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. 

When family history becomes a little more complex…

Very few family historians are able to trace their ancestors back through the civil and parish registers without hitting some kind of complication, whether that be a “missing” entry, an “extra” entry making it unclear which is correct, the resettlement of their family elsewhere or other issue.  Often, such cases can be resolved with a bit of extra digging and thinking outside the box as to how to find the correct information.

One such case arose following the transfer in from Chesterfield Library of a collection of poems written by John Cupit – it wasn’t terribly complicated, but did send me down a bit of rabbit warren before I got to the bottom of it.  The collection had been transfered with the following biographical information: John Cupit, of Clay Cross. He was also an inventor, watch repairer and worked at Parkhouse Colliery. The Cupit family lived at Danesmoor and were carpenters and joiners, and John’s mother Sarah was a daughter of William Henry Wilson of Pilsley Hall, a farmer and land surveyor. John was raised by his grandparents, George and Ann Cupit.

I wanted to provide more information in our catalogue, at the very least years of birth and death for John.  Fortunately, amongst the poems and other items in the collection was a letter to the Chesterfield Borough Librarian in 1956 enclosing a short poem that John had written on his 86th birthday which gave his date of birth as 5 June 1871.

Perfect!  Now I have a date of birth and from this I can probably find a year of death using the online civil registration indexes as I know he is still living in Chesterfield, aged 86 because he says so in his letter to the Librarian.  For most searches I tend to use FreeBMD as it gives you a little more control over what you are actually searching.  However, if I have no success with this site, or if I am searching for entries after 1992, I will use Ancestry.com as it contains indexes up to 2007 and as a trade-off for less control over your search terms you get much more flexibility in the results, showing other possible entries when what you were expecting to find doesn’t exist.

In this case I discovered John’s death in Chesterfield (district) in 1963.  But I still wanted to know what else could I find out about John: he had been described as a poet, inventor, watch repairer and miner – what evidence could I find for all this?  Why so varied?  He was raised by his grandparents – why?  What happened to John’s parents? Did this inspire his poetry?

The census returns for 1841-1911 are an absolutely essential tool for family historians searching for ancestors in this period, and later. Unfortunately, it is not possible to access any later census returns due to the 100-year embargo on each, however, some limited access has been provided to the National Register of 1939 which was compiled as part of preparations for a possible war with Germany. Perhaps more out of habit than anything else, I tend to use Ancestry for searching the 1841-1911 census returns and Find My Past for searching the 1939 register (although each is now available via both sites).

I discovered that in 1881 (the first census in which John would appear, having been born two months after the 1871 census), he was indeed living with George and Ann Cupit at Guildford Lane, Danesmoor – but he is described as their son, not their grandson. George is described as a joiner, as is his 26-year old son (also George). Furthermore, although John is described as the son of George and Ann, bearing in mind their ages, 76 and 66 respectively, it is much more likely that he is their grandson.  Did the enumerator recording the information mishear or have stated he is their son in order to cover the true story about his parents?

The next step was to find out more about George and Ann.  In the 1861 and 1871 census returns they are found at Gents Hill (also Hillocks) in Clay Lane (now Clay Cross), variously with children Mary, Henry, John, Joseph, George and Walter. The John recorded in the 1861 census was aged 13 and therefore certainly not John the poet born in 1871.  Although it was quite common for younger children to be named after older siblings who had passed away, it was still much more likely that George and Ann were indeed John the poet’s grandparents – was this older John (aged 23 in 1871) be his father?

Unfortunately, I then came to some difficulty in tracing John the poet in the 1891 census. I was able to find him in 1911 at Market Street, Clay Cross, with his wife Allina, their three children, his widowed mother-in-law (Emily Goodwin) and another Goodwin, aged 11 and therefore perhaps Allina’s nephew.  He is described as Joiner – Colliery, which may explain the references to him being a miner and joiner, as he worked as a joiner at a mine.  He was also fairly easy to find in the 1901 census, this time as an unmarried boarder in Staveley, and again described as joiner; possibly at a colliery as he is boarding with James Potter, a colliery foreman.

None of this helped in finding him in the 1891 census, and that was just the beginning of the complications. Usually after finding the birth of an ancestor, the next step is to find their parent’s marriage – but searching both FreeBMD and Ancestry I could find no reference to the marriage of a Sarah Wilson to a man with the surname Cupit.  I was fairly confident of John’s mother’s name, as he had recorded this information himself in his letter to the Borough Librarian, also referring to his “grandsire” William Henry Wilson of Pilsley Hall. Perhaps Sarah had been married before and was a widow when she married John’s father, so I also searched for any marriage of a Sarah [surname unknown] to a [forename unknown] Cupit (again much easier on FreeBMD) – but still no luck.

Having hit a bit of a brick wall with the Cupit’s, I tried to find out more about the Wilson’s, John’s maternal ancestors.  At the time of the 1861 census William Henry (born c1798), his wife Urania (born c1823) and four children including a daughter Sarah (born c1850) were living at Upper Pilsley.  William is described as a Farmer, Landowner, etc. Ten years later, the family is still in Pilsley: Sarah is no longer with them, there are two more daughters (twins born c1863), and a granddaughter, Maud M Randle aged 2. A further ten years later, Urania, now widowed, is at Pilsley Hall with three daughters, two sons and Maud whose surname is now given as Wilson. Is this perhaps Sarah’s daughter by a previous relationship?

