Updated 16 Mar 2001

WIRKSWORTH Parish Records 1600-1900

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Letters from Alfred Doxey

Letters from Alfred Doxey (1865-1933), including a biography of his Grandmother Eliza Doxey (died 1888)

Letter 1

              ELIZA DOROTHY DOXEY 1806-1888

                    by Alfred Doxey, Sheffield, Xmas 1897

        My Father having copied for me such of Grandmother's
original poems as appear in this book, suggested the idea of my
writing a few reminisal notes of the author. I am sorry that the data
necessary to a more complete biography is not accessible, not
withstanding it is to me a pleasant task to record a few of the
characteristics of a member of our family to whom we are so highly
indebted for watchful care & guidence, & who has earned by her
poetical talent & noble virtue a memoir that shall preserve her name
from oblivion. The incidents may appear somewhat trivial, & I can only
urge in explanation that many of these were observed at a time when
the inexperience of childhood does not allow the mind to observe
matter likely to prove of future literary interest with a view to
compilation of biography. It is only when the original scenes & actors
are no longer with us that we realise their true worth. The world cares
little for the man it can see anyday for a minimum of trouble, future
ages perchance may worship his effigy in brass.

       Grandmother was the daughter of John Howe, a native of Ashford
in the Water, author of a small book of poems entitled "Trifles light
as Air". Mary his wife, to whom he was married in the year 1800,
died young, leaving him with seven children, which fact, combined with
failing business as a Tallow-chandler left him in sore straits & Eliza
Dorothy his daughter then quite a girl had to face the world in search
of a livliehood, & I have often heard Grandmother comment on her
early struggles, which left her scarce time or opportunity for the
acquisition of learning.

      That she entertained a high opinion of her Father "J.Howe" may be
gathered from a letter addressed to Thomas Brushfield J.P. She writes
- My Father cared not -- or riches, he left us a good name which
unsullied we still hold for our children, I look back to him with a sigh &
think how little he was understood, he was generous to a fault, &
unsuspecting, an easy prey to the crafty and designing.

      Grandmother as a girl assissted her Father in the manufacture &
delivery of candles. She was afterwards in service as cook ets in a few
good families in Manchester, Nottingham & York, and at one time was
employed making umbrella tops by the then noted firm of "Pickerings".
Became a dressmaker - kept school for nine years at Rotherham,
made "smock frocks" ready made mens clothes etc in Middleton
afterwards did the trimming of silk shirts for "Smedley's " Lea Mills kept
a little shop at "Matlock Bank" & a "Toll Gate at Wensley". Indeed
adaptability to existing requirements seems to have been a prominent
characteristic of temperament .

      Grandmother was married to my Grandfather "William de'Orsey" at
Bradbourne & afterwards lived in a very small cottage at "Middleton"
they had little furniture, & commenced housekeeping in a very humble

        Grandfather followed the avocation of a lead miner & a little
digression may here be permitted to explain how the name of "Doxey"

        Grandfather William Doxey was a descendant of the "Huguenots"
who after persecution by the French sought refuge, some in
Spittalfields & others in various parts of Derbyshire, finding
employment as miners in the various lead mines of the district.

        The name by local usage, from de 'Orsey, became Darcey &
finally Doxey.

        Sir H. ---- who married the "Sister?" or Cousin? of Miss
F.Nightingale informed my Grandfather that he knew the de 'Orsey
family in France quite well.

        My Grandfather's earnings as a lead miner were very small &
while with Grandmother's help & economical management the home
was maintained in comfort, there remained little or no surplus funds to
be devoted to the acquisition of books & other literature so necessary
to one of her tasks and accomplishments. Notwithstanding, she
continued to amass a mine of matter Poetical, literary, & antiquarian.
Possessed of a most --- memory & the knack of selecting out matter
most appropriate to any subject under discussion, while rendering her
a dangerous antagonist, furnished a most enjoyable entertaimner, &
her society was in consequence sought by people much more
fortunately placed in circumstances.

       Grandmother had a family of two sons William Doxey the elder
"my father" & Alfred Doxey, who died in the prime of life from the
effects of rheumatism.

       My own mother "Emma Doxey" having died from consumption
when brother Walter & myself were quite young, we were left in the
fond care of one of the most indulgent of Grandmothera, & my earlier
recollections of her are when keeping the little Toll Bar House at
"Wensley near Darley Bridge".

      I next see her living in one of two small adjoining cottages at
Darley Bridge. A neatly arranged garden stands in front of the house,
for grandfather was an enthusiast & took a pride in the long rows of
green peas & fine potato crop, as Grandmother did in the neatly
arranged flowering beds & choice collection of plants contained in pots
behind the diamond latticed windows of the cottage. Entering the door,
a tall settee obstructed a full view of the room. The floor is laid in
coloured tiles, the hearth made comfortable with a home made rug &
highly polished steel fender. A gaping chimney which used to inspire
me with awe, but not so the starling which annually reared its young at
the top. The old sofa (subject of a poem) an old oak table supporting a
bible, pair of spectacles, brass candle stick & indispensible snuffers &

        At one end of the room stands an old "secretaire" the one on
which I am now writing, which is part of a suite of furniture presented
to Grandmother (when Christened) by her sponser Madam Blore (the
lady mentioned by John Howe).

