Here is a nice repair job I carried out on one of our Franklin letters, written by John Richardson to John Franklin in July 1823. It was a particularly satisfying one, as this letter originally had a missing corner piece, which amazingly our project archivist Neil had managed to find! After it had been matched up to its rightful home, I re-attached the piece using a wheat starch paste and spider tissue, and filled a hole with handmade repair paper. See the results below – it just goes to show how easy it is to lose information when paper becomes damaged, but luckily this time we could help!
This letter (D5605/2/6) was written by a medic, Congreve Butt, to his brother Revd George Butt, who was vicar of Chesterfield from 1851 until his death in 1888. It was nominated as one of our 50 Treasures by Vicky, a Record Assistant at Derbyshire Record Office, who picked it out for our “Thank You For Your Letter” outreach project in 2009. “I was surprised to find the content of this letter much richer than described in the catalogue entry”, says Vicky. “Although George went onto become a much respected Vicar of Chesterfield we don’t hear directly from the louche doctor again. Relatives say in much later correspondence that he became a ship’s surgeon bound for Calcutta – I just wonder what he got up to there?”
The letter is an entertaining read, but the handwriting is not easy – Vicky’s transcript follows beneath the scanned copy.
Martley [Worcestershire] Nov 4th 1839
My Dear George,
Enclosed in some rough envelopes I have sent you a ham – which I trust will turn out well- and if it will not be unacceptable to you – I have received your two last letters which gave me great satisfaction as I wanted to hear from you having been kept in a long continued state of ignorance as to your state of health and progression in other matters. In fact I have not had any family communication since we met. With the exception of seeing Ewen whom I heard address a jury the other day. He performed his part far better than I could have expected, from the little I heard only at the fag end of the learned counsel’s speech –and I should not be surprised to see him worming his way to some eminence “nator fit” we all know & the youth possesses perseverance – Speaking of orators – what do you think of the poet Kilpins production? I have not yet read it but I have heard some persons speak of it in high terms – Kilpin says you are very amusing and find him matters for his wit – Did you find matter for “the man in the moon ?”
I heard of Lovery lately from the hearths of Wick – I think the second sister is staying in Oxford – Pray tell me if she is, and what you think of her – she took wonderfully with me not so much for her personal appearance as for her good qualities – which were remarkable – I found a strong contrast to some other members of her family . If old Conway Lovery (or rather, young ) is in Oxford pray tell me & remember me to him as I should like him to come a & spend two or three days at Xmas.
As I am now getting established in the opinions of many of my neighbours – and I am progressing as this thinly populated and poor neighbourhood will admit of – I am making enough to keep myself in pocket money & boot leather & not of any fresh debts – having received perhaps £20 altogether – and If I get the remaining £10 in my books paid by Xmas – I think I can strain a point to see an old friend for a day or two – especially as I have been requested to take my friends to some neighbouring families – where I always have a knife & fork & a welcome. Old Captain S when he sees me always sneaks away like a canine animal in a quandary – leaving my circle of acquaintance almost confined to Mrs Sparkes, Mr Kenton, Eginton,& Archy[…]
We have a pleasant curate just arrived. He was at East Garlton in the summer months cooking at the curacy – His name is Davis – he is very gentlemanly – keeps two carriages & preaches extempore in a manner not unwitting of a metropolitan pulpit – I have not visited Price recently – I rather think that he has voted me a bore, as he has hinted two or three times on the expense of going to Worcester to see Mr Lechmore, so I trouble him as little as possible – I suppose you know old Sir Winnington is translated to another world – I do not know his son.
[The curate referred to was Revd Edward Acton Davies M.A., who was rector of Areley Kings by the time he died in 1880, aged 74.]
