150 years competition for artists and writers 2021

Montage of archive images from advert to letter

Wed 15 Sep 2021

Libraries 150 Years Writers and Artists Competition winners

In celebration of 150 years of public libraries in Derby, we invited writers, photographers, and artists to respond to one of five items selected from the collection at the Local Studies and Family History Library.

Congratulations to our winning entries from Jan Croft, Rachel Grigor, and Sarah E J Richards.

One of the winning entries is ‘The Factory Files’ by Jan Croft and Rachel Grigor. Through their character Catherine - who is reflecting on her Grandmother Gwen and her cousin Flossie’s lives - we are transported back to 1920’s Derby through their imagined letters, capturing the human stories behind the faces seen in the prompt photograph. You can read the letter sequence on the Derby History online archive here.

Sarah E J Richards has conveyed the atmosphere of the factory workplace in the 1920s in her poem ‘The Factory Line’ as well as showcasing the Guide Stoop at Eagle Stone Flat inscribed with “CHESTE RFEILD ROADE” in her photograph entitled “A Guiding Stoop”.

Well done to all entries and congratulations to our winners! See the winning entries on the Derby History online archive.

Winning entry - Fiction by Jan Croft and Rachel Grigor

Introduction to piece and why entrants chose it:

‘‘We were drawn to the photograph of the women workers at Leys Malleable Castings Company as it seemed to convey a whole wealth of hidden human stories at a particular time in Derby’s history.

 The more we looked at the photograph the further it opened up questions and urged us to research Leys and other factories in Derbyshire, and the conditions for women workers at that time within the context of the movement towards women gaining more rights and independence. This in turn increased our appreciation of the advances that have been made in social and working environments and education opportunities today, and how this was achieved.

 In our story, Catherine, who is a student of History and Politics in 2020 reflects on the lives of her great grandmother Gwen and Gwen’s cousin Flossie, who in the late 1920s are both working at different factories, Flossie at Leys and Gwen at Masson Mills. We wanted to show the similarities and differences between the two employments, and places, and through the art of letter writing how these young women captured the essence of their working lives and ambitions.’’

Working Women at Ley's Malleable Castings Company Ltd, circa 1920

Working Women at Ley's Malleable Castings Company Ltd, circa 1920

The Factory Files by Jan Croft and Rachel Grigor


By Catherine Stanton 

Sitting here writing my final thesis, I'm reminded of the importance of writing and literature to women in the early 20th century, how it changed their expectations and how it can shape our lives today.

My Great-grandmother Gwen was born in Derby in 1907 and her cousin Flossie in 1905.  They worked with an all-female team on the moulding and casting factory floor at Ley's in Osmaston Road.  It was dirty manual work; mixing the sand and oil by hand to make the moulds, baking them, and then filling them with molten metal to make the castings for the motor industry. The hours were long and the pay less than the men.  Concentration and attention to detail were required, still, they chatted, laughed, and dreamed of life outside the factory walls.

In Autumn 1928, leaving Ley's for a job at Masson Mills, Gwen made the first break.  She took lodgings in the countryside nearby and enjoyed the views and wildlife as she walked to work.  The move was a brave one, better living conditions were balanced by the risk of accidents and fire at the mills, but she was keen to move forward.   Flossie stayed at Ley's, however she was determined to improve her lot and that of the social conditions of women around her. 

Separated and missing each other, they poured out their hopes, worries, and exciting news in long letters.  I discovered these letters when we packed up my grandmother's house after she moved into a home.  

The daughter of Gwen's landlady was studying Literature at Cambridge University.  She introduced Gwen to an essay by Virginia Woolf; “A Room of One's Own”, which encouraged women to consider all options and carve out a future for themselves. 

Flossie joined a local women's group, where they were also encouraged to challenge the status quo.  She haunted the library, reading up on book-keeping and manufacturing advances.  Her efforts were rewarded with a promotion at work, moving to the office where working conditions, hours, and pay were better. In a cleaner, smarter and professional environment, Flossie blossomed.

