Treasure 49: a letter from Congreve Butt, 1839

This letter (D5605/2/6) was written by a medic, Congreve Butt, to his brother Revd George Butt, who was vicar of Chesterfield from 1851 until his death in 1888.  It was nominated as one of our 50 Treasures by Vicky, a Record Assistant at Derbyshire Record Office, who picked it out for our “Thank You For Your Letter” outreach project in 2009. “I was surprised to find the content of this letter much richer than described in the catalogue entry”, says Vicky. “Although George went onto become a much respected Vicar of Chesterfield we don’t hear directly from the louche doctor again. Relatives say in much later correspondence that he became a ship’s surgeon bound for Calcutta – I just wonder what he got up to there?”

The letter is an entertaining read, but the handwriting is not easy – Vicky’s transcript follows beneath the scanned copy.

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Martley [Worcestershire] Nov 4th 1839

My Dear George,

Enclosed in some rough envelopes I have sent you a ham – which I trust will turn out well- and if it will not be unacceptable to you – I have received your two last letters which gave me great satisfaction as I wanted to hear from you having been kept in a long continued state of ignorance as to your state of health and progression in other matters. In fact I have not had any family communication since we met. With the exception of seeing Ewen whom I heard address a jury the other day. He performed his part far better than I could have expected, from the little I heard only at the fag end of the learned counsel’s speech –and I should not be surprised to see him worming his way to some eminence “nator fit” we all know & the youth possesses perseverance – Speaking of orators – what do you think of the poet Kilpins production? I have not yet read it but I have heard some persons speak of it in high terms – Kilpin says you are very amusing and find him matters for his wit – Did you find matter for “the man in the moon ?”

I heard of Lovery lately from the hearths of Wick – I think the second sister is staying in Oxford – Pray tell me if she is, and what you think of her – she took wonderfully with me not so much for her personal appearance as for her good qualities – which were remarkable – I found a strong contrast to some other members of her family . If old Conway Lovery (or rather, young ) is in Oxford pray tell me & remember me to him as I should like him to come a & spend two or three days at Xmas.

As I am now getting established in the opinions of many of my neighbours – and I am progressing as this thinly populated and poor neighbourhood will admit of – I am making enough to keep myself in pocket money & boot leather & not of any fresh debts – having received perhaps £20 altogether – and If I get the remaining £10 in my books paid by Xmas – I think I can strain a point to see an old friend for a day or two – especially as I have been requested to take my friends to some neighbouring families – where I always have a knife & fork & a welcome. Old Captain S when he sees me always sneaks away like a canine animal in a quandary – leaving my circle of acquaintance almost confined to Mrs Sparkes, Mr Kenton, Eginton,& Archy[…]

We have a pleasant curate just arrived. He was at East Garlton in the summer months cooking at the curacy – His name is Davis – he is very gentlemanly – keeps two carriages & preaches extempore in a manner not unwitting of a metropolitan pulpit – I have not visited Price recently – I rather think that he has voted me a bore, as he has hinted two or three times on the expense of going to Worcester to see Mr Lechmore, so I trouble him as little as possible – I suppose you know old Sir Winnington is translated to another world – I do not know his son.

[The curate referred to was Revd Edward Acton Davies M.A., who was rector of Areley Kings by the time he died in 1880, aged 74.]

It is a great difficulty this to lie by and let my “wanton zeal mould in roosted sloth” – but I groan & endure & read books of a voluminous size from the library being relieved from my monotony by being visited by about one patient a day – & an occasional bit of cheating at vingt un with some of the fair agricultural nymphs of this vicinity – among whom I am sorry to say that I cannot help maintaining my ancient character for being fond of a bit of “getting upstairs and playing the fiddle”. I say sorry, because all the world expects a medical man to be always wrapt up in an odour of gravity – in fact to assume a humbugging puritanical deportment which it is my misfortune to lack – time, however, which will soon turn me bald, may perchance give me a due share of that other inestimable quality.

[Vingt-et-un is the French version of the card game known as blackjack or pontoon – but somehow I don’t think this is what he is alluding to.]

In your letter of October 4th – you describe my letter as a non descript one – What will call this? – Something of the same sort. My hand is quite out – I have written to no one & for no one. I am obliged to take up with the subjects of conversation I meet with, instead of enjoying the company of any rationally educated people – It is therefore marvelous that the product of my brain should be a rambling hodge podge , a pot pourri as the Gauls have it. Besides when I take up my pen in your behalf I have so much to ask you & so much to say that I scarcely know where to begin far less where to end. I thought therefore that your reverence will not measure my feeble epistolary power by your own signature ones – but will be taken into your generous consideration that, however great a jumble & even concentration of ideas – distinct or otherwise there may be in my cranium – yet I am not weekly exercised by the utterance of them in writing of humour (not that I mean to say you with your own nor anything to the contrary) as you are. Nor am I in a classical soil – Genius within this country – men whose talk is of bullocks abound here to the exclusion of all others.

