This year I'm looking at some of the entries in the "The Diary of a Country Parson". This was a diary kept by an English clergyman, James Woodforde (1740-1803). Woodforde lived in Somerset and Norfolk, and kept a diary for 45 years recording all kind of ordinary incidents which paint a picture of the routines and concerns of what Ian Hislop terms "the middling folk" of 18th century rural England.
A few notes on the text:
Woodforde travels along by "Post Chaise". A Post Chaise was a:
four-wheeled, closed carriage, containing one seat for two or three passengers, that was popular in 18th-century England. The body was of the
coupé type, appearing as if the front had been cut away. Because the driver rode one of the horses, it was possible to have windows in front as well as at the sides. At the post chaise's front end, in place of the coach box, was a luggage platform. The carriage was built for long-distance travel, and so horses were changed at intervals at posts (stations). In England, public post chaises were painted yellow and could be hired, along with the driver and two horses, for about a shilling a mile. The post chaise is descended from the 17th-century two-wheeled French chaise. (1)
It was the more or less standard vehicle for families which were "respectable", but not extremely wealthy" , and the difference between the
postchaise and the chaise was that it used rented horses, and in England it was yellow:
The postchaise was always yellow and was sometimes referred to as "a yellow bounder." It was controlled by a postillion [A man who rides the left or lead horse of a pair] riding one of the horses. The "hack" post-chaise used by Mrs. Long in Pride and Prejudice was itself rented. (2)
Roads in that period were pretty dire:
The state of main roads in England remained fairly dire for many centuries. Parishes were responsible for the upkeep of roads within their boundaries and usually managed basic repairs to enable local traffic such as carts to proceed, but there was no central organisation or standard of maintenance throughout the kingdom, nor indeed the knowledge or skill for the upkeep of major highways. (3)
Turnpike trusts were introduced in 1706, and these were essentially toll-roads, where the user paid at the turnpike, and the road was maintained from the fund:
By the 1720s and 30s, several Trusts existed to manage roads around local towns, for example by 1726 Worcester had 76 miles of turnpiked roads. However there was little co-operation between neighbouring Trusts, and travellers would notice a distinct change from "improved" to "unimproved" surfaces along a stretch of road. (3)
Woodford buries a young child of 16 weeks. Infant mortality (death during the first year of life) was high in this period. Infant mortality rates rose to around 300 to 400 deaths per 1,000 live births in the 18th century, while we see only seven per 1,000 today:
One measurement of health in early modern England is revealed in the statistics of the number of deaths kept by church parishes. From these records historians have gleaned that infant mortality (death during the first year of life) was approximately 140 out of 1000 live births. The average mother had 7-8 live births over 15 years. Unidentifiable fevers, and the following list of diseases, killed perhaps 30% of England's children before the age of 15 - the bloody flux (dysentery), scarlatina (scarlet fever), whooping cough, influenza, smallpox, and pneumonia. (4)
But there were changes in mortality taking place over this period, as Malthus noted:
Malthus believed that there had been a major shift sometime in the eighteenth century. 'We do not know indeed of any extraordinary mortality which has occurred in England since 1700.' Certain diseases had declined, others had risen. He noted 'the extinction of the plague' as one significant change. The other was 'the striking reduction of the deaths in the dysentery.' On the other hand, 'consumption, palsy, apoplexy, gout, lunacy, and small-pox became more mortal.' Nevertheless, the total balance had shifted towards a lower general mortality.(5)
The Madness of King George III
Woodford prays for the King in November 1789. It was on November the 5th that the King was diagnosed as madness beyond all doubt. Dr. Warren and Sir George Baker, his physicians, took a gloomy prognosis but Dr. Francis Willis, whose special field was the treatment of insanity, predicted a rapid recovery , and he was right. The madness subsided and bulletins were discontinued. The King, unfortunately would have other bouts of madness in years to come.
The first real sign of George's madness happened when his servants happened upon him in the grounds of Windsor Castle shaking hands with a tree whom the king believed was the person of King Frederick the Great of the Prussian Empire! Apart from the fact that Frederick the Great never had bark, branches or leaves on his person there was also the rather inconvenient fact that by 1788 Frederick the Great had been dead for two years! It was now that royal physicians really began to worry! (6)
November - The Diary of a Country Parson
Nov. 8. . . . Went down to Lenewade Bridge this morning to attend at Dr. Bathursts Tithe Audit, dined there and stayed till near 6 o'clock this
Evening -- then returned home safe (thank God) with the Cash. All but one Person attended which was one Neale. Had not been home much more than an Hour before Nancy's Brother Willm came on horseback to our House from the West -- he supped and slept here. He came thro' London, called on his Brother Saml who will also come to Weston in a few Days.
NOV. 10. . . . To John Pegg for Land Tax, &c., &c., pd. 5. 15. 0. About 11 o'clock this morning Mr. Press
Custance called on me in a Post Chaise, and I went with him in it to Weston Church,. clerically dressed, and there buried in the Church Mr. Custances youngest Daughter Mary Anne which was brought to Church in their Coach and four with Mrs. Alldis the Housekeeper and the Childs Nurse Hetty Yollop -- only in it besides the Corpse. The Infant was only 16 Weeks old. After interring it -- I recd from Mr. Press Custance 5. 5. 0. wrapped up in a clean Piece of writing Paper. I had also a black Silk Hatband and a Pr of white Gloves.
Nov. 19. . . . As I was dressing for Dinner, Nancy's Brother Saml from London came here in a Chaise, and he dined supped and slept here with his Brother -- He sat out of London, last Night at 8 o'clock, travelled all night in the Mail Coach -- came here about 3 this Afternoon.
