Category Archives: 19th century

Homes Under Pressure Conference / Ada Chesterton and Homeless Histories

For those I spoke to yesterday at the ‘Homes under pressure‘ conference (Histories of Home Subject Specialist Network) / Homes of the Homeless: Seeking Shelter in Victorian London exhibition (on until 12 July), at the Geffrye Museum (and anyone who might be interested), here are links to my Voluntary Action History Society article blog on journalist Ada Chesterton’s early 20th century investigations into life for homeless women in London during the mid 1920s. My Underworld Archaeology blog has longer, and more varied,  articles on this topic (under search ‘homelessness’).

The exhibition & museum are both certainly worth a visit – I’ll hopefully find time to write something about the conference and exhibition on the Underworld Blog; and on the Past Sense Project website. I’ll also soon upload a summary of my conference paper to the PSP site, and possibly a copy including the pages I skipped (due to shockingly over-running: sorry to all who were there, especially JB). These pages discussed how we’re hoping to use Victorian & early 20th century household artefacts, buildings and landscapes for archaeology workshops in domestic violence refuges.

For the exhibition visitors who asked me about why I was taking photos: thanks very much for taking the time to listen to my ramblings – it’s really great to bump into anyone interested in the topic.

New Year Superstitions, Customs and Folktales from Victorian Derbyshire


Following on from the post on Christmas Folklore, Superstitions, Carols and Customs from Victorian Derbyshire recorded by Sidney Oldall Addy within his late 19th century Household Tales and Traditional Remains, this post brings together extracts from this book relating superstitions, rituals and folktales for the New Year.[i]

In this book, Addy speculates as to the origin of some superstitions and folktales, suggesting in some cases (with little valid supporting evidence) continuity from the pre-Christian era – as was typical within many Victorian, and some early 20th century, works. Detailed philological, sociological, archaeological and historical, anthropological and ethnographic studies carried out during and after the late 20th century tend to indicate, in the absence of written records, the relatively short duration of social memories, limiting the length of time over which superstitions, traditions, and folktales continue unchanged.[ii] Many seemingly ‘ancient’ ritual practices, supernatural beliefs, and seasonal customs have a much later origin that might be supposed, mostly deriving from the post-medieval period, sometimes to quite recent years. The reader should therefore proceed with caution (and seek corroboration within more up to date research) before accepting claims made within early works of continuity from ‘pagan times’. Nonetheless, Household Tales provides and interesting account of superstitions remembered in the late 19th century, if not necessarily still practised at that time.

Although many of the traditions are from North Derbyshire (presented below in the Derbyshire New Year Superstitions, Traditions and Folktales section), Addy does not always record the provenance of customs; though perhaps it is safe to presume from the full title of the book that the information contained within is from either Derbyshire, Nottinghamshire, Lincolnshire, or Yorkshire.[iii] These extracts appear below in the ‘Unprovenanced New Year superstitions and rituals’ section (though extrapolating from previous paragraphs in the book, some or all possibly derive from East Riding).

Household Tales relates fewer regional New Year traditions than those associated with Christmas, or with other times of the year. Some belong to both Christmas and New Year, such as the “wasselling” carol recorded in the preceding post: a regional version of ‘I Saw Three Ships”, about which Addy speculates that “The idea seems to have been that the New Year, like a child, came over the sea in a ship”.

There is some continuity of traditions into the present, with perhaps the most well known New Year custom of ‘first footing’. However, for North Derbyshire, this recorded as a Christmas practice, rather than a ritual carried out at the turn of the year (as also seen from the preceding post).

In general, New Year traditions in Britain consist of both ‘spells’ for girls and women wishing to prophesise their future husband (as is common with seasonal customs), as well as rituals intended to ensure good fortune for the year to come. New Year customs recorded in Household Tales as known at the end of the 19th century in Derbyshire include some divination ‘spells’, though most appear to be aimed at procuring ‘good luck’ in the New Year.

(Extracts are quoted verbatim, without using speech marks to denote Addy’s narration, and square brackets used for insertions by the author of this post.)

Derbyshire New Year Superstitions, Customs and Folktales


…a Derbyshire man puts a coin into the spout on New Year’s Eve and brings it into the house the minute after the clock has struck twelve at midnight…to make the coming year prosperous.

The Derbyshire man brings a [xxvi] coin into the house to make the new year prosperous. It may be that when he does this he is quite unconscious of what the ceremony means, and that he is merely repeating a formality whose meaning has long been forgotten. Still there once was a time when his ancestors practised the ceremony with a real and earnest purpose…

[The] bringing of a coin into the house at the dawn of the New Year was believed to be a means of ensuring the possession of money during that year…

…important as it was that the household should be possessed of money, it was more important that it should have enough of food and fire. It was therefore desirable that as the year came in some means [xxvii] should be devised whereby the possession of these good things would be secured.

…A similar rude process of reasoning goes on, or at least once went on, when a piece of money is put into the pocket of a new coat “for luck,” the idea being that the coin will have a magical influence over the coat, and that the prosperity thus begun will be continued.

One of the most interesting relics of paganism which I have had the good luck to discover is that which relates to the three Fates or Norns. In the section entitled “Two Pagan Hymns” [see following extract] mention will be found of three maids known as “the threble Timbers,” two of whom are “lily white,” and the third is dressed in green. These maids are described as living for evermore, and they are plainly the three Fates. The girls who set the table on New Year’s Eve with knives, forks, plates, and chairs for three guests, whom they expect to appear at the hour of midnight, are, without knowing it, spreading the table for the three Fates, though in the charm which they practise they expect their future husbands to appear. In the collection of superstitions condemned by Burchard, Bishop of Worms, who died in 1024, we are told that the German women of his time had the custom, at certain times of the year, of spreading tables in their houses with meat and drink, and laying three knives, that if the three sisters should come (whom Burchard interprets as being equivalent to the Roman Parcae) they might partake of their hospitality.[iv] Thus, in a Derbyshire village, at the end of the nineteenth century, we find this old superstition in full vigour, the only difference being that the future husbands of the women, instead of the Fates, are expected to appear.[v]

[“Two Pagan Hymns”:] On New Year’s Eve three unmarried girls may adopt the following plan in order to see the spirits of their future husbands. Let them go into a room which has two doors, and set the table with knives, forks, and plates for three guests, and let them wait in the room till twelve o’clock at midnight, at which hour exactly the spirits of their future husbands will come in at one door and go out at the other.[vi]

Let a girl take the stone out of a plum, throw the stone in the fire, and say these lines :

If he loves me crack and fly,

If he hates me burn and die.

Then let her mention the name of her sweetheart. If he loves her the stone will crack and fly out of the fire. If he does not love her it will quietly burn to ashes.

In Derbyshire “wassil” cakes are made on New Year’s Day. They are composed of flour, milk, and the first egg which a goose has laid. The cake is the same as that which is known as “speechless cake.”

…partaking of a mixed dish or cake as the new year comes in was believed to induce a sufficiency of food.

…in Derbyshire a species cake called “wassil cake,” [is] compounded in the same way as another cake well known in magic as “the speechless cake,” is made on New Year’s Day.


About midnight on New Year’s Eve a man at Eckington, in Derbyshire, said that he saw a spectre in the shape of a wild white horse. The colliers in this neighbourhood say that they often see this white horse.

Unprovenanced New Year superstitions and rituals

On New Year’s Eve one should go out before midnight and bring a piece of coal, a broom, a shovel, or other article into the house. This should be done just as the old year is passing away and the new year coming in. A piece of money should also be put into the spout for luck, and taken into the house just when the new year is coming in.

On New Year’s Day unmarried girls melt lead and pour it into a bucket of water. It then assumes various shapes, such as a hammer, and from this they divine the trades or occupations of their future husbands.

It is unlucky to continue the knitting of a stocking into the new year. The stocking should be finished before the year closes, and the needle taken out. The needle must not be allowed to remain in the stocking until the beginning of the new year.

As the old year is passing away and the new year coming in cattle fall on their knees.

Whatever work you are doing when the new year comes in you will do a great deal of the same work during that year.