Both ladies got married, but chose husbands who supported their ambitions.  Gwen had two children but continued to work at the mill.  After WW2, more opportunities for women were available.  Gwen signed up for evening classes in art and writing and helped out at the local school.   Her grandchildren both became teachers and their children went to university.

Flossie and her husband, the office Manager at Ley's, sat together on the Parish Council, driving positive change in conditions for female workers and local residents.

Reading their letters helped me appreciate how fortunate women are today, despite inequalities that still exist.  I felt a powerful sense of their presence; their strength of character and determination to improve their lives and those of others, they embraced change and lead by example.

This is a history I have learned from and will help me carve out my own future.

Winning entry - Photo by Sarah E J Richards

Introduction to piece and why entrant chose it:

‘‘I recently discovered a set of artworks called “The Companion Stones”, installed close to 12 Guide Stoops that date back to the 18th century.

Although John Ogilby’s Wayfarer’s route from London to Derby pre-dates the stoops there would have been other landmarks that were followed as guides.

This particular Guide Stoop is at Eagle Stone Flat midway between Curbar and Shillito Wood and is well preserved clearly showing the inscription “CHESTE  RFEILD ROADE”.”

John Ogilby's London to Derby Map

John Ogilby's London to Derby Map

'A Guiding Stoop' by Sarah E J Richards

Man walking down country road photo - A Guiding Stoop by Sarah E J Richards

Winning entry - Poem by Sarah E J Richards

Introduction to piece and why entrant chose it:

‘‘Industry has always fascinated me since my early work days visiting flour mills. Seeing the photo of the factory floor at Ley’s Malleable Casting Company Ltd I thought of the ladies working day after day on a “production line”.

At times it must have become monotonous and tedious – I could imagine they would pass the time chatting and maybe having to shout above the noise of machinery.

In the poem, I wanted to convey the atmosphere of the factory workplace as it would have been in the 1920s.’’

Working Women at Ley's Malleable Castings Company Ltd, circa 1920

Working Women at Ley's Malleable Castings Company Ltd, circa 1920

The Factory Line by Sarah E J Richards

Gritty sand, mixed with oil

Stir it well, just like soil.

                    How’s your Frank now? He OK?

                    He’s just fine, at work today.

Stamp it down, to the base

Bake it then to form a case.

                    So what was wrong? Was it bad?

                    Too much beer, ha, just a tad.

Stoke the fire, keep it hot

Heat the metal in the pot.

                    My Joe’s a bother always coughing

                    I blame the mine, dust is shocking.

Pour it slowly in the top

Careful now, don’t spill a drop.

                    We’re off to see that film in town

                    With Groucho Marx, he is a clown.

Let it set, then break the mould

Grind it smooth, once it is cold.

                    After work we need a laugh

                    A welcome break from all our graff.

Mon 7 Jun 2021 

Writers and artist competition

In celebration of 150 years of public libraries in Derby, we are launching a new competition. Writers, photographers and artists are invited to respond to one of five items selected from the collection at the Local Studies Library.

We have chosen a photograph of women at work in the 1920s, a traveller’s 17th century strip map, a Victorian advertisement for a bookseller’s circulating library, an 18th-century prisoner’s petition and a letter home from a WWII airman stationed in India.

We hope that one of these items will inspire you and prompts your creativity! Take the people, places or plotlines, make them your own, and re-imagine these curated episodes from Derby’s history.

Your creative work can be a short story, a poem, an artwork, or a photograph. Entries will be judged by the local studies team. A selection of entries will be compiled into an anthology, which will be published on our Derby History online archive

How to Enter

View digital copies of our chosen selection of items below and download the entry form.

Complete the entry form and return it, with your work, by email to the Local Studies Library 

You can submit your work from Thu 10 Jun to Thu 8 July 2021.

Full terms and conditions can be found on the entry form. General competition terms can be found here. 

Inspiration for your creative work

Please select one of the following items as inspiration for your work

William Hewitt’s Circulating Library

This is a nineteenth century advertisement for William Hewitt’s Circulating library.

