Tag Archives: Victorian

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.

Victorian Derbyshire Christmas Folklore, Superstitions, Customs and Carols

For Christmas, I’ve brought together Christmas folk tales, superstitions rituals and carols, from Derbyshire, and some recorded by Addy that were known in, and may in some cases derive from, North Derbyshire.

The following are from a late 19th century collection by Sidney Oldall Addy: Household Tales and Traditional Remains.[i] The extracts are presented below as emphasised text, to differentiate from background information. With the exception of a few short comments I make (which are italicised, and within the endnotes), the text is quoted verbatim, with speech marks only used where Addy cites informants and other works.


Non-localised Christmas superstitions and rituals

Addy records a number of superstitions and customs (some of which have survived into this 20th century), and ritual practices (sometimes referred to as ‘spells’) without attributing the locality of derivation, suggesting that they belong to a more widespread canon of belief – and perhaps indicating transmission (and fossilisation) through literacy.[ii] Some may relate to the localities mentioned by Addy in preceding paragraphs, although this is unclear (the possible derivations are recorded here in endnotes). As is typical for other seasons (see the previous post on Derbyshire Halloween traditions and folklore on a sister website, Underworld Archaeology), the ‘spells’ are predominantly aimed at girls and women wishing to prophesize their future husband.

Christmas ritual practices

On Christmas Eve unmarried girls lay a white sheet over a chair before the fire, and leave it there all night. In the morning if a spear is found reared against it the girl’s husband will be a soldier ; if a sickle, he will be a farmer, and so on.

If a girl walks backwards to a pear tree on Christmas Eve, and walk round it three times, she will see the spirit or image of the man who is to be her husband.

Christmas superstitions and customs

If you meet with a good log of wood you should preserve it for the Christmas fire.[iii]

If a dog howls on Christmas Eve he will go mad in the following year.[iv]

If a woman goes out of the house on Christmas Eve she must return before midnight.[v]

It is unlucky for a light haired or a red-haired man to “let in” Christmas.[vi]

A candle or lamp should be left burning all night on Christmas Eve. Unless this is done there will be a death in the house.

Ale posset must be the last thing that you drink on Christmas Eve, and frummity the first thing that you eat on Christmas morning.[vii]

On Christmas Eve, or the morning of Christmas Day, you should give a sheaf of oats to every horse, cow, or other beast about your farmhouse.[viii]

If the sun shines brightly on your apple trees on the morning of Christmas Day you will have a good crop of apples next year.[ix]

If you refuse a mince-pie at Christmas you will be unlucky during the following year. As many mince-pies as you eat between Christmas Day and the new year so many happy months will you have.

Evergreens brought into the house before Christmas should not be taken out of the house until Christmas is over, or until Twelfth Day.[x]

If you hang clothes out to dry on Old Christmas Day (January 12) you will be laid in your grave in some of those clothes before the year is out.[xi]

On Candlemas Day Christmas decorations should be burnt.[xii]

Christmas Superstitions in Derbyshire

In Derbyshire it is said that if the yule log is not burnt away on Christmas Eve the ashes or embers must on no account be taken out of the house.

No fire must on any account be taken out of the house between Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.

In the north of Derbyshire, and also in Sheffield, it is a very common practice to ask some dark-haired man to come into the house on the morning of Christmas Day before any other person has entered. The same man will often “let in” Christmas for a number of families, calling at their houses early in the morning. He usually walks in at the front door and goes out at the back door. In many houses the custom is very strictly maintained.

This tradition compares with the custom of ‘first footing’, more commonly associated with New Year.

Derbyshire Folk Tales

The Man That Stole the Parson’s Sheep (Calver, in Derbyshire)

There was once a man who used to steal a fat sheep every Christmas. One Christmas he stole the parson’s sheep, and his son, a lad about twelve years old, went about the village singing

My father’s stolen the parson’s sheep,

And a merry Christmas we shall keep,

We shall have both pudding and meat,

But you meant say nought about it.

Now it happened one day that the parson himself heard the boy singing these words, so he said, ” My lad, you sing very well ; will you come to church next Sunday evening and sing it there ? “

” I’ve no clothes to go in/’ said the boy. But the parson said, ” If you will come to church as I ask you, I will buy you clothes to go in.” So the boy went to church the next Sunday evening, dressed in the new clothes that the parson had given him.

When the service was over the parson said to the people, ” Stay, my brethren, I want you to hear what this boy has to sing, it’s gospel truth that he’ll tell you,” for he was hoping that the boy would confess before all the people that his father had stolen the sheep. But the boy got up and sang

As I was in the field one day

I saw the parson kiss a may ;[xiii]

He gave me a shilling not to tell,

And these new clothes do fit me well.

At Bradwell, in the Peak of Derbyshire, once lived a man known as Master John, who was reported to be a wise man, and whose advice was sought by all the people in the village.

