Unexamined Lives

The story of the 20th century as lived by residents in the Derbyshire village of Borrowash

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Whats In A Name? – The Dyche Family

‘What’s in a name? A rose by any other name would smell as sweet,’ (‘Romeo and Juliet).

I have never agreed with Juliet. If a rose, despite its delicate scent were to be re-styled as a corpse flower (an Indonesian plant that smells as detestable as it looks) its dignity would be tarnished. Similarly a surname can enhance or blight its owner as I know only too well; particularly during the period of childhood and adolescence.

My maiden name was Dyche. It is an unusual name and by the time my schooldays were over, I had become all too accustomed to the fact that nobody could pronounce it and the mispronunciations were mischievous at best, malicious at worst. It would have helped had there been at least one other pupil in the entire population of Spondon Park Grammar School to share (and therefore dilute) the embarrassment of having a peculiar name but no such luck! Nowadays, the trend is for women to keep their maiden name. It is tempting to think that I married at the age of 24, partly because of a determined effort to offload mine.

Life took its predictable (and sometimes unpredictable) course and when my father died in 2008, the surname as far as I knew, became obsolete. I returned to Derbyshire, moved to Borrowash and by 2011 was directing the Unexamined Lives project. It was then that I made the unexpected discovery that far from being ‘the only Dyche in the village’, Borrowash had been home to generations of the name-bearers, stretching back to the 18th century. When I had dismissed twinges of churlish resentment at the fact that none of them had been around to attend Spondon Park Grammar School, I became intrigued. Were they relatives? If so, why didn’t our side of the family, (originally hailing from Ashbourne) know them? Had there been a family rift, passed on by successive generations and if so, about what?

This was the cue for Unexamined Lives’ resident genealogist, Keith Oseman to undertake some preliminary research. He uncovered the existence of my illustrious ancestor, Thomas Dyche; schoolmaster and lexicographer born in Ashbourne who died in 1733 or thereabouts. Thomas wrote a number of books including ‘New General English Dictionary’ and also the first book published in the English language in Asia. Keith made other discoveries including the fact that my great grandmother was a Maria Trueman from Ireland rather than the Lucy Byatt of family supposition but there was nothing to link us with the Borrowash Dyches. The Derbyshire Records Office holds a ‘Dyche file’, handed over in the 1990s by Professor Jack Rutter. Professor Rutter died in 2010 after a distinguished career as a botanist and ecologist at Imperial College London. What could his interest in the Dyches from Derbyshire possibly be?

We were intrigued to discover an album of photographs inside the file entitled ‘Dyche Family Photograph Album.’  Consisting of 177 black and white photographs on 44 of the 48 pages, the images that are dated cover the period 1928 – 1939 and the album was donated to the Record Office in 1981 although the name of the donor is  (by policy) confidential. Just five of the photographs are signed: ‘Madeleine Dyche’, ‘Maisie’, ‘Mother’, ‘Peter’, ‘Eric’’, ‘Madge’, ‘Doris’, ‘Maurice’, ‘Agnes Dyche’, ‘A. H. Dyche’, ‘A. D’ and the photographs are collectively  a series of happy family and friendship groups enjoying  a variety of fashions and locations.

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My immediate impression was that these Dyches were determined and enthusiastic holidaymakers and were not in the habit of stinting themselves. Whether sporting plus fours, well cut blazers, evening dress or elegant frocks and hats, they knew how to have fun.  Skegness was a favourite resort (closely followed by Blackpool) and the people in the album were also extremely partial to a cruise. We see them abroad in Rhodes, Capri, Malta, Gibraltar, Pompeii, Athens and Rome and in England they appear as a   Derbyshire version of ‘Brideshead’s gilded youth, content to trail gracefully on the river in punts and reclining in attractive garden settings.  I could find little to connect these glamorous Dyches with my relatives, but could they be the Borrowash bearers of the name?

A possible clue from within the file was a detailed handwritten memoir by William Dyche (1863-1945) containing a wealth of detail about his Borrowash childhood.  He turned out to be Professor Rutter’s grandfather and we are extremely grateful to Jack’s daughter, Margaret, who has allowed us to access the memoir; also the writings of her father and some historical family photographs. What follows is based on that material – however, the subjects of the Dyche family photograph album continue to preserve their elegant mystery. Margaret did not recognise a single one of them!

