What do you have about dwarves in Norse Mythology or the future colonisation of space?

These are just two of the themes I have been looking into yesterday as part of a visit from students at the University of Derby doing a Creative Writing degree. This has now become an annual visit that challenges me every time to come up with items from the collections to inspire and inform the students, as part of an introduction to the opportunities for supporting their work that can be found amongst the archives.

Two of the students had been in touch in advance to advise what their interests were and what they were currently working on. There have been struggles in past years in identifying a selection of documents related to the students’ interests and current projects but when this year I received an email referring to “representations of Dwarfs in Norse myth and perhaps other representations of dwarfs or dwarf-like humans in folklore” and “space, future planet colonisations”. Fortunately, the latter also included a reference to “accounts of colonisation of British colony’s in the words of eye-witnesses”, which is much more what we might expect amongst our collections given the official roles undertaken by a number of Derbyshire gentry in the 18th-20th century (see in particular the Fitzherbert connection in the West Indies;- Gell family in South Africa;- Wilmot-Horton in Ireland and elsewhere).

After an ill-advised search in  the catalogue for ‘space’, which primarily turned up records relating to graveyard spaces, I tried terms such as planet, Mercury, Venus, Mars, solar, lunar, astronomy, etc. which was a little more successful. Knowing the relationships of Derbyshire personalities with The Lunar Society, and of John Flamsteed of Denby, some terms were less successful than I hoped. I also already knew that we had a couple of collections relating to the Rocketry department at Rolls Royce (see D4907 and D5290), so the selection also included a few drawings and lecture notes.  However, I was thrilled to find a reference to the Mars Colony Project of the 1960s amongst papers of the Derby Group of the British Interplanetary Society (ref: D317).  Fortunately, the student in question was also very pleased and fascinated with the selection, learning that whilst the US had plans to colonise the moon, the British (and European) aim was for the colonisation of Mars – obviously neither got very far!

Putting together a selection relating to dwarves and Norse mythology required a little more abstract thinking. Whilst Derbyshire is full of its own myths, legends and folklore, they don’t tend to contain many references to dwarves or Norse traditions. Based on my extremely limited knowledge of such fantasy fiction (primarily as a result of repeated viewings, though never readings, of the Lord of the Rings) the obvious Derbyshire connection was to mining (lead especially) and caving, and mountains. The resulting selection included;-

  • photographs of various Derbyshire lead mines and caves, notably Peak Cavern at Castleton which is particularly famous for Blue John (e.g. D4959, D1502, D869 and a large number from the local studies library, also available on Picture the Past)
  • an 18th century copy of civil war era lead mining customs and laws (D7676/Bagc/550)
  • a recipe for “spring mountain wine” (D307/H/28/1) – although the catalogue entry had read ?strong, which might have been more dwarf-like
  • several illustrations and caricatures by George Murgatroyd Woodward (1767-1809) of Stanton-by-Dale (ref: D5459).

The group were also fascinated by the people in the Victorian asylum admissions register and what their stories were (ref: D1658/1/5), a Great Seal of Charles I granting a pardon to Francis Leeke in 1639 after he purchased land without permission, (ref: D315/1) and an illustration of woman who grew four sets of horns (ref: D303/30/7). Other students spent time using the online catalogue to search for items relating to Irish immigration and seafaring, and made plans to come back during normal opening hours to pursue their own interests and research.

I look forward to hearing and reading what they come up with. It was good to hear from their lecturer that after last year’s visits one of the students who was interested in pirates on the high seas wrote a book partly inspired by records she consulted at DRO particularly relating to an individual who chased pirates across the seas – unfortunately I don’t have any details of the records she consulted, but we do hope to add a copy of the published book to our Local Authors collection in due course.

A busy week with some interesting finds

As you may know we are constantly adding “new” material to our collections (some of it new, i.e. recent, especially in local studies, and some of it much older). It is rare to go more than 3 or 4 days without accessioning new material, this was a little exceptional though with 7 new and additional  archive deposits and gifts in just 2 days.

Some of this was fairly typical of the material we take in on a regular basis, for example, late 20th and early 21st century school governors minutes. Some was was a little less typical and I got a little excitable as I looked through these new accessions to produce a summary for the official receipt and online catalogue.