I wish you would lend me your pistols for a short time when you don’t want them – they would afford me a small variety in my retreat & I want to shoot a dog or two which always fly at me – & in kicking of whom I hurt my toe – you shall have them back honor bright.

The day after I sent your box , Perrott sent me a new copy of Coleridge – all three vols which is the one you have – as I may as well keep the other I send you the two. You did not tell me whether all the books were right – I think my “Bacot on Syphilis” is amongst your books – Please take care of it. [John Bacot’s “A Treatise On Syphilis” (London, 1829).]Can you tell me how long Henry will be in Paris ? I would like to commission him to get some bougies [A thin flexible surgical instrument] if I knew his address – Bloxham knows a gentleman in the customs at Dover who would pass anything for him – It is the india rubber bougies & catheters which I mean and which are made so much better in Paris than anywhere else. Plague upon it – I just see by referring to your letter that Henry is in London – when we get the penny postage I’ll write him a letter. Apropos Remember me to Penny – and B.M.

Your very affectionate brother Congreve

Chesterfield and District Family History Society Fair

CADFHS Fair 2016

Hullo!  I’m here at Outwood Academy in Newbold for the annual family history fair run by the Chesterfield and District Family History Society – feel free to drop by if you are in the vicinity.  Our stall is right next to m’colleagues from Chesterfield Library‘s renowned local studies section and opposite the equally-renowned Chesterfield Museum.  I can also spot Derbyshire Record Society just over there in the middle.  I’ll wander over and say how do in a minute.

Bryan Donkin on the BBC (again)

Previous posts about Bryan Donkin have included links to television programmes that give him a mention. Now Richard Donkin has let us know of a recent episode of BBC2’s Inside The Factory, which includes a segment on the history of the tin can, and Donkin’s role as an innovator in this field.  If the BBC iPlayer is available in your country, you should be able to watch the programme at any time in the next couple of weeks at this address:

Preserving Your Past at Chesterfield Museum on 11 August

If you’re in Chesterfield tomorrow (Thursday 11 August), why not pop in to Chesterfield Museum and find out how to look after your old family letters and photographs?  My Preserving your Past talk starts at 1.00pm and explains how our treasured possessions can get damaged and what you can do to ensure they’ll survive for future generations to enjoy.  Feel free to bring along letters, books and photographs if you would like some specific advice after the talk – I’ll be there till the museum closes at 4.00pm.



Bryan Donkin book launched

There was a great turn-out at Chesterfield for the launch of Maureen Greenland and Russ Day’s new book, “Bryan Donkin: The Very Civil Engineer, 1768-1855”. The town is rightly proud of the company that Donkin created, and the legacy of technological innovation that it leaves us.

There was a slide show, the screening of a film about Donkin’s Rose Engine (dating from 1820, now housed at the Science Musuem), and we had some of those extraordinary engineering drawings on display:

We were also lucky to hear from former Donkin managing director Terry Woodhouse, who told us about his first encounters with the DonkDonkin_launch_2in archive, which he was instrumental in preserving for future generations. Terry described just a few of the ideas that Bryan Donkin’s talents and perseverance were able to turn into a reality: a machine for making paper, the first cans for preserving food, more efficient nibs for pens, an anti-fraud device used in the manufacture of bank-notes. One can argue that Donkin has never been given full recognition for his achievements – that’s something that this book will undoubtedly address.

Bryan Donkin book launch at Chesterfield Library

Genius deserves to be celebrated. So please do join us in celebrating the genius that was Bryan Donkin by coming to the launch of a ground-breaking new biography of the man, written by Maureen Greenland and Russ Day.

Bryan Donkin book.JPG

The book draws heavily on the archival legacy of Donkin and the company he founded, which was based in Chesterfield from 1902 onwards. Some of the most striking and noteworthy of those documents, including original engineering drawings, will be on display at the launch, which is at Chesterfield Library on Tuesday 19th July at 4.30pm. There will also be a chance to meet the authors (and get them to sign a copy of the book) and to hear from Terry Woodhouse, who was the Managing Director of the Bryan Donkin Company for a number of years.

It’s a free event, with light refreshments available, so do come along.  You can book your free ticket by calling in at the library, or by telephone on 01629 533 400, or by email to

Calling all shopaholics..


If you visit us at the Record Office you will see that we have a range of products for sale.

As well as offering a variety of local publications, we also have a range of unique Record Office merchandise.  DRO Products

These go from note books and mugs, to tea towels and bags  all with specially chosen images on them taken from items within our collections.