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Professor Rutter recalls his grandfather William with a mixture of love and pride. William was appointed as the second headmaster of the Cardiff Higher Grade School which had opened in 1885 and thereafter became the first county grammar school in Wales. He excelled at languages, speaking and reading in French, German, Spanish, Italian, and had taught himself Latin and Greek in his early teens during his time as a ‘pupil teacher’. As a grandparent, he took a keen interest in Jack’s education and his grandson acknowledges William’s influence as a source of what to read and when:

‘He mostly gave me books – many classics with appeal to children…..and later, he advised me on somewhat weightier books when I was awarded school prizes. I still remember Thomas Hardy’s ‘The Dynasts’ , a choice that surprised my headmaster but which I genuinely enjoyed…..about the time when the Second World War started, he recommended me to read Shakespeare’s historical plays and this I did, all ten of them from ‘King John’ to ‘King Henry VII.’

Retirement in 1928 did not curtail William’s intellectual curiosity; he travelled extensively in Europe with his wife Annie, perfecting his Spanish and reading Cervantes’ ‘Don Quixote’  in the original language. He took up Dutch, began to learn Swedish shortly before his death and his knowledge of Chemistry and Geology was another scholastic interest he shared with his grandson, the future Professor Rutter who said in his own memoir:

‘I think we shared many aspects of our temperament, and so when the old man talked to the young boy, he found a willing listener.’

William Dyche was even a talented watercolourist and his paintings of the Borrowash family home can be found in the Dyche file. Yet there was another side to the former headmaster and rigorous scholar. As his grandson says:

‘He was born in the country and although he lived his life in towns, he remained a countryman, He knew the names of wild plants and birds without having learnt them from a book , and he knew all the birds by their songs, without ever having joined a bird-watching club. …..Once, well into his sixties, he climbed a tree to take two eggs from a magpie’s nest, blew out their contents, packed them carefully and sent them to me through the post.’

William did not acquire his knowledge of the country from textbooks. He got it from Borrowash.

The Borrowash Dyches were not traditionally cushioned by wealth and privilege; on the contrary, their poverty seems to have been widely acknowledged. In 1780,   William’s grandfather, John (1801-1888) was apprenticed to a ‘cordwainer’ or shoemaker, W Coxon. The apprenticeship indenture catalogues him as a poor child of Stanton –by-Bridge and Coxon’s £9 fee for taking him on was paid from a public charity by the Trustees of the late Rev. John Clark, Rector of Stockington. Yet the nascent ambition that would shape the futures of William and Professor Rutter was not lacking in this distant ancestor. John Dyche may have come from nowhere with nothing, but that didn’t mean he had to stay there. In 1792, it was time for a move up in the world and he took it. As Professor Rutter says:

‘In 1792, he took the tenancy of a cottage in Borrowash, where he must have combined farming with shoemaking, for the rent receipt speaks of two ‘pingles’ attached to the house, which also had cow-sheds, a dairy and a cheese room.’

The climb that would eventually lead to a Dyche descendant being lauded in an obituary as:

‘One of the best known physiological plant ecologists of his day, renowned for his work on plant water relations and modelling water balance in forests.’ (Obituary of Professor Jack Rutter; Imperial College, London, February 2011)

had begun.

William Dyche’s birthplace in 1863 was  his grandfather John’s cottage, but his own father, Jabez, traded up two years later, moving his wife Hannah and their children to a larger house nearby where he abandoned  shoemaking to concentrate on his flourishing farming career. William was to spend the first seven years of his life in Borrowash and describes it in his own memoir as a country village; just four and a half miles away from Derby but nevertheless quite isolated. Journeys to Derby were invariably undertaken by foot because the location of the railway station was inconvenient and trains were few and far between. In terms of status, Borrowash was seen as the poor relation of  Ockbrook, with its ‘fine Georgian houses, inhabited by well-to-do people’ and was to some extent overshadowed by this self-important neighbour – yet William considers it to have had ‘a life of its own’. In any case, Borrowash was developing in a way that would have been inconceivable to William’s father, Jabez when he, too, was a child of the village:

‘The population when my father was a boy was so small that he used to get himself off to sleep at night by mentally ticking off every single inhabitant in it.’

During William’s childhood, a different Borrowash was evolving. It boasted three public houses, ‘a Wesleyan and a Ranters’ chapel as the Primitive Methodists were then called,’ and a varied working population.  William observed the cotton mill workers beside the River Derwent and railway men working at Chaddesden sidings, also:

‘Two or three farmers, a nurseryman, some agricultural labourers, the blacksmith, the shoemaker, the tailor, the stockinger, one or two bricklayers and carpenters, the butcher and cattle -dealer, the publican, the schoolmaster, two shopkeepers and  the local poacher, Bill Smedley, married to a second cousin of my father’s.’

Two general shops were kept by a Mr Street and a Mr Phipps and in comparison to today’s village, where it is perfectly possible to live next door to somebody without ever  speaking to them or even knowing their name:

‘Everybody in the village knew everybody else, their virtues and their failings, and my impression as a child was that all the people were friendly and kind; at any rate, they were so to me.’

