Hidden in an archive drawer in Ripley Library are two folders with hessian covers and stencilled titles. They date from 1931 and are the work of 5 members of the local Women’s Institute : Marion and Mabel Turner, Evelyn Jowitt and Mavis and Enid Langton. Their aim was nothing less than a history of Ripley from the earliest times to the (then) present.
They begin : “Ripley has no history”, and then set out to disprove that statement. They are remarkable for several reasons. Firstly, they are very thorough : in a time before the internet, the women had to go to the British Museum to look at the earliest documents, and then to translate them from medieval latin! They examined all kinds of documents and accounts, in London, Derby and locally in churches and council offices.
Secondly, they are particularly interested in the role of women, and find many instances of women playing important roles in the town’s history. They use their own drawings, diagrams and graphs and try very hard to depict what life was like in the town in the past.
They love picking up interesting trifles. For example, they discovered that, in the 13th century, William de Luy paid his rent for Pentrich Mill to the Abbot of Darley in the form of one pond of cumin (yes, the spice) per year, and that no fewer than 3 vicars of Pentrich died in one year during the Black Death.
They tell the story of how, in 1776, whilst attending a cock fight in part of a mill overhanging the river Amber, several men got so excited they jumped up and down, making the floor collapse and tumbling them into the river. One man drowned.
They found that several women were elected constable, like Rosamund Walker in 1696. The constable had to deal with local law and order, and bring the offenders to the local court. Offences included giving shelter to rogues and beggars and keeping greyhounds or selling ale without a licence. Speaking of ale, they also discover in the parish accounts money for buying ale for men – and women- mending the roads, and the church bellringers!
When they came to more recent history, the authors used memories of older local people : some 80 year olds in 1931 remembered the 1860s and 1870s. One man remembered a local pit where the power was supplied not by steam engine but by a man-powered “gin”, a winding wheel pushed by men walking in a circle. Others recalled the annual pleasure trip on the Cromford Canal, and attending Dame School before Council Schools were established. One woman commented : I suppose we had slates and pencils and made marks, but I don’t remember anything but play. The teacher went on with her housework.”
The folders make fascinating reading, not least because they give glimpses of ordinary life in Ripley in the 1930s. We hope soon to be able to reprint them for a wider audience.