Treasure 48: Erasmus Darwin’s prescription notebooks

These notebooks are a series of medical practice records, covering the 1740s to 1780s.  Each entry deals with an individual patient, recording symptoms and treatment. It’s clear that there is more than one style of handwriting in the books, but we believe the later entries to be the work of Erasmus Darwin (1731-1802) who moved to Derby in 1783.

They are nominated by our Assistant Conservator, Clare, who repaired them over the course of a year – all 1316 pages!  Clare says: “It was an extremely satisfying project to do even if there were occasions when I was still repairing them in my sleep…”

Here’s what was prescribed for Thomas Bamford of Ticknall, who was suffering from cramps:


Two drachms of Gammoniacum To ss. pint of penny royal water.  Two spoonfulls occasionally repeated.  January the 15th.  When the pains return to loose some blood, and then take at one dose a Quarter of a Pint of common Sallad oil, after an hour or two if the pain continues.  Take one Pill, and repeat it every hour till the pain ceases or till he has taken four.

At the intervals of his pain he should take one of the 2nd Box Pills every nights.

Small beer posset drink made by mixing equal parts of beer and milk warm, then taking off the Curd and 15 Drops of Laudanum in it every night.  Jan[uary] 27th Six powders Rhubarb 15 grs. Ginger.  19. Infusion. z ii Marshmallow root boild to one

Archives at the Abbey: 1 (un)stately home, 4 boxes, 8 hours, 600 visitors (well almost)

It was the busiest weekend I think we have ever had for staff from the record office, you have already heard about how we popped up at the Wirksworth Festival, which sounded amazing. I couldn’t make it along myself as I went along to Calke Abbey, home of the Harpur-Crewe family, with a small selection of original archives from their large collection (ref: D2375).

Oh my God! I can really touch it?! Oh my God!

It’s mouth watering stuff – are you putting up beds? I could stay all night. It’s wonderful

With over 580 visitors over just two afternoons, we were thrilled with how much people enjoyed handling the original material and amazed at some of the things they found out. Continue reading

Another day in the life of…

I may have been a bit eager to get the next instalment of ‘a day in the life of…’ written, as back at the beginning of November I did promise that another would follow in December, well we’ve hit 1 December so here it is.

It felt like we probably had an ever so slightly busier day yesterday than last time, with more customers visiting the search room (and local studies who I know had a very busy yesterday). However, as I looked back at our statistics we didn’t actually retrieve as many documents from the stores as the previous day I blogged about. It is often the case that more people in the search room does not necessarily mean more documents being requested (and vice versa with fewer people and a higher number of document orders) – this usually depends on the documents themselves and the information they contain, for example is it a document that is quick to look at or needs some time to be read and considered. Yesterday, the main reason for difference is that three of the customers each spent a few hours in the search room, looking at only two documents each. Although not all working together, they were all consulting the documents in great detail in order to make accurate transcripts that can then be used to obtain the same information without necessarily consulting the original document – which also helps us to protect the document by reducing handling.

We also had visits from people researching the geography and buildings in Duffield, two colleagues from the Legal Services team investigating the history and status of a particular road in the Peak District (see them hard at work below), a regular customer and researcher with various interests, this time looking at Methodist records, a new customer looking for an ancestor in the school admission register, as well as others who have visited for reasons that I do not know…

As before, here are the rest of my snaps from the day showing the range of resources used (click on an image for a full description)

A day at the archive issue desk…

Every day the search room staff produce a wide range of documents, differing not only in the information they provide, but also the dates they were created, how and why they were created, how and why they will be used. All documents are collected and returned through the issue desk so we can ensure the best protection and security possible during access. As part of this procedure, all our visitors must order the documents required so that we can retrieve the correct item from the stores, sign to say they have received the document, initial to say they have returned it, and a staff member must sign to say they have returned it to the stores.

The gallery below includes many of the documents that were requested and consulted on one particular day last month (Tuesday 13 October). On that day, we had visits from:

  • a county council colleague working in the legal services department
  • an Australian lady trying to find a photograph (unsuccessfully) and other information (successfully) about a criminal ancestor
  • a medieval historian searching for clues about land ownership in Eggington
  • a budding local historian interested in that peculiarly Derbyshire tradition of well-dressings
  • a second family historian searching for the father’s name of one of her ancestors who was born a bastard in 1818
  • a third family historian endeavouring to discover the exact grave location of an ancestor buried at St Oswald’s church in Ashbourne
  • a National Trust volunteer from Calke Abbey looking for various bits of information relating to the house and the Harpur Crewe family for a new learning resources being developed there.

