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.


Celebrating Florence

Tomorrow sees the 200th anniversary of the birth of the woman credited as the founder of modern nursing, Florence Nightingale (12 May 1820-13 August 1910).

Florence served as a manager and trainer of nurses during the Crimean War, in which she organised care for wounded soldiers. Shocked by conditions in the hospital Florence began to campaign to improve the quality of nursing in military hospitals. On her return from the war she was instrumental in professionalising nursing roles for women and encouraged the development of nursing in Britain and abroad. Her birthday was chosen to be International Nurses Day and The World Health Organisation has designed 2020 as the International Year of the Nurse & Midwife.

Famously known D1575 Box 36 81 (i)as ‘The Lady with the Lamp’, making rounds of wounded soldiers at night, many people aren’t aware that Florence came from the Nightingale family of Lea, near Matlock, and retained strong connections with her family home and the people of Lea.

Throughout this week we will be celebrating Florence with posts on how she cared for the people in her local community, her connection to the Derbyshire coal industry and the impact her story has had on generations which have followed. It’s no surprise that, during the current threat facing the world, Florence’s name is back in the headlines. The NHS Nightingale Hospitals, seven critical care temporary hospitals set up by NHS England as part of the response to the COVID-19 epidemic, have been named in her honor.

We hope you enjoy our week of posts celebrating Florence, starting tomorrow with a post from record office volunteer Roger, who is transcribing the wonderful collection of Florence’s letters which the record office is fortunate to hold.

florence nightingale signature

If Florence has had an impact on your life, please share your stories with us, we’d love to hear them.

A poem…

…this time for World Poetry Day (today!)

The Moth

Poor little Moth, how low thou’rt laid !

Would, thou hadst never thoughtless play’d

Round yon seducing light,

And flutter’d in its magic beam

Like one enchanted in a dream

Or vision of the night

D 3311 Attic Chest 1920_0007


Chosen from an early 19th C collection of poems, prose and ‘general whimsy’ known as the ‘Attic Chest’, edited by Eleanor Porden. The editor has given a little input to the original version, which was contributed by Eleanor’s friend Mary Ann Flaxman.

Life Story Writing Workshop with Chrissie Hall

Chrissie HallHave you ever thought about writing your life story?

Then come along to our Life Story Writing Workshop with author Chrissie Hall.

Monday 21 October 2013

10am – 4pm

Derbyshire Record Office

We’ll help you plan, write, and organise a unique record of your life and times.  Inspiring you to dig deep, capturing memories and writing about your life; the people and the places, the ordinary and the extraordinary – the things that happened which made you who you are.

Suitable for everyone and no previous experience of writing is required. 

Tea and coffee will be available but please bring a packed lunch.  Alternatively there are sandwich shops nearby but please note the Record Office is on a steep slope.

Tickets: £10 please book in advance at Derbyshire Record Office on 01629 538347


Muriel’s Wedding?

Following on from one of our literature festival events, the curious case of Muriel’s ‘wedding dress’ came to light.

During a workshop, we gave participants two photographs from the Picture the Past photographic collection, then asked people to come up with imaginative stories which linked these images together.

 The images had been selected purely for their visual intrigue and potential for inspiring creative writing, and we had paired them up entirely out of context. For example an image of a sad looking newspaper seller from the 1970s was paired up with a photograph of a long, winding country lane, leading to a bleak-looking house.

One of the images was particularly interesting as it showed a woman called Beatrice Muriel Bagshaw in a beautiful wedding dress, presumably on her wedding day. We felt rather sorry for this woman, as she did not look particularly happy to be getting married.

Photograph of Muriel from Picutre the Past Website

Muriel’s picture was paired up with this photo of a prison from c 1850s-90s

We hoped that with the context removed, this would inspire all kinds of interesting stories. Heres something that a writer from the workshop came up with:

‘Louise is daughter of a wealthy merchant in the city of London.  She is persuaded by her parents into marriage with one of her father’s business acquaintances to cement their connection.  The wedding is a stylish affair and she wears a beautiful silk dress but she is not a radiant bride as she has great doubts about her new husband.  Within a few years she finds out that her doubts were justified as he is convicted of fraud and jailed leaving her penniless.’

