Rare books by Chesterfield social reformer returned to town after being found in San Francisco

Rare books written by a social reformer from Chesterfield have been found in America and brought back to the town.

Tuesday, 2nd March 2021, 12:30 pm

Late-Victorian figure Edward Carpenter gave the three books to his friend, Chesterfield architect William Ashmore.

They have now been discovered in San Francisco and returned to Chesterfield by Ed Fordham, a Liberal Democrat councillor on Chesterfield Borough Council.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Edward Carpenter.
Edward Carpenter.

Poet and philosopher Edward, born in 1844, lived as an openly gay man at a time when it was illegal to be gay.

William was a significant architect and surveyor in the town and led the design of, among other things, the Boythorpe Estate.

Ed – who released a book last year about Edward’s letters to William – said the books, from 1885, 1892 and 1903, were found by a friend during internet searches.

He added: “Not in a million years did we expect the books to pop up in San Francisco.

The three books which were found in San Francisco and returned to Chesterfield.

“I thought it was right to get them back to Chesterfield.

“Materials about Edward are scarce and highly sought-after and the link with Chesterfield is important.

“The books have a value of over $1,000 (£850) but we got enough of a discount to enable me to buy them privately.”

Ed said the books – for William, his wife Sarah and daughter Lucy – are in ‘stunning, immaculate’ condition.

The books are about democracy and Edward's travels.

Two of the books are about democracy and the third is on Edward’s travels in India and Sri Lanka.

Ed added: “The books add massively to our understanding of the relationship between Edward and close personal friends the Ashmores, who lived at 1 Highfield Road – the house designed and built by William for his family.

“The books will never leave Chesterfield again.

“I’m going to talk to the museum about a diplay on Edward.”

Born in Sussex, Edward lived in Chesterfield before moving to nearby Millthorpe with his partner George Merrill.

Edward was way ahead of his time and celebrated for being the ‘last gay man standing in Britain’ when most of gay London fled to Paris in the wake of Oscar Wilde’s imprisonment in 1895.

Edward wrote extensively on vegetarianism and vivisection, and corresponded with famous figures like Mahatma Gandhi, Keir Hardie and William Morris.

Editor’s message

In these confusing and worrying times, local journalism is more vital than ever. Thanks to everyone who helps us ask the questions that matter by taking out a subscription at www.localsubsplus.co.uk or buying a paper. We stand together. Nancy Fielder, editor.