It is a great difficulty this to lie by and let my “wanton zeal mould in roosted sloth” – but I groan & endure & read books of a voluminous size from the library being relieved from my monotony by being visited by about one patient a day – & an occasional bit of cheating at vingt un with some of the fair agricultural nymphs of this vicinity – among whom I am sorry to say that I cannot help maintaining my ancient character for being fond of a bit of “getting upstairs and playing the fiddle”. I say sorry, because all the world expects a medical man to be always wrapt up in an odour of gravity – in fact to assume a humbugging puritanical deportment which it is my misfortune to lack – time, however, which will soon turn me bald, may perchance give me a due share of that other inestimable quality.
[Vingt-et-un is the French version of the card game known as blackjack or pontoon – but somehow I don’t think this is what he is alluding to.]
In your letter of October 4th – you describe my letter as a non descript one – What will call this? – Something of the same sort. My hand is quite out – I have written to no one & for no one. I am obliged to take up with the subjects of conversation I meet with, instead of enjoying the company of any rationally educated people – It is therefore marvelous that the product of my brain should be a rambling hodge podge , a pot pourri as the Gauls have it. Besides when I take up my pen in your behalf I have so much to ask you & so much to say that I scarcely know where to begin far less where to end. I thought therefore that your reverence will not measure my feeble epistolary power by your own signature ones – but will be taken into your generous consideration that, however great a jumble & even concentration of ideas – distinct or otherwise there may be in my cranium – yet I am not weekly exercised by the utterance of them in writing of humour (not that I mean to say you with your own nor anything to the contrary) as you are. Nor am I in a classical soil – Genius within this country – men whose talk is of bullocks abound here to the exclusion of all others.
I wish you would lend me your pistols for a short time when you don’t want them – they would afford me a small variety in my retreat & I want to shoot a dog or two which always fly at me – & in kicking of whom I hurt my toe – you shall have them back honor bright.
The day after I sent your box , Perrott sent me a new copy of Coleridge – all three vols which is the one you have – as I may as well keep the other I send you the two. You did not tell me whether all the books were right – I think my “Bacot on Syphilis” is amongst your books – Please take care of it. [John Bacot’s “A Treatise On Syphilis” (London, 1829).]Can you tell me how long Henry will be in Paris ? I would like to commission him to get some bougies [A thin flexible surgical instrument] if I knew his address – Bloxham knows a gentleman in the customs at Dover who would pass anything for him – It is the india rubber bougies & catheters which I mean and which are made so much better in Paris than anywhere else. Plague upon it – I just see by referring to your letter that Henry is in London – when we get the penny postage I’ll write him a letter. Apropos Remember me to Penny – and B.M.
Your very affectionate brother Congreve
When you’re cataloguing a large family collection such as this, it’s fair to say there’s always a large number of people involved! The FitzHerbert family is no exception and throughout the listing process where I’ve been looking through all of the material in all the boxes (see my earlier posts), there is certainly a large amount of correspondence.
Some of this correspondence is business related, regarding the Tissington estate (also some of the other estates), Whilst some of the correspondence is private, between friends and family about a whole array of subjects.
This adds to the already catalogued material of this collection and fills what would otherwise be an incomplete gap. Take a look at the catalogue for collection D239 here.It also gives an insight into the lives and personalities of those who are writing the letters. Given that the material in these particular boxes dates rom the late eighteenth century to the 1960s, it is four of the FitzHerbert Baronets who are the main authors of the letters, the 4th, 5th, 6th and 7th Baronets: Sir William, Sir Richard, Sir Hugo Meynell and Sir William.
Including friends and workers on the Tissington Estate, they correspond with some interesting people, Edward Ford being one significant individual. A gentleman called Col. Weetman is a name frequently mentioned, he was an insurance agent for the FitzHerberts. Why not come and read the correspondence when its all sorted and properly catalogued?
In my next post I hope to tell you about some of the items I’ve discovered which are ‘treasures’…
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.
Derbyshire Libraries is tweeting as a First World War Soldier, using extracts from diaries and letters held at Derbyshire Record Office. These archives have been given a new lease of life as the words of soldiers at the front line reach a new audience via social media and we can hear first-hand about events that occurred 100 years ago.