Success!  Marriage found in 1868 (quarter 4) of a Sarah Wilson to a James Randall, in the Chesterfield district. The civil marriage indexes though do not give sufficient detail to be certain you have found the correct people, but with the Derbyshire Anglican parish registers now available via Ancestry, it is much quicker and easier to search and identify the details: Sarah, daughter of William Henry Wilson, surveyor, married James Randall at Chesterfield on 31 December 1868.

Although Sarah and James had been married in 1868, and Maud born in 1869, by the time of the 1871 census, the two were separated – James lodging in Pilsley and Sarah (described as married, though using the surname Wilson) lodging in Rotherham with a Chesterfield family and was seven months pregnant with John the poet.  Was James John’s father, or was John the result of an extra-marital relationship that was the cause of James and Sarah’s separation?

For me, this is could have been where the story ended because we don’t have access to the birth registers that might have included John’s father’s name – of course anyone else would have been able to order copy certificate from the Register Office.  By now, I really wanted to know the answer.  Perhaps John’s marriage entry would give me a clue because after 1837, the registers include a space for the groom and bride’s fathers’ name – even today their mothers’ names are not recorded.

The 1911 census stated that John and Allina had been married for 6 years, and I found reference to a marriage registration (via FreeBMD) in Chesterfield district, quarter 3 1904.  Unfortunately, there was no corresponding entry on Ancestry in the Derbyshire parish registers, so the couple were either married in a non-conformist church or not married in a church at all.  With more time, I could have manually searched any non-conformist registers for the Chesterfield and Clay Cross area; as above, the most efficient way to see what name John gave as his father’s would have been to order a copy certificate.

Still not quite ready to give up, I then looked again for Sarah (John’s mother), and found her in the census returns 1881-1911 married to a Joseph Cupit, a Carpenter.  Although her first husband was still alive (living with his parents in Pilsley in 1881, and described as unmarried), Sarah Wilson appears to have married Joseph Cupit in 1873 (Belper district).  As John’s birth was registered under the surname Cupit in 1871 two years before this marriage and Joseph was the son of George and Ann (as per the 1871 census found earlier), I was confident I had found his father.

According to the 1911 census, Sarah and Joseph had at least twelve children, and when I found them in the 1891 census, I finally also found John the poet with them, aged 18 and a colliery labourer – I had probably seen this entry the first time round but dismissed it because the date of birth was a few years out, even though I really should have known better.

The question that all this couldn’t answer was whether John was brought up by his grandparents, or whether this was an assumption made purely on the basis that he was at their house on census night in 1881.  However, perhaps this answer is contained within John’s poems and other works in his archive, now held under reference D8251.

John Cupit was interviewed in the Derbyshire Courier on 23 October 1909 (page 8) in relation to his flying model of a monoplane, under the heading ‘A Clay Cross Aeroplane’, with a photograph of the man himself.  According to a note the following week (2 November 1909), the model was put on display at Armistead Bros. of Corporation Street, Chesterfield [cycle agents].

Searching for people in the catalogue

Our online catalogue contains nearly 400,000 entries relating to the archives and local studies collections we hold but it is not necessarily the easiest or most user-friendly site to search.  We’re working on several improvements and in the meantime, here is a short guide to how to use the catalogue to find information about individuals – but the advice works for whatever your search might be.

The first thing to know is that the catalogue describes what records are held in the record office not specifics of what is in the records themselves.

It is a bit like buying a book online – the online catalogue tells you the book’s author, title, publication date and gives a brief summary of what the book is about, but you have to actually buy the book (or borrow it from the library) to find out exactly what the book says.

There are thousands of records containing lots of names (not just at Derbyshire Record Office, but also at The National Archives, and other archives around the world).  Whilst some of these records have been digitised, shared online and made searchable by name – the most popular being the census returns, birth marriage and death indexes, church registers, pre-1914 school registers and military service records – there are many more that are only accessible by searching through the original archives.

Searching for other sources

If you want to find your ancestors – or indeed a non-relative – you will need to search the catalogue for the records they will be mentioned in rather than searching for the person themselves.  Often the best way to do this is to search for the archives of the organisation that will have created the records in the first place.  For example:

1. When was my ancestor married?

Search the catalogue for the church where the wedding took place – if it wasn’t a church ceremony, we don’t hold the records.  The catalogue for that church will list the marriage registers available, and you will then need to browse the original register (or ask us to search for you) to find the specific details.

Tip: type church and the place name in the Title field (e.g. church Killamarsh) and select Fonds from the Level drop-down menu – click the top result as this will give you a link to the full catalogue

2. Where did my ancestor go to school?

Search the catalogue for the name of the school (or possible schools) they might have attended.  The catalogue for the school will list the records available, including any admission registers.

Tip: the catalogue entry for each collection (i.e. each school, business, etc.) which usually gives a brief history of the organisation and summary of records also includes a link for you to browse the whole list of available records.

3. Where did my ancestor work?

Even more so than with school records, the difficulty with this search is knowing which company (or sometimes industry) the person was employed by (in) so as to be able to search for the right records.  If you do know – or at least have an rough idea – search the catalogue for the business name or family estate (i.e. if they worked for a landowning family).  If they worked in the coal or lead mining industries then our other research guides may also be of assistance (follow links in text).

All of this is good advice for whatever information you might be searching for –

Search the catalogue for the type of record that will contain the information required not for the information itself.

This is also the reason (or part of it) you can’t search for a postcode in the catalogue either.

