Langwith Colliery and its disputes with the War Department

Before building started for a secret munitions factory at Langwith in September 1915, the area was already home to Langwith Colliery owned by the Sheepbridge Coal & Iron Company and the Langwith By-Product Plant. With these places of industry already in existence, it is easy to see how disputes could arise with the War Department’s decision to build a munitions factory. The reason for the location was because of the By-Product plant that produced the gas the factory would need for the chemicals produced for the sea mines used during the First World War, as well as its closeness to the London, Midland and Scottish Railway that already served these neighbouring industries.

It was the coal mining industry in the local area that had first established a need for the railway. Following the construction of the factory, it was used to take workers on special trains to the new factory. This was another source of contention with the local industries who saw the factory as a means of taking away their workforce. It had around 800-1100 staff working there and many travelled in, some from as far away as Kirkby-in-Ashfield. The workers were paid on average £3 a week, a lot more than other industries were offering. With these types of wages, many women sought munitions work as a means to improve their own standard of living and it was seen as an acceptable way for working class women to do war work in a way that they were usually excluded from participating in.

Langwith 1975

Part of plan of Langwith Pit Village in N42/1/28/3

The By-Product Plant was given £1145, around £67,500 in today’s money, to purchase the neighbouring 27 acre plot of land on behalf of the War Department from the Earl Bathurst, with the excuse of helping the war effort. Of course the company was less than happy about a rival moving in next door, especially when they had little choice in the matter. Once building started it caused a lot of disruption for the By-Product plant as it went way beyond the deadline of being running by February 1916. The skilled workforce need to build the chemical baths needed for production couldn’t be found. Instead local women and 150 soldiers had to be trained for this. Production eventually started in October 1916 but there were still problems with the chemical process, meaning output was only running at the target levels from June 1917. With the full capacity up and running, the factory produced 2,173 tons of ammonium perchlorate between June 1917 and December 1918.

The local mining industry did somewhat influence life at the munitions factory. It took the example of events and housing provided by local colliery companies but not in quite the same generous ways. Dances open to all locals were provided in the onsite restrooms and housing was built, but only given to the management and chemists working on the site.

After the end of the war, the site gradually reduced production and staff levels until its eventual closure came in 1922. Little was known of the factory’s existence after that, let alone the friction it caused with the Sheepbridge Company, as all workers were forced to abide by the Official Secrets Act. Photographs of the site during its construction were also under this and were not made available at the National Archives until the 1960s or even later. With the closure of the munitions factory, its main source of income, the By-Product Plant decided to cease production and after its closure in 1927, the land was sold to the Sheepbridge Company to expand their workings at Langwith Colliery. It was thought the land was not worth building on and was turned into a tipping site. The building of the former munitions factory was demolished so that the land could be let to a Mr C. Glough to build a smaller factory.

The site of the former munitions factory and neighbouring By-Product Plant is now part of the Poulter Country Park. The people who died in the two serious accidents there are still remembered and one lady in particular, Cicely Eady, has an inscription on her grave stating she “gave her life for her country”.

Bibliography:

Jenkins, D. E., Sheepbridge: A History of the Sheepbridge Coal & Iron Company (Old Whittington: Bannister Publications Ltd, 1995)

‘Langwith Munitions Factory’, https://livesofthefirstworldwar.iwm.org.uk/community/3966

Warrener, T., A History of Langwith, Nether Langwith and Whaley Thorns (Langwith: Design and Print Services, 2008)

Woollacott, A., On Her Lives Depend: Munitions Workers in the Great War (California: University of California Press, 1994)

Logo

Survival Of Archives; Archives Of Survival

In a previous job, I glimpsed the Laycock military papers, among them documents created by Capt. Evelyn Waugh somewhere in the Mediterranean during the Second World War. There was no time to pore over them, as I was just processing a copy order – but it struck me that their survival (complete with scorch marks and water damage) was miraculous, and that so was their creation. In the melee of conflict, there was Waugh armed with a typewriter, setting down the information that others would need.

Whether it’s a literal battle or the current battle against coronavirus, there’s nothing like crisis for putting pressure on those charged with setting down information.  A crisis also reveals starkly how important a resource information is, and how much we rely on its being accurate and available.

One criterion that defines an archive is authenticity. A document in an archive collection was created for reasons that had everything to do with the situation at the time and nothing much to do with us. We are not the intended audience. The primary reader is the writer’s contemporary – a busy person who needs evidence of what has been done and what remains to be done; what has been agreed and what is still up in the air. Succeeding generations may be able to peer over the shoulder of their ancestors, like a rail passenger reading their neighbour’s paper, but this is a happy accident.