It is said that the ghost of a child who had been murdered in the village could not be appeased, and so the aid of Master John was invoked. Master John pronounced the words:

“In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, why troublest thou me” and turned the ghost of the child into a large fish.

This fish used to appear, it is said, at a place called the Lum [61] Mouth, and also at Lumley Pool, in Bradwell, on Christmas Day to people who fetched water from the wells there.

When anybody saw the ghost in the form of a fish he would run away, screaming cc the fish, the fish.”[xiv]

 Derbyshire Carols

The following carol is sung on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day in the neighbourhood of Sheffield. It is called:


Girls. Our jolly wessel,

Love and joy come to you,

And to our wessel bough (boo) ;

Pray God send you

A happy new year,

A new year, a new year.

We’ve been a while a-wandering

Amongst the leaves and greaves,[xv]

And now we come a- wesseling,

So plainly to be seen.

Boys. God bless the master of this house,

And the mistress also,

Likewise the little children

That round the table go.

I wish you a merry Christmas

And a happy new year,

A pocket full of money,

And a cellar full of beer,

At Eckington, in Derbyshire, a village about eight miles from Sheffield, the children carry a doll in a box when they go round singing this carol.

In Eckington another hymn or carol[xvi] is sung by children on Christmas Eve, the words and tune being as follows :

3 ships

This carol is of course familiar to many today, although the melody and lyrics differ to those of the ‘traditional’ version most commonly sung in the 20th and 21st centuries. The 1929 ed. of The Oxford Book of Carols (ed. Percy Dearmer, R. Vaughn Williams and Martin Shaw) records that the ‘traditional’ version recorded in that edition “(in Sandys, 1833 ) differs only in v. 3 from the Derbyshire version with our first tune in Bramley & Stainer, Christmas Carols New and Old , 1871” 

About Dronfield, in Derbyshire, they sing at Christmas the carol beginning :

The first good joy that Mary had it was the joy of one

To see her own son Jesus suck at her breast-bone ;

It brings tidings of comfort and joy.[xvii]

holly bunch

The tradition of regional carols continues in the pubs of North Derbyshire today; several recordings can be seen on Youtube, which last year I collated as a playlist, available here.

I hope to return to Derbyshire customs recorded by Addy for the New Year

ivy R


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

[ii] Discussion of the origins of Christmas traditions and customs celebrated and practiced at the national and international scale will be left to the numerous texts on this topic.

[iii] Possibly Nottinghamshire

[iv] Possibly from East Riding

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Possibly from South Yorkshire

[viii] Possibly from East Riding

[ix] Possibly from Derbyshire

[x] Possibly from East Riding

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Possibly from Sheffield

[xiii] Addy states “Maid. O. N. mar, ace. mcy.”

[xiv] Addy suggests “Compare Wood’s Tales and Traditions of the High Peak, 1862, p. 183.”

[xv] Addy notes “Old English graft’, a greave, or grove. The version here printed was written down by me on Christmas Day, 1890.”

[xvi] Addy comments: “It seems probable that the singer of this carol formerly carried a box containing the figure of a child. This is called the “bessel cup” “.

[xvii] According to Addy “The words of the carol are the same as those given in Brand’s Popular Antiquities, ed. 1849, i. 454. In singing the carol the last line of each stanza is repeated several times. The “vessel cup,” is not carried about in Dronfield, but it is carried about in the village of Handsworth, near Sheffield. Taking the whole evidence together, it seems to me that the “box,” “milly box,” “bessel cup,” or ” vessel cup,” represents the image of a vessel or ship in which an effigy of the boy Sceaf (afterwards changed to Jesus) was carried about as a representation of the birth of the year. Vessel, or vessel, in the sense of ship, is at least as old as Chaucer’s time. The idea seems to have been that the New Year, like a child, came over the sea in a ship.”

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

LIPCAP Study Area Historic Map Overlays: 1880s

The following maps show the buildings recorded on the 1880s maps (1881 1:2500 Country Series for Allestree; 1883 1:500 Town Plan for the other study areas) overlaid on satellite images of the areas in the present day (2013)

For larger versions of the maps, click on the images.

If you live in any of these areas, and you are able to recognise the location of your home, you should be abl to see if there was a building there in the 1880s, and whether this was a house, or had another function.

Study Area One: Allestree Village. 1881 Map Google Earth Overlay

Study Area Two: Little Chester. 1881-83 map Google Earth Overlay

Study Area Two: Little Chester. 1881-83 map Google Earth Overlay 

Study Area Three: West End, Derby. 1883 map Google Earth Overlay

Study Area Three: West End, Derby. 1883 map Google Earth Overlay 

Study Area Four: Friar Gate. 1883 Map Google Earth Overlay

Study Area Four: Friar Gate. 1883 Map Google Earth Overlay