Not  all our visitors go away satisfied with what they have found out, sometimes because they were expecting to find something else, and sometimes because the records didn’t actually give them an answer at all. However, it is very rare that we have that we have visitors who have not enjoyed the experience of searching through and handling the archives. Often they have to test their skills of reading old handwriting (and the archivist’s skills sometimes too!). Usually they unintentionally discover how different records were created and kept at different times and in different places – for example, it is extremely uncommon to find a record of where in a churchyard a particular grave is located, but there are some churches or vicars that did record this information.

Another day in the life of the issue desk coming next month…

Preservation volunteers are go!

Back in May I mentioned that we were looking for preservation volunteers to help us clean and package the Calke Abbey archive – I’m happy to report that we now have two very dedicated volunteers who come in every Thursday afternoon.


Our volunteers in action

Our volunteers in action

Linda recently retired and was looking for a volunteering opportunity that would suit her interests, when Derby Local Studies Library suggested us. The fact that our current project deals with the archive of Calke Abbey is an added bonus for her, as she lives near the house and knows it well. Jennifer joined in order to learn new skills and because she has a passion for history and genealogy; she’s very pleased she can now help preserve the past.

We’re extremely grateful to both for all the work they’ve already done and will do in the months (even years!) to come. As you can see, there’s enough room for two more volunteers to join the project, so if you think this is something you might be interested in, you can find more details here.


Looking for preservation volunteers…

Would you like to help us look after Derbyshire’s history in a very direct and hands-on way?  If you have lots of patience, enjoy working delicately and precisely and are available on Thursday afternoons, this could be the project for you.  You may have seen previous posts by Neil about the work he’s doing regarding the archive of the Harpur Crewe family of Calke Abbey; we are now starting a volunteer project to clean and package this very large collection.  We are hoping to recruit up to six volunteers to work together on Thursday afternoons to clean off the dust, remove rusty staples and paperclips, put photographs in archival sleeves, sew protective pouches for the seals of medieval documents and pretty much do anything else the collection needs.  The photographs below give an idea of the variety of items contained in this collection, which range from the 14th to the 20th century, but if you’d like to know more details about the contents of the archive, you can follow this link to our catalogue: D2375

Bundle of 20th century documents

Bundle of 20th century documents

Envelope with 19th century contents

Envelope with 19th century contents

Envelope with stamps

Envelope with stamps

Early medieval deeds

Early medieval deeds

If you would like to know more about this project, please have a look on, then select ‘Services’ and ‘Volunteering’.  At the bottom of the page you will see the profile for Derbyshire Record Office Preservation Volunteers; the page also has details on how to contact us to express an interest in joining the project.

Meanwhile do keep an eye out for an upcoming post by Neil about the latest exhibition in our Vitrine Wall showing the artistic side of the family: Art and the Harpur Crewes.

D2375 Harpur Crewe archive list now online

Scaddows plan, 1829

Scaddows plan, 1829

As you may know, we are beavering away at the job of getting all of the lists that describe our archive holdings into our online catalogue, so that people can find out about our collections from home. We still haven’t finished – but we have dealt with the most notable omission from the database, viz. the Harpur Crewe collection, D2375. The work, involving re-typing and re-formatting scanned copies of the paper list, has been done by volunteers for the National Trust, based at Calke Abbey. (I was left with the easy bit, which involved wrestling with spreadsheets and a database for a day or two.) We are immensely grateful to them for their perseverence and hard work.

To mark the occasion, here is a plan dating from 1829, showing a place in Ticknall called Scaddows. It’s now a fruit farm with its own website, Notice how the spelling has changed? We deal with this by using the original spelling in our descriptions, but the modern spelling in square brackets so that you can still search for it online. But if you aren’t sure how something is spelled, you can always use an asterisk as a wildcard. For instance, if you were searching for this map, you would start by going to and clicking “our records”, then “catalogue”; you would put D2375* in the RefNo field, and Scad* in Anytext. After you hit Search, the database would pick out anything in collection D2375 that contained those four letters at the start of a word. Give it a try if you like. And if you, like those kind people at Calke, are handy with word-processing software and like the idea of helping to make Derbyshire’s history that bit more accessible, do consider joining the FindersKeepers project. It’s all about volunteering from home, which means you can do it in your own time. Have a look at if you are thinking of signing up.