It’s an accident so happy, in fact, that we need to make it happen. At Derbyshire Record Office, we try to make it happen by committing ourselves to a management policy which says: “We will respond positively to opportunities for expanding the scope of our collections, to make them more representative of the diverse range of human activity in our county’s history”. There’s quite a range of human activity just now, even in the midst of forced inactivity.

An acquisition strategy is not a new idea. Just look at this 1918 advertisement printed on a ration book in the Ogden Family papers.

D331 1 49_0003

Please note: it’s 1918 and this is on a ration book – the appeal to preserve evidence of the Great War had started, even as war still raged.

Information grows in importance during a crisis, and so does community – even a socially distanced one. Again, this is nothing new. Another episode in Archives I Have Glimpsed While Doing Copying Orders: papers reflecting the efforts of Women’s Institutes to find billets for evacuees during Operation Pied Piper, because there was no government presence large enough or connected enough to do it.

Novels will be written by people quarantined by this outbreak, some of them good.  There will be poems and sculptures and great works of art. Whether good, bad or indifferent, these will be part of an archive of human survival, and we will have to find ways to preserve it. Will there be an archive of the spontaneously-generated COVID-19 community support groups, whose members bring essential supplies to people with a duty to self-isolate? How will we preserve the activities of a neighbourhood interacting over social media? Two key words for a future post: Digital Preservation.

The evidence we leave behind will be the product of people acting under pressure in a rush, like Waugh at his typewriter. But it won’t be structured in the same way as a military archive, or a company archive, or a local authority archive. And we can’t save it all. Some history, perhaps the overwhelming majority of it, will slip through our fingers.

This will be ameliorated by forward-thinking people setting out to document today for the readers of tomorrow – not a happy accident of authenticity, but an act of conscious creation, authentic in its own way. Two examples:

Earlier this month our Local Studies Librarian, Lisa, gave a talk delving into Derbyshire’s past by peering over the shoulder of long-departed residents and visitors, and into their personal diaries. Last week we were contacted by a member of the audience who has been inspired by diaries kept during the war to record her own experience of the current coronavirus situation. Mass Observation, as it is known, was first developed in 1937 and ran until the 1950s and it was restarted in 1981 – the Archive is held at The Keep at the University of Sussex. If you would like to take part in Mass Observation and contribute to the archive, whether in relation to coronavirus or in the future, find out how to Become a Mass Observer online.

An idea that began in Arizona but is going global – a web resource called Journal Of A Plague Year: An Archive of COVID-19. The title, as you spotted, is a nod to Daniel Defoe. Here we find stories, photographs, video files, sound files and, yes, Facebook and Snapchat memes, all selected to help preserve a collective memory. Take, just as a for instance, the snapshot of a New Orleans pizzeria which has hurriedly altered its business model so that boxed food may be passed through an improvised service hatch.  At the time of writing, there are 323 items in the archive, which can be browsed, searched, or picked from a map.  And the map tells me there are no UK contributions yet. How long until that changes, I wonder? Yes, you may take that as a challenge.

Wishing you all good health.

Routes to Derbyshire for refugees in the event of an invasion (1916)

This morning we received an enquiry from the School of Geography at the University of Nottingham asking about any further records we might hold relating to a map in their collection entitled Map Showing Routes for Refugees from Eastern Counties in case of Invasion, which was produced in January 1916 when the threat of an invasion from hostile forces resulted in preparations being made for civilians to be evacuated from coastal areas in the East into the landlocked county of Derbyshire.

View the map and find out more about it in this blog post by Professor Matthew Smallman-Raynor.

In answer to the enquiry, unfortunately, I couldn’t say for certain whether we do hold any records that might provide further information.  However, we hope that further investigation by the team at the University, particularly using the County Council (see ref DCC) and County Constabulary records (see ref D3376) might provide some additional insight into the scheme that fortunately never needed to be put into action.

If you’re interested… we do have a number of records relating to First World War refugees from Belgium (search the catalogue for refugees).

Dronfield 1917 (in 2017)

Last night, while others spending an evening at school may have been watching the typical (or less typical) Christmas nativity, I was privileged to attend Stonelow Junior School to see the year 6 give a dramatic presentation for Dronfield 2017: Stories from the First World War.

For the last 12 months, the pupils have been researching the history of their town and it’s people, including some of soldiers who fought in the war. With funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund and led by the brilliant Gertie and Paul Whitfield from Whitworks Adventures in Theatre, pupils visited different museums, businesses and organisations. In Feb 2017, I visited the school taking a selection of old Dronfield records, photographs and history books to help the pupils with their research.

