Tuesday, 12 August 2008

John Miller, Carrier of Weston Underwood

Continuing the theme of Victorian transport, this image was sent to me four years ago by my Canadian cousin Lynne Tedder, to whom I'm very grateful for permission to use it on the net. It has previously appeared in my profile of the Derby photographer Frank Day.

Image © and courtesy of Lynne Tedder

The elderly man driving this coach and horses is John Miller (1849-1922) - Lynne's great-grandfather and my great-great-grandfather - who was born at Capesthorne near the small village of Siddington in Cheshire. His father James Miller (1815-1893) was a drainage contractor, and had spent his earlier years moving around where the work was. However, while John was a young lad the family moved to and settled in the small village of Weston Underwood in Derbyshire. Although James continued working as a land drainer, he also opened up a brick and tile works in the late 1850s, and by 1861 twelve year-old son John and his two younger brothers, aged nine and seven, were all working for their father in the brickyard.

John Miller continued working in the brickyard after his marriage in 1869, and perhaps became involved in the management of the business, as his father started farming 20 acres of land in the late 1870s. He was also a member of the Derbyshire Yeomanry Cavalry as a young man. In the early to mid-1880s, he and his wife Eliza Sheales Newman (1844-1919) opened a grocery and post office in the village. By 1895 they had also started to operate as carriers between Weston Underwood and Derby, doing the run twice a week, on Tuesdays and Fridays, as shown in the Kelly's trade directories of the period.

Image © and courtesy of University of Leicester's Historical Directories
Extract from Kelly's Directory of Derbyshire for 1912
Image © and courtesy of University of Leicester's Historical Directories

He continued to do this run, presumably carrying the mail as well, until at least 1912. The photograph shows what looks to be a fairly elderly John Miller, and I have estimated that the photograph was possibly taken in the late 1910s or very early 1920s.

Image © and courtesy of Lynne Tedder

The reverse of the photo mount has an advertisement for photographer Frank Day at 108 Pear Tree Road in Derby. I'm not sure exactly when Day moved to Derby, but it was probably after 1912, when he is shown in Kelly's directory with a studio on Mansfield Road in Heanor. The size of the card mount and style of the advertisement design is also typical of the 1910s or 1920s.

I have been wondering where the photograph was taken. The carriage and two horses are parked on a cobbled courtyard of what may be a coaching inn. The size of the buildings makes it unlikely to have been in Weston Underwood or nearby Mugginton, and I decided that it was probably somewhere in Derby. Fortunately the trade directories of the late 19th and early 20th Centuries gave some very detailed information about carriers and their routes.

Image © and courtesy of Derbyshire County Council

I found the following details (also shown in the image above) in Bulmer's History, Topography and Directory of Derby, originally published by T. Bulmer in 1895, but usefully reprinted by the Derbyshire County Council in facsimile form in 1988 (ISBN 0 903463 26 1).
Carriers to and from Derby.
Where to: Weston-under-Wood
Name (of Carrier): Miller
Place of Departure: Nag's Head
Days and Time of Departure: Tues., 2-30, and Fri. 4 p.m.
This was probably the old inn listed in the same directory as, "Nag's Head Vaults, St Peter's St; [prop.] R.H. Vessey," rather than a newer Nag's Head in Stuart street, Derby, as the former was listed as a coaching inn for many decades prior to John Miller's time.

Image © and courtesy of University of Leicester's Historical Directories

Kelly's 1912 trade directory (see image of extract above) shows that the route remained the same until at least that time.

Image © and courtesy of University of Leicester's Historical Directories

The same directory lists the Nag's Head Public House, then under the tenure of David Ford, and the Nag's Head Yard, just off St Peter's Street, alongside a handily located livery stables. It would be interesting to know whether the buildings that existed around the Nag's Head Yard in the early part of the twentieth century are still there, and whether the location in this photo can be identified.

Image © and courtesy of University of Leicester's Historical Directories

The St Peter's Street lisiting in Kelly's 1899 Trade Directory (image above) enables us to pinpoint the precise location of the entrance to Nag's Head Yard in the photograph shown below, kindly provided by Nigel Aspdin.

Image © and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

The photograph has been taken - according to Nigel, circa 1890 - in a northerly direction up St Peter's Street, with East Street heading off to the right from the centre of the image. The ivy covered facade of St Peter's Church is visible on the left hand side. The premises of the Star Tea Company can be seen on the corner of St Peter's and East Streets. I believe the entrance to the Nag's Head Yard is located about 50 meters behind the furthest of the three trams, i.e. the one which is parked facing the camera.

View Larger Map

Google Maps shows this part of Derby, approximately centred on the intersection of St Peter's Street with St Peter's Churchyard/East Street.

Update: 15 August

Nigel Aspdin found a copy of the 1883 Ordnance Survey 1:5000 map (compiled in 1882) for this part of Derby, and kindly scanned the relevant portion for me. It has proved rather illuminating!

Image © Derby Local Studies Library and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin

The alleyway leading from St Peter's Street to the Nag's Head Yard is shown, as is the irregularly shaped Nag's Head Yard, with the Nag's Head Public House identified on the northern side of the yard. After some re-examination of the photo and correlation with the map, Nigel noticed the manhole to the front and left of the left-hand horse, which appears to correlate with the "M.H." on the plan. The staircase shown on the plan appears to have been replaced by a covered wooden staircase by the time the photo was taken.

We believe that the photo is very likely to have been located in the Nag's Head Yard and that, if so, it was taken looking in a north-easterly direction from the corner of the building immediately south of the manhole. The carriage and horses are therefore parked facing back down the alley towards the St Peter's Street entrance. In the right-hand foreground of the photograph, a slightly raised section of cobbles possibly equates to the pavement shown adjacent to the building on the south side of the yard, along the other alley which leads southwards towards East Street (formerly known as Bag Lane). Many thanks to Nigel for his efforts.


  1. HI

    I have been researching the Charvill family of whom my wife is a member, who as you see were proprietors of the stables in Nags Head Yard so I found this photo very interesting as there are no known family photos. Also the family had been carriers for some time before that, operating to Ticknall and London, I believe.

    I believe from my visit to Derby a couple of years ago that there is now a covered shopping arcade where Nags Head Yard must have been - Marks and Spencer rings a bell.

    Can you tell me if it is possible to get a (digital) copy of this photo anywhere as I feel I would like to keep it with my family history files even though it is not my wife's relative pictured?

    Many thanks for your detective work

    Kevin Ryall

  2. Hi Kevin. I'd be happy to send you a detailed version of this image if you care to send me an email, using the link in my profile.

    Regards, Brett

  3. Hi Brett

    We run The FREE, a local free magazine featuring old Derby stuff alongside having a bit of fun at the expense of the council! We did a piece on Nags Head Yard ages back and wish we had read your piece before. If you had a high res pic and wouldn't mind us using it in a future edition we would be most grateful.
    Many thanks

    Pip & Elaine Southall
    The Free (Feathers Ruffled Every Edition)

    1. Hi Pip & Elaine, The photograph doesn't belong to me, so I'm unable to give you permission to use it. Regards, Brett


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