Lockdown Stories: How History is Always There

My role as Archives Assistant on the Mining the Seams project has changed rather a lot in the last few months. Before lockdown my main task was to check through a variety of different records donated to us through the Coal Board and creating spreadsheets of information on them ready to add to our catalogues in the future. Since going into lockdown however, it’s felt like forever since I last held an original document and I definitely miss wondering what the next document I come across will be. Now my role mainly involves transcribing compensation forms for claims made by injured miners  and writing up draft colliery histories. Each form has the same information and this can be tedious, I must admit. However, a slight breakthrough with this came yesterday when found a fraudulent claim made by a teenage lad, including a written statement from his father to the Butterley Company (the boy’s employer), admitting his son’s guilt. Unearthing these intriguing stories is what I’ve missed the most, as they make an industrial past that I never knew seem more real and human.

The task that has kept me most sane and you can tell I’ve enjoyed doing the most is writing up blog posts. These are a mixture of ideas that I had before lockdown or at the beginning of lockdown, when I was still focusing more on research. Finding out interesting stories as always been my most favourite thing about history and I always have loved to share them, which is probably why I set up my own personal history blog a couple of years ago. Before I started this role, I must admit that I was never keen on industrial history, but the personal stories I’ve come across make it much more bearable and relatable.

The main one I’ve come across lately, and quite enjoyed, during lockdown are related to Blackwell Miner’s Welfare Football Club. A couple of their players went on to be well known professionals: Willie Foulke was Chelsea’s first ever goalkeeper and Willie Layton went on to be part of Sheffield Wednesday’s FA Cup winning team. There is a blog post on Willie Foulke that will be posted in the future so do look out for that.

Willie Foulke

Photograph of Willie Foulke

I’ve never really liked football myself but one of my cousins did actually play professionally under Brian Clough for a while, until he ended up at Bradford City at the time of the famous fire. This made him leave the game to become a footballer. It’s a tangible link to how football was played just over 100 years ago, but actually some of the footballers then, especially as they were also from a working class background like my cousin, had a very similar personality and drank a lot like him too.

Despite the challenges of working from home, it does give me a much needed sense of routine. I still live at home and my mum is over 70, so we’ve had to be careful at this time. This has been very hard at times, especially when we don’t see much of people other than through a computer screen. Our dog Star has been a good companion though, but every so often though there’s still a ball dropped at your feet or barking at the evil deliveryman or postman. Much to my embarrassment, this has happened some times during conference calls, so apologies to anyone who’s had to witness that!

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My dog Star

An elderly gentleman who lives on his own across the road from us has become an unexpected contact at this time. He doesn’t usually talk to anyone but after offering to help him with shopping after we finally got some online deliveries, we began to talk over the phone. My dad took over a couple of things for him and the next thing I knew, after a very tough and emotional week dealing with things, he’d sent over about 7 or 8 Royal Doulton figurines of Victorian looking women. He said they were from his late wife’s family and as he had no children of his own or anyone interested in old things, he wanted me to have them. I’ve hardly ever spoken to the man before now as life got in the way and he was usually to be found at the local Welfare Club, didn’t expect this gift at all. I must admit it made me emotional. Now though, we’re sharing print outs of Victorian history with one another.

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One of the Royal Doulton figure

Despite all this, coal seems to be not far behind. When not working or doing other history related things in my spare time, I do enjoy watching TV or catching up on my rather enormous to read pile. No matter what I’m doing, there seems to be mention of either coal or collieries somewhere in all of that, so it’s become a bit of a running joke in the house that it just follows me everywhere. I do play along and make it look as if it annoys me, which it can do sometimes when I just want time to myself, but most of the time, it just reminds me of how much I miss doing my job properly.

Lockdown Stories: Working from Home

From earlier blog posts, you will have realised that I, like my colleagues at the Record Office, am working from home during this period of lockdown.

For me, in my modest cottage, this has taken some adjustment. Firstly, child number two, aged 21, arrived home from University with a friend in tow – both with the huge pressure of deadlines to meet for coursework, dissertations to complete and final exams to pass for their undergraduate degree courses. Hmmm, a puzzle to solve. Three adults into a small cottage has meant one of us in the basement bedroom (fondly known as the ‘dungeon’), one in the dining/sitting room (also referred to as the ‘yoga studio’) and me in the kitchen (near the food).

Archivist Becky dropped off a laptop, keyboard and mouse, which after 72 hours of quarantine were ready for use. With some assistance from the Derbyshire County Council IT department, I had already set up my personal PC and phone to allow limited access to the Record Office databases and communications system. Once switched over to the laptop and equipment Becky had dropped off, full access was enabled and I was ready to go.

The work task assigned to me has been a pleasure to work on, for which I feel extremely grateful.

The Miller Mundy family of Derbyshire has provided us with a true insight into their lives as landed gentry and politicians from the 1700s onwards. Based at Shipley, Markeaton and Walton, the family was extremely large and unravelling the different strands of this family has been challenging at times, particularly with their fondness for the names Edward, Frances/Francis, Godfrey, Robert, Nellie, Georgiana and Alfred, used in almost every generation. The astounding number of children born to each generation, with Edward Miller Mundy (1775-1834, son of Edward, father to Edward) fathering 13 children with his wife, Nellie, adding to the puzzle.

