Wonderful words

I first came across the word wapentake about 12 years ago when I started working at the record office – I understood that it described an ancient jurisdiction, similar in meaning (though not necessarily in geography) to the district and borough jurisdictions we have today.  I also discovered that the term hundred was also an area delineating a particular ancient jurisdiction.

I am currently reading Viking Britain, a very interesting book by co-curator of the British Museum’s 2014 Viking exhibition, Thomas Williams and actually learned the etymology (origin) of the word: it comes from the Old Norse vápnatak meaning weapon-taking thus telling us about the people (men) who would have attended the meetings from that area, i.e. those who carried weapons (Williams, 2017, p. 222).

This got me thinking about lots of other words that we come across quite regularly at the record office but perhaps just take for granted without thinking about where they come from. So here is a bit of, did you know… as well as some words unfamiliar to the modern vocabulary that favourites amongst our staff.

manuscript – comes from the Latin, manu meaning ‘by hand’ and script meaning ‘to write’

mortgage – a word common in the world outside of historical research, but do you know where the word comes from? Literally meaning ‘dead pledge’, as per the mort in mortuary, and the Old French for pledge gage

frankpledge – a medieval system of self-governance whereby men in groups known as tithings accepted mutual responsibility for the good behaviour of other members of the group. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the word itself comes from a mistranslation of the Norman word friϸborh [frithborh] which in turns translates as peace-pledge

wardrobe – did you know that this was also a royal financial institution, evolving out of the role of the keeper of the king’s robes who was also responsible for managing his personal expenses?

hundred – in context of local administration, hundreds, like the wapentake was a subdivision of the shire. First explicitly mentioned around 940 AD but the hundreds with their regular judicial gatherings are undoubtedly earlier.

infangthief: formed from the following components – (1) the adverb in (2) fangen, being the past participle of fon meaning ‘to seize’ and (3) ϸéof meaning ‘thief’. Literally it means “thief sized within”, and in practical legal terms meaning the right of the lord to of a manor to try and to amerce (i.e. fine) a thief caught within the manor. By contrast, outfangthief is the right of the lord to pursue a thief beyond the boundaries of his jurisdiction and bringing him back to the manor court for trial.

roods and perches – historically land was measured in acres, roods and perches (a r p). Whilst we are still familiar with acres today, roods and perches have been lost to posterity. Traditionally, an acre is the area that can be ploughed by eight oxen in one day (the word itself coming from the Latin for field), there are four roods in an acre, and 40 perches in a rood.

messuage – an Anglo-French word originally referring to the portion of land for a dwelling place. It is probable that the word originated from a misreading of mesnage referring to economical management and the verb ‘to husband’

husbandman – husbandry refers to work in the domestic economy, not with respect to the domestic duties we think of today, but rather the agricultural side of domestic life. Husbandman refers specifically to the occupation of those employed in the field of husbandry. Although the original Middle English use of the word does relate more to the management of the household.

hereditament – from the Latin hereditamentum and referring to property that would be inherited by the common law descendent of its owner unless explicitly stated otherwise in a will. This is a common term in early modern and later title deeds, but the specific legal implication may not always be appreciated by its modern reader.

appurtenance – another very common term in title deeds referring to a ‘thing’ or minor property that pertains to another. It comes from the Latin appertinentia, and has equivalents in Middle English and Anglo French.

demesne – historically pronounced de-main, but now usually pronounced de-mean, this word has the same origin as the word ‘domain’ and ultimately comes from the Latin for lord, dominicus. It means the land owned and occupied by the lord rather than being let out to tenants – nevertheless, the work on the land was generally done by his feudal tenants.

nervous – did you see Melanie’s recent post about a letter in the Miller Mundy collection sent two days after the Battle of Trafalgar, which includes the following sentence relating to Admiral Nelson’s message to the sailors before the battle: “The Captains of course turn’d their men up and read the short but nervous sentence to them”. It was pointed out to me that ‘nervous’ did not mean apprehensive (perhaps about the impending the battle), but rather it is the Middle English meaning sinewy, vigorous and strong.

What about place names?  We can’t unfortunately provide a full list here, but here are some of the favourites of record office staff:

Fenny Bentley – meaning boggy grass pasture.

  • Like the Fens, fenny refers to marshy or boggy land
  • ‘bent’ comes from the Old English beonet and refers to ‘grass of a reedy habit’ or to a ‘place covered in grass’
  • -ley is a very common place-name ending meaning pasture

Nearby Hungry Bentley probably relates to the poor quality of the land or possibly the poor food of its inhabitants.

bourne – there are lots of places in Derbyshire and across the country ending with ‘bourne’ and it means small stream or brook. Ecclesbourne then means ‘church by the small stream’. Although it might be tempting to read Ashbourne as referring to a tree by a small stream, ash also means stream so Ashbourne literally means ‘stream stream’.