One of the key professional duties of an archivist is to undertake an initial assessment of material that is being offered (whether it is being offered as a donation or a deposit, where the organisation offering the records remains the owner and the Record Office acts acts the custodian). We then summarise and describe the records and record in our database where the material has come from. This is known as as the accessioning process, and also involves assigning a running number to each new accession in addition to giving it a catalogue collection number. If we already have other records relating to the same collection (for example, in the case of a parish, school or business), we use the existing “D” reference number. If this is the first accession of material for a particular collection it is also assigned the next “D” reference (we have almost reached D8000 by the way).

Once we have entered all the necessary information into the database (which may also include information about access restrictions and copyright, amongst other things), we produce an Accession Receipt for the donor/depositor to sign along with the duty archivist. Both parties then each have a copy of the receipt.

Screenshot of our internal database for recording accessions and catalogues, showing list of accessions received on 14 July 2016

The next stage is to add information about the new accession to our online catalogue so that people know what we have. Very occasionally, if the new accession is quite small and individual records easily identified, we can add individual catalogue entries for each record and assign it a unique reference number. I was actually able able to do this on two occasions this week, for new material that came in from the Parish of Draycott and a separate accession from Ilkeston St Marys Mothers’ Union.

When it is not possible for this to happen a summary of the new accession is added under ‘Description’ at home collection level entry on the catalogue until full cataloguing and number if can take place in the future. This is what I have done with the rest of the new accessions received last week.

So what new accessions did we receive this week? Can you guess which ones I was particularly excited about?

On Monday, two boxes of governors records arrived from Aston-on-Trent Primary School (ref: D6701) this was by far the largest deposit and contained a large number of documents that are not required or considered appropriate for permanent preservation in the archives. I undertook an initial assessment of which files contained archive material, returning those that didn’t to the school this week. The remaining files have now gone to be processed by our Records Assistants, checked, boxed and added to our archive strongrooms. However, as only the initial assessment has yet been completed, further appraisal will be required to identify other material within the files not appropriate for permanent preservation – for example there are a number of duplicates of items and publications from other bodies that do not relate to the school.

On Thursday, the first to arrive were were the minutes and reports from the Ilkeston St Marys Mothers’ Union, which sadly disbanded earlier this year. This material has already been fully catalogued and added to the existing collection under the reference D4603. Two deposits were received from the Parish of Wilne with Draycott, including an original Register of Apprentices for Draycott, 1804-1816 (ref: D2513/5), an apparently very comprehensive survey and valuation of the whole of Draycott, including names of owners and occupiers, produced by William Cox in 1810 (ref: D2513/6) – see images below.

The deposit for Wilne (the mother church to Draycott) was much larger and generally much more recent, including for example, Parochial Church Council minutes 1993-2004, inspection reports, inventories of 1908 and 1935 and papers relating to various works and improvements undertaken between the 1950s and 2000s  (although these latter files will be appraised further as part of the cataloguing process – see my post in February “to keep or not to keep”) – ref: D2513. The star of the accession was undoubtedly the addition of the parish copy of the Wilne Tithe Map and Award of 1847-1848. Although we already hold the Diocesan copy of these important and incredibly useful records, Wilne was one of the few Derbyshire parishes for which we were not also protecting and preserving the parish copy. Nevertheless, the parish had clearly been taking good care of it as it is in very good condition:

Parish copy of the Wilne Tithe Map and Award 1847-1848 (D2513)

We also took in a small collection of printed items (see picture above), with a couple of photographs and news cuttings, relating to William Rhodes Junior School (later, and now, Primary School), donated by a friend and former colleague of the teacher who collected them during her employment there from the late 1960s to her retirement in 1983. Although not yet fully catalogued this material has been added to collection D5234, which also includes log books and admission registers for the infants and juniors from the 1930s.

Finally, we had two donations via the British Cave Research Association Library in Ashbourne. The first consisted of the only collection of material specifically relating to the Peak Forest Mining Company, including letter books and accounts from the late 19th century (ref: D7981). This material had once been in the possession of a past member of the Association (formerly the British Speleological Association), Mr Peter Crabtree, who passed away in 2003. And it was the research and other papers of Mr Crabtree that complete our list of new accessions received  (ref: D7982).