But… it is usually worth searching for a name, just in case

Although the vast majority of names cannot be searched in the catalogue because it doesn’t contain lists of those mentioned in the original record or book, it is often worth searching because some entries do include personal names.

Tip: Sometimes it might be worth just searching for the surname rather than the full name.

Some records can only really be described by including the name of the person to whom they relate, for example the will of Jane Smith.  Some records have been catalogued in more detail than others, so some parish poor relief papers – such as apprenticeship indentures and settlement certificates – might list each record individually (others will just indicate that a bundle of indentures exists).

You may also find that a relative (perhaps from a different branch of your family tree) has donated material to the record office – whilst most families haven’t, some have.  If not, it could also be that your family had a connection with another family whose archive is at the record office, perhaps writing a letter to them.

This is also true for material in the local studies library – where the comparison is even more similar to buying a book online.  If a book or an article has been written about an individual person or family, the catalogue is likely to include a reference to that person.  However, if a book or article about a town includes references to named individuals in the text, then their names won’t appear in the catalogue, you would need to read the book.

Of course, the difficulty is knowing in the first place that the book, or article, or archive is worth looking at in the first place.  For this you will need to use your judgement and decide how much time you want to spend searching for information that provides context to an individual’s life.

Summary

There are lots of records that include information about people, and the best way to find out what is available is to start with our family history research guides.  Remember, don’t search for the information you are looking for, search for the record that is likely to contain that information.

With thanks to Celia for her help in writing this guide.

Family History from Newspaper Reports of  Court Proceedings: the Offensiveness of Matthew Goodden

Regular readers of our blog will be familiar with Roger, one of our cataloguing volunteers, here is his latest fascinating contribution.

This post arises from my continuing curiosity about a man named Matthew Goodden.  I first learned of him in 2017 while working on documents from the Thornsett Turnpike Trust (ref: D535).  An invoice had survived for payment to be made to Matthew Goodden of Abergavenny for items supplied to a toll house in New Mills.  Why, I wondered, would a man in Abergavenny be supplying items to a toll house in New Mills?  As explained in a post in 2017 I found that Matthew Goodden made a living from securing leases to collect tolls at locations across the country.  This work involved a substantial amount of travel: Matthew Goodden frequently travelled by train; he used tickets which he forged or altered,  a practice which landed him in prison on more than one occasion.  In the 2017 post I made only passing reference to Matthew Goodden’s family circumstances. Recently I’ve discovered more about his family and began to draft this post.  At a late stage I uncovered stark evidence of Matthew Goodden’s abusive behaviour which made me question whether to abandon this post.  But history cannot be limited to pleasant stories.  And I take into account that this is a victim’s story too and she spoke in detail in open court about her experience.

Matthew Goodden’s family story demonstrates the value for family historians of local newspaper reports of court proceedings; particularly in relation to individuals who find themselves in court frequently for one reason or another.  Matthew Goodden found himself facing criminal charges on several occasions: he was also a man who chose to initiate court proceedings in order to settle grievances; and people with a grievance against him took him to court.  Furthermore, after his death the financial arrangements he made for his family generated a dispute that ended in court.  Census records available every ten years from 1841 to 1911 are also an important resource for family historians.  But Matthew Goodden’s family story illustrates that even with the modern facility for digital searching there are challenges about using census records as a source of information about women.  The practice of women taking the surname of their husband or of the man they live with can make it difficult to follow the sequence of a woman’s life.

Matthew Goodden: toll collector, husband and widower

Matthew Goodden’s progress into adulthood is easily followed.  He was born in Yeovil, Somerset, in the early 1820s, the son of toll collector.  By 1841 he was living separately from his family, working at a toll gate in Castle Cary, Somerset.  Matthew Goodden was married at Southleigh, Devon, in 1846. In 1851 he, his wife and two sons were at a toll house near Cam, Gloucestershire.  The accumulation of money was a major objective: Matthew Goodden leased the right to collect tolls at locations across the country.  It becomes clear from a long sequence of court cases, from 1846 onwards, that a traveller who appeared to avoid paying Matthew Goodden or his employee the proper toll was at risk of being taken to court.  Conversely, on a number of occasions Matthew Goodden found himself in court, having demanded too high a toll or come to blows during an argument about payment.

Perhaps his money-making determination led him to overreach himself: for a short period in 1855 he was insolvent and spent time in prison in Taunton.  In order to save money he, in collaboration with his brothers, became accomplished in altering and forging railway tickets: for which he appeared at Gloucester Assizes in 1859 in what would be the first of several such court appearances.  I have found neither Matthew Goodden nor his wife and sons in the 1861 census.  But we can locate him through a newspaper court report: in September 1861 he  took a grievance to the Cheltenham County Court and from the report in the Cheltenham Examiner we can learn that he was at the toll house in Dowdeswell, Gloucestershire.  His wife died there in 1862.

Ann Williams: exploited employee?