And did you know that the £ sign evolved from the abbreviated form of the Latin word for pound – libra. Contracted to li with a line through to indicate that it was abbreviated.

References

Thomas Williams (2017) Viking Britain: a history (link to library catalogue)

The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary (1959)

Kenneth Cameron (1959) Place-Names of Derbyshire

Do you have any favourite words or Derbyshire place names with an interesting origin?

Building History – Getting Started

An introductory guide to the sources available for researching Derbyshire houses and other buildings

There are a large number of different sources available for researching the history of Derbyshire buildings, but the survival and availability of sources varies significantly between different places.

Most records do not relate to specific properties and it is very rare to be able to identify records based on the house number (and almost never using a postcode) as these are relatively recent inventions in comparison to the dates of the records.  Therefore, it is often best to search just by place name rather than house number or street name.

When was the property built?

For many properties finding the specific year it was built is often not possible, but it is usually possible to narrow it down to with a few decades or years.  Search the Land Registry website to see if the property has been registered.

  • Title Deeds should be the starting point and ought to be in the custody of the current owner (or their solicitor) if the property hasn’t been registered.  If the property has been registered then the deeds may have been kept by the owner at the time the property was registered, transferred to Derbyshire Record Office, or (more often) destroyed.
  • Maps  are the key source used for working out approximately when a property was built.

Who owned and/or lived in the property

  • Census Returns are particularly useful for identifying who lived in a property, the returns were made every ten years, and currently available to search and browse online between 1841 and 1911 (particularly via Ancestry and Find My Past).
  • Electoral Registers (available from 1832-1999) list voters at a particular property, although the descriptions are usually too vague to identify specific properties for most places before 1918.  Search the online catalogue using Reference ER* and entering the place name in the AnyText field.  No registers were made in 1833-1834, 1916-1917, and 1940-1944
  • Where they survive Rate Books record information about each property, owner, occupier and the rates payable.  You will need to know which pre-1974 local authority covered the area you are interested in and consult the catalogue for the appropriate archive collection.
  • Various Maps are available may have been created with schedules detailing owners and/or occupiers.

 Other useful sources

  • Search Picture the Past to see if any photographs are available for the property or street.
  • Sale catalogues are published accounts of properties at the point they are put up for sale.  Catalogues from the 1970s are available in the local studies library (indexed on site); earlier catalogues in the archives collections can be searched in the online catalogue, though rarely by property name/number.
  • Building regulation plans survive for a small number of pre-1974 rural and urban district councils and those that do are rarely individually listed in our catalogue.  Sometimes registers are available that can help identify a specific plan.  See our catalogue for a list of pre-1974 authorities where building regulation registers and/or plans have survived.  If the authority is not listed, unfortunately this means no plans or registers have been deposited at Derbyshire Record Office.
  • Local newspapers can often give detailed descriptions of properties, especially relating to sales.
  • Never discount that someone may already have undertaken some relevant research relating a specific property, street or town/village.  Search the onsite indexes and online library catalogue for details of relevant publications and articles.

Treasure 50: Walter’s gift of land in 1115

The very last of our 50 Treasures (D77/1/23/58) is believed to be the very first, chronologically: the oldest document we hold. Dating from approximately 1100-1115, during the reign of Henry I, this deed records the gift of a virgate of land by Walter of Ridware to Robert Mellor. The land in question was in Seale, more familiar to us today as Overseal and Netherseal. The term “virgate” was not used with great precision – but it means about 30 acres.

Walters gift 01

Discovering Ilkeston

Yesterday morning I visited Ilkeston Library to deliver a new workshop  introducing people to the various sources available for researching the history a Derbyshire building. It was a quiet session, with only two in attendance – though one had travelled all the way from Aston on Trent which took me quite by surprise!

With the opportunity to handle examples of all the original sources we talked about, learning how to use the record office catalogue and discussing more specific aspects of the research each was undertaking (one doing a history of their own house, the other looking more generally at their street and surrounding area, including a former laundry and former chapel), it was a very interesting and enjoyable session all round.

So what did we look at? There are a number of key sources we would always recommend consulting whichever part of Derbyshire you are researching – not all of these sources exist for all parts, though these are the ones you are most likely to come across either at the record office, your local library or elsewhere. There is one very useful source not mentioned below, and this is the tithe map and award as there was never one created for Ilkeston                                                                                                                         title deeds … enclosure map and award … land values map and domesday book c1910 … photographs … electoral registers … sale catalogues … building plans … local publications … official town guides … rate books … local authority records … (click an image for more information)

We also looked at the census – available to access for free at your local Derbyshire library – and talked about newspapers available across the county.

Many of the sources we used during the session were picked somewhat at random purely as an example of what was available, but the stories we found we really quite fascinating – I can’t go into details now, though I do hope to be able to do so very soon.

