Thursday, 8 November 2018

Haddon Hall


Haddon Hall is one of the gems of Derbyshire. Nestled in the beautiful scenery of the Peak District national park Haddon Hall is built beside the River Wye just 3 miles from the town of Bakewell.
Haddon Hall. Image copyright Rob Bendall 
The hall is often overshadowed by its larger neighbour Chatsworth House built by Bess of Hardwick, but to me the mediaeval Haddon Hall is much the better as it has a much friendlier family feel about it and it has the magnificent mediaeval and Tudor architecture.


Haddon Hall’s origins date from the Norman Conquest in 1066. The earliest parts of the hall were built by Sir William Pevril in the late 11th century. These include some of the chapel and the Pevril Tower. Sir William Pevril gained much land in Derbyshire and in the village of Castleton some 16 miles away is Pevril Castle which dates from this time. The Avenell family obtained the hall from the crown in the 1100’s.

The hall passed to the ownership of the Vernon family in the 12th century when Alice Avenall married Sir Richard de Vernon. The Vernon family added much to the hall over the years. The hall remained with the Vernon’s until the mid 1500’s when Sir George Vernon, the MP for Derbyshire, daughter Dorothy married Sir John Manners. Sir John was the second son of the 1st Earl of Rutland. This branch of the Manners family added the long gallery.

In 1703 the ancestor of Sir John and Dorothy Manners, Sir John Manners was created the 1st Duke of Rutland and the Marquess of Granby by Queen Anne. From this point on the family’s main home became Belvoir castle in Leicestershire and Haddon Hall became a hunting lodge for them.

It wasn't until the 1920's that the family began to use the hall again and the 9th Duke of Rutland began to restore the gardens and make the house habitable again.


Haddon Hall layout
Haddon Hall is built around 2 main courtyards with the kitchens and great hall dating from the 1300’s. These can be seen in the documentary  A Tudor Feast at Christmas which can be viewed on YouTube. In this show the archaeologists Peter Ginn and Alex Langlands and the historian Ruth Goodman recreate a Tudor feast in the mediaeval kitchens using the techniques and ingredients of the day.

One of the greatest features of the hall in my opinion is the long gallery. The room has walls of windows letting in light and has an ornately plastered celling and stained glass. The room was designed so that the family could take exercise even on the most inclement of days. When I visited my first thought was I wonder how fast you could get sliding along the floor in your socks and my second thought was would a skateboard be more fun. I have to say though as this would have been difficult as like much of the hall the floors are uneven due to their great age. Today the long gallery can be hired as a wedding venue.

The hall although restored has been done sympathetically with the building retaining the original features. It’s a very much up and down building with 1 or 2 steps into and out of rooms and uneven stone floors. There are stained glass windows, tapestries and original furniture. The entire hall gives a great insight into how the higher ranking families have lived since the 12th century.

Many of us will have seen the hall on TV as it has been used in many period dramas such as Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice. It has also been the setting for adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays staring the likes of Dame Judy Dench.

So for most Haddon Hall is a fantastic day out but for those who have a passion for Mediaeval and Tudor history it is a must.

Friday, 2 November 2018

What did our ancestors die from?


Anyone interested in genealogy has probably come across death certificates and found out what their ancestors died from. But this only shows what one individual died from. What was the general population at whole dying from?
A typical hospital scene our ancestors may have been familiar with
This thinking all started a couple of weeks ago when there was a programme on about the Spanish flu epidemic of 1918. My family was always led to believe that my Great Grandma died in this flu outbreak in 1918. She didn’t she died of an appendicitis, so why her daughter was told this I don’t know. It got me thinking what were the major causes of our ancestor’s deaths throughout England and Wales (I only use the 2 countries as they were the statistics I found).


Well let’s start in the 20th century. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) the most common causes of death in adults over 25 from 1915 to 1945 was infection (such as pneumonia and TB), cancer and heart conditions. All conditions we are unfortunately familiar with today. When the under 25’s are considered it was infections which took most lives, but by 1945 motor vehicles became a factor.

If we look back from 1900 we find our ancestors were dying from different things. It should be noted that the ONS figures don’t give exact illness but rather lumped similar illnesses together.
The first ones on the list from 1900 back until 1851 is smallpox followed by measles and scarlet fever. Some of the other illnesses on the list are things that these days we wouldn’t even think of dying from like diarrhoea, you may wish for it but tablets can stop it thankfully!