At this point a young woman named Ann Williams enters the story.  Born in 1846, her roots were in the three neighbouring Gloucestershire villages of  Whittington, Foxcote and Dowdeswell.  She worked as a servant in the Goodden household in Dowdeswell.  Soon after his wife’s death Matthew Goodden moved to the toll house at Shavers End, Dudley, then in Worcestershire. He persuaded Ann Williams to join him there.  The evidence suggests that she should be regarded as an exploited employee rather than an unmarried wife.  At one point she was briefly remanded in police custody when Matthew Goodden claimed that she had stolen money from him.  She became pregnant:  her mother met Matthew Goodden and then arranged for her to be accommodated with Edwin and Sarah Penrose in Cheltenham; Matthew Goodden undertook to pay all expenses and visited her there after the birth of their daughter, Clara.  But payment was not forthcoming and Edwin Penrose went to court to recover the expense incurred in the care and maintenance of Ann Williams during her pregnancy and confinement. The case was heard in Cheltenham County Court in February 1866 and reported in Cheltenham and Birmingham newspapers.  As well as giving evidence about the arrangements for her confinement Ann Williams alleged that Matthew Goodden had “seduced” her in the toll house at Dowdeswell: this had happened immediately after his wife’s death.  (Ann Williams’ account indicates that what she endured would have been more appropriately defined as rape rather than seduction.  From a twenty-first century viewpoint it is starkly ironic that her evidence was being given in a civil action for recovery of a debt rather than in a criminal court for prosecution of a crime).

At some point Ann Williams returned to Dudley with her daughter and resumed* a relationship with Matthew Goodden (*MG went to Dudley soon after his wife’s death in 1862 and AW went with him. She was apart from him in Cheltenham for confinement and birth in 1865 and by the time of the Cheltenham court case in 1866 she was already back with him in Dudley, so resumed is the correct way to describe their relationship).  But in March 1871 Matthew Goodden was sent to prison for fraudulent use of railway tickets.  The census taken a few weeks later shows him in Nottingham prison.  At a toll house in Tipton were Ann Williams, listed with the surname Goodden, her daughter and her mother.  At a toll house a few miles away at Upper Gornal lived a toll collector named John Hill and his wife Harriet.  What happened next was related thirty years later in a court room in Monmouthshire, (for more see below), and reported in several newspapers.  While Matthew Goodden was in prison Ann Williams and her daughter went to live with John and Harriet Hill.  After some time John Hill “ran away” with Ann Williams: they settled in Manchester where a son was born in 1875 and a daughter in 1882.  In 1895, presumably after the death of John Hill, Ann Williams was married in Manchester to Charles Nolan, a widowed shoe maker.  When the census was taken in 1901 they were living in the Deansgate area of Manchester.  Thus in the six censuses between 1851 and 1901 Ann Williams is recorded under her birth surname and also under the surnames Goodden, Hill and finally Nolan

Sisters Harriet Hill and Mary Brettel

At some point after Matthew Goodden’s release from Nottingham prison Harriet Hill became his “wife” and stepmother to Clara Goodden (born Williams).  He employed Harriet’s sister, Mary Brettel as a toll collector.  A newspaper report in 1875 records a court case in which Matthew Goodden asserted a financial claim. In the Worcestershire County Court he sought to recover the sum of some £5 collected in tolls which he accused Mary Brettel of withholding. She disputed the claim and the court found in her favour.  The court was told that she had given birth to a child by Matthew Goodden and that the money she retained was to cover the costs of her confinement.  Three years later, when Mary Brettel was married in Wolverhampton, not only was Matthew Goodden present at the ceremony: he signed the register as a witness to the marriage.  This episode did not prevent Mary’s sister, Harriet Hill, living as Matthew Goodden’s “wife” for the last thirty years of his life.

Harriet, Clara and Matthew Goodden: settled in Abergavenny

After a failed bid in 1874 Matthew Goodden obtained in 1879 the lease of tolls in Abergavenny, Monmouthshire, and the census taken in 1881 shows him settled there with Harriett and Clara.  Toward the end of the nineteenth century the practice of providing for road construction and maintenance through tolls was discontinued. But some bridges remained subject to tolls and Matthew Goodden was able to continue as a toll collector at the Llangrwyney bridge over the River Usk between Crickhowell and Abergavenny.  In 1888 Matthew Goodden witnessed the marriage of his daughter Clara to James Gwatkin; someone made sure that the local newspaper knew to report that his wedding present to the couple was a cheque for £1,000.  In 1890 Matthew Goodden was convicted at Hereford Assizes of forging railway tickets: when the census was taken in 1891 he was in Hereford prison and Harriet was at the Bridge toll house with a young niece.  This toll house remained Matthew and Harriet Goodden’s home: they are recorded there in the census of 1901.

A disputed bank account

During his life Matthew Goodden sought to make financial provision for  his family. He was regarded as a man who “saved money in every possible way” and was reported to have accumulated between £7,000 and £8,000.   He did not make a will but sought to avoid death duties by depositing money in the names of his two surviving sons, Edwin and Robert, his daughter Clara, and his “wife” Harriet.  After his death in 1903 the money in one bank account, about £750, was a matter of dispute between Harriett Goodden and Clara Gwatkin, a dispute given added force by Clara Gwatkin’s objection to Harriet Goodden’s intention to marry Matthew Goodden’s brother Robert Goodden.  This marriage did take place about ten weeks after Matthew Goodden‘s death. The dispute about the deposited money was contested at a hearing at Monmouthshire Assizes in 1904. The evidence given in court, reported in several newspapers, included much detail about the sequence of events of Matthew Goodden’s life, detail which has informed this post.

