cowley inherited mines, groves and mine shares in the Ashover area from his great uncle Leonard Cowley (gentleman, of Chesterfield), via his grandfather Gyles, a yeoman farmer, and his father Gyles, both of Ashover and both some time lead miners. She then found references to this same Gyles Cowley in our catalogue descriptions of the Hodgkinson day books. She noted the page numbers from the catalogue and ordered copies. Here’s what we sent her: D2086 p99 Are you wondering why the images are so dark, and hard to make out?  It’s because they were taken from microfilm, which is all we have: the original William Hodgkinson day books remain in private hands.  However, if you click on the image, you should be able to zoom in on it, depending on your browser. The questions for us to answer (slightly paraphrased) were these:

  • What is the difference between the amounts listed on the left-hand pages and those on the right-hand pages? – is one side outgoing expenses/costs and the other incoming monies? – or vice versa?  In particular, there are references, mostly on the right-hand pages to periodic ‘reckonings’ involving loads of ore and Gyles Cowley. (I understand that a periodic ‘reckoning’ would take place between mine owner & miner when wages would be paid out for a previous period of work, based on numbers of loads of ore taken.)
  • Would Gyles Cowley have been delivering loads of lead ore to Hodgkinson (for him to smelt or sell on)?  Or was he paying duties (lot, or even leased tithes) to Hodgkinson for lead ore taken from his own mines in the area?  Besides ore, there are also lots of references to mortgages and loans. I am assuming that Hodgkinson was lending money and not the reverse? If so, does this mean he would have acted like a bank in the Ashover area at that time?

Let me not be coy about my shortcomings.  I had not a clue. I relayed the queries on to Matthew Pawelski.  Now then. I would be letting the side down if I did not say at this point that my decision to do this was highly exceptional – Matthew is a very busy doctoral student and isn’t normally involved in record office enquiries.  But he was able to help on this occasion.  Here is what he thought (also paraphrased):

  • This is a double-entry account book: there is a “D” on the left hand page denoting debit and a “C” on the right denoting credit. I also noticed the name Cowley written at the top of the left hand page, meaning this refers directly to Hodgkinson’s dealings with Cowley, so Hodgkinson is purchasing raw lead ore from Cowley. The debit on the left shows how much money Hodgkinson owed Cowley and the right hand page shows the value of lead ore Cowley owed Hodgkinson (the classic double-entry layout).
  • Hodgkinson was a major lead merchant in the parish of Ashover, with dealings at the local, regional, national and even international level. For more information on his foreign dealings Philip Riden has written an article entitled: “An English Factor at Stockholm”, which is very useful for getting a better idea about the nature of his business dealings.  Riden has also published an article about Hodgkinson in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, which you can access online.

Have you a Derbyshire Library card?  If so, follow this link to find out how to use the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography for free.  Matthew continued:

  • Generally speaking, lead was not sold on the market in raw form, it would be taken to a smelting furnace where it would be melted down and processed to form bars, pipes, sheets etc.  Thus we can assume that Hodgkinson was a more established merchant, while Cowley is involved more in the extraction of lead as perhaps a miner and/or shareholder in a mine. Hodgkinson was certainly not involved directly in any extraction, he was of a higher social station.  Men of his station (if involved in the lead industry) were more likely to be merchants, furnace owners and “absentee” shareholders in the mines. The process of extraction was, at the dawn of the 18th century, mainly left to independent teams of miners with very little proprietorship oversight.

Matthew also tackled the question about whether Hodgkinson would have acted like a bank for the Ashover area:

That Hodgkinson established an account for Gyles Cowley implies a long term financial relationship. Borrowing and lending in the eighteenth century was not as it is today. Even after the establishment of the Bank of England in 1694, credit was extremely hard to come by and there were no local banks as we would understand them today. There were a number of financial difficulties facing people outside of London in the pursuit of business expansion or investment. There was a severe lack of currency. Money was hard to come by, workers were often paid in kind, usually in the form of resources, such as wood, food or even manufactured metals such as lead or iron. This meant that a far greater emphasis was placed upon assets such as land, property and buildings. These were relatively stable forms of wealth and people who controlled these assets became central figureheads in society, in both business and domestic realms. Hodgkinson would have been one of the few people in Ashover with substantial assets and thus he became became an important source of credit within the parish.

Matthew concluded that:

Gyles Cowley appears to be a man who dabbled in various elements of the lead industry; a self styled business sort – who were becoming increasingly common in the Derbyshire Lead Industry during the eighteenth century. These men conducted business at all the various levels of production from extraction, preparation and sale. What I have been presented with here would suggest to me that Cowley was primarily focused on the extraction of lead and was merely dabbling in merchanting and lacked the capital necessary to establish a smelting operation to process the raw lead he had obtained from the mines he was involved with. It must also be noted that he might be selling this ore on behalf of a partnership or a collection of miners (known as a cope), I don’t believe he will be receiving all the money directly into his own accounts. Rather, this money would be required to pay wages, buy new mining equipment and to be divided among other partners.

As I say, we don’t expect Matthew to spend his time dealing with enquiries, but it was nice to make an exception on this occasion – I think it shows just how useful it is to have a doctoral student with a formal attachment to Derbyshire Record Office as well as Lancaster University.

Still available on the iPlayer… Leonard Wheatcroft and the Soresby collection

Did anyone see “The Century That Wrote Itself”?  It is still available on the iPlayer until 10pm on Wednesday:

I thought it was very good, and not just because they used some of “our” stuff.  But, if you only have a couple of minutes… You could zoom straight ahead to the 43-minute mark, and see Adam Nicolson and Robyn Adams looking at the Soresby family’s copy of a writing manual by John de Beau Chesne (D331/26/1).  Leonard Wheatcroft follows shortly thereafter.

Our documents on the telly again: The Century That Wrote Itself

On Wednesday 10th April (that’s tomorrow, always assuming you are reading this today), BBC4 will be showing the first of three episodes of what promises to be a fascinating programme.  Click this link for a preview, which includes the Leonard Wheatcroft pub quiz:

Leonard Wheatcroft, you will recall, was the Ashover parish clerk.  He and his son Titus are well remembered for their contributions to a vibrant local literary scene – well-documented contributions, which remain in our care.  Do tune in.

Leonard and Elizabeth (2)

[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.]

Aprill 24 1657

Dear love, I will not omit aney opertunity that I can yet to commend my dearest love unto you, and as a token of my love I have sent you aband desiring you to let it Imbrace your, neck as willingly as you would Imbrace my wast, so expecting to heare from you I remaine yours ever : Elizabeth Hawley

Leonard and Elizabeth (1)

[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.]

D5433/1 : Ashover, 24 April 1657

My Joy & Dearest Love,

My God above knows I love thee as bone of my bone, and as sory was I to leave thee as I hope thou was to leave me, yet I hope I shall remember wheare to meete thee my love, with as reall ahart as ever I did. Continue reading