Other conditions caused the world around our ancestors to change. For example cholera. It was during the outbreaks of this condition that it was begun to be believed that there was a link between contaminated water and the outbreaks of the disease. This lead to the installation of water pipes going into individual homes with the water coming from reservoirs rather than the rivers which were running with sewage. It seems so obvious to us that if you drink the water full of poop then you will be ill, but it took until the 1850’s for John Snow to find the link in London.
How to avoid cholera before the link with contaminated water was made


Other surprising conditions which were causing death included whooping cough. I’d had whooping cough and I have to say I quiet enjoyed it at times. I’m not making light of the condition and I can understand how people who were weak and not getting enough food could become exhausted and die. I was 11/12 years old when I had the illness. I didn’t do PE at school for 6 months as I used to start coughing and the teacher would think it was best to sit it out for today, success! I hated PE. It also gave the family a great anecdote. In Derbyshire there is a cycle track called the Tissington Trail which is the path of a disused railway. Me and my family went for a day out and hired bikes. I started coughing so bad I was sick. Now being me I continued to ride my bike and just threw up to the side. I had to come home wrapped in my Mum’s coat as I got it everywhere. Such fun!

There were other causes of death on the list that you might expect such as childbirth, fever and lung disease. All these condition may have been made worse by poor living condition and not enough food, if you’re already week and have a bad child birthing then it becomes more dangerous to both mother and child. For example one of my 3 times great grandfathers ended up in jail (for contempt of court) and he left with TB due to the living conditions which killed him within 9 months of his release. In the case of lung disease the person’s employment could make the condition worse or even cause it. One of my other 3 times great grandfather died from asthma and he was a stone mason.

So we could say that as our living conditions improved we stopped dying of preventable diseases such as TB and cholera and went on to disease we still may have got but we may cause ourselves to be more susceptible to such as cancer and heart disease.

Friday, 26 October 2018

Bills of Mortality


The Bills of Mortality are a great source of information for those who have ancestors from London. The bills are the records of what the people of London have died from in that year. The bills were produced every year from 1603 until 1840. Some were produced in other periods but they may not have covered all of London.
The 1665 Bill of Mortality
The bills only covered Church of England burial grounds and not those of other denominations.


Now I have to say I hadn’t heard of these bills until I was watching 8 out of 10 cats does countdown and the comedian Vic Reeves mentioned them.

I thought I’d look at some of the death and see how they compared over the years in 10 year increments from 1657 until 1757.

The first cause of death is childbed, or childbirth as we would say now. Childbirth was a dangerous time for women and had it didn’t care from which level of society you came from. These figures remain fairly constant over the years and unfortunately this is to be expected as until medicine progressed the women continued to die.

Evil or King’s Evil was a disease that many believed that the touch of the monarch would cure. In reality this didn’t happen but the last British monarch to carry out the touching of those afflicted was Queen Anne. In reality this illness is scrofula which is the swelling of lymph nodes cause by TB.
Consumption is another form of TB which predominately affects the lungs.

I’m glad people don’t die of lethargy these days as I’d have gone years ago. I believe this was probably a form of coma from which people didn’t recover from. As for mortification the same is true. With my ability to put my foot in it and keep digging I’d have died from mortification years ago. In reality this was a form of gangrene.

I have to say I’m surprises that so few people in London were murdered each year. More people probably suffer this fate today than they did in the 17th and 18th century.

We all think hundreds died from the plague each year but in reality very few did. 4 died in 1657 compared to the 1998 that died in 1666.

I was surprised how many people died due to their teeth. I suppose their teeth became infected and the infection spread and they died as a result. Thank goodness for antibiotics and regular dental check-ups.

I have to say worms sounds like a dreadful way to go. I think it means as a result of parasites and worms such as tape worms and if you think about it London was a big port city so sailors were coming in from all over the world and bringing new and exciting illnesses with them.

Now I have one more personal favourite to add to the list. In 1670 one person in London died from a wolf! I assume they meant a wolf attack. Now this is unfortunate but why was there a wolf in London? I suppose it could have been at the royal menagerie at the Tower of London and have attacked it’s keeper or a visitor. Not a pleasant way to go but I bet the poor person 348 years ago never thought they would be remembered for dying from such an unusual method and be mentioned in a blog.

If you want to know more about the bills of mortality you can download the returns from: https://archive.org/details/collectionyearl00hebegoog/page/n5

Friday, 19 October 2018

Name popularity


The other week the office for national statistics released the top 100 most popular baby names in England and Wales. This got me thinking at how the popularity of names has changed over the years. Are there any names that are consistently place high in the rankings and how do the top two names in any given year compare to 1860.
Names, Names, Names
I chose 8 names that appear to me to be found in the census over the years the most and looked at how they ranked in the listing from 1860 to 2017.