It was a time when outsiders were rare; the villagers had been born and bred in Borrowash and inevitably, stories passed on by word of  mouth about various ‘characters’ acquired the ambience of folklore. The tale of Zachary Blunt the blacksmith was duly handed down from father to son like an heirloom:

‘On one occasion, he was helping at the Saracen’s Head to carry a drunken guest up to bed when the man’s wig came off in his hands. ‘Oh Lord!’ said Zachary. ‘The man’s ‘yed’s come off!’

Dr Bade, who presided at William’s birth was a handsome, well-to-do magistrate who kept good company and  was known to have his professional nose put out of joint  because of  ‘old Sammy Kerry’ who charged less than the doctor for his  home made herbal remedies that sometime worked and sometimes didn’t. When they didn’t, the unfortunate patient would be forced to crawl, cap in hand, to Dr Bade and endure his triumphant sarcasm:

‘Bad leg, eh? Well, what have you done to it?’

‘Well, we’ve put some   of Kerry’s ointment on it, sir.’

‘Ugh! Kerry’s ointment, eh? All right! Go and get a brick-end and spit on it and rub it with that – it will do you just as much good!’

Yet William acknowledges that some of the herbal remedies were effective and it was worth a try if you couldn’t afford the considerable fees of a professional doctor, nearly a century before the birth of the National Health Service. As always, it was a poorer life for poor people.

When William was little, Borrowash had no street lighting, shop window lights or roaring traffic and became ‘dark and silent’ after nightfall. Leisure time was perforce limited and revolved around two very different attractions; the various well-populated services and prayer meetings in the chapel for those who were Methodists – and alcohol in the public houses for those who were not. Otherwise, in the absence of any other entertainment, villagers went ‘neighbouring’ or sitting around one another’s hearthside fires in the rare absence of chores to do at home. Here they would chat about the goings-on of the Wesleyan preachers including Ockbrook resident, Tommy Jerram who lived in Ockbrook and quarrelled loudly with his wife Susan en route to chapel.

The villagers’ lives were coloured by chapel routine. Membership of the Methodist Society entailed attending Methodist class meetings, as originally instituted by John Wesley. According to William, these consisted of members regaling each other with their weekly spiritual experiences and some could try the patience of a saint as they took advantage of a captive audience:

‘I have heard my father tell of one man who was given to what the other members regarded as ‘fine’ language and who regaled them more often than they liked with the story of his sudden conversion.

‘I was bringing a cart-load of coals,’ he said, ‘from Dale Abbey to Borrowash when I retired behind a hedge to obey the laws of nature.’

‘Huh!’ said a bored Methodist brother, ‘say you went to **** and be done wi’ it!’

Few in the congregation were fully literate and so the preacher would recite a verse or a couple of lines from the hymn that would then be sung by everybody else. William’s father, Jabez had been taught to play the harmonium by a Moravian from Ockbrook called Miss Bearley and when he became the proud owner of his own instrument, he took it to the chapel, played it during the services and took it home again on Monday. The singing improved, but the harmonium was useful in other ways too:

‘Some preachers with an itch for talking were in the habit not merely of reading each verse but of commenting upon it. On one occasion when a preacher did this after a particularly long sermon, my father put a stop to his verbosity by tuning up the harmonium.’

Professor Rutter observes that in later life, his grandfather took a relaxed attitude to formal religion , turning up in church like clockwork  and contributing to the Collection because ‘that’s what your Grannie would have wanted’ rather than from a sense of deep personal need. He was not particularly doctrinal and was quite capable of walking out of a service if it was not to his liking:

‘It’s this damned Covenant service; come on Cecily, we’re not staying.’

He was also perfectly capable of being ‘what my mother called ‘naughty’ i.e. he made remarks in church sufficiently loud to be heard in the pews around him. On one occasion, a preacher thus addressed the Lord in his prayer: ’Oh Lord, Thou knowest we are all miserable sinners…,’ whereupon Grandpa growled ‘You speak for yourself.’

It is probable that this streak of independence towards religion arose from the fact that during his childhood William Dyche was swamped with it. His father and grandfather were strict Wesleyans and William considered its strictures to be relentless:

‘The Methodists of that day always had death and judgement before their eyes.’

Jabez Dyche was the Sunday School Superintendent and ‘not a man to put up with bad behaviour,’ either at Sunday School or in his  home where morning and evening  bible reading and  family prayers were as much part of the Dyche routine as meals on the table. Local preachers visited frequently en route to Dale Abbey, Ambaston and Draycott and William details their eccentricities with a detached curiosity:

‘One of them was some sort of commercial traveller, named Jackson. He used to call at our home on his rounds bringing his lunch with him. He had a bushy black beard and moustache and I used to wonder however he got the food into his mouth with so much hair.’