This is a nineteenth century advertisement for William Hewitt’s Circulating library. Circulating libraries were side projects of businessmen who were booksellers, printers, and stationers, giving them more opportunities to earn money from their stocks of printed materials. Subscribers paid an annual fee, or fee per book, and could rent one volume at a time. It made reading material more accessible for the Victorian middle-classes during a period when books were at relatively high prices.

Working Women at Ley’s Malleable Castings Company Ltd, Circa 1920

Working Women at Ley’s Malleable Castings Company Ltd, Circa 1920

Founded by Francis Ley in 1874, Ley’s Malleable Casting Company Ltd was a significant firm at the heart of industrial Derby in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century. It was one of the biggest iron foundries of its kind in Europe.

This photo of women working in the core shop was taken during the 1920’s. In casting and moulding processes, core making is used to create internal cavities. In 1882 a dinner party was held by Francis Ley for his employees and visitors which included a tour of the foundry. A report of the tour was printed in the Derby Mercury on 6 December, and of the core making, the article remarks ‘they inspected the coremaking, which in this establishment is all done by females, a very unusual sight in a foundry’.

John Ogilby’s London to Derby Map

John Ogilby’s London to Derby Map

John Ogilby’s map from 1675 showed wayfarers how to get from London to Derby. Starting at the bottom left, the roads run north in strip sections. He notes landmarks along the way that would be significant to seventeenth century people travelling by foot or horse, such as water courses, bridges, churches and hills.

The Humble petition of Joseph Webster, 1771

The humble petition of Joseph Webster, 1771

A petition is a formal request made to an authority such as the monarch, the mayor, or a government department. Joseph Webster was in Derby Gaol. An attorney at the court told the prisoner’s wife, Sarah, that Joseph could be released—for a charge—as no claim had been made against the prisoner by the plaintiff. Sarah raised the money (with great difficulty) but the attorney broke his word – he kept the cash and encouraged a declaration to be made against Joseph instead of working for his release.

The Humble petition of Joseph Webster, 1771 (Transcript)

To the Mayor, Recorder, last precedent Mayor, Town-Clerk and other Justices of the Peace in the Corporation of the Borough of Derby, and to all other worthy and humane Persons,

The humble PETITION of JOSEPH WEBSTER of Derby, a pauper, in the goal belonging to the said borough, and of SARAH his wife,

SHEWETH, That your Petitioners having four children, your Petitioner the said Joseph Webster was some time ago arrested, at the suit of Joseph Copestake and Robert Gaunt, for L. 12, 4s. by virtue of a writ issuing out of the borough-court. That the said Joseph Webster being in a distressed situation, and not able to pay the Plaintiffs demand; and having lain in goal till such time as he might have been discharged, for want of the Plaintiff’s filing a declaration against him, (which Mr Lockett, the Town-clerk for the borough, acquainted the Mayor and court in the town’s hall on Monday last), the said Sarah Webster went to Mr William Fallows, one of the attornies of the said court, to desire he would take proper steps to get the said Joseph Webster out of goal: when Mr Fallows told her, if no declaration was filed (which there was not) he could do so; but he must first have 8s. 6d. or more if she could raise it, before he would do anything for the said Joseph Webster. That the said Sarah Webster, with great difficulty, borrowed 8s. 6d. of several people, she took it to Mr Fallows, which he received; though he then said, Be sure to get me some more money, for surely you cannot be in such very bad credit but you may borrow a few more shillings: but instead of taking the necessary methods for the said Joseph Webster’s discharge, Mr Fallows gave Mr Greenwollers, The Plaintiff’s attorney, leave for further time to declare against the said Joseph Webster, Mr Fallows at the same time saying to Mr Greenwollers, Go on, lad, let them go to law, or words to that effect, which he hath since declared to the said Mayor, as your Petitioners have been informed by the said Mayor. That, by the inhuman, cruel, barbarous, mean, little avaricious conduct of Mr Fallows, and betraying his trust, the said Joseph Webster is still kept in goal, in the most deplorable circumstances, whilst his family are almost starving; on which account your Petitioners most earnestly implore the charitable donations of all well-disposed persons, and hope the Magistrates of this borough will, on the score of humanity, strike Mr Fallows off the list of the borough-attornies, for his dishonest, unmerciful, and double-handed dealing to your poor Petitioners; and they shall, as in duty bound, ever pray; and so forth.