If you want to find out more about doing a building history, we will soon be publishing a series of new research guides on our website, including three guides relating to building history. We will also be re-running this introduction to sources for building history in the coming months so keep an eye out for more information in the next Events brochure. In the meantime, do contact us for more advice if you want to get started now.

 

 

To keep or not to keep – that is the question

One of the key professional responsibilities of the archivist is to decide which records to select for permanent preservation and which to dispose of. In fact, you could argue that the role of the archivist is not one of preservation but of “destruction” (though I’m not sure we would quite argue that).

Here at Derbyshire Record Office we typically receive several enquiries and deposits/donations a week. Each time the archivist will judge (often in discussion with colleagues) whether the item/s have sufficient historical and research value to justify permanent preservation. We must ask questions such as:

  • Is it archival? i.e. is it a record generated by the everyday activities of a corporate body (or family, or individual), no longer in current use and providing evidence of the past
  • What is the research value of the material? This requires the archivist to think about the actual content of the item/s, what else could be inferred from it about society, individual or place, what kind of historical research could the material support and whether it could be useful for more than one type of historical research (e.g. useful for family historians and social historians)
  • Does the material provide only information that is already available elsewhere?
  • Is the material legible and in suitable condition for preservation?

We also need to be sure it is of Derby or Derbyshire content or origin. It would be outside the collecting remit of Derbyshire Record Office to collect material that didn’t have some connection to the city and county, and their peoples.

Case Study: Moody and Woolley Solicitors of Derby
A couple of weeks ago, Mark and I with the support of Lien, DRO’s Senior Conservator, surveyed and appraised the records in “the dungeon” of former Derby legal firm Moody and Woolley. After nearly 170 years in business, the firm ceased trading in April 2015, and having returned records to clients where possible, offered the remaining records to us and to Derby Local Studies and Family History Library.

“The Dungeon” when we first visited

What we found were primarily of bundles of title deeds and related papers for properties and businesses across the city and county, executorship papers for deceased clients, probate copies of wills and a small number of business records for the firm from the 1990s to early 2000s. There were also a small number of boxes containing family artefacts and photo albums, mostly from the Victorian and Edwardian periods. Undoubtedly these items would have held some intrinsic value for descendants of their original owners, however the firm had been unable to identify who the items belonged to and so could not return them to living relatives. For the same reason, we also had to make the decision not to add such items to the collection as they were not identifiable and therefore had only very limited (if any) historical research value.

After four hours, much sifting, many puzzled looks, head scratches and a fair bit of dust and grime, we had selected a van load of material to be transported back to Matlock.

Other material “left behind” included the probate copies of post-1858 wills and the majority of executorship papers and ledgers. In the case of probate wills, although we do hold some examples of such wills already amongst family and estate collections, these particular wills are only the probate copy, i.e. not the original signed by the individual. The information available from the probate copy is the same as the copy that can be obtained from the Probate Registry – for which handy online indexes already exist on Ancestry and Gov.uk (the latter also includes a search and ordering facility). Therefore the use of such records at DRO would be extremely limited, if indeed they were used at all.

In a world of unlimited space and budgets we may have taken much more than we did. However, such limitations are not necessarily a bad thing. The sifting and selection undertaken by the archivists has the added benefit of saving customers and researchers some time in sifting through material. Another example in this case were the executorship papers: the probate copy of a will identifies the executors and the beneficiaries, the papers of the executors merely record the process of following through the wishes of the deceased. Where there are disputes it can be useful to retain such records; however, in most cases there is little added information and the frequency of use would be extremely low. There is no defined threshold for how often a record should be used to justify its preservation in the archives, but this is certainly one factor that is considered when appraisal and selection decisions are made.

The decisions and judgments we made have ensured that the enduring archive collection for the firm reflects the nature of the business undertaken (as far as was possible with the records presented to us). The final collection includes:

  • sampled business papers of the firm (e.g. a sample correspondence file relating to notarial transactions),
  • 18th-20th century title deeds and abstracts of title for property across Derby and Derbyshire including the Railway Tavern at Belper, mills and other businesses in Ripley, Shirland Park and Lodge, and
  • the personal papers of John Moody, the firm’s founding partner.

All the material is now in our quarantine room waiting to be assessed by our Conservation team and any necessary remedial action taken (including the removal of mould). It will be some time before a full catalogue is available for the collection, but in the meantime, you can access basic summary information through our online catalogue for the collection, reference D7935.

Ultimately, as archivists we must always make judgments about what to preserve and what to destroy with the knowledge that histories can only be written in the future using the evidence we have preserved. The material that isn’t preserved cannot act as evidence, therefore the first question we must always consider is how will this affect histories yet to be written. That is not to say the first responsibility of future history relies with the archivist, this first responsibility inevitably always lies with the creator of the records who may indeed destroy them before an archivist even knows they exist. Nevertheless, archivists do have a very important role to play and it is one that we take very great care over.

Postscript: The judgments we are required to make are likely to become even more important and difficult with digital records – but more on that another time.