Aside from the family seat in Derbyshire, there is a long history of involvement in both local and national politics. Several members of the family became Members of Parliament, High Sheriffs and Magistrates. With so many children, it was usual for sons other than the first born heir to enter the military or church.

I have been transcribing letters from George Miller Mundy written to his Father, Edward Miller Mundy. George was in the navy, Captain of The Hydra, and wrote extensively about the Napoleonic War. George’s writing style is clear, and he is well educated, sometimes quoting Shakespeare, although not always entirely accurately. He writes of battles and strategies naming ships familiar to us, as well as naval officers such as Collingwood, Hardy and Nelson, the enemy Villeneuve and Napoloeon; politics as well as his feelings. Reading them transports me to another era.

It has become clear that in spite of the size of the family, there is a deep affection and respect for one another, which is very touching to read.

My working day is a stimulating break from being stuck at home baking, reading, learning Spanish and playing the Ukulele. As a part-timer, I work four hours per day over four days, which is ideal for this task. I have now rigged up a large monitor, discovered in child number one’s room (on a sabbatical and currently isolating in Panama). The large screen has helped considerably in trying to decipher the somewhat tricky handwriting. Zooming in on a big screen aids with seeing how letters are formed, leading to understanding specific words.

Generally, the internet connection has been very reliable for all three of us working. Today has been the first day of failing, which has made me realise how reliant we are on technology. I fear this lockdown would have been far more isolating without our Skype and zoom meetings with colleagues and friends. Working from home would have been a completely different story, and may have been nigh impossible in some cases.

Melanie's workstation

 

This image shows my home office set up in my kitchen; I am lucky to have enough space for a desk. The handwritten/highlighted notes show my first attempt to plot the Miller Mundy family structure! I choose to work with the radio on (Radio 4 or 6) as I like some background noise. This is not heard by the two students elsewhere in the house.

Not far from wherever I am, you will find my two dogs, Nora the Greyhound and Nelson, my Jack Russell. Nelson is 13, and when I named him as a nine week old puppy, I did not envisage I would be reading letters about Lord Nelson’s heroic actions, victories and demise.

So, here is ‘my’ Nelson.

Nelson the dog

Melanie Collier, Archives Assistant

 

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

Stay connected, get creative and keep learning

Over the past few years the record office has been working with our friends at Junction Arts, the Chesterfield-based arts charity, on the project The Art of Letter Writing. The project celebrates the unique relationships we make with each other by writing and receiving letters, using historical letters from the record office’s collection, the participants’ own letters from home, and the art of illuminated letters.

D5430 76 23 excerpt

Excerpt from a letter written by Elizabeth Winchester, lady’s maid at Chatsworth House (D5430/76/23)

Usually a hands-on project, whilst we’re all socially distancing, the project has been specially adapted to go online. So what better time than now to connect with family and friends? The project is also connecting people with more vulnerable and isolated members of our community by offering people the chance to connect through letter writing. It might even be the start of a friendship that lasts beyond the lockdown!

For more information on the project and details of how to get involved see the Junction Arts website. If you do get involved, we’d love to hear how you got on.

 

Connecting families and creating history during COVID-19 and beyond

‘History Begins at Home’ is a new national campaign which aims to connect people through conversations about history and to capture and then share these conversations, memories and stories through the campaign’s Facebook page and Twitter.

The idea behind the campaign is to encourage family members of different generations to connect or re-connect by discovering previously unknown facts or family stories, sharing memories, experiences and expertise, and then capturing these conversations and findings for the future.

Gary Tuson, County Archivist at Norfolk Record Office and Campaign Lead at History Begins at Home, comments: “COVID-19 has created all sorts of challenges such as separation, isolation, hardship, the need for resilience, the power of community and the desire to help one another. History Begins at Home is the perfect antidote during this period when people can’t visit their family members due to the current restrictions. It’s a fun way to pass some time together on the phone, via FaceTime, Zoom, WhatsApp or other apps. And, with so much emphasis on mental health and well-being during the lockdown, the campaign is an ideal way for people to engage with the recommended ‘5 ways to well-being’: Connect, Give, Be active, Take Notice and Keep Learning.”

Gary adds: “The campaign will initially focus on the past within families, with the goal of sparking discussions around aspects of childhood and adulthood across the generations, such as toys, food, precious things and memories. Each week, we’ll focus on a different theme about the past and encourage people to start a conversation about it, engage in an activity relating to it and then record something about it and, if they like, share what they’ve found out on our Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/historybeginsathome and Twitter https://twitter.com/BeginsHistory

Getting involved in History Begins at Home is easy – start off by asking a relative for one of their old recipes and share it, find and share a picture of a family member’s favourite childhood toy, an old love letter (or a new one), or ask them about a funny, incredible, interesting, remarkable or obscure story or memory from their past. Who knows what you might discover!

This week being Mental Health Awareness week, its even more important to stay connected. The record office is supporting the History Begins at Home project via Twitter, follow us at @FranklinArchive. This week we have memories of favourite toys!

Take a look and join the conversation on Facebook at:

https://www.facebook.com/historybeginsathome/

@historybeginsathome

and on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/BeginsHistory

@beginshistory