Mercurius Politicus

A blog (mostly) about early modern history

Tag: derby

If Englishmen called this playing, it would be impossible to say what they would call fighting

This description of a long-standing football match that used to take place between young men in the parishes of All Saints and St Peter’s in Derby is just brilliant. I particularly like the disdainful Frenchman’s comment.

Football continues to be played at in many parts of England on Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday, but the mode of playing this game at Ashbourn and Derby differs very much from the usual practice of this sport. In the town of Derby the contest lies between the parishes of St Peter and All Saints, and the goals to which the ball is to be taken are Nun’s mill for the latter and the Gallow’s balk on the Normanton road for the former. None of the other parishes of the borough take any direct part in the contest, but the inhabitants of all join in the sport together with persons from all parts of the adjacent country. The players are young men from eighteen to thirty or upwards, married as well as single, and many veterans who retain a relish for the sport are occasionally seen in the very heat of the conflict.

The game commences in the market place where the partisans of each parish are drawn up on each side, and about noon a large ball is tossed up in the midst of them. This is seized upon by some of the strongest and most active men of each party. The rest of the players immediately close in upon them and a solid mass is formed. It then becomes the object of each party to impel the course of the crowd towards their particular goal. The struggle to obtain the ball which is carried in the arms of those who have possessed themselves of it is then violent and the motion of this human tide heaving to and fro without the least regard to consequences is tremendous. Broken shins, broken heads, torn coats, and lost hats are among the minor accidents of this fearful contest and it frequently happens that persons fall in consequence of the intensity of the pressure, fainting and bleeding beneath the feet of the surrounding mob.

But it would be difficult to give an adequate idea of this ruthless sport. A Frenchman passing through Derby remarked that if Englishmen called this playing, it would be impossible to say what they would call fighting. Still the crowd is encouraged by respectable persons attached to each party and who take a surprising interest in the result of the day’s sport, urging on the players with shouts and even handing to those who are exhausted oranges and other refreshment.

The object of the St Peters party is to get the ball into the water down the Morledge brook into the Derwent as soon as they can while the All Saints party endeavour to prevent this and to urge the ball westward. The St Peter players are considered to be equal to the best water spaniels and it is certainly curious to see two or three hundred men up to their chins in the Derwent continually ducking each other. The numbers engaged on both sides exceed a thousand and the streets are crowded with lookers on. The shops are closed and the town presents the aspect of a place suddenly taken by storm.

S. Glover & T. Noble, The history of the county of Derby (London, 1829, 2 vols), vol. I, p. 310.

Register of misfortunes

I was trawling laboriously through a microfilm of the parish registers for All Saints, Derby last night looking for a particular name, when my eye suddenly saw this:

1612 [ie 1613]


Bap. William and John, sons of Christopher Culverwell. 3. [ie 3rd January]

Bur. John son of Christopher Culverwell. 7.

Bur. William son of Christopher Culverwell. 19.

So far as I can tell, I am the first person to mention the twins in writing for nearly four hundred years. Were it not for the parish register there would be no trace of their lives at all.

A payre of breaches of russet cloth and my worst hatt

Thomas Walker was born in 1562 in the parish of All Saints, Derby. He was the eldest son of Thomas Walker Sr., a wealthy butcher who would go on to be elected as one of the town’s two bailiffs at least three times in 1578, 1587 and 1593. A contemporary chronicle of Derby noted the funeral of the elder Thomas’s wife, Agnes Walker (née Wandell), in 1616 as a major event for the town:

In this year died old Mrs Walker and was carried to the church by her four sons all Brethren of the Company of twenty-four for the borough.

As oldest sons of wealthy people tend to, the younger Thomas did well. In 1587 he married Mary Turner in the neighbouring parish church of St Alkmund. Mary was the daughter of Edward Turner, another member of the town’s governing class who served as bailiff in 1575. Turner’s occupation is unclear, but he rented a number of acres of arable land in the possession of All Saints church, so it’s possible he may have been a yeoman farmer. It seems likely, though, that Thomas and Mary’s marriage was in part about cementing ties between two notable local families.

Mary and Thomas went on to have three children: Thomas, William, and Anne. The family seems to have prospered. In 1607, the elder Thomas was confident enough of his oldest son’s future that he did not include him in a gift of properties in Full Street, Friargate and the Cornmarket that he made to some his younger sons (Robert, Edward and Henry). A year or so later, however, tragedy struck the family. Thomas became sick. Although it is not clear what his illness was, he seems to have been sure enough that it was terminal that he made his will.