        The library is represented by three or four shelves supported from
their corners by cords a few books, the contents of which I do not
remember. A Grandfather clock stands in one corner, an old oak
corner chair in another, which chair after having been handed down
through several generations of Alfred's, now remains in my
possession. A portrait of Miss F.Nightingale hangs on the wall, a small
brass table stands on the secretaire & a stone box carved by my Uncle
Alfred rests on the mantelpiece.

        There is the bright oat coke (???) rack, gofering iron, &
miscellaneas assortment of odds & ends characteristic of an English
homestead. Grandfather is seated on the sofa carefully selecting
straws which are then threaded through the band of his hat to be used
for shot-firing at Mill Close Mine on next shifts. Grandmother is knitting
stockings & relating to my brother & myself the following riddle:

              Within a marble dome confined,
              Whose snow white walls with silk are lined,
              There doth a ball of gold appear,
              Bathed in a stream of crystal clear.
              No doors or windows you behold,
              Yet --- break in and steal the gold.

        After vainly guessing we are informed the solution is an egg.
       The next riddle was even a greater puzzle & ran thus:

      From flesh blood & bone I was conceived as many creatures be.
      Yet neither flesh blood or bone doth now remain to me.
      They took me from my mother's side where I was so bravely bred.
      And when they found I was full grown they then cut off my head.
      They gave to me such drink to drink, whereby such strength I had.
      I difference caused between King & King & drove true lover's mad.
      All this I do & ten times more mens' mission to fulfill.
      Yet I can do nothing of myself, but by my leader's will.

      The magical wonder worker is a "quill pen" bred from a goose, the
head of the quill is first cut off to form the nib. The drink possessing
strength is the ink, yet the whole is helpless without the guiding hand
of the leader.

      Perhaps a story from Sir walter Scott's "Peveril of the Peak" or The
exploits of Robin Hood & Little John, or Oliver Cromwell & his
Roundheads, would rivet our attentions until bedtime.

      Calling Grandmother's attention to the beautiful moon then shining,

              Penny moon as bright as silken
              Come and play with little children
              Come with a whistle, come with a call,
              Come with a goodwill, or come not at all.

     We were reminded of the advent of Spring with:

              Spring is coming, Spring is coming
              Hark the little bee is humming
              See the lark is soaring high
              In the blue and sunny sky.

    Probably when left to ourselves my brother & myself would differ
upon some trivial matter, & a storm arising, Grandmother would arrive
at its height with:

           And all these disturbances so noisy and high
           Are never left off till they end in a cry
           Is there no other game you can take can take a delight in
           But Knocking & boxing, & kicking & fighting
           It is a sad thing I'm forced to conclude
           Boys can't be merry without being rude.

    Or again:

          Oh what a noise and a tempest & a rioting
          This world is a place that we never can be quiet in.

   At dinner a breach of etiquette objected to, was the crossing of a
knife & fork & we accepted the reminder:

            And to contribute to my loss
            My knife and fork was laid across.

        At times we became too demonstrative, perhaps when a lady
visitor had called to see Grandmother. The cutomary rebuke was:

             Little boys should be seen and not heard.

        How well I remember Grandmother's smile of welcome & happy
greeting after a short absence!

               Where have you been?
               What have you seen?
               What have you heard?
               My pretty Birds.

       I might combine the narration of poetical reference to events of
almost hourly occurence, but perhaps these might not interest beyond
our own family circle.

       My object briefly is now to refer to Grandmother's own original
poems, which to my mind clearly indicate the inspirational nature of
her writings & composition.

       The Peom "Hail Spirit of Poetry" clearly illustrates this. There is an
entire absence of straining after effect, so painfully evident in potry
other than spontaneous. The ideas follow in their natural sequence &
must have been felt when written, & no doubt afforded consolation to
the writer.

       As an alternative poem written when the mind was disturbed by
some imagined injustice "The incidents if which I do not fully
recollect" we have,

           "Woman she is made of glass"

indicating clearly her injured feelings, supplemented by a sharp
rebuke, a most ingenious warning. The poem was written in
Grandmother's 80th year and quite impromptu.

        The poem written on a Valentine to my sister Eliza Dorothy is very
effective, as indicating the high estimation in which our first little sister
was held in the family. The solicitation with respect to dignity is very

        Napoleon the Emperor of the French was often referred to, and
as a girl Grandmother seems to have been deeply impressed by his
military prowess, as indeed the whole world had cause to be at that

        The poem on "Napoleon's Grave" written when a girl, exhibits an
inherent gift for poetry.

        "Lines to Miss Julia Smith", Aunt to Miss F.Nightingale are both
ingenious and truthful. Upon several occasions Grandmother received
an invitation to visit Miss Smith at "Lea Hurst", my brother and myself
accompanying her, and I well remember the kind manner and peaceful
expression on the face of Miss Smith to whom Grandmother bore a
striking likeness. The poem is by no means a flattery.

        Miss Smith and Grandmother were both enthusiastic lovers of
Shakespear, hence the attraction and --- sympathy between them.

