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1863-1900, Alderwasley, Derbyshire, England

Mar 18, 2011
Active History: Historical Researching

Sometimes when we are doing some historical research progress is slow at other times it feels like a Time Team exercise - the data comes in fast and furiously and from unexpected sources. So forgive me if I sound like Tony Robinson at his most excited, but this is exciting.

The other night I was at our local history group which had been pretty manic in itself. We had spanned the centuries of life in a small hamlet in Shropshire, going from medieval and post medieval (via artefacts and court rolls, through the Tudor period (looking at a Tudor house and parish registers) and on into Georgian times (through items concealed within the wall of the house). Add in that we looked at several old maps and one member was interested in studying tunnels relating to a nearby RAF camp and you will realise that this was a pretty crazy, high energy meeting.  By the end of the evening I was pretty tired. But this was when a new item of history appeared.

As we were having coffee the hostess brought out a recipe book which had been left in the house when they bought it several years ago. She laid the book down, tantalisingly still in its paper bag. I opened the bag and there was an exercise book with a marbled cover. Inside was the author's name and presumably address - "Alice Hurt, Alderwasley, June 11th 1868." My first thought was that it was a housekeeper's book. The recipe book was laid out in the same way as my own - recipes indexed and listed as one acquires them so recipes for curing bedsores happily follow those for cream cakes. However there were more than recipes, there was an inventory of linen, the first date being 1850. Now what, you may ask, can we learn from an inventory of linen? I would suggest that as much as the recipes it gives us a picture of the lifestyle of the time. There was more, in the middle of the book were names, addresses and dates. At first I thought these were addresses of friends and then when I found out who Alice Hurt was, not a housekeeper at all but the wife of Albert Hurt of Alderwasly Hall, Belper, Dervyshire, it became apparent that this was a list of servants.

So that is why I feel like Tony Robinson on a high. A new piece of history has come to light and it is a piece of importance to the people concerned and tells us much of Victorian life. But this piece of history is only seeing the light of day because my hostess of the other evening chose to share it with me and to allow me to share it with everyone. I hope I can do justice to the history contained within its pages.

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