It is unlucky to come into your house with empty hands on New Year’s morning.

On New Year’s Day the “lucky bird” came again and received the usual present. Then the boys of the family received presents, and after them the girls.

The first person who comes into a house on New Year’s morning must have black hair. Sometimes boys with dark hair are picked for the purpose of being the first to enter the house on New Year’s morning.


We hope that readers have enjoyed these extracts from Household Tales, and will return in spring 2015 with Victorian folklore and superstitions from Derbyshire associated with topics such as fairies and Morris Dancing!

LIPCAP wishes readers:

1293933880392931 nyr 6


[i] Household Tales and Traditional Remains. Collected in the Counties of York, Lincoln, Derby, and Nottingham, published 1895.

[ii] For example, a useful and interesting work that considers the transmission and transformation of folktales is James Fentress’ and Chris Wickham’s 1992 Social Memory. See also ‘Telling tales? Myth, memory, and Crickley Hill’, by the author of this post, in Memory, Myth and Long-Term Landscape Inhabitation, Adrian M. Chadwick and Catriona D. Gibson (eds.), 2013, for a recent discussion of long-term cultural memory.

[iii] See endnote i.

[iv] The footnote of the text records “ “Wright’s Celt, Roman, and Saxon, 4th ed., p. 340. Burchard’s words are: ” Fecisti ut quaedam mulieres in quibusdam temporibus anni facere solent, ut in domo sua mensam praeparares et tuos cibos et potum cum tribus cultellis supra mensam poneres, ut si venissent tres illae sorores, quas antiqua posteritas et antiqua stuititia Parcas nominavit, ibi reficerentur.” ”

[v] Abby notes that [xxx] “In the Nornagests Saga we are told that there travelled about in the land völvur, who are called spákonur, who foretold to men their fate. People invited them to their houses and gave [Xxxi] them good cheer and gifts. These beings are identical with the Norns.” The accompanying footnote records the source of this myth as Grimm’s Teutonic Myth, trans. Stallybrass, p. 409.

[vi] Abby notes “The three guests are the three Parcae, or Fates”. For the source, as recorded in the footnote of the text, see Grimm (trans. Stallybrass), op. cit., p. 1746.

From Yeoman to Gentleman: ‘Peopling’ a 17th Century South Derbyshire Manor House


This post is one of the series that explores everyday life in the early modern period,[i] through an early 17th century manor house in South Derbyshire, which the author recently had opportunity to visit.[ii] This private home, ‘Upper Hall’, is of interest to the historian in both the preservation of early features, and the availability of related written sources.[iii]

This post investigates the early residents of the house, using written evidence to produce ‘family histories’, and to consider social relationships between and within the families that occupied the Hall, and the wider community. This follows on from ‘Living in the Early Modern Past: the 17th Century Home’, which provides a backdrop for this series, outlining the domestic environment and material culture at this time for a smaller early modern yeoman household. Subsequent posts, beginning with ‘A 17th Century Home in South Derbyshire: In at the Ground Floor’, will describe the domestic environment and material culture commonly associated with such households in the middle of the 17th century. These descriptive and interpretative posts adopt an ‘archaeological story-telling’ approach – a method discussed in the preceding post ‘Expedition into the Past: Tales of a 17th Century Derbyshire Manor House’.

Meet the Benskins

Benskin family (variously spelt Benskyn or Benskine – the different forms perhaps used to differentiate between different branches of the family),[iv] prosperous yeoman farmers from at least the mid 16th century (see below), built (or more likely, had built) Upper Hall as built their home.[v] As was typical until the mid 20th century (the explanation for which would be out-of-place here!), the family was large, with each generation perpetuating the names of their forebears (a factor that holds the potential to cause confusion when needing to differentiate between successive family members).

In the late 16th – early 17th centuries, the head of the family within the village was Johannis (sometimes spelt Johannes; often abbreviated as Johis. or Johes.), who shall here be referred to as John I (and highlighted in red on the family tree below). Sometime after the birth of his son Johannis in 1600 (here referred to as John II, highlighted in green, on the family tree below), John I came to be known as Johannis Snr. in the records.

Benskin Family Tree John II

Benskin Family Tree John I

Tentative family trees: John Benskin I, highlighted in red, showing siblings of John II (highlighted in green)

In the years after the death of his father (John I) in 1637-38, John II became known as ‘old’ John, in order to differentiate between him and his own son Johannis (here referred to as John III, probably born in 1627 or 1630, and highlighted in blue on the family tree below).[vi] John III – known in the records as ‘John Jnr.’ – may have had a son called John: the parish records record the burial of a John ‘son of Johannis Juinioris’) in early April 1663. Seven years later, in recording the burial of his (also named John – consequently here IV) mother Maria, she is described as wife of ‘old man’ John, which it must be presumed is John II, who in this year would have reached 70 years of age. (There are also several nephews and cousins named John, who we shall pass over.)

Benskin Family Sam I

Benskin Family Tree Richard I & II

Benskin Family Tree John III

Tentative Benskin family trees constructed from parish records (liable to modification with further investigation of historic records).[vii]

The family had evidently achieved remarkable success over several generations, as tenant farmers of grazing lands.[viii] In the middle of the previous century, the goods of a certain Ralph Benskin were assessed for tax purposes; his payment recorded as the highest in the village.[ix] The exact location of the Benskin household within the manor at this time is uncertain, although the 1616 pew plan for the local church might tentatively be used to investigate the composition of the community, and to consider social hierarchies within the village, between this time and the first records for the church rate assessments in 1619 (see below). The plan does not record the ‘Upper Hall’ as it now stands, which they had not yet built; dendrochronological investigation provides dates from building timbers that support stylistic conclusions of construction in the early 17th century.[x] However, a pew at the front of the church for residents of ‘The Hall’ suggests the presence of an earlier important residency, perhaps on lands in the Upper Hall manor. (Alternatively, ‘The Hall’ is perhaps instead associated with nearby Newhall, formerly the seat of the rectory patrons, the Dethick family).[xi] ‘Ould Hall’ recorded in the 1666 rates assessment (see below)[xii] arguably corresponds to this building.

The plan names most pew occupants; however, although wealthy members of the community (see below),[xiii] it does not record the Benskin family by name. Considered in conjunction with their subsequent construction of Upper Hall manor house, this raises the possibility that they occupied the earlier Hall, and the associated box pew, although one of the other properties named on the plan might alternatively represent the family.[xiv] The plan also records pews for Nether Hall, the adjoining manor that with Upper Hall lands forms the village, and located approximately 1 ¼ miles to the west of the Upper Hall.[xv]

1616 Pew Plan

Plan of the box pews in the nearby church, 1616[xvi]

By 1619, John Benskin (I) pays the highest rates; his son (John II) pays a much smaller amount; and Samuel Benskin (the probable brother of John I; highlighted in orange, on the family tree above) likewise pays comparatively little, at times much less than John Jnr. (II), who was at other times (1628) un-rated.[xvii]

John I pays rates in the summer assessment of 1629 on his ‘livings’ (income or revenue, commonly from lands or property), but in the winter is assessed for his new house, which is interpreted as Upper Hall.[xviii] This terminus ante quem for Upper Hall correlates with the dendrochronology dates of 1618-28.[xix] From the information currently at hand, it seems most likely that the house was built on the more substantial manor estate of the two that formed the village (probably on land rented, rather than purchased, from the gentry, though see below),[xx] some time (at most a few years) before or after the death of this first wife, Sarah (obit. 1625). If the above family tree is correct, the surviving children of John would at this time have been in their late 20s (which does not preclude their living with their parents, or father, at this time);[xxi] his grandchildren seem to have mostly been born in the second half of the 1620s.