It’s probably no surprise that in the 1860 which names were most popular. People were still using the more traditional names and naming their children after themselves or their grandparents.

By 1890 things had begun to change. William and Mary were still the most popular names but Anne and Catherine had begun to lose favour. If you consider their name variants though Ann was ranked 31st and Katherine was 153rd in the rankings. Of the names chosen Henry was the lowest ranking boy’s name.

From the data from 1924 we can see that the most popular names have changed. For boys it was John and for girls it was Margaret with William and Mary both slipping to 2nd on the list. In 1860 John ranked 2nd and Margaret ranked 10th. Both Anne and Catherine had risen up the ranks again.

By 1954 the most popular names in England and Wales were David and Susan, a completed change from previous years. In 1860 David ranked 17th and Susan 35th. From the 8 above William had slipped to 15th and Mary to 9th. Surprisingly Ann was back up to 10th and Catherine to 26th but Henry had fallen down to 83rd.

Jump forward to 1984 and the most popular names were Christopher and Sarah. I should know Sarah was popular. In the year I was born my parents thought it was a little used name, but in my class at secondary school there were 4 of us, with 3 of use born within 3 days of each other. In 1860 Christopher ranked 44th and Sarah 3rd. But what of our 8? Well the most popular of them were James and Elizabeth at 2nd and 25th respectively, but Henry and Anne fell out of the top 100.

So to last year 2017. Well the most popular names were Oliver and Olivia. In 1860 Oliver was ranked 63rd and Olivia 186th. In 2017 Anne was still out of the top 100 still and William was still the most popular of the boy’s names at 11th and Elizabeth still held the top spot at 44th. Both Catherine and Mary were down in the 300’s but Henry was back up to 13th.

I suppose in general it doesn’t really matter where our names rank, it’s more for interest than anything else. It can help genealogist as they may get a better feel for what names to look out for. If the parents are William and Mary then the chances are they will have children with the same name and may have been named after their parents themselves.

If you want to know how your name ranks why not have a look at:
and look where you name comes by year. Happy hunting.

Friday, 12 October 2018


It’s the year 1066 and England is in turmoil. In January the King Edward the Confessor died without leaving an heir. So what would happen to the country? Enter 3 men who felt they had a claim to the throne. By December 1066 England would have a new king and the other 2 men would be dead.
The Battle of Hastings. Image courtesy of ancestryimages.com
So who were the contenders?


Harald Hardrada was the King of Norway and claimed the English throne as he claimed Harthacnut who was a previous King of England and Edward the Confessors half-brother had left the throne to him if there was no heir to the throne. Edward had no heir.

Harold Godwinson was the brother in law of Edward the Confessor and he claimed the Edward had claimed him his heir.

William of Normandy was the illegitimate son of Edward the Confessors cousin Robert of Normandy and William claimed Edward had promised the throne to him as his heir.
Let battle commence.

Before the battles commenced Harold attempted to consolidate his position as King amongst the nobles of the land. He was in the best position as he was in England when Edward died. Harold was crowned the day after Edward died and spent the next month’s building on his claim, but this wasn’t to last as he faced challenges to his throne.

The first battle was between Harald Hardrada and Harold Godwinson. This battle took place at Stamford Bridge in Yorkshire on the 25th September 1066 with King Harold’s army beating the army of Harald Hardrada and killing Harald and King Harold’s brother who had sided against his brother.
After this battle news came that William had landed in England and so King Harold and his troops marched south.

William spent the months between the death of Edward and his arrival in England building up his army to launch an invasion. When William landed at Pevensey on the south coast on the 28th September 1066 he had a force of around 10000. Harold had an army of approximately 7000.
The 2 sides eventually met at the battle site near Battle on the 14th October 1066. Just as a side note it’s not really known where the battle took place exactly but the town of Battle is the most likely perhaps where the Abbey stands now or a mini roundabout in the town.
Battle Abbey one of the places put forward of the battlefield
Harold and the English army were on the hill above William and his forces were in the valley below. The battle began around 9am and lasted until dusk, probably with a lunch break. Harold and William both fought in the battle alongside their men. Eventually for whatever reason Harold’s forces came down the hill and levelled out the playing field. During the fighting Harold’s brothers who were also commanders were killed and eventually Harold was killed sometime in the late afternoon thus leaving the English without a leader. There is much speculation as to how Harold died. The Bayeux Tapestry which tells the story of the battle would have us believe Harold was killed by an arrow in the eye, but whether this is true or not is unknown as the first recorded mention of this was in the 1080’s. 