Posters created by the pupils to show information found from Record Office sources

Informed and inspired by diaries, letters, newspapers, service records, church registers and many other sources, the pupils brought their local “ancestors” to life with poems, songs, a silent movie re-enactment, imagined postcards and letters and recollections from the past. Remembering facts and figures, stories and feelings, it was a fantastic way to present what they had learned – including a verse of Silent Night in the original German.

I couldn’t help but read the pupils project diaries and see what they thought of the Record Office visit…

“… it was a fascinating day I learnt a lot and hope she comes again” – Chloe

“When I was reading I noticed that the writing was squiggly in the log books” – Alexander

“My personal favourite is the church record book. It had in it all the names, birth and their jobs. I felt so privled [?privileged] and excited  to find out what jobs were in 1917. The writing kept going column after column and the writing was big and scary but some of it was so fancy”

You can soon see a copy of the book produced as part of the project in our Local Studies collection and in Dronfield Library.

Treasure 32: the wartime diaries of Maria Gyte

This treasure is nominated by two former members of staff, who have prepared the text used in this post.  Firstly, let’s hear from Glynn, officer for the Derbyshire Lives Through the First World War project:

I am nominating these diaries, not just because they have relevance to my role with the First World War, but because it is what archives are all about. They are a reflection of real life that cannot be understood so well through history books written by someone years later.

Maria Gyte was at the centre life in the village of Sheldon through war and peace. She suffered the greatest loss a mother could with the death of her son, Tony, in France. The diary covering 1917 records the way in which she learned the terrible news through a third party and her repeated sadness that Tony ‘now lies in a foreign grave’.

Treasure 32 M Gyte diary.JPG

Despite the obvious grief and some hardship, one of the great things about the diary is the comic contrasts. After recording the dramatic world events, village life intervenes with the news that ‘Ben Naylor killed Ed Brocklhursts pig (18stone 10lbs)’ and a few days later that they had roast pork for dinner.

Phil, formerly our Caretaker, and latterly a volunteer on the Derbyshire Lives Through the First World War project, writes:

Words have always been very special to me- they convey not just facts, and detail but emotion, subtlety. I love to write as much as I love to read; I garner facts and squirrel them away….

In its awfulness, the Great War was unparalleled in the futility, suffering and loss that it generated. Men, through their sense of duty, freely gave themselves for King and country; they accepted all they were asked to do. That duty ended in ‘No man’s land’ for countless thousands- lives, mostly young- cut short by a bullet, shell, gas or shrapnel. Human beings were cruelly used for such little gain.

Lives in the trenches were often brutally short; so many men simply disappeared into the mud and mayhem of the battlefield. Some so badly wounded, even when brought back to the dressing stations for treatment, survived only to die soon afterwards. One such, a young Private; a farmer’s son, honest, quiet, loved! Tony Gyte; died of wounds one grey November morning in 1917. Passchendaele! One of the by-words for muddy, bloody horror.

We know about Tony because of the love, grief and passion of one woman- Maria Gyte, Tony’s mother, who kept a diary of her thoughts, her day to day trials and tribulations; the mundane the highlights of a hard, but eventful life in the tiny Derbyshire village of Sheldon. The published compilation ‘Diaries of Maria Gyte: 1913-1920’ is without doubt my ‘treasure’ to contribute towards the ’50 Treasures’. It is a book with no equal!

Tony’s final resting place is in one of the very many military cemeteries in Flanders- a fact that distressed Maria immensely for the rest of her life. Maria and Anthony, (Tony’s father) ‘rest’ under the trees in the churchyard of St. Michael and All Angels’ Church, Sheldon. Tony’s short life is commemorated on the gravestone, along with those of his parents and one of his four sisters. The inscriptions and carvings on the stone tell their own moving tale. It was worth the 50 mile round trip to see this most moving of tributes, to feel the connection with the Gyte family, and sense their overwhelming loss….

Two short extracts: 

Aug 4th [1914]

Rather gloomy at times. Men working on the hay (Waterlands).  W[ilia]m mowed croft heads.

Nothing can be talked about but the war. This has come so suddenly…….England has fought for peace but it is feared that she will have to fight as Germany is proving very aggressive…..W[illia]m also mowed Little Butts.

England declared war on Germany.