Alongside these is a display of merchandise available from Picture the Past.  You may be aware of the Picture the Past website which gives images from the library and museum collections across Derbyshire, Derby City, Nottinghamshire and Nottingham PtP ProductsCity a worldwide audience.

The website offers a host of products which you can personalise with an image of your choice.  In the Record Office and Chesterfield Library you can buy items such as notebooks, place mats, coasters, key rings and mugs with various images of the Chesterfield area already printed on them.

Picture the Past have just expanded their range and available at the Record Office, you can buy ready framed images of some famous Derbyshire landmarks.  Views of Chatsworth, Haddon Hall and Dovedale are just some of the images available. Picture 1

Along with the other merchandise mentioned these are on display in the Record Office reception area, so why not pop in and have a look.  You may just solve that awkward present problem…

Have you heard the one about the woman who lived on a tram?

Few virtual postbags can be quite as varied as our regular slew of email enquiries – this one’s a belter.  Val Howels of Devon has written to ask if we have any information on “the indomitable Miss Florence Sharpe”.  Val asks for the best and noblest of reasons – she is writing a children’s book.  The book is set to be a true story about the life of a woman who really did live on a tram, for a number of years (specifically, Chesterfield Tram No. 7).  Florence herself died in 1982 at the age of 90 – so what the author would like most of all would be the chance to chat to any relatives, who might be able to pass on any informative snippets.  Florence was the sister-in-law of a Mr Harry Cocking, who owned the tram before his death in 1949.  Are there any surviving members of the Sharpe or Cocking families who would be able to help?  If so, please email and we will put you in touch with Val.

It’s always nice to have something to illustrate a blog post, so here’s a link to a YouTube clip filmed on board Chesterfield Tram No 7 at Crich Tramway Village.




Advent Calendar – Day 18

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Chesterfield and District Family History Society magazine, no. 92 (Sep 2012), available in Local Studies


Featured in this edition are

  • a report of the meeting held on 3 July, which included a talk from Ian Morgan about “Within Site of the Gibbet”, ‘a tale of murder, highway robbery and transportation in the Peak District and featuring the well-known story of Robert Blincoe, an apprentice at Litton Mill
  • details of records and information found amongst the archives here about Chesterfield during the Civil War
  • an account by Doreen Rodgers of her great-grandmother Sarah Milner, and the difficulties she had faced and had caused her family to face as well.

The Chesterfield and District Family History Society (CADFHS) was established in September 1989 and their first newsletter was published that October. CADFHS continue to donate a copy of their quarterly magazine to our Local Studies collection, and these are preserved amongst our periodicals section in the main Local Studies store room at the Record Office.

There are hundreds of titles of local magazines, newspapers, newsletters as well as national journals and periodicals, in the local studies collection spanning a wide range of themes and subjects across Derbyshire. From family history magazines and society newsletters, parish magazines, research journals, printed minutes, reports and other publications of local organisations, including local authorities, year books and more.

If you are interested in taking a look at any of these items, just drop by and we can get them out for you. Unlike material held in the archive collection, we can retrieve almost all material held in the local studies collection within a few minutes – some items on the public access shelves, but we will still be very happy to help you find the right items.

Mini Explore: ‘Coal not Dole!’

Coal not dole poster

Until the last decade, coal mining was once one of the biggest industries in the East Midlands, especially in Derbyshire which had many mining communities when the industry was at its height.

Just a few of months ago, the UK’s last deep pit coal mine closed for the last time. Another deep pit mine will close in December (Kellingley, in North Yorkshire) and after this there will be no more deep pit mines in the UK.

This is of particular historical significance because it reflects the changing nature of British industries and economy. There is also an underlying theme about workers rights which originates from the Magna Carta.

Employment rights, equal pay, fair working conditions and the right to protest have featured heavily in the loss of the mining industry. Over the centuries they have developed to become apparent features of human rights, which have evolved from the original Magna Carta clauses. Because of the impact of Magna Carta over the course of history, it remains our democratic right to be able to protest for fair employment rights.

This featured poster with the slogan ‘Coal not Dole!’ (D5756/5-7) was issued by the National Union of Mineworkers during the Miners’ Strike in 1984-85. Although not overly exciting to look at, it deals with the point relating to workers rights and employment. Perhaps it reminds you of this event?

A few months ago a blog was published about the Magna Carta as part of the Mini Explore Your Archive campaign. This year’s main Explore Your Archive week starts this Saturday.

For this year’s event we are welcoming poet and designer Jane Weir to the record office to talk about her work, inspired by archive collections.  To find out more about this free event or to book a place go to the Events page on our blog (just scroll back to the top of this page).