After the battle William and his troops marched on London to claim the throne. What he didn’t know was that a new King had been chosen. At this time there was a body of nobles called the Witenagemot who could choose the monarch if there was no obvious heir. They chose Edgar Ætheling who was Edward the Confessors great nephew. Needless to say Edgar was never crowned, but in the future he did try to get it back but eventually sided with William the Conqueror (William of Normandy) eldest son.

William of Normandy faced several more battles on his way to London all of which he won and eventually all the Nobles in England declared fealty to William. William was crowned King of England on Christmas day 1066 and he reigned the country until his death in 1087 in Rouen, France. William was succeeded by his third son William II.

So by Edward the Confessor taking a vow of chastity and not having any children England was thrown into chaos for a year. This left many dead on the battlefield and England coming under the rule of the Normans, instead of the Danes!


Friday, 5 October 2018

My musical family


This week’s blog is a sort of personal journey for me as I want to talk about my double great Grandad Frederick Staton and his life.

I’d love to start with a picture of Frederick but I don’t have one and he probably never had his picture taken. Frederick was born in Eckington, Derbyshire in 1840 to William Staton and Sarah Hunt. He was their 5 child of the 7 they would have. William was a sickle grinder as many were in the village. Frederick lived in Eckington until 1861 when he moved to Worksop, Nottinghamshire.

Frederick’s musical career was first mentioned in the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent in 1860 when it was reported that he and his elder brother William played a piano duet to raise money for the Eckington Mechanical Institute. They played Hummel’s in E flat and if you’re interested this link will take you to a video of it being played: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=98vEOJ0IHwE

On the 1861 census when Frederick was still living at home in Eckington he listed his occupation as professor of music. In 1867 Frederick also took part in a concert to raise money for Ridgeway School and this was also mentioned in the Sheffield and Rotherham Independent and the article mentioned he played with “taste and marvellous execution”. He was described as the organist at Worksop Priory.

It was while in Worksop Frederick met his future wife Annie Taylor who was the daughter of the landlady of the Cross Keyes Inn in the town. Frederick and Annie married in August 1871 and had 4 children together. Sadly the marriage wasn’t long as Frederick died in April 1879 from hepatitis aged 39. His youngest son, my great grandad was just shy of his first birthday. It was from Frederick’s burial record that I discovered just how long Frederick had been the organist at Worksop Priory. The notes to the burial stated he was 18 years organist at the Abbey Worksop where he is also buried.

To be the organist at the Abbey would have been a great honour for Frederick and would have indicated his high level of skill on the instrument. From a list of the previous organists of the Abbey it would appear Frederick was one of the longest serving organists they had. I wonder how long he would have held the position if he hadn’t died so young.

So what of the Abbey itself. Well in 1103 Worksop Abbey was begun to be built and it remained a monastery of the Augustinian monks until 1539 when it surrendered to the crown during the dissolution of the monasteries. After this the church building of the Abbey was used as the parish church of Worksop.
The interior of Worksop Priory
The above picture shows the organ at the priory, but alas this is not the organ Frederick would have used. This organ was installed in 1879 so it is possible Frederick new about the new organ, whether he used it is not known.


What I would like to know is what took place to get Frederick and his brother William to become professors of music. Who influenced them to take up music and rise to such heights? Frederick’s brother William was described in 1866 as being from Norwich Cathedral so they had both achieved great things in their chosen field. Did one of their parents or grandparents play and taught them or did the local church organist teach them to play. I suppose I’ll never know but however it came about I am proud of them for breaking into such a field as a time when they probably thought the only occupation open to them was to enter the grinding works in the area or going down the coal mines. Whoever inspired them gave them a huge chance in life and from that chance gave Frederick’s children a chance as his 2 sons both became dentists.

Maybe that’s why Frederick’s granddaughter encouraged her children to learn the piano and I learnt as well. Who knows, but I’m glad the brother’s had a chance to do something so different for everyone else.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Bess of Hardwick


Elizabeth Hardwick (Bess) was an important figure in history and in reality outside of Derbyshire she’s probably not as well know as she should be so let me give you an insight into the strong woman.
Bess of Hardwick
Bess was born to John Hardwick and his wife Elizabeth Leeke in around 1527 in Hardwick, Derbyshire. She was first married when she was 13 in the early 1540’s to Robert Barlow. They were married for one year before he died aged 14. If Robert had not died Bess may have had a very different life from the one that was to come.