        "To my Old Sofa". The opening and concluding lines are very
good and no doubt deeply felt after so many years of happy

         I regret that more of Grandmother's poetry has not been
preserved to us, yet sufficient remains to judge of the original and
versatile powers of the writer and which, with encouragement, might
have accomplished much.

         As it was the Muse was fanned into a flame only on the occasion
of some event of family importance occuring, and at these times to
afford personal gratification to the writer only.

         For a few years prior to her death, Grandmother was
accustomed to say that on retiring to rest at night she repeatedly heard
most harmonic strains of music as of many voices singing, and all
endeavour to ascertain the origin of the music proved ineffective.
She often paced the room, opened the windows and doors in vain.
One link in the chain of evidence may be gathered from the fact that a
little girl (a cousin of ours) who slept occasionally with Grandmother for
company, heard nothing, even at the moment of Grandmother's asking
"Now don't you hear it?" On a later occasion Grandmother had missed
the cat from its accustomed place on the bed and lit the candle with
the object of making a search. On opening the bedroom door, she was
astonished to see a "being" surrounded as she described it in a sphere
of light, feeling a little alarmed she hastily closed the door and retired
to bed.

       Grandmother also spoke of having several times seen her sister
Hannah who had died some little time previous. These manifestations
somewhat unnerved her and in consequence she seldom referred to
the subject. As Grandmother was in full possession of her faculties,
unimpaired by any illness, and wide awake at the time the
phenomenon is most suggestive. I suppose our modern "Adepts"
would ascribe this to the action of a "subliminal consciousness". If by
this we are to suppose a state of consciousness superior or
superposed on our ordinary consciousness then I am inclined to
agree. If a state of hallucination is meant then I most strenuously
disagree, as the bulk of evidence goes to prove the contrary. The
poem "Woman She is made of glass" was written at this time proving
to my satisfaction that Grandmother's faculties remained unimpaired.

       Grandmother's letter to me shortly before her death is quite
characteristic. I had written home as was my custom at the weekend,
and in the letter had occasion to make use of some slang expression
objectionable to Grandmother's taste. The letter (which I append) as
received from Grandmother containing the analogy of the two armies
is very ingenious pointing out that eccentricities of local dialect are
"bad taste" in a letter, and no part of the good old English language.

        I close the brief memoir with a reference to Grandmother's death
which occured at 11.30 on the night of January 25th 1888 aged 81.

        The event was quite unexpected as apart from a slight cold she
maintained her customary buoyancy and the doctor who had been
called in pronounced the symptoms to be those of a slight bronchial
attack from which she would speedily recover, on the contrary she
became worse, and quietly passed away like a child falling asleep.

       My Father referring to Grandmother in a letter to me says "She
lived the life of a "True Theosophist" thinking of others ever, never of
self and as I believe that every thought, word, or deed, has an
influence for good or evil her quota to the universal good is to be
envied and will count I know she herself will benefit as good or evil

                                                  Alfred Doxey


                                                      Xmas 97

Letter 2



My dear Gertie,

              I were very pleased indeed to receive your ---? letter tonight
but sorry to learn that poor little Lucy is ill. I often wish that I were at
home to sing to her but I know that I could not do any more or yet so
well as her momma will do for her ---. I hope it is not anything more
than the pain in the stomach which is so prevalent all over --- at
present, Walter has taken bad with it the other day and I had to go
over and get him a syphon of soda. He is now better I am glad to say.
Jack is a regular little scorcher and keeps the whole house in an
uproar. I have something to do to keep Willie in check in his presence.
I'm afraid ------------. Saturday we all went to Ramsey on the ------,
breaking the journey at Laxey? on the way, visited the big wheel but
had not time to go down to the beach. The electric ride on the
extension to Ramsey is very fine indeed the scenery is most
picturesque blackberries and --- looking old cottages line the roads all
the way- Ramsey has not altered at all since you were there, only you
will remember we failed to visit the town, but as the car landed us in
the middle we could hardly miss it on this occasion. It seems much
nicer for children at Ramsey, Douglas is getting too popular and
crowded for children to enjoy themselves. Today Monday we have
been to Port Erin breaking the journey back at CastleTown. Walter and
myself walked over to the Calf of Man a small island separated from
the mainland by a small stretch of water which foams --- like a torrent.

            Willie was highly delighted with the letter from his Auntie
Emmie and would not let me open the envelope though when it came
to the reading he had to call in my aid. He is a good lad and looks
quite a "Manxman" and is an authority on all matters relating to boats.

           I am writing this by candle light Willie is snoring in bed and
there is only half an inch of candle left. It is very kind of you to ask us
to stay Friday and I only regret that you are not with us, but if I can
help ---------- happen again.

          We will come home by the Thursday morming boat so that we
may arrive in Sheffield Thursday night but of course I will drop you a
line later to say to say definately that we are leaving.

         Willie says I must tell Dolly and Ernest that he has found a
fishing ----------- Dadda sends kisses to his dear little Lucy, Ernest and
Dolly and big kiss to Mamma and Auntie Emmie,

                     With love,

                 I remain your affectionate,


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