Yet there were compensations to be had for a child who could not enter wholeheartedly into the religious fervour of his family. After coming down from the gallery at chapel, William took pleasure in gazing out at the fields of Shacklecross, and visiting the Primitive Methodist Chapel with his sister is recalled fondly, not because of the delights of the service but because of the joy of the walk itself:

‘It was a warm, sunny May evening and we turned into the footpath from Ockbrook Lane to Bakehouse Lane. The grass was green and lush, and alongside a hedge – now cut down- we found some cowslips. I can see it all like yesterday.’

William’s religious sensibilities might be best encapsulated in these words from the bible:

‘Howbeit the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet. Heaven is my throne and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is my place of rest?’ Acts 7: 48-49 King James Version.

The young boy from Borrowash felt whatever he understood of God, when enjoying God’s creation, rather than  hearing  preachers inform him that:

‘Way shall soun have to sicken and soun have to die’ (‘Way’ = we, ‘soun’ = soon, pronounced like ‘sound)

within the confines of the Methodist chapel building.

William’s descriptions of the natural world are rich and vivid. He reminisces about walking with his father in the early morning while the dew is still on the grass and the air smells sweet. On another occasion, he is haymaking in 1868 under ‘a glaring blue sky’ and appreciates the refreshing quality of ‘a salad for the mower, a dish of lettuce swimming in vinegar.’

This is a farming way of life; William and his sister Amy drive the cows up Ockbrook Lane after they have been milked; William watches his father spreading manure in Bloso Meadow; William and Amy roll down a grassy bank in Mill Lane and always the natural world is acutely observed:

‘Another spring morning with the sun shining and the hedges are in their early green……we are sitting under the hedge by the gate just as you go into the second field from the house. The ground is hard and dry. A few harebells are growing by.’

The orchard belonging to the Dyche farmhouse is a delight for children, with apples and plums to pick and a pear tree ‘which bears beautiful red and yellow pears. Yet this is earth, not paradise, and William recounts the hazards of rural living. He picks one of the beautiful pears but when he takes a bite:

‘There is a wasp inside which stings me on the tongue.’

Balancing precariously on the pigsty wall he falls into a bed of nettles and am badly stung’ and worst of all, the need for his parents to feed their family makes an unsentimental approach to life a necessity. The child who lives alongside animals as well as people discovers one day to his horror that:

‘My friend the pig is being killed. I am terrified by his screams and I hide behind the barn-door and cry.’

William is learning that there is no room for intemperate emotion on a farm:

‘The fat is rendered down into lard and we eat the residue, ‘scratchings’ with our bread for breakfast. Pork pies are made and distributed among our friends. My father wheels them up in a wheelbarrow to the bake-house at Ockbrook and my sister and I run alongside.’

and his own unthinking childish cruelty in raiding birds’ nests and setting traps for them is described in a prosaic manner in the memoir:

‘I used to set traps for birds in the garden. The trap was made of four bricks so arranged that one would fall if a stick in the trap was touched and then we scattered crumbs around and inside.’

Yet there is an intimacy between family members of all ages perhaps forged by an ‘all hands to the plough’ approach to farm work. The children help their father grind corn and make bread and keeping cows involves everybody. William’s memories are nostalgic:

‘I used to like the warm smell of the cow house. One of our cows was called ‘Breadsall’ and another ‘Powell’. We used to sell milk in the village and to make cheese. I used to like going round with my father, selling milk, from two cans carved from a yoke over his shoulders.’

It was an authentic country life, lived by country people – ‘warts and all’.

Jabez Dyche, William’s father bestrides his son’s memoir in imposing style. He was an only child and not from a moneyed background, but seems to have made the most of his opportunities. He stayed at school until he was 14 and William considers that his father was well educated ‘for his epoch.’ His handwriting was elegant and he expressed himself well with no trace of a provincial accent and certainly no use of slang. Books were not plentiful in such homes as were lived in by the Dyches and their neighbours and those in evidence tended to be of the religious variety such as the Bible, The Pilgrim’s Progress and Fox’s Book of Martyrs but even here, Jabez was unusual in having a taste for the novels of Mrs Henry Wood and George Eliot. In addition, he wrote poetry, the beginnings of his own memoir and played the harmonium. He was an orthodox Methodist, but, according to his son ‘By no means narrow-minded.’  Jabez enjoyed a good relationship with his children and treated them appropriately as they grew up:

‘He did not attempt to treat a youth as a child… for instance, when I went off for a day’s stroll in the country he always refrained from asking where I was going but advised me to take enough money in my pocket to come home with in case of accident.’