 Strangely enough this was not the end of Muriel’s story. We were in fact sure that we had seen Muriel somewhere before… and noticed when looking at the Bakewell Old House Museum Facebook page that this image had been added to the site…

Muriel Bagshaw in her ‘Court Presentation’ dress, courtesy of Bakewell Old House Museum

…could this be the very same woman?!

We contacted Bakewell Museum, who confirmed that this was indeed Muriel Bagshaw, but it was not the wedding dress that we had thought, but a court presentation dress. What’s more is that they even had the actual dress in their collection of historical costume! They said;

‘The dress was Muriel’s court presentation dress.  She was presented to Queen Victoria…… a kind of coming out.  It is in very poor condition but we do get it out occasionally.  There is a wonderful, incredibly long train to accompany the dress along with shoes, stockings, fan and Prince of Wales feathers which had to be worn in the hair. She looks rather glum on the photo and we always feel rather sorry for her.’

We thought this was a wonderful twist to the tale, and just goes to show that every picture can tell a multitude of stories and that you can’t always judge something on first appearances.

Can you come up with a story for Muriel? We would love to hear your suggestions!

Why not take a look at Bakewell Museum’s facebook page: & find out how to visit the dress

See what inspiration you can find from the wonderful East Midlands Photographic Archive on the Picture the Past website


Derbyshire Literature Festival May 2012

May was a busy month for our outreach team as this was the first year that the Record Office took part in the Derbyshire Literature Festival. This was the 7th Derbyshire Literature festival organised by Derbyshire County Council which takes place every two years, and this year’s programme was exciting as ever, with more than 65 events happening in libraries and other venues across the county.

The Record Office contributed 3 events to the programme:

                                   ‘Ask the Archivist’

Glapwell Deed from 13th Century

An open day for those interested in historical research, whether it was advice on how to get started or how to get to the next step.  We had a great display of original material from our collections for visitors to read and we were very keen, as in all our events, to give people the opportunity to get hands on with the documents.  In this display we included material showing the range of material we hold, from prisoner records to a letter from Florence Nightingale, and our oldest records (we think!) a deed dating c. 1115.

‘Melbourne in the Archives’

Reading a 19th century Phrenology report out aloud from the original manuscript

An exhibition of historical records from the John Joseph Briggs collection (an author, poet, naturalist & historian from Melbourne) with the chance to read aloud from a selection of material from the exhibition and discuss and talk about the material. 

The exhibition featured letters, extracts, books, poems & illustrations concerning Melbourne local history.  The originals were on display and used during the read aloud session, which was enjoyed by all, and led to a relaxed and interesting group discussion.

Illustrations from a scrapbook found in the Briggs collection


 We received some lovely comments:

‘The event was excellent.  The staff were warm & friendly & knowledgeable; it was a privilege to see original documents; the readings were a special treat as was meeting local people’




‘Reading and Writing from the Archives with Sara Sheridan’

Looking at a late 19th century Asylum record to inspire creative writing or historical fiction

This session focused on how writers might use archive material as inspiration for creative writing and comprised of a full day of workshops, talks and activities.  We took along a large amount of original material, which provided examples of how you might use archives for writing, whether that was for characters or events, for accuracy, or what was like to live at that time – archives enabling writers to be authentic and true to the period. 

Participants were encouraged to use the documents to answer questions on how they might use the material and how to interpret them. We also had activities including guessing a mystery document, and using images from Picture the Past to inspire ideas for stories or poems. 

Following the Record Office session we had a workshop by the author Sara Sheridan who had come down from Edinburgh for the event.  Sara gave an extremely engaging talk on how she used archive material in her writing, and gave advice to the participants (most of whom were writing their own works) about how to write effectively for publication.

More information about Sara’s writing can be found on her website:

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