John’s (I) continued to pay the highest rates in the village through the 1630s, though the amount declines during this time.[xxii] The rate assessments of 1636 and 1637 entries are incomplete, with possible missing pages; but those dating to and after 1638 do not list him, suggesting that he died during this period;[xxiii] his will was proved in 1637.[xxiv] Samuel’s fortunes seem to rise during this decade, as in 1635 he occupies the second manor house in the village, Nether Hall.[xxv] John II appears to have inherited his father’s estate by 1638, residing within Upper Hall, his rates valued at a similar level to that paid by his father during his possible final assessment, making John II the highest ratepayer.[xxvi] The surviving rate assessments suggest that this pre-eminence continued through to the 1650s,[xxvii] despite family involvement within at least one dispute over property in the village. In 1655, when John II and Samuel are still living at Upper Hall and Nether Hall, respectively, there is a chancery case between plaintiffs John (presumably II) and Samuel Benskin (I?), and Richard Compton (and other defendants).[xxviii] An early 18th century ‘history’ by William Woolley refers to a Henry Compton selling manor lands in the later 16th century to ‘Berkins’ (a scribal or transcription error for ‘Benskin’??), who then sold land to ‘Capt. Thomas Colson’, whose son sold the land to the author of the ‘history’.[xxix] This chain of events raises interesting possibilities with respect to this court case, and others that follow (see below).

Though the rates returns are then unavailable until 1663,[xxx] other documents tantalisingly hint at some of the accommodation, activities, and attitudes, of Benskin family members during this time. A James, son of Samuel Benskin (perhaps Samuel Benskin the younger, highlighted in brown on the above family tree), begins a London apprenticeship in 1661-62, at which time his father is described as a ‘gentleman’.[xxxi] The 1662 Hearth Tax payment for seven hearths suggests that John continued to occupy the Hall, or a building in the village of similar proportions; he pays the highest amount behind Thomas Coulson, who apparently occupied a house equipped with one more chargeable hearth than John.[xxxii]

It would be interesting to hear from local historians as to whether the ‘Newhall’ owned by ‘Capt. Thomas Colson’ referred to by Woolley (see above) may or may not corresponds to this building.[xxxiii] The payment of tax by Samuel Benskin may either suggest that Nether Hall was a small dwelling with only a single hearth (which seems unlikely), or that only one Samuel Benskin resided in the village at that time, the elder by then having moved from the Hall; the return does not mentioned Compton.[xxxiv] When the rates records resume in the following year, this change in prominence seems to continue, with ‘Mr Coulson’ paying the highest rates for an unnamed property in the Upper Hall manor (again, perhaps ‘Newhall’ – see above), though only slightly more than John Benskyn and his sons.[xxxv] Samuel Benskin is again associated with the Nether Hall manor, paying the highest rates.[xxxvi] Another property dispute (potentially relating to the Upper Hall manor) is recorded in this year,[xxxvii] between Benskin and ‘Oldershaw’ (who, though not mentioned on the Hearth Tax return,[xxxviii] appears at the top of the rates assessment list in 1665, for an apparently unnamed property: see below).[xxxix]

Upper Hall manor (south-east: below centre right) and Nether Hall manor (north-west: above centre left) sectors of the village (image: Bing Maps). Note the medieval ridge and furrows (wide s-shaped rows of earth) within the curved fields around the village (narrower, straighter ridges usually date to a later period)

Upper Hall (south-east: bottom left) and Nether Hall (north-west: top right) sectors of the village (image: Bing Maps). Note the medieval fields ridge and furrows (wide s-shaped  rows of earth) in fields around the village (narrower, straighter ridges usually date to a later period).

Upper Hall (south-east: bottom left) and Nether Hall (north-west: top right) sectors of the village (image: Bing Maps). Note the medieval fields ridge and furrows (wide s-shaped rows of earth) in fields around the village (narrower, straighter ridges usually date to a later period).

The following years appear to be a time of change for the Benskin family, although without examining the original documents, it is only possible to speculate the extent to which further chancery cases affected this change. The legal dispute of 1664 was within the family, between the plaintiffs John (II?) and Samuel (II?), and John (III, or son of Samuel I?), alongside other unnamed defendants.[xl] The 1665 rate assessment does not mention of Upper Hall, but records a John Benskin as paying rates on the ‘Coppies’ (perhaps the Coppice Farm, to the north-east of the village centre;[xli] if referring to John II (and not his son, or a son of Samuel), this may support the suggestion that Upper Hall was vacant at this time.[xlii] The assessment also mentions payments from Samuel and Richard Benskyn (the latter probably a son of John II; highlighted in purple on the above family tree), although with no reference to their abode.[xliii] Though perhaps by now their occupation of the Upper Hall (though possibly not of the lands: see below) had ended, it might be conjectured that the connections of the Benskin family with the manor aided their ascendant social status. The author has not yet had opportunity to undertake further study of the Parish records, which might determine the extent to which the Bubonic Plague (particularly that of 1665) affected the village (and property ownership or occupation).

Samuel still pays rates for Nether Hall in 1672,[xliv] the year of another chancery case, in which the defendants are Samuel (probably III, as a will for a Samuel Benskin, of the same village, is dated to 1671), John (II or III?), and Richard Benskin (I: see above). Chancery records name the plaintiffs as John Hope, Thomas Greene (who may subsequently occupy the hall: see below, and whose family may have lived in the village at least since the early 1660s).[xlv] Another is John Cantrell, who belongs to a local family, some of whom may have held land outside the village, and whose likely descendants (and perhaps himself), later occupy the Hall (see below).[xlvi] It is uncertain whether this dispute relates directly to manor lands or the Hall, but subsequent developments (see below) perhaps support this possibility.

Despite (or because) of these disputes (it is at this stage unknown to the author whether they increased or diminished family fortunes), the social position of some members of the Benskin family seems to rise, or at least remain stable. In the mid 1670s, Richard (I: see above), like his relative (probably uncle) Samuel before him, is described as a ‘gentleman’, at the beginning of the apprenticeship of his son Richard (II: highlighted in pink on the family tree above).[xlvii]

By 1678, Thomas Benskin (possibly the eldest surviving son of Samuel I, who was perhaps by then deceased: highlighted in yellow on the Benskin family trees, above) pays rates on Nether Hall, and continues to do so for the next two years.[xlviii] After this, the family appear to be absent from the village rates assessments, although they perhaps continue to fight in the courts with local landowners over property within, and possibly around, the village.[xlix]

New blood at the Old Hall

Oldershaw and Greene

Upper Hall had not been mentioned in the rates since 1655 (though as mentioned above, the records between this date and 1663 are missing), and the name remains absent for some time. However, ‘ould hall’ occurs in 1666, on which ‘Mr Ouldershaw’ (see above) pays rates.[l] Although it has been suggested that this building is unlikely to represent Upper Hall,[li] there is perhaps some connection with the Upper Hall manor lands, considering the aforementioned legal dispute between ‘Oldershaw’ and Benskin (see above). If not referring to Upper Hall, ‘old Hall’ might instead represent the building mentioned in the 1616 pew plan (see above). A late 19th century OS map records an ‘Old Hall’ to the north-west of the village, perhaps Nether Hall.[lii] (Local historians with greater knowledge of the area may be able to dismiss or verify this possibility, and comment upon the origins of this building – and whether, instead, the land (and possibly buildings) relates to the ‘Newhall’ mentioned above). By 1668, Thomas Greene becomes the highest rated villager in paying for Old Hall, where he remained until at least December 1671.)[liii]

As noted above, there is a property dispute between the Benskins, Thomas Greene, John Hope, and John Cantrell, in the following year. It has been proposed that Old Hall is partitioned in this year (perhaps indicating the equation of this building and Upper Hall, considering division of the latter seemingly early in its history; otherwise, this change may reflect substantial social changes in the village at this time; John Beighton is named as a tenant.[liv] This surname had appeared in the Hearth Tax return (see above), with reference to a certain Sam. Beighton who paid tax on a single hearth, and to a (petty) constable Samuel Beighton (who was responsible for collecting the tax) – probably either the same person, or close relatives. Chancery records again name Thomas Greene and John Cantrell as plaintiffs (along with a certain John Browne) in a property dispute of 1678, now against Arthur and William Taylor (both alias Leighton).[lv] An Arthur and William Taylor are recorded on the Hearth Tax return, paying 4s and 2s, respectively, the former amount indicating a relatively well-to-do Yeoman dwelling for the time, the latter quite a comfortable house for a successful small tenant farmer or artisan family (see the previous post).[lvi] The William Taylor named c. 1712 as at that time having ‘a good new brick house and estate’ in Nether Hall perhaps represents another family connection.[lvii] Old Hall subsequently seems to disappear from the church rates, and Upper Hall reappears in the assessment for the following year (1679), though without reference to the occupant.[lviii] There is no reference to either Old Hall or Upper Hall in the 1681 assessment.[lix]