William writes about many outings with his father and it is clear that he gets his own love of the countryside from Jabez. A holiday trip to Dale Abbey undertaken on foot is characteristic and also shows how Borrowash and the surrounding area have changed since the last part of the nineteenth century:

‘It was for us children an expedition into the unknown. We turned off Nottingham Road into a narrow lane for footpassngers only which skirted Chaddesden Park; then along a footpath up a hillside and by a great hedge just bursting into leaf, and here we found a blackbird’s nest with three eggs in. A turn to the right through a plantation and then through a farm yard brought us into Chaddesden, a quiet, old fashioned village. Then in bright morning sunshine, we went along a lane with grassy banks full of small sun-ways which my father told us were made by field mice or snakes.’

The family party cross Locko Park, and William catches a glimpse of his first deer but is disappointed because ‘they were little bigger than a sheep and I had pictured them the like the red deer of the Highlands.’

The top end of the Dale brings another find – a tom tit’s nest and then they explore the church and the Hermitage ‘a cell with a door and two windows scooped out of a sandstone cliff.’ Lunch is then taken in a pub but Jabez does not enjoy his pint of ale

‘which he said must have been drugged because it made his head ache.’ Then it is time to begin the homeward trek, walking to Borrowash via Chaddesden fields and the Dumble; ‘a wood growing on a steep, almost precipitous slope of sandstone and full of ancient yew trees. To us children it was very wonderful because the country round Borrowash though undulating is comparatively tame and the yew trees made us think of Robin Hood and the men of Cressy and Agincourt.’

The whole journey there and back had taken up a day and the tea awaiting them at William’s Grandfather’s cottage must have been very welcome. To William the adult, the Dale Abbey expedition was one of the happiest days of his life:

‘This first walk to Dale Abbey was one of the most joyous days of my life and the remembrance  made me as a schoolmaster rather soft-hearted when a boy has asked for a day off with his father in the country.’

The family closeness and sense of discovery could be character-building:

‘I remember giving leave to a boy named Eric Possart to go for a day’s fishing with his father and telling him it would do him far more good than a day in school. Years afterwards, this boy Possart was on the English ship which was in Messina harbour at the time of the earthquake and gave the first help to the people there.’

In 1869, the Dyche family’s country lifestyle was about to change irrevocably. Professor Rutter describes what must have been a rude awakening for people who lived close to the land and earned their living from it:

‘The family’s two houses and land, with much other property in the village, belonged to two brothers who sold it all to divide their inheritance between them. Jabez felt that his parents were too old to be moved, and he bought the cottage in which they lived, together with three more in the same row.’

By so doing, Jabez wiped out his capital in one go and although he might have got a farm manager’s job farther afield, felt a responsibility to his parents and so moved his own family into Derby in order to be  at least relatively close to them. It was then a question of finding a job and the Governor of Derby Gaol was looking for a warder who might also be able to look after the couple of cows that he kept on the adjoining land. Jabez was not in a position to be choosy and took the job – in which he was utterly miserable because the hours were long and unrelenting (‘every sixth night he had to sleep in the gaol’) and the work was entirely uncongenial – even ‘repellent.’

William is shocked at the change in his father and the reduction in his quality of life:

‘Some of the warders were nearly as objectionable as the prisoners themselves. The change to a man like my father; thoughtful, sincerely religious, a lover of the countryside and the open air and used to the company of people like-minded with himself, was very bitter and I remember him as a saddened man.’

Jabez was so distressed that he wrote a poem about it, the contents typified by the opening verse:

And is this the dreadful place

So full of misery

To be my future home?

Oh Lord! Oh Christ! Save me!

However, rescue was not to be had and Jabez began the process of adjusting; distinguishing between ‘the regular gaol-birds and the young fellows who were in for some offence against the law and not necessarily implying vicious morals.’

As always, Jabez’ human sympathy made him understand the individual situations of the prisoners:

‘Some of the men who were in for assault had in my fathers’ opinion, received great provocation, lost their temper and done in hot blood what they were sorry for later. One man in particular had been so tormented by a nagging wife that in a fit of fury, he pulled a stake from the hedge and broke her skull with it. I believe he was hanged and I know my father was very sorry for him.’

The families of prison warders were necessarily affected by the profession of the bread-winner. William considers prison to be ‘a sordid subject’ for young children and felt that the atmosphere of prison ‘surrounded our liver.’  Not everything was bad, however. Various trades went on behind the prison walls including bread making and William occasionally accompanied his father in a pony and trap when Jabez delivered some loaves to the Diocesan Training College for Women Teachers. Prisoners made the bread and it was an arduous task:

‘The corn was ground inside the prison, the power being supplied by prisoners working on the tread mill, a form of punishment now abolished.’