Sources:

The major newspaper reports cited are:

(available via The British Newspaper Archive)

  • ‘Heartless Case of Seduction’ Cheltenham Examiner, 28 February 1866 (with similar text in: ‘Extraordinary Revelations in a County Court’ Birmingham Daily Gazette, 26 February 1866)
  • ‘Astounding Claim: Goodden v Brettell’ County Advertiser & Herald for Staffordshire and Worcestershire, 21 August 1875

(available the Welsh Newspapers website of the National Library of Wales)

  • ‘Old Man and His Money Abergavenny Family Dispute Remarkable Case Recalled Strange Story at Monmouth Assizes’ Cardiff Times and South Wales Weekly News, 27 February 1904

See also

A family historian has included a photograph of Matthew Goodden in their family tree on Geni.com, taken from Elizabeth Jack’s CD Victorian Prisoners of Gloucester Gaol: A Rogue’s Gallery (Gloucestershire Family History Society).

 

 

Newspapers

A guide to the uses of local newspapers and where to find them (updated Jul 2020).

From the 18th century to the present day, newspapers are an invaluable source of information for family and social historians: births, marriages, deaths, advertisements, crime, coroners’ reports, sports and entertainments, elections, farm and property sales, bankruptcies, disasters, scandals, and the price of fish are all reflected in their pages.

By the end of the 19th century, 94 Derbyshire newspapers had been published and you can read most of them in Derbyshire libraries and/or Derbyshire Record Office.  Click here for a list of the main titles and where you can access them.

Most of titles are on microfilm, apart from very recent issues of current newspapers.  Please contact the relevant library or Derbyshire Record Office in advance to book a microfilm machine, and please let us know if you require a printing facility.   We have a partial index to the Matlock Mercury and The Derbyshire Times from the late 1980s, but most newspapers are not indexed so it will usually be necessary to have a firm date for an event or be prepared to search through the microfilmed newspapers.

Free access to the British Newspaper Archive is available at the record office and all Derbyshire Libraries.  This site includes many local titles including The Derbyshire Times.  You can also search for free and then use the reference given to look the article up on our microfilms.

A word of warning: most of these sites use OCR (Optical Character Recognition), rather than human indexing, so you need to think laterally and use different search terms for the same thing to maximise results.

We also hold files of local newscuttings from the 1960s to 2015 which are currently being digitised, and will soon be available via our onsite computers.

History of the newspaper

The first English “newspaper” was perhaps the “Trewe Encounter” of 1513, reporting on the Battle of Flodden.  Local news pamphlets about unusual events “where it rayned wheat the space of six or seven miles” continued to appear, as did “corantos” of news published abroad, but the Civil War during the 1640s gave the newspaper its first real start, as hunger for news of the struggle combined with greater freedom of the press. Provincial papers began with the Norwich Press in 1701, though stamp duty made newspapers expensive and they were often read in coffee houses rather than bought for reading at home.  Stamp duty continued to restrict expansion until it was repealed in 1855.  Increased literacy, better printing technology, railways and the electric telegraph all powered the growth of national and local newspapers.  Early newspapers contained mainly national and foreign news and very little illustration, but by the late 19th century drawings and even photographs were becoming more common.

Derbyshire newspapers

The first Derbyshire newspaper was the Derby Postman in 1721, followed by the Derby Mercury in 1731.  Chesterfield is well represented by the Derbyshire Times from 1854 and the more radical Derbyshire Courier from 1831.  For early news, check all available county titles; later coverage is both wider and more in-depth, so check the title for a specific area first.  However, not all the local variant editions, for example of the Derbyshire Times, have survived.  It is not always easy to pinpoint the title you will need for a particular town or village, so do ask us for advice if you’re not sure.

Some areas may be better covered by non-Derbyshire titles, for example the Burton Mail for Swadlincote (a good run of which is available at The Magic Attic) or Nottinghamshire papers for the east of the county (see Nottinghamshire’s Inspire Culture) – use the Newsplan database online to find out titles held at libraries across the East Midlands.   The British Library also holds copies of most titles.

What you can expect to find

Apart from births, marriages, and deaths, ancestors are more likely to have “got into the papers” by wrongdoing, or witnessing wrongdoing.  Court cases were reported with relish, especially murders.  Most coroners’ reports only survive in newspapers.  If your ancestor ran a business they may also feature, including advertisements.  Social historians will find the growth of railways and canals, the rise and fall of companies, strikes and many social trends.  Road accidents, war news including deaths, prizes, sporting events and sales of all kinds may be reported.

The official Government newspaper, the London Gazette, contains a wealth of historical information including bankruptcies, and is free to view online.

Further reading
  • Chapman (1993) Using newspapers and periodicals
  • DFHS (2004) A Derbyshire medley: lists of Derbyshire people from newspapers… [CD]
  • Gibson (2011) Local newspapers 1750-1920
  • Gordon (2007) Local newspapers in Derbyshire libraries
  • McLaughlin (2000) Family history from newspapers
  • Murphy (1991) Newspapers and local history
Shocking ancestral find from the Derby Mercury, 23 October 1878

Derbyshire Probate: Wills and Administrations

A guide to locating Derbyshire wills and administrations 

A Will is a legal document by which a person outlines their wishes for how their property and estate should be managed, divided or disposed of after death.

Letters of Adminstration/Admon were granted to an administrator where a person died intestate, i.e. without making a valid will.  The Letters are granted by the court of probate.

Probate is the process by which a will is proved to be legal and valid and confirms that the executor or administrator can begin fulfilling the wishes of the deceased as outlined in the will.

Wills would usually have been proved by the court or registry covering the county where the biggest proportion of property was owned, but is also affected by where the person died and how much their estate was worth.