Cantrell and Cant

The next recorded occupant of Upper Hall is John Cantrell. The Cantrell family appear to have resided in or near the village for some time, with a Thomas Cantrell named on the 1616 pew plan (see above). A John Cantrell pays relatively low rates in the 1619 assessment, though this value very gradually rises over the years.[lx] (This person is perhaps equated with or related to the yeoman John Cantrell who is recorded as owning land in nearby Kings Newton, in his will, proved 1616.)[lxi] He paid only a shilling Hearth Tax, suggesting that he occupies a small house;[lxii] in the following year, he appears on the assessment for the Nether Hall part of the village.[lxiii]

It might be conjectured that John Cantrell did not do badly in the 1672 property dispute mentioned above against the Benskins (which it is presumed sought to establish ownership of manor lands or dwellings). By the early 1680s, the Cantrell family were wealthy members of the local community, the men referred to as ‘gentlemen’ by the early decades of the following century.[lxiv] In 1681, John Cantrell (presumably the elder, suffixed hereafter I) is rated for Lea Wood, located to the west of the Upper Hall village; though the occupant is not recorded, Nether Hall is listed below this entry; John continues to be associated with this manor for several years after.[lxv] The younger John Cantrell (suffixed hereafter II) is described as heading the list for Hartshorne, although the assessment neglects to mention either Old Hall Upper Hall.[lxvi] Upper Hall and Lea Wood lands are assessed together by 1688, though separately from Nether Hall; it is been noted that, though the occupants are not specified, John Cantrell I is involved with approving the accounts.[lxvii] If this comment refers to Nether Hall, this may indicate that by this time, John I either no longer, or had not previously, occupied the Netherhall house, despite paying rates on surrounding land. John (presumably II) paid by far the highest poor rates in 1690 (which assessed land and buildings, rather than goods); the assessment also records Nether Hall, though its occupant is unnamed.[lxviii] The suggestion that John II occupied Upper Hall in the 1681s has been tempered by his marriage settlement of 1694 not mentioning the house.[lxix]

Woolley’s History of Derbyshire records that by 1712, ‘John Cantrell’ (I) occupied Upper Hall, ‘a good brick and stone house’ (note the attempt to play-down the timber-frame construction, which was by this time unfashionable), who owned much of the manor lands, and had done so for some time.[lxx] (Due to apparent OCR conversion inaccuracies in the detailed summary from which most of the information in this section derives; the following reading is therefore likely to be imperfect, and will be modified when mistakes become known.)[lxxi]

In this year, John Cantrell (II), a ‘gentleman’, granted consent for Robert (the younger son of John I, and younger brother of John II) to receive a 500-year lease of the manor house and lands (including receipt of their revenue); John I devised this scheme in order to provide Robert with a share of £1000.[lxxii] The elder John was to continue to hold the manor until his death, when it would transfer to Robert and his trustees for what was left of the 500-year lease, unless John II paid £1000 within 6 months of his father’s death, thereby cancelling Robert’s lease.[lxxiii]

John II died in late 1722 or early 1723, leaving his lands in trust.[lxxiv] His will provided his daughter Anne (born c. 1705: see below) with an annual allowance of £30 derived from their revenue, until her marriage or coming of age, after which she would receive a portion of the £1000.[lxxv] His eldest son John (III, born c. 1704: see below) – again described as a ‘gentleman’ – inherited what was left of the revenue from the estate, which if he had no heirs was to pass to Anne, and if she had no children, to Robert.[lxxvi]

Several chancery cases involving the Cantrell family may have either derived from, or were a cause of, John the elder’s scheme to provide for his dependants. A case of 1722 lists the defendants as John (presumably III), aged 18, Anne, aged 17, and Robert, ‘an infant’, and Robert Orton, the guardian of Anne and Robert, suggesting that by this time their father (John II) had died.[lxxvii] One plaintiff is John Browne – apparently the same person named as plaintiff with John Cantrell in a 1678 property dispute (see above); the others are a Joseph Ragg and one Leonard Piddock.[lxxviii]

A case of the following year (1723) indicates that John II died in debt. The defendants of the previous case are named as plaintiffs in this writ, and referred to as creditors of the recently deceased John Cantrell (II): Joseph Ragg and John Brown are described as yeomen (of a nearby village, and as a previous resident of the manor, respectively), Leonard Piddock is a ‘gentleman’ (of a nearby small town).[lxxix] The defendants were William Orton, Thomas Broad, Anne Cantrell, and Robert Cantrell (both Cantrells still minors at this time).[lxxx] Another case in the same year names as plaintiff, Anne as ‘spinster, an infant (by Richard Orton)’, as she has not yet reached her majority; the defendants are Thomas Broad (described as ‘gentleman’), William Orton, Robert Cantrell and John Cantrell.[lxxxi]

The dispute continues with a case in the next year (1724). Anne is defendant, still an ‘infant’ and acting under the guardianship of Richard Orton, and described as ‘spinster (daughter of John Cantrell, deceased …)’; the plaintiffs are John Cantrell ‘son and heir of said John Cantrell’ (also still legally ‘an infant’), ‘William Orton and Thomas Broad (executors of said John Cantrell, deceased)’, and Robert Cantrell.[lxxxii] Anne (by then aged 20) yet again seeks justice in the following year (1725), bringing a case against William Orton and John Cantrell, ‘an infant aged 18 years, ([acted for] by William Noon)’; the age of this John suggests the possibility that he may not be her brother, but another family member.[lxxxiii]

Perhaps in the following year, John III and the executors of his father’s estate (named in the above mentioned chancery case of the previous year as William Orton and Thomas Broad)[lxxxiv] mortgaged Upper Hall manor house, lands, and buildings, paying Robert his share of the £1000, ending his lease on the property. The chancery records document what seems to be a final case in this year (1726), between the defendants Ann (evidently unmarried, and before her 21st birthday, as still a ‘spinster’ and ‘infant’), with Robert Orton, against Robert Cantrell.[lxxxv] Other chancery cases might provide further information on the property.[lxxxvi]

It seems that John I lived at the Hall until 1729[lxxxvii] – at which time (it might be speculated) perhaps he died. By early 1729 or 1730, a Cantrell ‘heiress’ (most likely Anne) had married William Cant, a ‘gentleman’ of Nether Broughton, Leicestershire.[lxxxviii] At around this time, John Cantrell III (who was then also residing in Broughton) mortgaged the manor and hall to his ‘brother-in-law’ ‘as security’ of his sister’s share of the £1000, and it is assumed that the couple took up residency of Upper Hall.[lxxxix]

William Cant still held the Hall and lands in 1765, named as ‘Lord of the Manor’ when giving consent ‘for a cottage to be set up for Abraham Harvey’, dated to 17 May.[xc]

Upper Hall: a reward for defending against despotism, or for supporting treason?

A final note that may be of interest to modern readers is the (albeit distant) link between the Hall and international politics (and recent TV period drama!). According to 19th century directories, William Bayley Cant – a grandson of William Cant, who died in 1800 – bequeathed the manor to the Lord Thomas Erskine.[xci] The intended recipient was a lawyer, to whom Cant made the bequest in acknowledgement of his defence of John Horne TookeThomas Hardy, and John Thelwall, who were tried for high treason in 1794. The case, an important test for British constitutional rights, was portrayed in the superb (though not always entirely accurate historically) BBC series, Garrow’s Law (Series 1, Episode 4). However, a legal error with the will resulted in John Murcot, Esq. holding the manor, through a certain Miss Partridge (cousin and heiresses of Cant).[xcii]


Now familiar with the characters that lived in and were involved with Upper Hall during the first two centuries after construction, the reader is invited to look inside the dwelling, to discover what home life was like in the 17th century for the families discussed above. The next post, ‘Living in the Early Modern Past: A 17thcentury South Derbyshire Home’, explores the everyday existence of the Benskin family, by exploring their home.