Follow DerbyshireSoldier @SoldierFWW
There’s a fascinating article on the BBC News website today, explaining how the postal service managed to deliver millions of letters to and from front-line soldiers during World War One (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-25934407). It’s answered many of the questions we in the Conservation Team have been asking ourselves while we clean, repair, digitise and re-package the hundreds of WWI letters in our collection. Many are still in fantastic condition, even though the paper used wasn’t very good quality. But after a hundred years they can all do with a gentle clean and some snug, made-to-measure packaging. Some of the letters are still folded inside the original envelopes – wonderful to see, but not so good for their long term survival. Creases in paper have a tendency to turn into tears, so we’re opening out the letters, mending tears and strengthening creases where necessary and then storing the letters with the envelopes but not inside them.
As conservators it’s our job to look at paper and inks, to make decissions about a document’s condition and treatment and to ensure its availability to researchers now and in the future. The one thing we’re not supposed to do is read the contents; that’s a job for the archivists and we’re usually very happy to leave it to them. But in this case, it’s proving very difficult not to get caught up in the words that jump out at us. How are you supposed to glance over a letter from a soldier who you know died soon after and ignore his touching comments about his baby daughter? Or see al the kisses he sent to his wife without contemplating the many lost husbands, fathers and sons and the pain of those who were left behind? Handling and reading these letters provides a powerful link to a time not really so very long ago and a group of people we’re still much closer to than we often realise.
We’re currently looking for volunteers to help with our Derbyshire Lives in the First World War project, so if you’d like to find yourself surrounded by some of the thousands of words that were sent across the Channel or would enjoy the opportunity to delve deeper and investigate the impact of the First World War on the people of Derbyshire, why not have a look on our volunteering website http://www.derbyshire.gov.uk/leisure/libraries/services/volunteering/default.asp
I first became aware that there had been Napoleonic prisoners in Derbyshire when I came across an unusual gravestone at St Mary and All Saints church, Chesterfield, aka the Crooked Spire. The inscription translated as ‘In memory of Francois Raingeard, thirty years of age, Prisoner of War, died 1oth March 1812’ and bore the message ‘Stop Traveller! If thro’ Life’s journey, Sympathy Has found a seat in thy Breast; thou’ll drop a pitying tear to the memory of one who…’; the last line started ‘In Friendship…’, but the rest had worn away.
This wasn’t the first time there had been prisoners of war in Derbyshire. During the Seven Years’ War with France, the Victoria County History (Vol 2) states that 300 French prisoners were sent to Derby in July 1759. Apparently the churchwardens of Derby All Saints made an “absurdly boastful and vainglorious entry” in their books concluding:
Their behaviour at first was impudent and insolent; and at all times vain and effeminate; and their whole deportment Light and Unmanly; and we may venture to say from our observation and knowledge of them that in any future war, this Nation has nothing to fear from them as an Enemy. During their abode here, the road from this place to Parliament was by an Act of Parliament repair’d; the part from St. Mary’s Bridge (which by reason of the floods was impassible) being greatly raised. Numbers of these people were daily employ’d, who work’d in their Bag Whigs, Pigtails, Ruffles, &c., a matter which afforded no small merriment. But to their Honour let it be remembered, yet scarce an Act of Fraud or Theft was committed by any of them during their stay amongst us.
Whilst prisoners of war from the lower ranks were held in prisons or on prison ships, officers were placed on a parole of honour in which they promised not to leave or escape from the town they were sent to. Derbyshire’s central geographic position made it an ideal place to hold the men. Our local studies library copy (940.27) of part of the National Archives’ general entry book of French prisoners of war on parole shows that from December 1803-July 1812 there were 172 prisoners on parole at Ashbourne and from November 1803-June 1811 there were over 400 held at Chesterfield. The parish registers for Chesterfield show that aswell as Frenchmen there were at least a few Polish, Swiss, German, Italian and Hungarian prisoners too.