When searching for or obtaining a copy of a will, it is usually the probate copy that survives, i.e. the copy that has been proved to be legal by the relevant court.  This means it is not the original as dictated or possibly written by the individual, very few of these survive, and without comparison to the probate copy there is no way to know whether it was the final and therefore legally valid will.

Probate before 1858

Before 1858, proving wills and granting letters of administration was an ecclesiastical responsibility.  Derbyshire was not a Diocese in its own right until 1927, but was part of the Diocese of Lichfield and Coventry until 1884 (then the Diocese of Southwell to 1927).  Therefore, most pre-1858 Derbyshire wills are held at Staffordshire Record Office and wills proved in the Consistory Court of Lichfield from c1520 are available online through Find My Past.

Wills of persons holding property in more than one diocese would have been proved in one of the two Prerogative Courts depending on where their property was located.  The Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC) wills (including those proved 1653-1660 in a court of civil commission which transacted all testamentary jurisdiction during the Commonwealth) are held at The National Archives.  Many of these wills, including over 1 million from the Prerogative Court of Canterbury can be searched and viewed online: www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/help-with-your-research/research-guides/wills-1384-1858.  For information about the wills proved at the Prerogative Court of York, please see the Borthwick Institute website.

A small number of Derbyshire wills before 1858 (usually originals that do not record a note of probate) are available in the archive collections, often amongst bundles of title deeds.  Search the online catalogue, using the ‘AnyText’ field – search for the full name in the first instance, with the parish of residence if necessary.

Derbyshire 1858-1928

Since 1858, proving wills (and granting letters of administration) has been a civil responsibility.  In Derbyshire, this work was carried out by Derby Probate Registry until 1928 when the Derby office was closed.

The Record Office holds the Probate Books which include copies of all the wills proved at the Derby District Probate Registry between 1858 and 1928, and and letters of administration granted to 1875.

Search the online catalogue entering the person’s name in the ‘Any Text’ field and D96/* in the ‘RefNo’ field.  The catalogue entry gives the name of the testator, the year the will was proved (note, this is not necessarily the same as the year of death), place of abode and the total number of pages.  The reference number includes the first page number of the will within the book.  The catalogue entry also includes the reference number for the DVD or microfilm that the will can be viewed on.

UK after 1858, including Derbyshire after 1928

Following changes within the Probate Service in the last few years, all wills and administrations from 1858 are available to search and purchase through www.gov.uk/wills-probate-inheritance. This includes all wills from 1858, including for Derbyshire.

Further Reading

Census Returns

A guide to the census returns for England and Wales, 1841-1911; with invaluable information for family and social historians, especially when used with other resources like maps and directories.

Historical background

By the late 18th century the Industrial Revolution had resulted in great changes in employment and population movement. Governments wanted greater knowledge of their populations for military, economic and social planning. The first UK census was taken in 1801, though along with the censuses of 1811, 1821 and 1831 this contained mainly statistical information. Most of these returns were destroyed, and only a few local copies have survived in archives (including a few Derbyshire parishes) or in newspaper reports. Most of these early censuses are of limited value to the family historian, being without names of inhabitants. The England and Wales census has continued to be taken every 10 years. The 100-year rule applies with regards to access, meaning the 1921 census cannot be viewed until 2022.

Dates taken

It’s important to remember that the census only gives a snapshot of a given place on a given Sunday evening in spring, once every ten years (see dates below). People were expected to be mainly at home, but remember that your ancestor could be away from home that night, visiting or working elsewhere.

  • 1841: 7 June
  • 1851: 30 March
  • 1861: 7 April
  • 1871: 2 April
  • 1881: 3 April
  • 1891: 5 April
  • 1901: 31 March
  • 1911: 2 April
What you can expect to find

Names, ages and relationships of family members; addresses in some cases; occupations; birthplaces. Sometimes the wife’s maiden name can be inferred. Human error is there at every stage of the process: what the householder told the enumerator; what he heard; what was copied into the books; and importantly, the indexing: there are many mistakes in the online indexes. Keep an open mind and use lateral thinking and alternative spellings. Full addresses are often not given, especially in smaller places or in earlier censuses, but there is a description of the parts of the parish covered at the start of each section. The Schedule Number in the first column should not be read as a house number; it is a rolling enumeration household by household. Street indexes are available for larger towns, plus some locally-compiled name indexes.

The 1841 census gives much less information than the others and does not include the relationship to head of household (this has to be inferred) or the birthplace (only a yes/no answer to the question “born in same county?”).  Ages over 15 tend to be approximate; and it contains many people born in the 18th century.  From 1851, in addition to the relationship to head of household and birthplace, the census also includes a note about any disabilities.  More detailed addresses tend to be included from 1901 depending on the size of the town/village in question.

From 1911, there is one page per household (plus a cover page) and the householder themselves usually completed the form so you can now see your ancestor’s handwriting.  The return also now gives number of years married, number of children born, including those who have died. Note: some women abstained in protest over lack of the vote.

How to access the returns online

All public computers in Derbyshire Libraries and the Record Office have free access to Ancestry and Find My Past, which both provide access to the England and Wales census returns 1841-1911, including a digital copy of the original page. The emphasis is on searching by surname, though Ancestry also has a county/civil parish browsing option and for some years Find My Past has an address search facility. For Scotland only a transcript is included, there are no images. Ancestry also includes census returns for the USA and Canada; Find My Past for Ireland, USA, Australia and New Zealand.

