Mining the Seams Project Update

First of all, I hope you’ve been enjoying the blog posts about some of the interesting things that have been found so far during the project, which seeks to catalogue the archive left to us by the National Coal Board. The project has a particular focus on the medical and compensation aspects, but as it’s such a large collection, there are bits of everything in it. Now that Mining the Seams is roughly half way through, and into another lockdown, we thought it a good time to update on what we’ve done so far.

Working from home has meant reduced time checking and cataloguing documents in person for me. However, that still is going on thankfully and it still means progress on the hundreds of boxes to be checked and drafted for future cataloguing purposes. This particularly means adding more detail to descriptions of documents for the future use of those interested in industrial history. In total we have completed 379 out of 631 boxes, which is around 60%.

The largest collection we are working on is N5. This is a mixture of accident and compensation records, but mainly correspondence on a wide range of topics relating to the coal industry in the early and mid-twentieth century, including medical issues, the planning of Ollerton Colliery and village, and helping the war effort during WW2. Of course this is not an exhaustive list considering how large the collection is, but look out for some future blog posts and tweets on some topics from the N5 collection.

Letter detailing a U.S. Army Depot at Boughton, 23 Aug 1943, N5/182/3

If you’ve been following the progress so far, you’ll remember that during the first lockdown, we were working on transcribing compensation forms for the Butterley Company. Now 40 bundles have been finished, with 25 fully checked over. These are also being used to track miners who had more than one accident they claimed for.

The compensation forms aren’t the only thing we were able to do from home. One of the other main collections being catalogued using our scanning technology are photographs from D4774, making it easy to do during lockdown. The majority of these are of colliery buildings at various collieries. There are some interesting ones, such as the one below showing the Miners Rescue Team at Ormonde Colliery.

Photograph of the Ormonde Colliery Rescue Team, 1950, D4774/13/49/12

If you would like to know more abut the project, please don’t hesitate to visit the project’s information page at https://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/leisure/record-office/records/record-office-projects/record-office-projects.aspx. Or if you have any queries about the project or related coal mining collections, please email the Derbyshire Record Office at record.office@derbyshire.gov.uk.

An Insider’s View of north Derbyshire Libraries around 1950

Nearly 40 years ago, the record office purchased a small bundle of letters primarily sent to Charles Kay Ogden, the founder of the Orthological Institute which was concerned chiefly with the development of Basic English. 

Cataloguing volunteer, Roger Jennens, has recently listed all the letters and here he writes of the rich observations they contain from a librarian working at in north Derbyshire around 1950 . 

The writer of the letters, Dora Axon of Buxton, returned to work in 1948 following the death of her husband.  A qualified librarian who had previously worked in Manchester, she had not been in paid employment during the fifteen years of her marriage.  She was appointed to a post at Whaley Bridge library but in the interval before that library was ready to be opened she was asked at short notice to assist at the library at Chapel-en-le-Frith.  At the time this was a busy centre for library provision in north Derbyshire, including a mobile library.  Dora Axon records her enjoyment of the work: she found every one of the staff welcoming.  Perhaps her assessment of the library users has a hint of condescension:

The borrowers are not bad – all kinds, but extremely friendly with just two or three intelligent ones. The library is a meeting ground for all the villagers and there appears to be no rule against talking, which everyone does, out loud. We never “shush” then as we used to do in Manchester; it’s awfully funny and delightful.”

Dora Axon was impressed by the mobile library service:

Extract of letter from Dora, 28 Sep 1948. Ref: D2313/2/58

She was, however, hopeful that she would not be required to go out on a round:

Some rounds are terribly hard going: the issues reaching 700 a day and  a handful of special requests that all need looking up and securing for the next call.

Early in 1949 a branch library was opened in the windowless basement of council offices in Whaley Bridge.  The library was open from 2pm to 8pm daily, with a half-hour closure at 4.30pm. The new provision soon proved popular: the initial book stock of 5,000 volumes was soon increased to 6,000. In the first few weeks 800 readers were registered:

They clatter down the stairs at 2pm prompt and only reluctantly do they clatter up at 4.30pm and 8pm. …  They are a nice public, the “Whaleys” from labourers to professional men, from country women who call me “luv” to nice middle-class “ladies” and from nice laddies of 14, (we don’t cater for younger), to university and college students. 

Dora Axon was kept busy, particular on days when no assistance was forthcoming from another library:

All my nice borrowers apologise for troubling me and some offer to help.  360-500 issues a day; new readers to enrol and help; a postal service to attend to and all the ordinary routine work – it would keep 3 staff occupied at all times and it’s all supposed to be done by one!

Before long, mindful of the potential impact of winter weather on her daily bus journeys between Buxton and Whaley Bridge, and reluctant to remain working in a basement Dora Axon applied for a post at the library in Buxton.

Whaley population has lapped me up and will, I know, be sorry to lose me.  And I shall never again have such congenial borrowers, nor such  a splendid collection of books, every one asking to be read.

Next time: Dora describes her experience in Buxton.

See the new catalogue in full under reference D2313.

Record Office on Lockdown – new research guides, new catalogues, new resources

A couple of weeks ago I blogged about how the work we would be doing from home now that we were unable to have physical access to the archives and local studies collections – well here’s how we’ve been getting on.