We have at the Record Office a bound volume of letters, accounts and reports (to the Transport Board) by John Langford (D302 Z/W 1) who was appointed as the agent for the care of parole prisoners at Ashbourne in March 1812. The accounts and the discharge information can sometimes record prisoner’s names, the name of the prize i.e. from which vessel or place the prisoner was captured, whether the prize was a man of war, privateer or merchant vessel, what rank the prisoner held, and in some records the date of the beginning of their parole at Ashbourne, their date of discharge and how much they were paid. One particular list which records prisoners at Ashbourne who hadn’t been held on parole or in prison anywhere else in the country, also records details of their age, height, hair colour, eye colour, face shape, complexion, figure, and any wounds or distinguishing marks.
Whilst the papers don’t reveal that much about their day-to-day activities, there are some letters which let us glimpse into individual lives, such as one from 26th November 1812 giving the account of a Monsieur Frohart who was judged to be in a state of insanity. He was lodging with a Mr Mellor in the town and it was Mellor who reported to Langford that Frohart, having been restless and singing and making a noise the preceding night, appeared deranged the next morning and ran into the street only half-dressed and broke the windows of several neighbouring properties. Apparently a couple of years previously he had been in a similar state whilst being on parole in Chesterfield.
Other letters record the various escapes of prisoners, such as Jacques Perroud, the captain of the privateer the ‘Phoenix’, who ran away in the night in April 1812 and was believed to be heading to the Kent coast. A physical description of him is included and it also reports what he could be wearing, topped by a new hat with a narrow crown, broadish brim, a ribbon and a small white buckle. Captain Perroud left behind at his lodgings a trunk, four small French dictionaries, three pairs of cloth pantaloons, four old cotton shirts and two cotton pillow cases.
Between 1803 and 1815, around ten prisoners (all men on parole at Chesterfield) appear in the Quarter Sessions Calendars of Prisoners, though I’m sure the actual figure was much higher. Half of them are being tried on charges of breaking or exceeding their parole and the other half are up on bastardy charges for fathering illegitimate children. There are at least twelve prisoners of war, including Francois Raingeard, buried in the Crooked Spire churchyard. From 1806 onwards there are approx. ten marriages of prisoners of war to local women and about eighteen baptisms of children of prisoners, either with wives who were also taken as prisoners or women they had met and married in Chesterfield, and also a few illegitimate children.
The Ashbourne St Oswald registers seem to show that one local family was particularly welcoming: 15th August 1808, Vincent Pierre Fillion, a French Prisoner of War, married Hannah Whitaker, spinster; 7th May 1810, Louis Hugand, a French prisoner, married Mary Whittaker, spinster; 30th December 1811, Peter/Pierre Dupre, Prisoner of War in Ashbourne, married Elizabeth Whittaker, spinster; 26th November 1812, Otto Ernst d’Heldreich, Prisoner of War, married Margaret Whittaker, spinster.
Whilst a few remained in Derbyshire, most of the prisoners of war, and their families, eventually returned to mainland Europe. But aswell as the legacy of a method of glove-making which carried on and thrived in Chesterfield during the nineteenth century, as the story goes it was a French prisoner who first introduced the recipe for what is known as Ashbourne Gingerbread, which is still made and sold in the town two hundred years later.
I have been fagging myself to death to settle the business of my ally Jim Belcher & what with Windham, Lord Archibald, Jackson, & Adam the Lawyer, I have at length got a letter for him to Mr Nolan the great Lawyer who attends at Guildford quarter sessions, who is to defend him for nothing. That Brute Tom who ought to have gone with him is not only gone to Newmarket to Captain Barclay himself, but has taken with him or rather is taken by a Mr Shelton who should have been bail or security, but I will blow them both well up when they return, d— them. If you have any of the guts of charity in your r*ctum send me some money for him and I will give it him from you, for he feels a great difference in not being the winning man.
D258/50/22, [2 July] 1809
An August letter to Phillip Gell provides an update on legal proceedings and financial woes, aswell as the latest news.