Even this, or rug making must have been preferable to the hours and hours of boredom spent in the cells. Prison life was designed to be unpleasant, food was sparse and of poor quality and William observed that:

‘Hunger drove them to strange devices. One man fed crumbs to a pigeon at his cell window. Finally he caught it and attempted to stew it in his breakfast tea over his gas flame. Another man picked up and ate one of the linseed poultices which had been used in the sick bay.’

One of Jabez’ duties was to censor the letters that prisoners wrote to family and friends and some of these were the object of grim humour such as this from a young prisoner:

‘My dear Parents,

I hope this finds you well as it leaves me at present, I thank God for it. I have a large boil on my fundament.’

A warder’s duty that was not a source of humour, grim or otherwise, was that of staying with convicted murderers in the condemned cell. These men were not allowed a moment’s solitude and were accompanied by two warders night and day. The thought of the condemned cell loomed vividly in the minds of the children and one night William even dreamt that he was the condemned man himself. On some occasions the occupant of the cell was reprieved but this was unusual. For Jabez and his family it must all have seemed a world away from the freedom of country life in Borrowash.

The world in which William grew up was a time of rapid change despite the relative tranquillity of life in a Derbyshire village. He took a keen interest in history and as a young man tried to find out what his family remembered ( or had been told by means of oral tradition)  about world events – without much success:

‘My grandfather who must have remembered Waterloo and possibly Trafalgar, talked little and was interested in religion,  particularly  in death and judgement, to the exclusion, almost of what he considered  worldly matters.’

However, John Dyche did tell his grandson about the 1745 rebellion of Bonnie Prince Charlie and his arrival in Derby:

My grandfather in his boyhood had known an old man who as a boy at Ambaston,  had been called upon to bring bread and cheese and ale to a Highland outpost which reached that village some six miles from Derby off the London Road. They sat under an oak tree to eat it. My great aunt Sarah, my grandmother’s sister, told me that her grandfather kept an inn at Stapleford on the Nottingham-Derby road and that he was knocked up in the middle of the night by some Nottingham Jacobites who were on their way to join the Pretender at Derby. They wanted beer, and quickly drew a whole barrel before he could come up to dress.’

John Dyche also told his grandson that he had seen the execution of the Pentrich rebels, Turner, Brandreth and Ludlam for high treason in 1817.  As William describes events:

‘They had raised a body of some 40 men in the neighbourhood of Alfreton and Pentrich and marched on Nottingham where they expected a general rising.’

The insurgents were to be disappointed; nobody joined them and instead ‘they were tried in Derby, found guilty, hanged for half an hour, cut down and then beheaded.’ A riot then ensued and the mob was chased by the dragoons. It was to be the last public hanging for high treason in England before World War 1.

One of William’s own historical memories was less dramatic – or at least, less bloodthirsty. The Ballot Act of 1872 was an Act of Parliament that introduced the requirement that parliamentary and local government elections throughout the United Kingdom be conducted by secret ballot. Formerly, land owners and employers had been allowed to be present themselves or to send representatives in order to sway the votes of their employees.  Radicals like the Chartists had campaigned vigorously for this undemocratic system to end and William recalls the 1868 Parliamentary election, the last under the old system. On a bitterly cold day in winter, he walked two or three miles with his father to Breaston where Jabez was intending to cast his vote. Then as now, it was customary to use schools for voting purposes. William describes the very public voting system:

‘Two clerks sat at a desk each with a big account book before him and my father was asked ‘For whom do you vote?’

‘For Mr Evans,’ he said. Mr Evans, a banker from Allestree, was the Liberal candidate.’

In the event, despite Jabez’ best efforts, the Conservative, Sir Henry Wilmot VC from Chaddesden won and his supporters celebrated in the traditional fashion:

‘I remember seeing, from the school down, a day or two later, his supporters marching down the street, decked with blue favour.’

William was to become a teacher and although he says that his memories of his early schooldays are ‘confused and scanty’ his writing about his time at the ‘big school’ is detailed and colourful. In Derby he attended the King Street Wesleyan School with his sister, Amy. Schooling was not compulsory in the 1870s and neither was it free:

‘I suppose the weekly cost of our schooldays all included would come to eighteen pence or two shillings a week which my father cheerfully paid out of his wages of £1 a week.’

