Friday, 21 September 2012

Derbyshire County Council Records Office

We visited Matlock on Saturday 15th September 2012. Karen Millhouse gave us an introduction to the work of the records office in Derbyshire, explaining the council's involvment and holdings.

Large houses in the area such as Chatsworth and Haddon hold their own records, but DCC have Calke and Hopton, the Nightingale and Gell family records, house histories, historical maps and plans amongst other things. Karen explained the records office don't hold Births, marriages and deaths which are civil records and sit with the Registrars, but they do hold Parish records such as Baptisms and burials.

Linking in with Picture the past the records of 400 plus parishes are stored, and deposits are encouraged from individuals, families and organisations for safe keeping, and accessibility for all.

The archivists preserve (to keep in current condition) or conserve (repair) documents. Repairs are carried using mainly Japanese papers which resemble old papers most;  preservation includes acid free storage boxes made to measure and the use of cushions to protect book spines etc.
Apparently as part of the conservation process - they do wash paper and iron it!

Other treasures of Derbyshire archives include Quarter sessions and Manor Courts - the predecessors of the local authorities; an Anne of Cleves signed deed, estate and family wills from 1858-1928 available on-line, Records from Smedleys hydro and Strutts mills etc.

A conundrum discovered by the records office in one of their deposits can be read about here: Bakewell pudding.

Karen then went onto explain about the written word, originally documents were produced in latin by scribes, monks in particualar, generally for ecclesiatical purposes. It could take months to write out one volume, a bible could take around three years to produce.
A book of hours was among the most common type of illuminated book, uniquely created by hand they were books of psalms and religious texts. starting life as psalters - from which Monks and nuns had to recite psalms - they were also a tool to learn to read.
Following the introduction of the printing press around the 1440s literacy levels began to improve, letters appeared, improved business communication, title deeds etc giving a better insight into lifestyle and community. See the 'rules for children' book to the right.....

Styles of handwriting developed Chancery Hand being the first official script arriving in England around 1350 from Rome via France - this example is Chancery - the nearest I could find on google....

Gothic in style the script was popular with Ducal and Royal families, used to enrol acts of parlaiament until 1836 - it inspired the first italic typeface.

Next came Secretary Hand 16th-17th century
in theory developed as the need for a more legible form of handwriting was needed?? This was the font used by WH Ireland to forge Shakespeare

The Counter-part document included in the photo album from Derbyshire archives, with its many seals was the inspiration for this years kickstart programme. There is a wax seal for each named individual parishioner involved in the contract - woman are incuded here...

Palaeography or Palæography, is the study of ancient writing. Included in the discipline is the practice of deciphering, reading, and dating historical manuscripts. Karen gave us a brief summary, advising in order to identify a document you need to know what you are looking at - for example title deeds give a full description of what they are about. Spelling was only standardised in the 18th century, not deemd important prior to that; names and words can be spelt differently in the same document.

If in doubt say the word out loud and consider its context - so Belhaus written in a kitchen inventory becomes bellows when spoken...of course local accents and dialects should be considered too!

Parchment was very expensive so lots of abbreviations were used - m and n were oftem missed off and replaced by a squiggle...letter p was heavily abbreviated - the National Archives site has useful information on where to start.

Thanks to Karen for a very interesting and productive morning.


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