[i] In the UK, archaeological studies generally define the Early Modern period as the time after the late medieval era, and before widespread industrialisation, i.e. most commonly mid 16th – mid 18th centuries. For a discussion of the term, see the preceding post ‘An Expedition into the Past: Tales of a 17th Century Derbyshire Manor House’.

[ii] For information on the circumstances of access to the property, see ‘Expedition into the Past’ (op. cit.).

[iii] In order to retain the privacy of the occupants, the full address of this property is withheld.

[iv] The names of the occupants of Upper Hall, and approximate dates when the property changed hands, were initially obtained from a small pamphlet on the property compiled by South Derbyshire Conservation Officer Philip Heath, printed by SDDC in 2000, revised 2011, provided by the owners of the property during the visit. Further information from Daniel and Samuel Lysons, 1817 Magna Britannia, pp. 176-77; and with regard to the family and estate in the 16th century, the village Parish Council website.

[v] Ralph Benskin was given the status of ‘Yeoman’ in the mid 16th century (Parish Council, ibid.), which is also given to John Benskin (perhaps his son or grandson) of in his 1637 will (National Archives, Prob. 11/175/408).

[vi] Recorded in the 1662 Hearth Tax return, available online for the village, here; see below.

[vii] The family tree, constructed from parish records, is at this stage only tentative; the names and dates used here are therefore for the time being provisional.

[viii] Village Parish Council (op cit., note iv.).

[ix] Rated at £20 (ibid.), which according to the National Archives Historic Currency Calculator, is approximately equivalent to £4000 in today’s money (which seems a reasonable estimate), and could pay the wages of a builder for three days (which seems less reasonable!).

[x] ‘Tree ring’ dating of timbers from the hall provide a bracket of 1618-28 (Heath, op cit., note iv.).

[xi] See William Woolley, c.1712, History of Derbyshire (Trans. & ed. Catherine Glover and Philip Riden 1981, Derbyshire Record Society, Vol. 6, pp.153-5Date accessed: 16 October 2014)However, legal records perhaps allow for a transcription error, whereby the ‘Berkins’ of this text (who held property in Newhall before selling to Thomas Coulson – another named that appears several times in a variety of records: see below) might instead be read as ‘Benskin’, the family might still be associated with an earlier Hall, before Upper Hall was built. The numerous chancery cases, including several involving members of the Benskin family, that dispute property ownership in the villages, will be discussed briefly below.

[xii] Parish Council (op cit., note iv.).

[xiii] Ibid..

[xiv] Ibid..

[xv] Bagshaw’s Trade Directory of Derbyshire, 1846.

[xvi] Photo: copy of a document on display in the parish church.

[xvii] John I was rated at 8s.10d. in 1619, more than twice as much as the next highest payer (James Royle); 9s.4d in 1620; and in 1627 at 10s.6d. and 10s.5d., in the summer and winter assessments, respectively. John II is first rated in 1627 at 5s., appearing in only in the summer (earlier) rates assessment. In 1628, his relative Samuel Benskin was rated at 2d. (Parish Council: op cit., note iv.).

[xviii] The 1629 Mr Benskin (it must be presumed John I) is recorded as first paying 16s. rates on his livings, and then 8s. for his new house; in addition he paid £l.l0s.ld. rates on beasts and sheep – again the highest for the village. Samuel Benskin paid 12s. on his house (though lower than John I, only one other person paid this amount, with others paying no more than 9s.4d.), and 7s.2d. on beasts and sheep; John II was un-rated for this assessment (ibid.).

[xix] Heath (op cit., note iv.).

[xx] Woolley records that the Upper Hall manor land was held in the early 16th century by a daughter (under William Abbot) of John Ireland, after the death of their father; the Compton family is described as owning land from the mid 16th century (op cit., note xi.). However, this source is scanty, confused, and perhaps inaccurate, and ownership of the lands in the 17th century is uncertain within one local history (Parish Council: op cit., note iv.). Legal records perhaps allow for a transcription error, whereby ‘Berkins’ might instead be read as ‘Benskin’.

The complexities of land and / or property ownership in the villages is complex and frequently contested (with several chancery cases involving members of the Benskin family, potentially indicating their ownership of some manor land, as well as dwellings), as will be seen below. The attribution of some family members as ‘gentleman’ in the second half of the 17th century may also suggest land ownership: see below.

[xxi] It was common at this time for the children of even wealth families to die young, and the Benskin family was no exception: see the putative family trees (op cit., note vii.).

[xxii] In 1630 John I continued to pay the highest rates, though this had dropped to 8s.10d.; Samuel Benskyn paid the next largest amount at 3s.2d (with no one else paying above 2s.lld.); John II is again rated, but at only a few pence. John I is recorded as paying 4s. rates on the Upper hall in 1635 and 10s.4d. on his goods or beasts and sheep. His son John (II) paid 5d. for the residue of the ‘Halls and Roes’ tenements (on part of which one Thomas Mellor paid 16d.), with a joint payment of 16d. for goods (Parish Council: op cit., note iv.).

[xxiii] Ibid..

[xxiv] National Archives (Prob. 11/175/408).

[xxv] In 1635, Samuel Benskyn paid 3s. for the Nether Hall, with his goods rated at 3s.3d. (Parish Council: op cit., note iv.).

[xxvi] During and after 1638, now the head of the family, John II paid 4s.8d. on his living and 9s.4d. on goods; Samuel Benskyn was paying 3s. and 4s.6d., respectively (ibid.).

[xxvii] In 1655, John II paid 7s.7d. and Samuel Benskyn 4s.3d. (with only one other paying more than 3s.); the assessment from 1655 to 1663 are missing (ibid.).

[xxviii] National Archives, C 5/406/122; other cases may relate to the relevant Derbyshire families, though this possibility needs verification, e.g. .a case in 1652 (C 6/118/123), regarding property at nearby Melbourne and Kings Newton, involving one Thomas Benskin – perhaps son of John II (Rivett v Rivett. Plaintiffs Theodore Rivett and John Bucknall; defendants William Rivett, Mary Rivett, Bryan Beanly and Thomas Benskin), is particularly interesting, and could provide insight into the location and extent of lands farmed by the Benskin and Cantrell families (see below).

[xxix] See Woolley (op cit., note xi.).

[xxx] The church rates assessments are missing 1655-63 (Parish Council: op cit., note iv.).

[xxxi] In January of 1661 or 1662, Samuel Benskin [of the village in which Upper Hall is located] is described as a gentleman, when his son James is taken on as an apprentice distiller, James Etwall, in London (John Palmer, n.d. The Wirksworth Website).

[xxxii] For information on the Hearth Tax, see ‘Expedition into the Past: Tales of a 17th Century Derbyshire Manor House’. Thomas Coulson (perhaps the ‘Captain Thomas Colson’ recorded as owing property in Newhall during or after the late 16th century in Woolley’s History of c. 1712, op cit., note vi.) pays the highest amount, at 8s.. This compares to John Benskin’s payment of 7s., suggesting that Coulson’s house had an additional hearth, and therefore may have been either larger, or better appointed. The odd amount is due to this being the first collection: in subsequent years, two yearly collections were made, resulting in a payment of 2s. for each hearth p.a. (1662 Hearth Tax return, op cit.: note vi.). Thomas Coulson is perhaps the ‘Captain Thomas Colson’ recorded as owing property in Newhall during or after the late 16th century in Woolley’s History of c. 1712  (op cit., note xi.).

[xxxiii] Ibid..

[xxxiv] Parish Council (op cit., note iv.).

[xxxv] John II and his sons pay 8s.10d.; Coulson pays 9s. (ibid.).

