My Family’s Claim Against the Butterley Company

One of my main tasks as an archive assistant on the Mining the Seams Project, is cataloguing documents. For me, this involves checking over documents and creating spreadsheets to correctly describe them for future users. Since I started on the project in October 2019, a lot of this has involved looking through various correspondence of the Butterley Company. The Company was established by Benjamin Outram in 1790 to work Derbyshire’s minerals, initially iron ore for their ironworks, but this expanded to include coal, which would help fire the ironworks. When coal became a popular fuel to use, they created large collieries to meet increasing demand for coal. It was one of the largest employers in the county, so you can imagine just how much material there is to wade through.

The one thing I didn’t expect to find was correspondence about Hill Top Farm in Swanwick, where my paternal grandma, Margaret, grew up. As this task is shared task with my colleague, Neil, due to current restrictions meaning I’m only in the office one day a week (prior to a change in COVID restrictions), it could have easily been him who came across the reference to mining damaging the farm.

As this task is shared task with my colleague, Neil, it could have easily been him who came across the reference to mining damaging the farm. To me though, finding a letter in my two times great grandad’s handwriting was emotional. Sadly I don’t know much about my family history on my dad’s side as both my grandad and grandma refused to talk about large aspects. My grandad ran away from home for an unknown reason at 14, and my grandma’s father sadly committed suicide, so she never wished to talk too much beyond her own childhood.

My great, great grandad’s initial letter to the Butterley Company, 26 Oct 1925, N5/166/3

When I first saw a the below letter mentioning repairs needed at Hill Top Farm in Swanwick, my heart jumped as I knew that was the family farm my grandma lived on as a child, but her sister, Josephine, when she was old enough worked with her husband. As soon as I saw that the person who had brought the claim was a Joseph Calladine, I knew it was my family because that was grandma’s maiden name. I quickly checked the census, just to find out what the connection was and found he was my two times great grandad. It meant even more than it would have done before because my grandma sadly passed away in April.

Letter written following inspection of the property, 5 Nov 1925, N5/166/3

So what was my great, great grandad doing writing letters to the Butterley Company for? He was claiming for damages done to the farm and 3 cottages he owned, which had been possibly caused by subsidence from workings at the company’s nearby Britain Colliery. The company came to inspect the damage a week after Joseph Calladine’s letter. It appears that Joseph had brought the mineral rights to a pillar of coal on his land at a similar time to him building the 3 cottages mentioned, probably hoping to avoid any possible damage. However, within 5 years, there were cracks in most of his buildings, including the cow shed.

Brief report of inspection, 4 Nov 1925, N5/166/3

Thankfully the inspection noted that no serious damage was done, but repairs should be completed once the ground had settled. So far I haven’t come across any mention of any more repairs that needed to be done later on, as was suggested might happen. I will have to keep an eye out just in case!

Mining the Seams is a Wellcome Trust funded project aiming to catalogue coal mining documents, originally held by the National Coal Board, so they can eventually be viewed by the public. Alongside the Warwickshire County Record Office, the project aims to focus on the welfare and health services provided to miners. 

Christmas 1946 at the Butterley Company

Sadly, Christmas won’t be the same for many of us this year. Whether that will mean not meeting family and friends or having no Christmas parties to attend. It will certainly look very different for many. It’s more important to remember the fun times we’ve had in the past, hoping that they will return again for next year’s celebrations. But how was the Christmas of 1946 marked by the Butterley Company?

It was customary for large companies, including colliery companies, to give gifts to employees at Christmas, and offer them Christmas parties or dinners, to thank them for their hard work during the year. The Butterley Company was no exception. As can be seen in this itemised list of dinners and parties for Christmas, the company was willing to reward their employees, including the kitchen staff who were the ones to cook the dinners.

Christmas dinners and related gifts, N5/188/3

Most colliery companies were also known to give coal as a benefit to their employees, including their families after an accident or death of a miner. They paid special attention to widows at Christmas, ensuring that they had a gift of coal to see them through winter. It’s funny now that we view receiving coal at Christmas as a bad thing, but perhaps that may have stemmed from a mixture of other traditions when coal as a main fuel was in its infancy. While we don’t use coal anymore, it seems to have reverted to that previous connotation.

However, from the mid-19th century until the middle of last century, coal was a major fuel resource and contributed to the wealth and power of the companies who worked in the coal industry. As winters were also much colder then, a gift of coal meant someone could spend winter in warmth.

List of money gifts, N5/188/3

The Butterley Company appears to be keen to recognise the hard work not just of their own employees, but those in the community they believed deserved just as much recognition, such as police officers, railwaymen and a postman. They did have to seek approval from the Local Fuel Overseer to grant gifts of coal. The most generous one given in 1946 was to Police Sergeant Herrett who worked at Heanor Police Station, who received 1 ton of coal. Others were given a small amount of money instead.

Permission to give coal to Sergeant Herrett, N5/188/3

After what has been a strange and awful year, it’s amazing to see that even in 1946, people were keen to recognise the contribution key workers made to their local communities. This year, please remember to do the same in whatever way you can, even if its just to spare a thought for those key workers who have kept us all going after the year we certainly won’t forget.

Bibliography

Charitable gifts at Christmas from the Butterley Company, N5/188/3

Christmas Central, What Does it Mean to Get a Lump of Coal in your Stocking? https://www.christmascentral.com/what-does-it-mean-to-get-a-lump-of-coal-in-your-stocking/

Linthicum, K., ‘Why Coal Symbolizes Naughtiness’, The Atlantic, 24 Dec 2018, https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2018/12/why-coal-symbolizes-naughtiness/578857/

Mining the Seams is a Wellcome Trust funded project aiming to catalogue coal mining documents, originally held by the National Coal Board, so they can eventually be viewed by the public. Alongside the Warwickshire County Record Office, the project aims to focus on the welfare and health services provided to miners. 