November 20. 1771
Signed in the presence of JNO HIND.

An Airman’s Letter Home from India

WWII letter page 1WWII letter page 2

In December 1945 in the immediate aftermath the Second World War, an RAF airman from Derby writes home from his station in India, where he has been posted for just over three years.

An Airman’s Letter Home from India (Transcript)

10th Dec. 1945

Dear Ma, and the folks at home,

As I have said before, quite recently (haven’t I?) the receipt of the mail out here is pretty grim, and has been for some few weeks past, but I don’t suppose conditions will improve very much until the Christmas rush is over at least. The last amlc [air mail letter card] I had from you was dated 16th. Nov., one which I have not had time to answer yet, though it has been in my hands for some ten days, for during that time I have been frenzily dashing together a few lines of festive greetings and whisking them off to the four corners of the earth.

I had hoped that my ‘cushy’ day job would last until the coming Xmas jubilations had been left behind, but much to my sorrow and dismay, it came to an abrupt end a week ago, and now I’m back on the old, old shift system, which probably means I’ll be working at least one evening over Christmas, when my time should be spent in more pleasing surroundings, and directed among pleasanter channels. However, there is a rumour (one in which I myself have little faith) going the rounds to the effect that all aircraft are to be grounded over Xmas, which means that even our section will be able to shut up shop altogether for two or three days (an unprecedented occurrence). I hope so – but, we shall see!

At the time of writing this I am on duty – the hour is 0215 a.m., and I’m wondering if I’ll manage to keep awake for another 5 hours, when my spell of work finishes for 58 hours – three days, almost, at bed! As you can tell, ‘duty’ doesn’t not necessarily mean ‘work’ in the true sense of the word, - there next few hours will be very slack – hence my penmanship at this unearthly hour. Through the windows of my little cabin come the howls of a jackal on the search for food, but he will pass by after a minute or so un-rewarded – and the night will again return to its peaceful, silent state. Inside here I can just make out the ticking of the clock on the wall, above the atmospherics and occasional cheeps of morse which come floating from the earphones which encircle my neck. From time to time one of the four telephones on the desk at my side will give a tinkle but no one seems to want to speak to me. The thermometer on the wall reads 64°C, which is rather cool for this thin-blooded creature, but outside the temperature must be twenty degrees lower, for I have a Valor stove roaring away at my side exuding a somewhat stifling heat, smelling strongly of kerosene. The atmosphere is almost ideal for letter-writing, but I’m afraid my powers of concentration are not at their best in the middle of the night, and very shortly I’ll have to put away my pen and take up a novel to help the hours pass away more quickly. So much for my present surroundings, now let me answer a question or two from your most recent amlc [air mail letter card].

It is more than likely – in fact it is almost certain – that when I do take the natives’ advice and ‘Quit India’ it will be under re-patriation (termination of overseas tour, which at present stands at 3 yrs. 6 months) and not demob. However, at the present rate of release in my trade I’ll only have a couple of months or so service life facing me when I do get back, so it won’t be too bad. My own Group number is 42, and Group 32 is to be in Civvy St. by the end of January.

A few days ago I got a letter from Ron Storer – the first in almost two years. Apparently he has just been posted to some place near Cairo, but I don’t think he’ll be there long enough to get his knees brown, as his demob number must be only a few behind mine…I don’t know how far the Army have got through. The past week has also brought a further crop of Xmas cards, including one from Kate and Harold…a little nearer the mark than those from 98!!

The camp cinema is due to be opened one day next week, but I took a look inside yesterday, and have my doubts of it being ready for the 25th. There are no seats in place, the stage is still being worked upon, and there are one or two daubs of paint on the wall which may have found their way there by accident, or are the nucleus of a vivid mural. The cook-house project seems to have been abandoned altogether – as have V-J celebrations!

Bye, ‘bye for now

Jack xxxx