His will survives in the Prerogative Court of Canterbury, and I have put a transcript onto Your Archives. It is an organised and business-like last testament, one written by a man setting his affairs in order. He made sure his wife and children were well-provided for, leaving one hundred pounds in silver to Mary and one hundred marks each to his children. After that, his biggest priority was that his children complete their education:

I committ the education and tuition of my sonne Thomas Walker to my father Mr Thomas Walker with his portion, so that he be put in good surety to pay him his sayd childes parte when he shall come to the age of One and Twenty yeares. I commytt the education and tuition of my sonne William Walker to my […] William Botham. And my will is that my […] William Botham have the half of his portion. And my father in law Mr Edward Turner the other half of his portion so that they put in suretie to pay it when he shall come to the age of One and Twentie yeares. I commytt the education and tuition of Anne Walker my daughter to my wife her mother and her portion payeing it at the age of eighteen yeares if it please god she live so longe.

Thomas also made sure that other family and friends were recognised. His father was left forty shillings to make a ring to remember him by. His mother received ten shillings, and his grandmother Mrs Wandell five shillings. Edward Bennet, the vicar of All Saints and one of the witnesses of the will, received ten shillings.

After that, Thomas disposed of his other valuables: his clothes. His best cloak he left to his brother Edward. His best hat was willed to his brother William. To Richard Pearson/Fearson he left his worst hat, a doublet made of fustian, and a pair of breaches made of russet cloth. These were the clothes typical of a member of the middling sort and, along with the financial value of the will – approximately £315 – underline the fact that Thomas was relatively well-off.

Reconstructing the social world of the Walker family is made difficult by the lack of surviving evidence. It seems certain they played a significant role in the governance of Derby. The elder Thomas and a number of his sons served as bailiffs to the town’s Corporation. However, the loss of the Corporation records to a fire in 1841 makes it difficult to tell much more than that. The family also make appearances in the parish register of All Saints. Thomas seems to have been friends with Edward Bennet, the parish’s minister until 1609. His brothers Henry and Edward served as churchwardens.

And Thomas was not the only one who seems to have married the daughter of another of Derby’s well-to-do families. Henry’s marriage to Anne Becke, for example, cemented a connection with another prominent local family. Anne was the daughter of Thomas Becke, with whom the elder Thomas Walker had shared the position of bailiff in 1603. Anne’s father, like her father-in-law, seems to have been in a victualling trade, perhaps also a butcher. The account books from All Saints record that in 1620, Thomas Becke and Thomas Walker were paid six shillings for providing dinner at the house of William Collier for twelve men, to celebrate the perambulation of the parish’s boundaries on Rogation Day. Collier was yet another of the town’s butchers, who like some of his friend’s sons was churchwarden of All Saints in 1615 and 1616.

What is frustrating is trying to find out any more about the family’s faith and politics. After Edward Bennet’s death, Richard Kilby became minister of All Saints. I have blogged about Kilby before: he had a somewhat tempestuous career that flirted with Catholicism, but by the early seventeenth century he had developed a puritan sense of his own and his congregation’s innate sinfulness. In other respects he was more middle-of-the-road – there was a revolt by some of his parishioners when he made the sign of the cross at a baptism, but as Kilby pointed out this was specified by the Book of Common Prayer and he would not leave it out until he was told to. Were the Walkers part of that revolt against Kilby? At the moment I cannot tell, but it is tempting to speculate that they might have been. Their middling sort status would make them likely candidates for membership of the kind of puritan elite that countless other seventeenth-century towns saw assume power during the 1610s and 1620s.

A puritan faction within the parish elite certainly existed. Henry Fisher, member of another of Derby’s ruling families, would later lead another puritan revolt within the parish. In1641 this entry appears in the parish records for All Saints:

It is this daie ordered that Henry Fisher shall for his takeinge awaie two serplisses from the pishe church of All Sts in Derby yt the minister of the said pishe of All Sts in Derby be hereafter enjoyned to weere a serples whereby the pishe shalbe enjoyned to buy a serplis that then he the said Henry Fisher is to buy one good fit & Competent serplis for the use of the said pishe. And if the said pishe shall not be compelled to buy a serplis before Easter next that then he the said Henry Fisher shall paie to the then Churchwardens to the use of the pishe soe much for the bindinge some poor pson of the said pishe as apprentice as the pishioners at the nexte pishe meetinge after Easter sundaie next will sett downe and that if he the said Henry will not assent to this order then the Churchwardens shall take such legal course according to the former order as Mr Recorder shall direct.

However, at the moment the only clue I have to Thomas’s faith is this line from his will:

First I trusteth my soule unto God by the death and passion of Jesus Christe by whose blood shedding only I believe to be saved.

In itself it does not tell us much, and he left no money to the poor of the town, or to any other church-related purpose. Although I’m trying to dig out wills from other members of the family, unless I strike it lucky a lot of of the Walker family’s history remains conjecture at best.

The research underpinning all of the above is part of my ongoing efforts to uncover more about the life of the civil war pamphleteer Henry Walker. Henry was born in All Saints in 1612, and was the son of the elder Henry – Thomas Walker’s brother, and one of the sons of the elder Thomas. No historian has previously uncovered much of Henry’s life before 1641, and while there are still lots of unanswered questions about his early life it is reassuring that I have been able to fill in quite a lot of the blanks. I know a lot more now about his childhood, education and apprenticeship in London than has previously been uncovered. I’ll aim to post highlights here as I write them up.