I hope to be with you by the first of October, for a fortnight. Pray write to me at Lord Oxford’s, Eywood near Presteigne, Radnorshire directly. If I had time I would get acquainted with all the young pugilists at Bristol, of which there is a fine young flock who will probably arrive in town in a year or two. I have directed Jackson to get you a Barclay handkerchief. Thank you about Mr Kinderley & James Belcher, but the people were so kind to me about it that he would have had all he wanted in court but it was put off till October at Kingston when by the blessing of God I will rout the beasts by the assistance of Mr William Adam & Mr Nolan at Kingston. Why the devil don’t you write to Henry Raikes. He does not object to the country & would have bought your living before this time had you managed properly. I stopped the boat in my way here & landed at Boyle farm to know if Old Raikes had heard of you, no damn me no, so you will lose you living & I & Jim Belcher our regalo. Lady Elizabeth Forbes has got some good naughty for you when you meet again…There is a fight this day between Richman the black & Maddox who is as you say a slow chap. People think Richman will win & I have just sent James Belcher by the coach to second that Lilly hero hoping he will put a guinea or two into his pocket by it.
D258/50/27, 11 August 1809
Unfortunately the court’s verdict did not go Belcher’s way.
Only think, I took Jem to Kingston, no causes tried that day. He went the next Mr Nolan defended him 3 hours. He was had up to day Oct 5 2 hours. He was indicted on 4 charges. Only guilty of fighting “verdict”. But one of the jury stuck out & the rest wanted to lick him. The consequence is that he is come home but is to go on Novr 5 to hear the Judge’s decision. It is a d—-d shame I wish he had the thrashing of them all. He is very grateful for your regalo, & Tom who has been sparring to night for Bittons benefit asked after you very kindly. When you come a-Parliamenting I hope you will come to Benham. Craven comes here on 11. I came on 1st. Damn the Judge & Jury for he cannot see about a house with a sign while this hangs over him poor fellow.
D258/50/29, 5 October 1809
The damned sons of B*****s have confined Jem for 28 days in the County goal Horsemonger lane from 2nd of November blast them. I sent him a letter saying you, I & Keppel would be answerable for Jem & Mr Frowman has promised the license so on the 2nd or 3rd of December Jem will be out & in his old situation I hope. I went twice to see him as I passed through Town. He is very cheerful & merry poor fellow though only to be seen from 12 to 2. Tom lives almost next door which wir virry good hearing for me. I don’t think he wants anything, but he is so modest I cannot found out except by a trap so I have sent Richmond to find out. Said Richmond has received forfeit from Cropley who won’t fight…Jem had a very poor benefit previous to his confinement there being nobody in town…Tom Belcher has a benefit soon after that, at which I shall be if possible…The Covent Garden gets worse & worse. I saw the Lord Mayor’s show as I returned from seeing Jem in prison. County gaol Horsmonger lane. There is a man in the same place with him confined for some small offence of very genteel appearance who does every thing for Jem even to cooking as if he were his servant so well liked is he by every body. I am very glad tis no worse, he sends his grateful regards to you and as I knew you would like to hear of him I write.
D258/50/30, 11 November 1809
Despite Gell’s efforts ( D258/50/31, December 1809 “…Jem is out & I am working to get him re-established. I think I shall succeed…”), the elder Belcher brother slipped further into decline and died in London in 1811.
Cropley & Power are to fight & they have matched T Belcher against Lilly White but as I was told the black would prove the best man I have given Tom a lecture about his brother losing his fame by over fighting & convinced him that unless he is sure of winning he ought not to try having left off with 5 victories since his defeat by Sam over Dogherty, Farnborough & Cropley. He is convinced by my arguments & as 50£ is wanting in the purse Hi doant think it wull be a fite.
D258/50/39, 16 July 1810
Tom Belcher seems to have fared better than his older brother. Despite fighting a few more times after this, he was at one point owner of the famous boxing watering-hole the Castle Tavern in Holborn, and eventually died in 1854.
As one of her chamberlains, Sir William Gell left England in 1814 to accompany the former Princess of Wales, now the exiled Queen Caroline. He remained in Italy, continuing to publish topographies, with continual money problems, until his death in 1836. His letters (D258/50/1-155) are available to view at the Record Office on CD 152.