[xxxvi] Samuel Benskyn pays 7s.10d. (ibid.).

[xxxvii] National Archives, C 9/31/100.

[xxxviii] Hearth Tax return 1662, op cit. (note vi.).

[xxxix] Parish Council (op cit., note iv.).

[xl] National Archives, C 6/39/33 & C 6/39/41, the documents seemingly only differing with regard to spellings of the surname.

Family disputes continue in the 1680s, though most likely regarding land or other property outside the village. A writ is issued (ibid.: C 6/279/15) regarding the personal estate of the deceased Robert Granger by ‘Elizabeth Granger ‘widow’ (likely to be the daughter of John II: see family tree, above) and her possible brother, Thomas Benskin, in 1685 against William Tomlinson, Walter Bagnold and Alexander Walthall. At least one the defendants had married a Benskin daughter: the parish records record that Jana (an abbreviation of Johanna) Benskin married Walter Bagnold in the village, on 23 January 1611 (Parish Council: op cit., note iv.).

[xli] Later maps record a ‘Coppice Farm’ to the northeast of the village (OS 1:2500 1st Ed. Sheet).

[xlii] John Benskyn pays 4s.10d. (Parish Council: op cit., note iv.).

[xliii] Samuel pays 7s.10d., and Richard 2s.8d. (ibid.).

[xliv] Ibid..

[xlv] One Robert Greene is listed as paying a shilling Hearth Tax in the 1662 return (op cit., note vi.).

[xlvi]  National Archives, C 6/209/13, and C 22/238/13.

[xlvii] In 1675, Richard Benskin [of the village in which Upper Hall is located] is recorded as ‘son of Richard…gentleman’ being apprenticed to the Waxchandler Paul Ridly, March 1675 (London Apprenticeship Abstracts, 1442-1850).

[xlviii] Thomas paid 7s.10d. (Parish Council: op cit., note iv.).

[xlix] The exact dates of some disputes, recorded as taking place between 1558 and 1714, require verification at the National Archives, e.g. between Benskin and Cantrell: C 22/236/53; C 22/238/13, and C 22/329/41; also with Royle (C 22/418/23).

[l] Mr Ouldershaw is recorded as paying 2.10d. (Parish Council: op cit., note iv.).

[li] Ibid..

[lii] Ordnance Survey, op cit. (note xli.).

[liii] Thomas Greene pays 7s.8d. on this property (Parish Council: op cit., note iv.).

[liv] John Beighton paid 5s.; the Old Hall is rated at 7s.7d. in 1679 (ibid.).

[lv] National Archives, C 6/209/13. Though perhaps a coincidence, the similarity between the uncommon alias, and name of the Old Hall tenant, the conjecture of either an early spelling mistake in the records, or later transcription error, and the same family (Beighton) being involved in litigation, tenancy, and taxation might be looked into further.

[lvi] Hearth Tax return, 1662, op cit. (note vi.).

[lvii] Woolley, op cit. (note xi.).

[lviii] Parish Council (op cit., note iv.).

[lix] Ibid.

[lx] The 1619 assessment records 15 rate payers in the village who pay less than John Cantrell, though this is likely to be a comparatively small amount; in 1629 he pays 2s., and in 1638 he pays only 6d. on his living, and ls.8d. on goods (ibid.).

[lxi] National Archives, Prob 11/127/261; the author will transcribe a digital copy of this document as soon as possible, and post the information it contains.

[lxii] Hearth Tax return 1662, op cit. (note vi.).

[lxiii] Parish Council (op cit., note iv.).

[lxiv] Woolley (op. cit., note xi.).

[lxv] Parish Council (op cit., note iv.)

[lxvi] Ibid..

[lxvii] Ibid..

[lxviii] Cantrell paid 17s., nearly twice the amount of the next highest occupier, who paid 9s.6d.; 7s.10d was paid on Nether Hall (ibid.).

[lxix] The entry for Nether Hall, which has no name provided, follows that for Lea Wood; John Cantrell Jnr. pays 7s.7d. (ibid.).

[lxx]  Woolley (op cit., note xi.).

[lxxi] This author has found it difficult to interpret the series of events regarding ownership and lease of manor lands from the online summary, which appears to contain textual (apparently OCR recognition) errors; differentiating between the many and various ‘Johns’ is also at times difficult! For example, difficulties derive from the comment that John Cantrell the elder still occupied the Hall in 1792, and was still living in 1796 (Parish Council, op cit.: note iv.).

[lxxii] Robert is described as previously abiding in the City of London, but at that time being a Hartshorne haberdasher, and John II as at that time living in Cirencester (ibid.).

[lxxiii] Ibid..

[lxxiv] The author is about to begin transcribing a digital copy of John Cantrell’s will of April 1723 (National Archives, PROB 11/590/423), the details of which will be posted when completed.

[lxxv] Parish Council (op cit., note iv.).

[lxxvi] Ibid.; the text reads ‘1796’ for this act, though it is anticipated that inaccurate OCR recognition is at fault for converting what should be 1726 to this figure – see note lxxi.

[lxxvii] National Archives, C 11/475/54; a William Orton, presumably relative of the Cantrell guardian, is also named as defendant.

[lxxviii] Ibid..

[lxxix] National Archives, C 11/475/53.

[lxxx] Ibid..

[lxxxi] Ibid., C 11/2686/45.

[lxxxii] Ibid., C 11/2771/22.

[lxxxiii] Ibid., C 11/2387/27. A further dispute (C 11/525/12) regarding property within the region may or may not involve the young John mentioned in the previous chancery case (a person called Piddock is also mentioned: see above); if relevant, it provides names and other details for members of the extended Cantrell family.

[lxxxiv] Ibid..

[lxxxv] National Archives, C 11/2392/42.

[lxxxvi] For example, C 11/2168/14, which refers to a nearby village.

[lxxxvii] Parish Council (op cit., note iv.).

[lxxxviii] Ibid..

[lxxxix] Ibid..

[xc] National Archives; held at DRO (Q/SB/2/1116).

[xci] Daniel and Samuel Lysons (op. cit, note iv.).

[xcii] Ibid.; John Murcot possibly continues to own the manor for some time, being mentioned three decades later as a property owner (though not resident) in Derbyshire, Stephen Glover (Thomas Noble ed.) 1830 The Peak Guide.

Household Tales: Home Life in a 17th Century Derbyshire Manor House

Home Life in the 17th century posts: Introduction

Where, When and Why

This introductory post is the first in a series that discusses home life during the 17th century, through standing buildings and contemporaneous domestic material culture (some of which archaeological excavations have uncovered, and some of which survive in situ in houses that are still standing), considering a range of written evidence alongside material sources. This series was inspired by a recent visit to an early 17th century private home (‘Upper Hall’), built in the Swadlincote area during the 1620s to house a prosperous farming family.[i]

The unusual level of preservation of Upper Hall, with many surviving historic features (most likely due to the presence of tenants limiting 20th century modernisations), makes this building a particularly interesting topic for investigation. Furthermore, the current owners are clearly sympathetic to the historical significance of the building, and have sourced fixtures, fittings, and furnishings compatible with the period of construction, and with modifications made in the 18th and 19th centuries. Though a comfortable living home today, this attention to detail brings alive the history of the dwelling, capturing aspects of the domestic material world for the well-to-do householder in the Early Modern period.[ii]

The primary aim of writing this series is to disseminate information on this property. Through viewing the interior, much might be learnt about domestic life; the residents not only went to the trouble of taking us around their home and pointing out (and explaining) historic features, but also of showing us the artefacts that they had found in the garden, sharing a wealth of knowledge during our visit. They have very kindly granted for LIPCAP consent to display photographs taken during the visit on our website.

This visit (and the writing of these posts) provided a useful opportunity to revise knowledge of early modern domestic contexts,[iii] which when considered alongside other bodies of evidence – such as burials and mortuary memorials of this period – potentially enables a more rounded consideration of life in the early modern past.[iv]

What and How

As research into the property developed, the wealth of readily available relevant sources soon became apparent: family histories, Hearth Tax returns,[v] and records relating to several chancery cases, suggested the possibility of going beyond basic analyses and historical contextualisation of material evidence. The content of easily accessible written evidence opened up the possibility of attempting a form of detailed interpretation that, though less frequently adopted within British archaeology than by archaeologists in North America and Australia, holds the potential to provide a perspective on the past in a format that might be more meaningful than is usual.