The school itself was situated on the edge of the Derby slums and getting to and fro involved some unpleasant encounters with the local ‘ragamuffins’ or ‘young ruffians’.  As a naturally ‘dreamy’ boy, William tried running away from them but soon decided that attack was really the best form of defence and took drastic action:

‘I turned around, picked up a stone and threw it at the leading boy, hit him fairly on the head and brought him down. Instantly I was in a terror for fear I had killed him. Visions of being hung ran through my head as I went back to see if he were dead. However, when I got to him, he scrambled up. Much relieved, I knocked him down again and cut off as fast as I could go.’

School life in general was extremely rough and ready and as well as individual scraps between boys, organised fighting between different schools was common. ‘Weapons’ were forged out of sticks, stones and cabbage stalks and after one bout in 1870, William remembers the entire school being kept in until after six o’clock as a disciplinary measure.

The curriculum had an exciting re-vamp for some pupils, including William when ‘Science’ was introduced for 10 year olds. This appears to be part of an initiative in connection with the Science Department at South Kensington College and some of the brighter pupils were hand picked by their teachers to form a special class. They studied Physical Geography, Animal Physiology and Magnetism and Electricity. For William, a window had opened on a new world and although he is deprecating about his own abilities (‘I had never regarded myself as clever.’) he embraced the new challenges with relish:

‘They opened a new world to me outside of the narrow scope of the three Rs and the history and geography of the elementary school curriculum.’ 

He began to enjoy study for its own sake, do well in examinations and win prizes. His future course in life was now set.

When William was 12, he had reached the highest class in school and Jabez encouraged him to apply for two jobs as a clerk – neither of which he got. At this point, the school headmaster stepped in and offered William a job as a ‘pupil teacher’ which he accepted. Then began six years of extremely hard work as a type of ‘bound apprentice’ to the school managers. The salary was not generous and the headmaster was usually reluctant to pay all of it:

‘During the first year, I was to be paid £2 per week for my services. The money was not paid until 15 months after I had started work and even then, the headmaster wanted to deduct 9 pence on the ground that not, as yet, being indentured, I was a scholar as well as a teacher and should pay an ordinary school fee.’

The system of school finance encouraged what in William’s opinion was ‘stinginess’ which whilst not admirable, was perhaps understandable. The King Street Weslyan School was a ‘farmed’ school:

‘The master took all the receipts from fees, grants and the sale of school materials, paid all the expenses and had the balance for himself. He was therefore exposed to some temptation to stinginess, not to say, sharp practice.’

Jabez in particular, became disillusioned with the behaviour of a professional he had formerly admired but stood his ground and insisted upon William receiving the money owed. However, the years of William’s apprenticeship were to feature annual battles for fair payment which must have been extremely wearing; especially when combined with the long hours, onerous duties and daily battles involving keeping discipline and instilling respect.

Anyone who has ever taught will know that teaching gets easier as you get older and less close in age to your pupils. For William and his co-pupil teachers, this situation was exacerbated. He began teaching at the age of 12; scarcely older than the students in his class and, having to work in conditions ‘of extreme personal discomfort,’ felt obliged to resort to ‘boxing their ears or slapping their faces’ when faced with insolence or disobedience. William was not unfeeling, and admitted that this brutality was deplorable, but he was also both realistic and pragmatic:

‘Let anyone who thinks he could have dispensed with it imagine himself at the age of 14 in charge of 40 children of the age of 10 in a crowded schoolroom, and under great pressure to make them all pass the annual examination.’

Imposing punishments such as writing out ‘lines’ was not a credible alternative, because many pupils simply refused to comply. On one occasion William was kept in the classroom with an intransigent child until seven thirty pm. Discipline problems occurred regularly for the first three years of his apprenticeship to the extent that he described his work as a ‘daily misery’ and lost confidence in his vocation. In the end, the solution he came to although not pleasant, was effective

‘I set myself to consider, ‘Why do the boys obey the headmaster?’ On reflection, I decided that it was because they knew that if they did not he would thrash them till they did. I therefore decided that rules or no rules, I would thrash every boy who did not obey till he did obey. I acted on this and after one or two contests the other boys decided that it was prudent to obey;  after that I had little or no trouble with discipline.’

While the atmosphere in the classroom improved, ‘outside’ parts of the school day such as lunch time still presented problems. However, once William had decided to meet insubordination with violence, he lived up to his intention. If this made the offender decide that it was time to finish his schooldays, then so much the better:

‘One, named Wigfield once drew a knife on me but I managed to throw him against some hat pegs which hurt him a good deal. I feared I had seriously injured him but he went home and to my great relief, never came again.’

This was not an isolated incident:

‘Another boy named Bennet, the son of a publican, was a disagreeable boy. I had to throw him out one wet day. He had on a new overcoat. I threw him through the door and down three steps into the muddy playground where he went slithering all his length, face downwards in the mud. My recollection of his behaviour is that what he got served him right.’