J. Charles Cox

The Rev. John Charles Cox (1844-1919) was perhaps one of the most influential English local historians of the nineteenth century. Anyone studying early modern Derbyshire quickly comes across his work. He published dozens of books, including calendars of local records, a four-volume history of Derbyshire churches, and a detailed study of All Saints, Derby. Even if you don’t know anything about Derbyshire, you may still have encountered his influence if you are interested in early modern parish history. In 1879, Cox published the first edition of a guide on How to Write the History of a Parish that would become the textbook for generations of historians and genealogists. It discussed step-by-step the local and national sources needed to reconstruct the history of an early modern parish. It was a runaway success, and was reprinted a number of times.

Cox was born in 1844 in Parwich in Derbyshire. He attended Repton and Somerset College in Bath, before starting a degree at Queen’s College, Oxford in 1862. Financial pressures – he was the second son and needed to find a secure income – led him to leave after three years without taking a degree, to take up a position as partner at the Wingerworth Colliery Company. Two years later, he married Marian Smith, the daughter of a local squire with whom he would go on to have ten children. They settled in Belper in Derbyshire.

Cox quickly got involved in local politics, becoming a magistrate and sitting on a number of local boards. He was a Liberal who became friends with Sir Charles Dilke, a high-flying politician who would become notorious in 1885 after an alleged fling with Virginia Eustace Smith during the first year of her marriage to the MP Donald Crawford. He was a trade unionist who became a regular on the left-wing speaking circuit in the 1870s, stating:

That there should be classes that exclusively labour, and others that exclusively enjoy, and have the privilege of unlimitedly expending the fruits of other men’s labour, is opposed to reason, justice and Christianity.

To the left of the Liberal Party, he diverged from Gladstone over disestablishment of the Church of England and the Church’s role in education. Just before the 1874 election he stood as an Education League candidate in the Bath by-election, against a sitting Liberal MP. The latter’s supporters caused uproar at an open meeting Cox was addressing, throwing him out of a first-floor window. Fortunately he survived his defenestration, as members of the local constabulary were standing beneath and managed to catch him.

In 1879 Cox started studying for the priesthood at Lichfield Theological College, becoming an Anglican priest in 1881. After a series of livings he was awarded a lucrative Crown placement in Holdenby in Northamptonshire. With a parish of fifteen people, this left ample time to devote to the historical research into parish archives that he had already been carrying out in Staffordshire and Derbyshire. During this time Cox was also taking pioneering approaches to what he called the ‘parish state’: insisting that the local could not be understood without reference to the national, an approach which is now second nature to post-revisionist historians of early modern England. In line with his politics, he was particularly concerned that the poorer members of past societies had the right to have their voices heard, and made innovative use of vestry minutes to uncover the plight of the poor in early modern parishes.

Many of Cox’s works are now out of copyright and are starting to appear on the Internet Archive. I also cannot recommend highly enough Elizabeth T. Hurren’s excellent article on Cox in Rural History (2008), from which much of the biographical information in this post is drawn.

Death in early modern Derby

A few extracts from a chronicle of the history of early modern Derby:

  • 1601. A woman burnt to death in Windmill pit for poisoning her husband.
  • 1609. In this year was Roger Moore one of the Serjeants slain most cruelly by one Henry Bennett his mother and brother for which the said Henry was shortly after executed for it.
  • 1610. This year owing to a sudden rise of the brook three prisoners confined in the jail were drowned.
  • 1616. There happened a murder this year at Marton Lane in the night of one Jane Sheldon, supposed to be done by her brother.
  • 1621. In this year Thomas Stringer killed his man.
  • 1645. In Fryer’s close Richard Cockrum was executed at the gallows on Nuns green for killing Mills a servant at the Angel.
  • 1662. Edward Smith’s wife drowned herself at St James’s bridge a young child in her arms was carried down the stream to a sand bed against Alderman Spateman’s door where recovering breath it cried was taken up and saved.
  • 1665. A woman was pressed to death in the county hall as a mute [ie refused to plead].

Unfortunately the Derby chronicle is no longer extant – it survives in various versions in eighteenth and nineteenth century printed histories. Together with the loss of most of the town’s records in a fire in the mid-nineteenth century (particularly the papers of the town Corporation), it means that the various versions of the chronicle and the records of the town’s parishes are the only real sources for the history of the town in the seventeenth century.

As a result it is hard to confirm many of its records. The only one I can find out much about at all is the case of Thomas Stringer. In 1621 John Bullock, rector of Norton, assigned a number of tithes to a Thomas Stringer of Derbyshire. A Thomas Stringer was also a bailiff of the town in 1617. Who on earth ‘his man’ was, though, and what led up to the killing, remains unclear.