»  The Virtual Attic

Leah & Lizzie

 

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This is the main page for my own family history. The downward links here contain all the surviving documentary and photographic records of my parents and grandparents, together with whatever I can recall having been told about them.

Most of the documents reproduced here were scanned in from stuff I found in dusty boxes in my attic. While doing this, it occurred to me that this material probably has a better chance of survival on the internet than in the attic. I therefore decided to call these pages my "virtual attic."

(Having lit on that idea, my next thought was of course to get a column out of it.)

 

The material is divided up into the six categories shown in the navigation box:

  • People — All the family members I know of, with as much as I know about each one.
  • Photographs — Such as survive from old family albums, with any others of interest up to the present time, except for pictures of me, my wife, and my kids, taken since my marriage in 1986. Those are all in the family album pages.
  • Places — The places where my family members lived.
  • Letters — All the letters that have survived from deceased family members (mainly from my parents to me).
  • Other Documents — Any documents other than letters, e.g. marriage certificates, diaries, diplomas, …
  • Glossary — An alphabetical list of all people, places, organizations, and obscurities that occur in letters and documents. Usually when such a name or word occurs, it will be hyperlinked to the glossary (which may then link to expanded information in "Places" or "People"). The glossary is like an index, not intended to be read top to bottom.

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I come from lines of ordinary English working people. My cousin Harold played for Wolverhampton Wanderers, a first-division English soccer team, in the 1950s. One of my mother's mother's antecedents was said to have been governor of Strangeways Prison in Manchester in the early or mid 19th century. That is about as close to distinction as any of us has got.

An even mistier family legend, also from my mother's mother's line, has it that one of our ancestors was a grand Spanish lady, who came over to England with a shipload of servants: "… and that is how we come to have brown eyes," ends the tale. I have no idea whether this is true. Since, if you go back a few centuries, the rules of arithmetic show that everybody is descended from everybody (or at least, everybody in one's broad ancestral-geographical neighborhood), I don't see why it shouldn't be.

The surname "Derbyshire" (pronounced "DAH-bi-shuh") is a locative, the name of an English county. Like all locatives, it arose when people from that place were living in some other place. ("English" is a common Irish surname, on the same principle.) The assignment was presumably made back in the 15th century, when English commoners acquired surnames. According to Brian Sykes, most English surnames — all but the commonest ones like Smith or Clark — were just assigned once, so all Derbyshires are presumably related at about the twentieth cousin level.

At any rate, I have no knowledge of any connections with Derbyshire, a place I have been to only twice, on business both times. Most Derbyshires come, like my father, from Lancashire. Of all English towns of any size, Wigan had the largest number of Derbyshires in the 1881 census, with most of the rest scattered along the Wigan-Manchester axis of southeast Lancashire. In Pemberton, a western suburb of Wigan, the chance that a random person met in the 1881 street would have been a Derbyshire was 80 times the chance for Britain as a whole — the highest probability for any locality. The commonest occupations for Derbyshires in that census were: Scholar [i.e. a child in school], Cotton Weaver, Coal Miner, General Labourer, Dressmaker, Carter, Housekeeper, Labourer, Laundress, Iron Moulder, Domestic Servant, Errand Boy, Charwoman, Cotton Spinner, General Servant, Agricultural Labourer, Housewife.

[Here and everywhere else on this website I use county names to refer to the historic counties, not to the absurd "regional administrative units" established by the abominable Edward Heath government in 1974.]

Variant spellings ("Darbyshire," "Darbishire," etc.) are common. So far as I know, there have been no really eminent Derbyshires. There is a John Derbyshire in Book II of Jan Morris's Pax Britannica, but he does not seem to have been much of an empire builder. A Manchester-born John Henry Derbyshire won Olympic medals for swimming in the early 1900s. Carolyn Darbyshire was a member of the Canadian curling team that won a silver medal in the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. The only instance in fiction that I am aware of is Jennings's side-kick (spelt "Darbishire") in the school stories of Anthony Buckeridge, though "Derbyshire" is used as a pseudonym in the Sherlock Holmes story "Silver Blaze."

Added April 2013 :  A reader, after scolding me gently for being "so ignorant of the meaning of the surname we share," supplied the following additional information. I am much obliged to her, and ashamed of my lack of diligence.

"It is a name of O.S. origin with 2 possible meanings. It maybe an ancient regional name from the "hundreds" of West Derby in Lancashire, which was often referred to as "Derbyshire" in the middle ages with the pre 7th. century scir, shire, district, administrative region — in Middle English schire. West Derby is also recorded as "Derbi" in the Domesday Book 1066 county of "Derbiscire."

"The place name Derby is derived from O.S. diurby meaning a farm with a deer park (or where deer lived).

"There was a Geoffrey de Derbesire (witness) in 1203. in the Staffordshire Assize Rolls during the reign of King John. I got all this info. from the computer.

"There was a Jesuit Thomas Derbyshire in the 12th century. My Jesuit uncle (ordained at Stonyhurst College in 1923), Lester Derbyshire, was parish priest of Preston, Blackpool, and Richmond. My family are Catholics from olden times. Sir Andrew George Derbyshire (b. 1924) was a notable architect.

"My cousin Delia Derbyshire is known for creating the music for Dr. Who.

"The Derbyshires were a well regarded & established glass making family with factories in Manchester. James, John and Thomas Derbyshire (brothers) ran the various factories in the late 19th century."

My mother's maiden name, Knowles, is also a locative, cognate with the word "knoll," whose roots go back through Old English to Old Teutonic. In the 1881 census the Knowleses are also concentrated in Lancashire, though further north, on the Preston-Blackburn axis, and with considerable smearing east into Yorkshire and south into Cheshire and Warwickshire. Commonest occupations: Scholar, Cotton Weaver, Coal Miner, Housekeeper, Agricultural Labourer, Dressmaker, Domestic Servant, Annuitant (?), Labourer, Cotton Spinner, General Labourer, Laundress, General Servant, Grocer, Charwoman, Hat Trimmer, Carter, Dress Maker, No Occupation, Joiner, Cotton Winder, Farm Labourer (no, I don't know how this differs from "Agricultural Labourer"), Hatter, Farmers Wife, Farmers Son, Stonemason.

To complete the set, the Chinese surnames of my wife's father and mother, Qi (齊) and Han (韓), are also locatives. They are the names of fiefs bestowed on descendants of early Zhou Dynasty monarchs in the 11th to 9th centuries B.C. Their locations and boundaries can be inspected on page 5 of Hermann's Historical Atlas of China, and they have entries in Wikipedia here and here.