Clearly conditions in the schools of the day were not for the squeamish and all the time, William was working to pass the School Certificate; an essential requisite for a successful career in teaching. He studied for the London Matriculation examination and the curriculum was forbidding:

‘At that time, Latin and Greek were compulsory subjects for the examination and the other subjects were one modern language – in our case, French, Mathematics including the first four books of Euclid, Algebra up to Quadratic Equations and Arithmetic; English History, Geography, English Grammar, Chemistry and what was then called ‘Natural Philosophy’ which included the principles of Mechanics and some Physics.’

There was no opportunity during the  day to study, so William had to read his books at home before breakfast and in the evening after school, and the examination itself was daunting; ten papers each three hours in length over a five day period at University College in Nottingham. When he discovered that he had passed in 37th place ‘in the Honour Division’ his sense of achievement was unbounded and thoroughly deserved:

I think that my success in Matriculation gave me more satisfaction, happiness I might even say than any other piece of good fortune that has happened to me.’

Above all, William took intense pleasure in his father’s pride. Jabez had been a diminished and saddened man since leaving his farm and having to take a job in the hated gaol. Now his son was on his way to a very different type of life. For William, it was simple. His aim was to restore the family fortunes – and he did, overcoming the next hurdle – the Queen’s Scholarship Examination for entrance to the Wesleyan Training College in London and a distinguished career as a teacher and headmaster was then his.

However, William did not  forget his parents’ hardship and determination never to get into debt and dedicated the rest of his life to ‘helping both my parents and my sister and my grown-up children’ whilst spending little on himself:

‘I grew up with a horror of debt and with the principle firmly grounded in me that I must pay at once for goods received and services rendered.’

While William’s adult life was to be elsewhere, Borrowash remained central to the lives of his original family. His mother Hannah and siblings Amy and John moved from Derby into the original Dyche cottage to care for Jabez’ father, John, after his wife, Grace died in 1873. John’s sister in law, Sarah established herself in the cottage as housekeeper and later, tried her hand at business by opening a grocery shop in one of its rooms. She was assisted by Hannah and William’s sister, Amy, who lived in the cottage and ran the shop until within a couple of years of her death. The name of Amy Dyche is still associated with Borrowash and she became renowned for her bottles of delicious sweets. Professor Rutter remembers visiting Great Aunt Amy in her cottage in  the company of his Grandfather, William, and describes a rather basic interior with no bathroom and an outside lavatory. After William death in 1945, the cottage went  to his daughter, also called Amy, but she could not afford to keep it and the Dyche family home passed out of the family.

William died on 9th January 1945 after an unsuccessful operation on a cancer of the kidney. He had  missed his wife and sister, but at the end could look back upon a happy and fulfilled life, unlike his father Jabez who died at the relatively early age of 59 when he was still working at the hated gaol. However, Professor Rutter’s appreciation of his grandfather, William, might equally apply to the father William revered so much:

‘The one word with which I would describe Grandpa is uprightness. Physically, he was a large, tall man who stood up straight and held his head up. He was undoubtedly a fighter for what he believed to be right.’

But what of the name ‘Dyche’ itself?  If William, like me, found it to be a burden rather than an advantage during his own turbulent schooldays he does not say so. However, he does speculate on its origin, According to Professor Rutter:

‘There had been in the family since unremembered time, an unusual chest or kneading trough, dating from the 16th century or earlier and of 13th century type. A German friend, Edda Kisker said she had seen many like it in Westphalian farm houses.’

Based upon the trough, William Dyche thought that the original Dyches must have been  German peasants who had arrived in England as the servants of rich families, to coincide with the arrival of William 111 of Orange ( in 1688) or George 1 of Hanover who arrived in 1714. His rather original theory is that when spoken to by English people and asked to give their name, they pointed at themselves and simply said ‘Deutsch, Deutsch.’ This is far preferable to the other explanation that Dyches were simply people who lived by dykes and ditches – and as lover of Germany, in particular, a fan of  Berlin, I have decided to believe it!

As for the subjects of the photograph album, who they are and where they came from remains as much a mystery as ever. Yet in the absence of anything or anyone to identify them, they remain captured in a moment of time, forever young, forever happy with no past to regret or future to dread. Somehow, in an uncertain 21st century world of change and flux,  I find that fitting – and oddly satisfying.

One Response to Whats In A Name? – The Dyche Family

  1. What an amazingly detailed story. Not only is it a great read, but it’s so appropriate that this well researched wide ranging personal back story adds so much to the Unexamined Lives project and our understanding of life in the village. Congratulations.

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