Posts describing the property will adopt an ‘archaeological story-telling’ approach – an unconventional, but well-established, genre that brings the material culture of the past back to life through imaginative rendering of historical contexts.[vi] The resultant ‘tales’ differ from historical fiction in both method and intent, presenting detailed, accurate archaeological and written evidence (usually incorporating primary research) within a fictitious narrative. This process aims to interpret sources in a way that might capture the historical imagination of a wider audience than are usually attracted to academic texts (though an academic audience is not excluded). Though set in the mid 17th century, the stories will at times jump forward to later periods, in order to consider features of historic interest that date to after this time.

This particular endeavour represents only the early stages of research: time and financial constraints, restricted mobility, and limited access to resources, have not permitted examination of previous archaeological reports, which the author hopes to achieve in the future. After further research (and taking into consideration any feedback that readers might provide), this series of posts will most likely be modified, and may be developed within a collection of similar articles addressing a range of historical domestic contexts (hopefully including sites of particular interest encountered through LIPCAP fieldwork). For the time being, these narratives incorporate preliminary evidence, as seen during the visit to the property; information provided by the occupants; data within the Historic Environment Records;[vii] information from reports outlining archaeological investigations carried out within the immediate vicinity of the building;[viii] and that derived from independent investigations into family, local, regional, and wider histories.[ix]

Posts will use the photographs of interior historic features taken during our tour of the house,[x] with interpretations drawing upon what remains of the early fabric of this building, and the material culture used within comparable housing (i.e. dwellings in this area, and elsewhere of similar and lower status). This approach enables the consideration of everyday domestic life and environment during the early phases of occupation within this dwelling, although in a less detailed way than might be achieved by a more detailed archaeological standing building investigation. Although it considers buildings and other material from outside the East Midlands (including artefacts manufactured in Britain but discovered through excavations in former British colonies), the series concentrates upon Derbyshire – in particular, the southern districts of the county. Being rich in early modern buildings, and incorporating LIPCAP study areas, this area is of special interest to the Living in the Past Community Archaeology Project.


For those who might wish to know a little more about housing and household material culture in the 17th century, a supplementary post ‘Living in the Early Modern Past: the 17th Century Home’ considers the typical artisan house, outlining domestic life for the family of the less wealthy ‘yeoman’.[xi] This may be used as a comparison for the more affluent home we are about to visit, highlighting the high status of those who lived within Upper Hall, and the relative splendour of their home environment. This supplement also considers the influence of late medieval halls upon the dwellings of yeomen, and the development of different social categories, in the 17th century. Where descriptions of the interiors, objects, culture, and society within the narrative posts do not go into detail, readers may refer to the supplementary and other posts for further information.

Though what follows represents only preliminary work (as it has not yet been possible for the author to obtain copies of previous publications), it lays out the initial stages of multi-disciplinary historical research that holds potential to go beyond descriptions of domestic material culture and environment, and the practicalities of home life, in the early modern period. Feedback from readers on the ‘story-telling’ method (or other issues) will be welcome, so that the process might be refined, although it may not be possible to respond individually to comments.

The next section of this post will provide an outline of the series, should readers have an interest in any particular aspect of the topic.


An Expedition into the Past: The Upper Hall Series

Following on from this post, ‘Living in the Early Modern Past: the 17th Century Home’, considers housing for those categorised at the time as ‘yeoman’ – the social group to which the person who built Upper Hall attested as belonging.[xii] During and after the 17th century, the ‘middling sort’ essentially developed from this group:[xiii] artisans, trades-people, and small holders, with means beyond those of the poor husbandmen, but not as high status (nor often as wealthy) as the landed gentry.[xiv] This expanding group both benefited financially and enhanced their own comfort (and increasingly social position), through recent and continuing growth in trade and commerce – concomitant consumerism, providing a broader range of household material culture, with more opportunities to emulate that of wealthier and higher status homes.

This post acts as a counterpoint to those describing the Hall, and illustrates and discusses domestic material culture found in less substantial homes, through to more high status households.

From Yeoman to Gentleman: ‘Peopling’ a 17th Century South Derbyshire Manor House

The third post examines family and social relationships within and beyond the village, considering inheritance, including (through numerous chancery court records) disputes over land ownership, and perhaps possession of the Hall. Although the latter concerns ostensibly tedious and complex legal disputes, by studying this material alongside archaeological evidence and other historical sources, we may ultimately learn much about everyday life and death in the past. Such information holds the potential to elucidate the mutability of family ties and social bonds at this time: family and community cooperation and conflict emerge from this body of evidence. It is therefore a useful source with regard to attitudes towards group identities and individuality, the acquisition and transference of ‘goods’ (and perhaps the growing power of consumerism), and processes by which social status is constructed and transformed during this transitional period.

The Taxman Cometh: Exploring a 17th Century South Derbyshire Home

The fourth Upper Hall post begins the archaeological story-telling posts, using documentary sources to contextualise the material evidence encountered at Upper Hall. We follow the petty constable Samuel Beighton as he approaches the manor house in 1662 in order to carry out checks for the first Hearth Tax.[xv] His journey provides opportunities not only to consider the appearance of house, but also the social and cultural environment of the day.

In this first story, Samuel travels from the nearby church and along the main road of the village, encountering traffic en route to market. When he arrives at the property Samuel knocks at the front door and looks at the outside of the building, reflecting upon the status of the resident family – the Benskins, and comparing this grand house to neighbouring buildings.

In at the Ground Floor: exploring a 17th Century Home in South Derbyshire

In this second archaeological narrative, we follow Samuel around the ground floor and cellars of Upper Hall, during his visit to determine whether the Master of the house, John Benskin, has been honest in his tax return. This provides constable Beighton with an opportunity to see how those with good fortune live: he sees servants about their daily tasks, and gazes upon the decor and fine things that fill the manor house, as he is shown each room. But with dusk approaching, Samuel must leave to return another day…


As Christmas draws near, and time must be applied to other LIPCAP tasks (including a second 1930s House Xmas Open Day – see what happened last year here), there will be a break in Upper Hall series. If sufficient interest has been shown in the above posts, and if other commitments permit, the series will continue in the New Year with:

Onwards and Upwards: exploring a 17th Century Home in South Derbyshire

Out back: exploring a 17th Century Home in South Derbyshire

The third story (‘Onwards and Upwards’) will follow Samuel Beighton when he returns to Upper Hall in order to investigate the bedrooms of the first floor, and attic rooms, in order to search out hearths that Master Benskin might be trying to conceal so to avoid paying the twice-yearly tax on these features.

The final archaeological story (‘Out back’) examines the back of the house and outbuildings, in search of further hearths. As in the other stories, we travel forward in time to explore later buildings, such as the washhouse and privy.


We hope that you enjoy these posts – please let us know if you do, or if you have any thoughts on how they might be improved.

 In the mean time, sign up for the blog email list, to receive notifications of new articles – including extracts from a Victorian book on folklore in Derbyshire, which shall this time look at Christmas customs, beliefs, and rituals.



[i] In order to retain the privacy of the modern occupants, the full address is withheld. Should this information be sought for genuine research purposes, please contact the project (using the website form), so that the author might pass on enquiries to the residents (who are, however, under no obligation to release this information).

[ii] There are various definitions for the term ‘Early Modern’ within and between the different fields of study concerned with historic buildings and domestic material culture. Archaeological studies in Britain tend to see the Early Modern period as beginning at the start of the post-medieval era (which itself is accorded different points in the late 15th – mid 16th centuries). The termination of the Early Modern era is usually seen as coinciding with the widespread effects of the ‘Industrial Revolution‘, i.e., broadly the late 18th century. Here, the beginning of the post-medieval period, as defined by English Heritage and Historic Environment curators, i.e. AD 1540, will be adopted as a very general starting point for the Early Modern era. However, it must be made clear that this historical period, as with others, has been defined by historians for analytical purposes, and does not necessarily reflect the way that people at the time saw themselves as situated within an era of specific cultural change or continuity.