Not on the original list of lockdown labours, though still we hope very useful, are a new series of Research Guides to help discover the incredible collections we hold and the best resources to use depending on what it is you are trying to find out.  From tomorrow (Thursday 16 April), we will publish a new Research Guide via the blog every 3 days or so – with the aim that even seasoned researchers will find out something new.

As you might expect, we have received far fewer enquiries from customers than we normally would – between the 1st and 15th April 2019, we received 132 email and postal enquiries, this year we have received just 21.  Mostly, the subjects of the enquiries were familiar to us (house history, getting a copy of your own baptism certificate, researching a family coat of arms, locating the graves of ancestors), but a request for information from someone researching a documentary about Robbie Williams was a little out of the ordinary!  Although our ability to answer emails is somewhat reduced while we cannot access the collections, we are certainly doing our best – including in relation to Robbie Williams.

Most of us are engaged in converting old catalogue lists and other information that can be published online (via our catalogue) so that we can share as much as possible about the collections with everybody around the world:

  • over 500 entries from the Local Studies authors index typed in anticipation of being added to the online catalogue
  • almost 70 detailed biographical files researched and formatted, to make it easier to find other records in the collections relating to the same individuals or families
  • hundreds of individual descriptions for apprenticeship indentures, bastardy bonds and other records that had previously only been summarised.

Several old handwritten and typed (i.e. typewriter) lists have been re-typed so that we can import them into the online catalogue.  We had thought we might have to wait some time before the information would be publicly available, but we hope the first lists will be available from next week.  These collections will include:

  • D8252 Frederick C Boden (1902-1971), miner, author and lecturer
  • D5440 Chesterfield, Bolsover and Clowne Water Board
  • D1661 Diocesan Ecclesiastical Dilapidations records for Derbyshire parishes
  • D9 Dakeyne family of Darley Dale – this was one of the first collections to be deposited with the county council, way back in 1922. Back then the record office didn’t exist and although a rough list of the contents was created back in the 1960s (following the appointment of a County Archivist in 1962), we will finally get the list published in time for the 100th anniversary of its deposit!
  • Plus the detailed descriptions of apprenticeship indentures.

Lots of us are beavering away on converting various other lists that have never been converted to a digital format, so there will be plenty more of these to come in next few weeks.

Several resources for schools have been published online (particularly for teachers doing amazing work with the children of key workers, and for all the parents who have unexpectedly found themselves home-schooling).  In particular there is a mini timeline of Derbyshire history from prehistory to the 21st century – we will need to wait a little while longer yet to see what the historians make of the current world situation!

Clay Cross Treasures – one volunteer’s quest through the archives

It seems logical to have an introduction. I’m Phil, I’ve been volunteering now at the Record Office for 4 ½ years. Prior to this I had worked here for 2 ½ years and got very attached to the place! I couldn’t be got rid of that easily!

Over those 4 ½ years I have helped out by working mainly with first hand archive documents, which have ranged from First World War soldiers’ diaries, planning applications in Long Eaton, the Sheepbridge archive (which I have only half completed!) and the current ‘task’, which I seem to have been engaged on for many months… More of this in a minute. First some background…

I believe it was one of the archivists, who set me off on, what has for me, become something of an obsession! Becky first asked me whether I would be prepared to do it- it might take a while to complete! The task: sift through the Clay Cross Company’s archive (which up until then had not been catalogued) to seek out an original blueprint for Stephenson’s Rocket, supposedly buried somewhere in the archive!

What a challenge. I was asked to check all the boxes, ledgers, maps and plans looking for this piece of history’s legends. Becky provided a catalogue of all the places where I could locate the Clay Cross archive, and warned me that there were aspects of the collection that had simply ‘disappeared’. The recorded boxes were easy to locate in one of the main archival stores, the others (and there were lots of these) were somewhere in ‘Room Q’. Now Room Q is to be found in the basement of the new extension. It is the place where mould has a footing, dust has accumulated on archives that have arrived ‘raw’ in the record office- yet to be cleaned, and treasures lie undisturbed, awaiting discovery.

So, the search began. At first, I was merely skimming through the boxes and then returning them to the shelves. But that seemed to be wasting an opportunity, for such is the nature of life these days, it is uncertain when or if the archive might ever be catalogued. So, I asked would it be okay if I catalogued the contents of each of the boxes and identified where each part of the archive might be found?

I embarked on the journey of ‘discovery’ months ago- so many in fact, that I can’t remember exactly when I started. I have looked through all the archive, found the hiding places of much ‘lost’ material. I can say for certain that the Stephensons’ blueprint is not to be found in the Record Office. I still have a sizeable chunk of the archive to catalogue, but I have found so many treasures, so many connections to the Stephensons. It was George, that incredible man of vision, a true pioneer, who founded the Clay Cross Company all those years ago…

It has been an amazing experience and one which I have felt privileged to have been asked to do. I shall, in future blog posts, talk about some of these treasures. … One sad fact remains: the Clay Cross empire has gone, along with all of the physical signs of the collieries, blast furnaces, iron works, quarries… the legend lives on though- I hope, never to be forgotten…