These are just two of the themes I have been looking into yesterday as part of a visit from students at the University of Derby doing a Creative Writing degree. This has now become an annual visit that challenges me every time to come up with items from the collections to inspire and inform the students, as part of an introduction to the opportunities for supporting their work that can be found amongst the archives.
Two of the students had been in touch in advance to advise what their interests were and what they were currently working on. There have been struggles in past years in identifying a selection of documents related to the students’ interests and current projects but when this year I received an email referring to “representations of Dwarfs in Norse myth and perhaps other representations of dwarfs or dwarf-like humans in folklore” and “space, future planet colonisations”. Fortunately, the latter also included a reference to “accounts of colonisation of British colony’s in the words of eye-witnesses”, which is much more what we might expect amongst our collections given the official roles undertaken by a number of Derbyshire gentry in the 18th-20th century (see in particular the Fitzherbert connection in the West Indies;- Gell family in South Africa;- Wilmot-Horton in Ireland and elsewhere).
After an ill-advised search in the catalogue for ‘space’, which primarily turned up records relating to graveyard spaces, I tried terms such as planet, Mercury, Venus, Mars, solar, lunar, astronomy, etc. which was a little more successful. Knowing the relationships of Derbyshire personalities with The Lunar Society, and of John Flamsteed of Denby, some terms were less successful than I hoped. I also already knew that we had a couple of collections relating to the Rocketry department at Rolls Royce (see D4907 and D5290), so the selection also included a few drawings and lecture notes. However, I was thrilled to find a reference to the Mars Colony Project of the 1960s amongst papers of the Derby Group of the British Interplanetary Society (ref: D317). Fortunately, the student in question was also very pleased and fascinated with the selection, learning that whilst the US had plans to colonise the moon, the British (and European) aim was for the colonisation of Mars – obviously neither got very far!
Putting together a selection relating to dwarves and Norse mythology required a little more abstract thinking. Whilst Derbyshire is full of its own myths, legends and folklore, they don’t tend to contain many references to dwarves or Norse traditions. Based on my extremely limited knowledge of such fantasy fiction (primarily as a result of repeated viewings, though never readings, of the Lord of the Rings) the obvious Derbyshire connection was to mining (lead especially) and caving, and mountains. The resulting selection included;-
- photographs of various Derbyshire lead mines and caves, notably Peak Cavern at Castleton which is particularly famous for Blue John (e.g. D4959, D1502, D869 and a large number from the local studies library, also available on Picture the Past)
- an 18th century copy of civil war era lead mining customs and laws (D7676/Bagc/550)
- a recipe for “spring mountain wine” (D307/H/28/1) – although the catalogue entry had read ?strong, which might have been more dwarf-like
- several illustrations and caricatures by George Murgatroyd Woodward (1767-1809) of Stanton-by-Dale (ref: D5459).
The group were also fascinated by the people in the Victorian asylum admissions register and what their stories were (ref: D1658/1/5), a Great Seal of Charles I granting a pardon to Francis Leeke in 1639 after he purchased land without permission, (ref: D315/1) and an illustration of woman who grew four sets of horns (ref: D303/30/7). Other students spent time using the online catalogue to search for items relating to Irish immigration and seafaring, and made plans to come back during normal opening hours to pursue their own interests and research.
I look forward to hearing and reading what they come up with. It was good to hear from their lecturer that after last year’s visits one of the students who was interested in pirates on the high seas wrote a book partly inspired by records she consulted at DRO particularly relating to an individual who chased pirates across the seas – unfortunately I don’t have any details of the records she consulted, but we do hope to add a copy of the published book to our Local Authors collection in due course.