 

Nov 13th [1917]

Fine. The dreadful news came (officially) that our poor Tony had died in the field ambulance on Nov: 2nd. We are all in a sad way. poor lad it is only six months since he went into training and now killed in the beauty of his manhood……..My poor dear Tony, gone for ever and we shall never see his face any more on this earth.  How shall we bear it?

Advent Calendar – Day 24

Almost there…

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Christmas card painted by John Chaplin, with Edgar Osborne, sent from Palestine in 1917, during World War One (Ref: D5063/3/3)

image

 

 

Inside the card reads:
Palestine 1917
Christmas 1917
Two campaigners send you Greetings, dear Lill
Edgar
John Chaplin

 

 

 

 

Born in Bournemouth in 1890, Edgar Osborne was County Librarian for Derbyshire for 31 years (1923-1954). During World War One Edgar served on the Bulgarian Front and in Palestine, from where he sent this card to Lill, possibly his future wife Mabel Jacobson, whom he married in 1918, not long before the end of the war. Other papers of Edgar’s from this time are available to view online via our catalogue, as part of our WW1 digitisation project. Although not available to read online, this series of papers contains a very moving story about Edgar’s experience in Palestine, including how he spent Christmas Day 1917 (ref: D5063/3/2).

After the war, Edgar resumed his career in librarianship, becoming County Librarian of Derbyshire at the age of just 33. During this time, he introduced new services, such as mobile libraries, and developed his own interests in literature, especially in children’s books – an interest featuring heavily in his archive collection, which also includes Edgar’s diaries written during World War Two and papers relating to his retirement in 1954.

Absent voters list for Ilkeston in 1918 now online

Hello everyone.  I have just this minute updated the catalogue with copies of the absent voters list for the parliamentary constituency of Ilkeston in 1918.  The names you can find inside are those of people who were still enrolled in the armed forces at the end of the war. You can find all three absent voters lists on our catalogue – the others cover Western Derbyshire and Chesterfield.  Click on the one you want to use, and this should open up a catalogue entry with sections of the volume shown as downloadable pdf files.  And that’s it!  No other absent voters lists survive, as far as we know.  (Please let us know if you have heard different.)

Sugar Day

sugar day

We perhaps think of rationing as a World War Two phenomenon, but it was also in force during World War One.

However, it was not introduced until near the end of the war, in 1918, first of all in London and then extending to the rest of the country by the summer.

This postcard is part of my grandfather George Henry Slater’s First World War archive, currently on display at Derbyshire Record Office. It shows a shop in Derby with an eager crowd of housewives outside. I love the little girl turning to frown at the camera; I wonder who she was? Fashions are changing: skirts are shorter and hats less extravagant.

If anyone can identify the shop, we’d love to hear from you.

Meanwhile, do visit our display on George, at Derbyshire Record Office until the end of April.

Sue Peach

Local Studies Librarian

Sue’s Soldier: Tom’s Tree

Sues Soldier image

Another anecdote that we didn’t have room for in our vitrine display is George’s story “Tom’s Tree”. George served in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, and may have been a sniper some of the time, though as my mother said, he never talked much about that aspect. Understandably, picking men off in cold blood was not a popular duty.

My mother had told me “One time there was a German sniper hiding in a shelled-out farmhouse picking our men off one by one. My Dad and his mates hid in a moveable tree stump to retaliate”.  Although this sounds straight out of “Blackadder goes Forth (‘Baldrick, it’s your turn to be the tree’…   ‘But it’s always my turn!’), George did indeed write a short story called Tom’s Tree, which we understand the Illustrated London News published in the mid 20th century, though we haven’t been able to verify this yet. In George’s original, it’s the German who hides in a tree and is spotted by a keen-eyed Yorkshireman who just happens to notice that one particular tree seems to have moved each time you glance in its direction… 

George’s display is on at Derbyshire Record Office until the end of April; do come and pay him a visit.

Sue Peach, Local Studies Librarian

 

Sue’s Soldier: the mystery letter

mystery letter 1915 2

There was so much in George Henry Slater’s World War One memorabilia that we couldn’t display it all in our vitrine wall (Sue’s Soldier: on at Derbyshire Record Office until the end of April)

One of these items is the Mystery Letter. On Buckingham Palace headed notepaper, dated 3rd November 1915, it reads: “The Private Secretary begs to acknowledge the receipt of Mons: G Vermenlen Geelhand de Mergem’s letter of the 2nd inst: which has been submitted to the King, and for which the Private Secretary is commanded by His Majesty to thank Mons: de Mergem”.

We have no idea what this very official-sounding communication is doing in the archive of a humble rifleman’s family, so if anyone can throw any light on it, we’d be most grateful.