Derbyshire returns for 1841-1901 can also be accessed on microfilm. The place name card index to help you find the right reel. It is advisable to book a microfilm reader in advance as space is limited. For social historians wanting an overview of a locality, its employment, population and so on, microfilm can be a quicker option than waiting for each page to download online, and internet sites tend to assume you want to search by name.

Modern census and the 1939 Register

The UK census continued to be taken every ten years; unfortunately the 1931 returns were accidentally destroyed by fire in the 1940s and no return was made in 1941 due to World War II (see 1939 below). Personal information cannot be viewed until 100 years have elapsed. However, the Local Studies Library has some statistical information for Derbyshire from 1921 to 2001 (2001 has individual printouts for each parish), and statistics for 2011 can be viewed online at http://observatory.derbyshire.gov.uk; this site also includes mid-year population projections.

The 1939 National Register was taken as an emergency measure at the outbreak of World War II. It is available online via Find My Past and Ancestry, though records of people younger than 100 and still alive, or who died after 1991 are officially closed.

Other sources similar to the census

Published transcripts for the Domesday Book, 1086; Derbyshire Feet of Fines, 1323-1546 and Hearth Tax Returns, 1662-1670 are available in Local Studies, as is the 1851 Religious Census (on microfilm for Derbyshire only). Original muster rolls for the militia, 18th-19th centuries, and the “Domesday” Valuation Office Survey of 1911 are available via the archive search room.

Further Reading: a few books to help you
  • Christian, Peter (2014) Census: the expert guide
  • Jolly, Emma (2013) Tracing your ancestors using the census
  • Levitan, Katherine (2011) A cultural history of the British census

See also The National Archives guides to the census and 1939 register.

Lockdown Stories: What work can we do without access to our collections?

Well the answer to that is quite a lot actually. One of the tasks that I have been given/been volunteered for (?), has been responding to the email enquiries that have been received by the office during this unusual time.

As you can imagine, the number of enquiries at the beginning of lockdown was quite small. I, along with most of the population, I would think, thought this situation would probably last a few weeks and everyone thought they could wait that long for any information they required. However, as time has gone on the enquiries have started to increase in number, and a few people have found that, even though we are all staying at home, there are some things that just cannot wait! Several of the enquiries are from people needing copies of documents for legal purposes and one enquiry was from someone who needed a copy of their baptism certificate for their wedding to take place in August. As all Record Office staff are working from home without access to the collections and all the finding aids, we are striving to reply to enquiries as fully as we possibly can under the circumstances, but I should stress that we are very far from business as usual. We have very limited access to the building currently, just for security purposes and to check, for example, the humidity levels to ensure the documents are stored in optimum conditions, especially during the incredibly sunny couple of months we’ve just experienced!

Unsurprisingly, many of the enquiries have been from people who have taken up or have decided to re-visit their family history and are trying to solve that elusive family connection. One of our researchers has even traced her family back to 1044 (a very unusual occurrence!).

House history has also proven to be very popular (unsurprising since we are all spending so much time there at the moment!). Fortunately, there are many online resources available to whet your appetite, until such times as we are able to access the collections at the office again.

Hopefully, the Research Guides we have been publishing on the blog are proving useful to both novice and experienced researchers.

One of the more unusual enquiries we have received was from someone trying to find out the place and date of death for an Arthur Rodgers, who was born in Derbyshire on February 18, 1885. Apparently, Arthur was a footballer for Nottingham Forest, and, later, Turin FC. Unfortunately, I had to refer the enquirer to the General Register Office, as I am sure many of you are already aware, Derbyshire Record Office doesn’t hold copies of birth or death certificates.

A lot of the enquiries have been from overseas researchers, one, for example, looking for the reason an ancestor was transported in the 19th century and another, looking much more recently, for their parents records at St Christopher’s Railway Servants Orphanage in Derby.

As you can see, I certainly haven’t been bored whilst locked away in my makeshift office (spare bedroom!). Responding to your enquiries has kept me intrigued, entertained and above all still in touch with our researchers. I look forward to continuing to try and assist with your research and, hopefully, in the not too distant future, once public health restrictions allow, to meeting you in person at the Record Office.

Anne Lawley, Assistant in Charge

Electoral Registers

A guide to the collections at Derbyshire Record Office.

First produced in 1832, electoral registers are a record of all those persons entitled to vote at parliamentary, local and parochial elections.

They are a useful tool for family historians looking for the addresses of their ancestors, for house historians looking to see previous occupiers of their property, and local historians interested in the residential development of a particular area.

What is available

Derbyshire electoral registers are available between 1832 and 1999. For registers after 1999, please contact the relevant district or borough council. Registers were produced annually from 1835, except:

  • 1916 and 1917, due to World War One
  • 1940-1944, due to World War Two; registers were produced in 1945 or 1946 for a particular district, not both
  • 1919-1929, when two registers were produced, one in the Spring and one in the Autumn.

Registers covering Derby borough (later city) are available up to 1900 only (for registers after this date, please contact the Derby Local Studies and Family History Library). There is an incomplete run of registers for the borough of Chesterfield – Chesterfield Library holds a complete run from 1974.

Finding the Right Register

Between 1832 and 1867, Derbyshire was divided into two electoral divisions, North and South; each then sub-divided into smaller polling districts. The districts have changed many times since 1867 and it is essential to know which division covered the place in which you are interested to be sure you order the correct register.