[iii] During undergraduate studies (long, long ago…) the author was given the opportunity to conduct a standing building investigation of a 17th century cottage in Lincolnshire, which both provided grounding in detailed archaeological building surveys, and sparked an interest in early modern vernacular housing (for more background information, see note iii, ‘Living in the Early Modern Past: the 17th Century Home’)

[iv] Photos taken by the author of memorials within several churchyards in and around Derby are accessible here.

[v] For more information on the Hearth Tax, see Hearth Tax Online – the website of the Centre for Hearth Tax Studies at the University of Roehampton. For hearth tax records, see the National Archives online catalogue.

[vi] The ‘story-telling’ approach is applied and considered within a range of works (e.g. Gibb, James G. 2000 ‘Imaginary, But by No Means Unimaginable: Storytelling, Science, and Historical Archaeology’, Historical Archaeology 34(2), pp.1-6; Beaudry, Mary C. 2005 ‘Stories That Matter: Material Lives in 19th Century Lowell and Boston, Massachusetts’, Post-Medieval Archaeology, Monograph 3, pp.1-20). This method presents the facts uncovered through the study of historical material remains within a narrative framework intended to convey the social and cultural environment to the modern reader; the author has found such an approach most effective when teaching archaeology in adult education, and to the general public.

[vii] HER online databases are available here. In order to retain privacy, this information is not cited in detail here, due to its inclusion of the address.

[viii]watching brief consists of the observation by archaeologists of construction work within historically sensitive areas, to see what historical information might be revealed through excavations, and as a precaution against damage to any hitherto unknown buried remains.

Various archaeological reports are freely available on the ‘grey literature’ (unpublished reports) section of the  Archaeological Data Service (ADS) website, here. In order to retain the privacy of the current occupants, this information is not cited in detail here, due to its inclusion of the address.

[ix] Sources includes parish records and other material associated with the nearby parish church; brief investigation of local industries, particularly ceramics; contemporaneous taxation reports; family history information obtained from public sources, and extended through independent research, e.g. using parish and ecclesiastical records, and documents such as wills, apprenticeship records, and chancery court records, obtained from the National Archives, and other sources. Several unpublished archaeological reports have been completed on the property: should the opportunity subsequently arise to access these documents, this post may be updated with additional information, or a new update post published.

[x] The images of Upper Hall that illustrate the narrative of this series were taken during an open day in Autumn 2014, preventing use of tripod, scale and technical photographic techniques, and precluding the production of a representative archaeological record (in order to avoid obstructing other visitors and residents, and with limited time). Photographs are displayed on this website with the kind permission of the residents of this property; in attempting to avoid the exhibition of personal belongings, some areas, or sections of rooms, were not photographed. All images of the building and associated artefacts are ©LIPCAP, and may not be reproduced without the express permission of the LIP project and property owners.

[xi] Those categorised, and self-identifying, as ‘yeoman’ belonged to a broad social group that ranged from the tenant farmer of modest means, to the better-off, land-owning, farmer. However, in comparison to terms previously used to denote social status (e.g. see here for the 16th century) those used in the 17th century (such as within wills and inventories) are less easily defined. The changing nature of commerce, economy, and social organisation at this time may have resulted in greater ambiguity surrounding the terms ‘yeoman’ and ‘husbandman’, as opportunities to accumulate capital beyond landownership expanded. For example, potters of the late 17th century might be defined as yeomen, presumably due to their independent social position and accumulation of wealth through trade (e.g. see Lorna Weatherill 1971 The Pottery Trade and North Staffordshire, 1660-1760, p 148). However, in representing landownership (the ‘yeoman’ being of the higher status, as a freeholder), the term yeoman appear to remain significant well into the 19th century.

[xii] See note xi.

[xiii] Freely accessible research on the development of the ‘middling sort’ includes ‘The Search For The ‘Middle Sort’ of People’ In England, 1600–1800‘, by H R French (2000); and

in Google Books, sections of Margaret R. Hunt’s 1996 The Middling Sort: Commerce, Gender, and the Family in England, 1680-1780.

[xiv] Husbandmen were typically small-scale tenant farmers, and farm hands, i.e. of lower status, and less well off, than the yeoman. The ‘gentry’ – ‘gentlemen’ – often owned large areas of land, and / or held professional positions (e.g. lawyers, doctors, and some clergy).

[xv] For information on the petty constable, see E. Trotter (ed.) 1980 Seventeenth Century Life in the Country Parish, p. 83 ff..

Custodians of Home Conference: LIPCAP presentation

*Update: Podcasts from this conference are now available online. The paper given by the project director about Living in the Past Community Archaeology Project is directly available here.*

Geffrye Museum entrance

 Geffrye Museum (Wikipedia image)

The ‘Custodians of Home’ conference, held at the fabulous Geffrye Museum (well worth a visit!) last Friday, was a great success – with exception of my LIPCAP paper, which due to a technical fault, displayed a palimpsest of images on each slide, instead of multiple fade in-and-out photos & text boxes.

I’ve created a video of the slide show, should any of the delegates (or anyone else, for that matter) wish to see what should have been visible on the day. For now, this is a low-resolution version (all my laptop can cope with at the moment!), but I’ll uploaded a higher quality version when possible.

(A downloadable PDF version of this paper is available here: Living_in_the_Past_Custodians_Online_PDF)

must again extend thanks to the organisers for inviting me to give a paper at the conference, and – along with others – providing encouragement and very useful advice and information.

I would love to attend all the great events provided by Queen Mary’s and the very interesting Living with the Past at Home project in the near future, but unfortunately time and (especially) money prevent me from doing so (one of the many downsides of carrying out independent research 🙁 ). But hopefully I’ll make it to at least another event before the series ends.

LIPCAP ‘Custodians of Home’ Conference Paper

At the Custodians of Home Conference, to be held at the Geffrye Museum of Fri. 31st Jan., I will be presenting a paper about the LIPCAP project.

The conference is part of a project entitled ‘Living with the past’ (a similar name to our ‘Living in the Past’, but not the same!), and is “about charting the relatively recent development of house history research and thinking about what is means for the ways people think about the past and their homes.” It is run by members of the School of Geography at Queen Mary, University of London, in association with the Geffrye Museum. An exhibition ‘Who once lived in my house?‘ will run at the museum until 9 February 2014.

Unfortunately I think the opportunity to book a seat at the (free) conference has now passed (but perhaps it’d be worth checking??). However, I should be able to put the presentation online afterwards. The abstract for the paper is as follows:

Living in the Past: Preservation, interpretation, and engagement, and the 19th – early 20th century home

In recent years, boundaries between curated domestic space (typically open to the public, maintained by museum professionals, and supported by government or charitable funding), and privately occupied dwellings, have on occasion been eroded. Each year, usually as part of annual heritage events run by non-profit organisations, a small number of residents permit members of the public to view features of historic interest within their homes. Furthermore, extensive opportunities to share information, images, and data on-line allow residents to ‘virtually’ display historical features within otherwise closed domestic spaces.

Adopting approaches from ‘Rescue’, Research, and Public Archaeology, the Living in the Past Community Archaeology Project (LIPCAP) pilots new ways to widen access to historic features, material culture, and related data associated with private domestic buildings. LIPCAP encourages and supports preservation by record, requesting occupants of pre-WWII housing within local communities to record surface garden artefacts and standing building features not ostensibly at risk, as well as to report findings made during home renovations, prior to damage or destruction. This has led to a number of challenges – some of which are familiar to the heritage sector, whilst others are generated afresh, not least due to the voluntary nature of the project.


Thanks to the very kind invitation of the owner, a brief photographic survey was undertaken on an end-terraced housing, dating to 1886, located in Heanor (the exact address is withheld, in order to maintain privacy). The photographs are displayed on Flickr … Continue reading