Rediscovered: plans of Osmaston Manor, 1850-1873

It happens this way in archives sometimes.  One minute, you are moving a roll of plans from one shelf to another, and carefully keeping a record of its new location; the next, you are rediscovering some long-lost treasure*.

It was in 1978 that we acquired collection D1849, the archives of the Osmaston Estate.  The collection includes rent books, tenancy papers, some plans and photographs, and family papers of the Walker family, which acquired Osmaston Manor after the death of Francis Wright (1806-1873).  A list for the collection was circulated soon afterwards.  However, entry D1849/14 on that list, (“Osmaston Manor plans”) had no descriptive details, and our internal record to say which shelf held the plans said only “number not used”.

As I intimated above, the plans were re-discovered when there was a need to rationalise some of our storage.  That is the good news.  The bad news is the state they were in:

D1849 14 Osmaston Manor plans.JPG

As carefully as I could, I took a few minutes to have a look at them, so as to add some details to the catalogue.  The relevant entry now reads:

D1849/14: Plans of Osmaston Manor, 1850-1873.

Approximately 20 architectural plans and sketches of building works. Most of the plans bear the name of Francis Wright Esq.  Including:
-Plan of Osmaston Manor showing pipeage
-Section drawing showing details of cresting on conservatory
Details of windows on proposed lodge at village entrance (rough, in pencil) at scale 1.5 inches to 1 foot
-Elevation of flag tower
-Plans of fountain
-Section drawing showing “bridge across the back road”. Signed by Henry Isaac Stevens, architect, dated 18 Feb 1850.
-Plan of stable court and surrounding buildings at scale 1 inch: 8 feet. Stamped “Butterley Ironworks” on the reverse
These items are in poor condition and cannot be produced until conservation work has been completed.

I cannot be any less vague about the details, and for once it’s not my fault – if I had spent any longer trying to inspect the goods, I would only have worsened their condition.  Lien, our Senior Conservator, has had a look at the plans and will be deciding how best to render them fit for use in future.  That may be a long-term project, but an early stage will be to get the plans stable enough to photograph or scan, so people can view them on the computers in our searchroom.

It makes sense that at least one of the plans is stamped “Butterley Ironworks” – in 1830, Wright had become senior partner in the Butterley Company, “which he dominated for the next forty-three years”, according to his entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.  The same source takes the view that “the outward sign of Wright’s success was the building of a great country house, Osmaston Manor, outside Ashbourne, in 1846–9”.

And if you want to show off your success by erecting buildings, you hire the best architect you can find.  In Wright’s case, it was Henry Isaac Stevens of Derby (1806-1873 – yes, his years of birth/death really are the same as Francis Wright’s).  I only saw the signature of Stevens on one of the plans, which was dated 1850, but at least some of the others will be his work, and given the dates of construction mentioned in the DNB, I feel sure that the 1850 plan will not be the oldest in the bundle.

Osmaston Manor was demolished in the 1960s.  You can find out more about it on the Osmaston Park website, which describes what this location has to offer as a wedding venue.

*”treasure” is an over-worked term when it comes to news of archival discoveries, so I’m sorry for using.  But the truth is, it’s ALL treasure to somebody, or we wouldn’t be keeping it!

Archives rescue team swings into action!

A few weeks ago, the Ripley Heritage Trust alerted us to the possibility that there were historic Butterley Company records at the former company works in Ripley that were in danger of being severely damaged or destroyed.  The works was sold after the Butterley Company closed down in 2009, since when the company that owns it has gone into administration.  The site has been sitting derelict and is shortly to be sold for redevelopment.

After visiting the site in the company of the very knowledgeable members of the Ripley Heritage Trust, the Record Office was able to get approval from the owners of the site to salvage records, so this morning a team of four of us went down there with a van.  If you find the sight of neglected records distressing, look away now:

IMG_8870 IMG_8871 IMG_8868As the pictures show, much was damaged beyond repair, but most of this material looked like purchase orders and timesheets, which aren’t of historical value.  There were however, lots of engineering drawings, mostly dating to between the 1950s and the 1980s.  Although some had been disturbed by vandals, and were ruined, many were still in plan chest drawers and had been well protected from the elements and the pigeons – mostly!

IMG_8853

Some chests had drawers that couldn’t be opened: IMG_8859 IMG_8884

But well-equipped in our protective clothing, we were able to salvage a good proportion of the drawings:


IMG_8856The drawings are now heading to our quarantine, and once our conservation team have given them the OK, we hope that the Ripley Heritage Trust will be able to use their expertise to identify the drawings so they will be accessible for research.

If you haven’t heard of the Butterley Company before, if was a company famed for iron founding and engineering.  In its latter years it was responsible for prestigious projects including the roof of St Pancras Station (if you’ve ever been in the station you’ll know how impressive this is – if not, take a look at these images) and the Falkirk Wheel.  Derbyshire Record Office already holds a substantial archive for Butterley (see our online catalogue) and Ripley Heritage Trust have just gained funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund for a project to document the history of the firm (see: https://www.hlf.org.uk/about-us/media-centre/press-releases/ripley-heritage-trust-secures-heritage-lottery-fund-support).

Thanks go to the Ripley Heritage Trust for alerting us to the records, and we are also very grateful to the owners of the site for allowing us to preserve this piece of Butterley history.  It will take some time before the drawings are sorted and listed – if you, or someone you know, has an engineering background and/or used to work for the Butterley Company and would like to help, please leave a comment below and we’ll be in touch!