Details of the electoral registers available can be found via the online catalogue (note the registers themselves cannot be seen online). You can also Search the Catalogue to find the results for the place you are interested in:

  • Reference Number: ER/*
  • Any Text: enter the place name you are interested in (we recommend using the parish name)
  • Date: if you have a particular date in mind, e.g. 1876 or 1920-1935

The full reference number of each volume will include an abbreviation for the division and the date, e.g. ER/ILK/1920. It is this reference you will need to order the relevant register through the search room.

Electoral registers covering 1832-1900 are available on microfiche in the Computer Room, and these original registers will not normally be retrieved in the search room. The microfiche are arranged by year and then by division. It is advisable to search the online catalogue in the first instance to identify the correct division. A hard copy index which includes the microfiche reference number is also available in the Computer Room.

Using Electoral Registers

The arrangement of electoral registers changes over time, as does the level of detail included. Before 1918, only registers covering larger towns such as Derby and Chesterfield will include specific addresses. In these cases, the information is generally arranged alphabetically by street name within each polling district. Other registers tend to be arranged alphabetically by surname, which is generally very handy for family historians, but less so for house historians.

Particularly after 1948, identifying which polling district a specific street is in does become more problematic, and there are some streets that have one side in one district and the other side in another district. There are even some streets where the two sides are in entirely different divisions. In the absence of street indexes (which may be available for some divisions from the late 1980s), it is advisable to search all relevant districts to identify the street.

Remember, the right to vote (enfranchisement) was extended to various categories at different times during the 19th and 20th centuries. Not finding an individual or a property does not always mean that they or it was not there.

Timeline of Voting Entitlements for Parliamentary Elections
  • 1832: Great Reform Act – Men over the age of 21 years, and who either owned property worth at least £10, or who occupied land worth between £2 and £5, or were tenants paying rent of £50 per annum.
  • 1867: Second Reform Act – Extended to men over the age of 21 years, and who owned property worth at least £5.
  • 1884: Third Reform Act – Extended to freeholders of inherited land (or land acquired by marriage) worth 40s; freeholders of any land worth £5. 60% of male householders over the age of 21 now have the vote.
  • 1918: Representation of the People Act – property qualifications abolished meaning the franchise is extended to all men. Women over 30 also enfranchised if they also own property, are a University graduate, or a member of (or married to a member of) the Local Government Register (a record of persons paying property taxes).
  • 1928: Representation of the People (Equal Franchise) Act – Franchise extended to women over the age of 21, on equal terms with men.
  • 1971: Registration of the People Act (1969) – Voting age for all citizens reduced to 18 years.
Absent and Service Voters’ Lists

Due to the First and Second World Wars, at the calling of the 1918 and 1945 elections, many citizens were not resident at home as they were serving in the military. For this reason, Absent Voters registers (known as Service Registers after the Second World War) were produced. Derbyshire Absent Voters Lists for 1918 have survived only for the Chesterfield, Ilkeston and Western electoral divisions – follow the links for each division to download PDFs of the original registers.  Service registers for May 1945 are held for the following divisions: Belper, Bolsover, Chesterfield, Derby City, Ilkeston and High Peak. Service registers for October 1946 are held for all divisions.

Poll Books

Before the Secret Ballot Act of 1872, poll books were produced recording how individual electors voted.  Sometimes the cause of eligibility (such as residence, burgess/freeman) is also included.  Books for disputed elections 1768-1869 can be accessed in the search room (Ref: Q/RE/2/1-93). A number of other poll books survive elsewhere among both the archives and local studies collections.

Further Reading

There are a number of articles available concerning electoral registers for family history (please see the local studies card catalogue for specific details). Jeremy Gibson’s Electoral Registers 1832-1948 (published 2008) contains useful information about content of registers and voting entitlements.

Bishops’ Transcripts

A guide to finding Bishops’ Transcripts for Derbyshire and how they can help family historians.

What are Bishops’ Transcripts?

In 1598, parishes were ordered to send an annual copy of all baptisms, marriages and burials for the year to the church authorities.  These returns are known as ‘Bishop’s Transcripts’, or BTs for short, and continued to be made until the late 19th century, although there were lapses in local diligence in sending the returns.

Why are Bishops’ Transcripts useful?

The BTs can be very useful when the original registers are hard to read or if a register is missing (for example, early Bolsover registers are missing following a fire in the 1960s).  Both Bishop’s Transcripts and parish registers can contain entries not found in the other.

Draft registers were often used for compiling both the register and the Bishop’s Transcript. Discrepancies arose and there can be differences in dates, surnames and given names.

Bishops’ Transcripts for Derbyshire

Derbyshire was part of the Diocese of Lichfield until the middle of the 19th century, so the Bishops Transcripts were kept with the Diocesan archives Lichfield Record Office, now part of Staffordshire Record Office. Contact Staffordshire Record Office for guidance on accessing and consulting the BTs.

With the exception of a few parishes, the earliest transcripts survive only from the 1660s, traditionally thought to be as a result of loss during the Civil War and the Commonwealth period.

There is no uniform cut-off date for the transcripts of baptisms and burials and these can cease at any time between the 1830s and 1880s.  Marriages are rarely included after 1837.

Further Reading
  • Jeremy Gibson Bishops’ Transcripts and Marriage Licences, Bonds and Allegations: A guide to their locations and indexes – available in the Computer Room