Sir William Gell (1777-1836), archaeologist and topographer, author and illustrator, enjoyed a social circle that encompassed the royal court and the square ring.
…as I was to dine at the Princess of Wales’s to day at Kensington Palace I thought it proper as a specimen of rising & falling in poetry to send for Jim Belcher to go to Astleys on my return down the river, as there can be nothing more picturesque than to pass at once from the society of a Serene Highness to that of a serene boxer. I should certainly on the same principle send for Tom to go to a lark somewhere to night but that her Royal Highness eats and drinks so much that dinner will probably last till 4 in the morning.
A series of letters (D258/50/1-155) written by William – mainly to his elder brother Sir Phillip Gell MP, of Hopton Hall, Wirksworth – offer glimpses into the world of Regency pugilism.
I should have told you my friend Perry has presented Dutch Sam to me, he was very civil, is half dead, quite drunk, and how he could beat Tom I cannot conceive. I do not patronize him for I had an opportunity of seeing that he was a great blackguard very soon, so I hope he will die.
Yesterday I went with Tom to a bull bait & fight at a green one mile beyond Hampstead. Byrne & Dogherty were to have fought, but them there Westminster chaps brought forward a Costarmonger named Silverthorne much less than Byrne who though seemingly very stout was compleatly wasted and cowed & gave in his defect is this for the dotted line is the right shape & those whose shoulders are so flat cannot as you observe hit out.
D258/50/37, 27 June [1810?]
Boxing was one of the most popular sports of the era, with both the gentry and the general populace, and attracted big crowds and even bigger wagers. William Gell appears to have patronized the Bristolian boxers Jem Belcher, the former all England champion, and his younger brother Tom. Occasionally Gell writes part of a letter in the ‘style’ of Jem or Tom, and his patronage veers towards the patronising, as in the following extract.
Despite its public popularity, boxing was illegal, and bouts had to be furtively arranged out of view of local magistrates.
I am ordered by Matthews to give you an account of a larking party in which I was engaged on Wednesday the 19th ultimo at Comb wood near Wimbledon. I copy the card of notice for your information. “Sir) the fight is at Coum hood near Kingston at 12 o clock”. This being my notice I was at breakfast when the two Belchers came to take me there. I resisted a hackney coach as too slow & took them both in a chaise. As we went along I was told to look in the common at a woman whom I saw & they told me it was Jerry Abershaw’s wife, in fact she was wandering near the spot where Abershaw the noted robber was hanged. Soon after we passed several Chay carts in one of which, they saw some clergymen whom I found to be three chimney sweepers on enquiring how they could distinguish them at such a distance. When we got to the place which was an open space in the wood there were not many people, but I found Jackson who patronized me & Payne, Sir Henry Smith & Green an untried man & Smith whom you have seen were to fight. At length the company increased to about 1,000 people & the ring was made. Of course as I am to be M.O. for Westminster I soon had a great circle round me & was insisting “that the bill do lie on the table” to the great entertainment of the mob when Tom Belcher every now & then came & ordered me away, as there were more than 60 pickpockets in the place, and this species of tyranny he practised several times for my benefit & to his own risque for the light fingered gentry would have half killed him if they had known it. In short they all took so much care of me, that I think Lord Cochrane will have but little chance next time. Tom betted on Green who lost by selling himself as they all said, for he was not much hurt. After this there was a second battle between Little Lenox & a person named Cowpe, a young man who got very well thrashed, & a much better battle it was than the first. To this succeeded a Bull baiting on which I was violently laid hold of by Power (for his name is not Powell) and taken in the spirit to the top of a Hackney coach that I might see the fun…after this I returned home and supped with the Princess of Wales according to the prophecy which sayeth “when thou larkest in the morning let thy evening be in the palace”. By the bye I dine there to day & have sent to one of my Castors or Polluxes to breakfast here for I want to set him up again in the world and have engaged Windham in the business.
D258/50/25, July 24 1809