From Servants to Staff at Chatsworth

Did you know that there’s an exciting archival research project going on at Chatsworth House?  The archives of the Dukes of Devonshire are still held at Chatsworth, under the care of the Chatsworth Archives team.  The collection is huge and full of so many amazing things that I couldn’t possibly enumerate them here – I recommend that you take a look at the Chatsworth blog to get a glimpse into their collections.

So back to the archival research project… Chatsworth is working in partnership with Sheffield University to look at the lives of servants from the 18th to the 20th century.  Three Sheffield University PhD students are working on Chatsworth’s archives, each student working on a separate century of records.  Together they will be piecing together the social changes that have transformed masters and servants to employers and staff.

Since January, the students  (Hannah, Lauren and Fiona) have been writing a monthly post for the Chatsworth blog about their discoveries.  If you want to get an insight into the lives of the governess, housekeeper and more, take a look at the Servants to Staff posts so far.

Even though Chatsworth holds its own archives, within our own collections we do have a very tiny glimpse into the life of one Chatsworth servant.  We hold three letters written by Elizabeth Winchester to her mother in Bakewell between 1803 and 1806 (reference nos D5430/76/22-24).  Elizabeth seems to have been  lady’s maid to ‘Little G’, Georgiana Howard, the eldest daughter of the famous Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire.

We have no pictures of Elizabeth – as a servant, she was unlikely ever to have her portrait painted – but here’s a famous portrait of the Duchess of Devonshire with Elizabeth’s mistress, Georgiana Howard, as a child:

Elizabeth travelled with ‘her lady’ to Paris in 1803, and writes her first letter from there, about which she says: “I can only wonder how any English person can like France, there seems to be so few comforts here to what there is in England”.  Her mistress clearly attended a lot of evening parties, as Elizabeth complains bitterly that:

…had I my time to spend again I would never undertake such a sort of situation as this I am in and I think I shall very soon look out for something different, as I am to get my own living I may as well do it in a situation that I like better than I do my present one, besides I think I am losing my time by living here for fifteen pounds a year, besides destroying my Health as I never have a good Nights rest, I have not been in Bed since we have been in Paris till, four, five, & six o’clock in the Morning, which is a very uncomfortable thing, and what I am sure no constitution can bear for any length of time I should not care what I did in the Day if I could have rest at Night…

By February 1805, they are back in London, but Elizabeth is still very unhappy with her situation, as Devonshire House is undergoing some renovations so the family is staying in Grillons Hotel, in Albemarle Street.  This very fashionable hotel didn’t please Elizabeth, who says:

…you can have no Idea how very dirty everything is, I do not think I ever was more uncomfortable in my life … to think of her grace putting us in a French Hotel, there are only about four or five English people in the House, and I have to Dine and Drink Tea & Sup with such a dirty set of French people, that can scarce speak five words of English that one can understand but the Duchess likes everything that is French, and must give them every encouragement.

Poor Elizabeth!  She is one servant who definitely did not seem to enjoy the cosmopolitan lifestyle of the ‘great families’.  Hopefully, the Servants to Staff project will reveal more of Elizabeth Winchester’s employment history, and the histories of many others who worked for the family at Chatsworth.

‘Geological resources at the Derbyshire Record Office’ by Jack O’Brien

Jack, 16, from Chesterfield has spent the last two months on work placement with the Record Office, and stemming from his interest in geology has investigated the archive and local studies collection available and kindly produced this guide, for which we are very grateful.

White Watson

White Watson was by profession a sculptor, marble worker and mineral dealer, he lived most of his life in Bakewell, Derbyshire. He was born at Whiteley Hall, near Sheffield, on April 10th 1760. He was the son of Samuel Watson, and it was from him that he learned his trade. They were both stone-masons and sculptors engaged with the rebuilding of Chatsworth House in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries. 

There is no mention of any journey more than twenty-five miles  from Bakewell, and even visits to places as near as Sheffield and Leek were infrequent. Judging by surviving documents, he does not even seem to have visited his wife’s home in Leicestershire. 

The publications of White Watson’s  work are an inadequate picture of his true geological attainments, for example, only two of his detailed sections appeared as plates in his books. 

A section of strata of Derbyshire from East to West, by White WatsonWatson’s first work, ‘A Section of a Mountain in Derbyshire’, was apparently meant to be a generalised section of Derbyshire, not a specific locality. Within the section, he recorded three main beds of limestone with different basic properties and ‘mineral and fossil productions’ which were regularly seperated and penetrated by rake-veins and broken by faults. He followed the ideas of another geologist, Whitehurst who’s ideas were shown in the ‘Inquiry of 1785’. These were, observing the patterns in the strata and being able to forecast what would be found beneath the bed rocks of Derbyshire. 

Resources in local studies.

The local studies collection holds many geology related books and records, there are articles covering everything from Caving to coal fields, and limestone to moorlands. Many of the resources in local studies are very specific to the Peak District and Derbyshire. However, is is also a useful collection for research in to the geology of Leicestershire, Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire. 

There are many books regarding caving and the study of caves (speleology) in local studies. With the Peak District being so rich in caves; and many other geological landforms, in fact, there is bound to be quite a wide interest in the area. 

This book, for example, ‘British Caving’, covers all aspects of caving, including: both the science of caving and the practice of caving.

 British Caving - an introduction to speleology

  •  This shelf contains the local studies geological resources. 

 Book room 2

 More detailed searches.

This section of the card index shows all of the Geology related books, articles and publications held at the Derbyshire Record Office. The catalogue is extensive and gives access to geological maps, as well as the full works of White Watson. The card index also holds items relating to geomorphology and the landforms and drainage basins of Derbyshire. This would hold records of water table fluctuation as well as history of floods and flooding in Derbyshire and parts of Nottinghamshire. 

Card catalogue

Overall, the available resources at the Derbyshire Record Office would be more than adequate for amateur geologists, or anyone who is interested in finding out a little more about what’s under your feet!

Sir Joseph Paxton

Apropos of nothing:

A researcher just spotted that Joseph Paxton (the future Sir Joseph) crops up as a 36-year old on the list of people qualified to serve as a juror.

The eagle-eyed will notice that his qualification is as a freeholder, so he must have owned property in the area, rather than just lodging at Chatsworth.  Feel free to correct me if I am wrong!  I have hardly ever seen the lists of jurors (Q/RJ/1) – they could might be called an under-used resource.