On the 20th August 1547 Bess married the twice widowed Sir William Cavendish who was high up at the court of King Edward VI. Bess and William had 8 children:
Frances Cavendish born 1548, Temperence Cavendish born 1549, Henry Cavendish born 1550 who was god son of the then Princess Elizabeth (later Queen Elizabeth), William Cavendish born 1552 ,Charles Cavendish born 1553 who was god son of Queen Mary, Elizabeth Cavendish born 1555, Mary Cavendish born 1556 and Lucrece Cavendish born 1556.

After William Cavendish died Bess married Sir William St Loe in 1559. Sir William was a very wealthy man and Bess was in financial difficulties so the marriage proved very beneficial especially since Sir William died after only 6 years of marriage. Upon his death he left everything to Bess and she thus became one of the riches women in the country.

Bess’s 4th marriage was most probably a political one to George Talbot the 6th Earl of Shrewsbury. The couple fought regularly and quiet often lived apart. It was during her marriage to the Earl that Bess became the keeper of Mary Queen of Scots. For 15 years the couple kept her at their Derbyshire properties and Bess and Mary spent much time together particularly at the properties of Chatsworth House, Tutbury Castle and Sheffield Manor. While at Chatsworth Bess and Mary spent much time creating tapestries together.

Bess was quite often in trouble with the crown and spent time on 2 occasions as a guest in the Tower of London.

The first stay was in 1561. Bess was a close friend of Frances Grey, nee Brandon who was the mother of Lady Jane Grey the 9 day Queen. Frances second daughter was Lady Catherine Grey. In 1561 and in desperate need of help Catherine informed her mother’s friend that she had secretly married the Earl of Hertford, Edward Seymour (the nephew of Jane Seymour the 3rd wife of King Henry VIII) and that she was pregnant. For a lady such as Catherine who had a claim to the throne through her grandmother Mary Tudor, the sister of King Henry VIII, it was against protocol to marry without the Queen’s consent. When Queen Elizabeth found out she was not best pleased and when she found out one of her ladies of the bedchamber Bess knew she had her imprisoned for 7 months.

Bess spent a second stay in the tower in 1574 (or may have she may have been under house arrest at her manor in Chelsea). While staying at Rufford Abbey in Nottinghamshire (one of her many estates) with Lady Margaret Stuart (the daughter of Margaret Tudor, the sister of King Henry VIII), Bess’ daughter Elizabeth and Margaret’s son Charles met and fell in love. The mother’s decided to let their children marry. Bess hadn’t learnt from her previous visit to the tower and the Queens permission was not asked for. This was needed as Margaret Stuart was of Royal blood and her eldest son Lord Darnley was married to Mary Queen of Scots until his death. The Queen went nuts and had the mother’s imprisoned. Elizabeth and Charles had one daughter Arbella Stuart who Queen Elizabeth was convinced was trying to over throw her. 
Hardwick Hall, one of Bess’ stunning properties
Some feel Bess thought herself to be above the queen and there is some evidence for this. At the hall she built herself at Hardwick her coat of arms and emblems are everywhere. Even the outside of the building has her initials carved into the roof line that can clearly be seen from the M1 motorway today. This could have been seen as she felt herself at a level or even above the Queen.

Bess owned much land and many manors in Derbyshire. She owned Chatsworth House, Hardwick Hall (she built the new hall which still stands today), Wingfield Manor, Bolsover Castle, Heath Manor, Stainsby Manor and  Owlcoates Manor in her own right. She had coal mines in Bolsover, Hardstoft and Tibshelf and owned land in Staffordshire, Derbyshire and Yorkshire. She also through her marriages had the use of Rufford Abbey, Tutbury Castle, Sheffield Manor, Chelsea Manor and many others.

During her life she was Lady Elizabeth Cavendish, Lady Elizabeth St Loe and the Countess of Shrewsbury. Her ancestors went on to become the Earls Manvers, the Earls/Dukes of Rutland, the Earls/Dukes of Devonshire and the Dukes of Newcastle. Bess’ most abiding legacy is through her houses of Hardwick Hall and Chatsworth House. Bess was instrumental in the building of these properties and used her substantial wealth to do it.

Bess died in December 1608 and she was buried in the parish church of Derby, All Saints. The church was later rebuilt and became Derby cathedral but Bess’ memorial can still be seen there.

Bess may have been fortunate through marriage and gaining much wealth but she was a feisty woman who went after what she wanted. She may have gotten herself in to trouble on occasion but in the end she was still the second most powerful woman in the country after the Queen and a Derbyshire woman through and through.

If you’ve read this and what to know more about Bess I recommend the novel about her by Georgina Lee – Bess a Novel. It’s a really good read.

Haddon Hall

Haddon Hall is one of the gems of Derbyshire. Nestled in the beautiful scenery of the Peak District national park Haddon Hall is built bes...