NOV. 20. . . . Nancy and her two Brothers, Willm and Saml, breakfasted, dined, supped and slept again at Weston Parsonage. I read Prayers and Preached this morning at Weston. Mr. Micklethwaite at Church -- none from Weston House. It gave me much pleasure to see Nancy and her two Brothers appear so happy here -- and so in each other.
NOV. 28. . . . Between 2 and 3 o'clock, Mr. Custance sent his Coach after us to go and dine at Weston House. Nancy my two Nephews, and self went in it, and dined and spent the Afternoon there with Mr. and Mrs. Custance, Mrs. Collyer Senr, and Mr. and Mrs. Collyer of Dereham. -- After Tea and Coffee we got to Cards at Quadrille at which I lost 0. 4. 0. About 9 this Evening myself and Nephews put on our great Coats and walked home to Supper, as there was no Moon and too dark for a Carriage. Nancy was left behind where she supped and slept. Recd of Ben this Evening for 2 Piggs sold to his Father 1. 2. 0.
Nov. 8. . . . Mr. Walker breakfasted, and spent the Morning with us, and at 1 o'clock set of for Norwich to go in the Mail Coach this Afternoon at 4 for London.
Nov. 11. . . . Two Men from Hockering by names, Bugdale and Ames, called here this Morning to see 8 Piggs, Shots of mine which I have to sell, I asked 10 Pound for them, they offered me 8 Pound. I then told them that they should have them at 9 P. but they would not give that, so we parted. Brewed a Barrel of small Beer to day. Reported this Day at Norwich that our good King was dead, pray God it might not be true.
Nov. 13. . . . About 2 o'clock I took a ride and Briton with me to Mr. Du Quesnes and there dined and spent the Afternoon with him, Mr. and Mrs. Custance, Mr. and Mrs. Jeanes, Miss Davy and Miss Woodforde, the 2 latter went and returned with Mr. and Mrs. Custance in their Coach. After Coffee and Tea we got to Cards. I lost 0. 1. 6. We had for Dinner Cod and Oyster Sauce, boiled Chicken and Piggs face, a Saddle of Mutton rosted and Roots -- 2nd Course a brace of rost Pheasants, 1 duck rosted, the Charter &c. We returned home about ½ past 9 o'clock and on our return found Mr. Walker at Weston Parsonage, who is returned from London in pursuit of his Portmanteau which is at present lost. He supped and lept here. He came in a Post-Chaise from Norwich, which went down to Lenewade Bridge with the Driver, and to
take up Mr. Walker to Morrow Morn' back to Norw. The report this Day, is, that his Majesty is better.
Nov. 14. . . . After breakfast Nancy, and Betsy Davy would go to Norwich with Mr. Walker, and there they dined at the Kings Head and returned home to Tea about 6 o'clock and Mr. Walker instead of going to London as proposed returned with them. A pretty expensive and foolish Scheme indeed -- I was not pleased. To Neighbour Case for Pork at 4 ½d pd. 0. 2. 3. After Tea this Evening we got to Whist lost 0. 3. 0. The News relating to the Kings Health this Day at Norwich, was, that he remains near the same, by no means better -- still in the greatest danger. Mr. Walker paid me what I lent him at Cards 0. 2. 6.
Nov. 15. . . . Mr. Walker breakfasted here and then sat of for Norwich in my little Cart and Briton with him, who is to bring back News &c. Mr. Walker goes by the Mail Coach this Aft. for London. Briton returned about 5 o'clock this Afternoon. Brought me a Letter from my Sister Pounsett to let us known that Nancys Brother William was gone of with Miss Jukes to be married, and that they were at Portland Island. Briton also said that Mr. Walker did not go to London this Day neither, and that he would return to my house again this Evening, which he did to Supper and also slept here again. It was after 12 before I got to bed this Night. Mr. Walker brought us a brace of Pheasants.
Nov. 16. . . . I read Prayers and Preached this Afternoon at Weston Church -- none from Weston House at Church. Nancy, Betsy Davy, and Mr.
Walker also from Church. I prayed at Church for our most gracious and truly beloved Sovereign King George the third. I did it out of my own head, no prayer yet arrived.
Nov. 17. . . . Mr. Walker went out a hunting this morning and did not return to us till near 6 o'clock this Evening. At Whist this Evening lost 0. 1. 6. So that Nancy owes me now only 0. 12. 6.
NOV. 20. . . . To one Platten of Hockering sold 8 fine Piggs, littered in April last for 8. 8. 0. I gave him for good luck out of it -- 0. 1. 0. Mr.
Jeanes made us a morning Visit and brought us some fine Prawns just arrived from Hants. Miss Woodforde rather pert this morning.
NOV. 7, SATURDAY. . . . Very melancholy News on the Papers respecting the Ships wrecked and lives lost at Yarmouth and near it by the very high Wind early in the Morn' Saturday the 31. of October. May those poor Souls lost be O Lord better of. And send thy divine Comfort to all their Relatives. Mr. Custance sent us a brace of Partridges. Billy Bidewell brought our Newspapers from Norwich to day. We had no Letters whatever. We were in great expectation of hearing from Somersett, as we now daily expect my Brother and Wife, and Mrs. Richd Clarke, to be with us.
Nov. 11, WEDNESDAY. . . . To James Pegg this morning paid 11. 2. 3 that is, half a Years Land Tax 6. 0. 0, Half a Years House and Window Tax 2. 15. 0. Male-Servant Tax, for half a Year 1. 5. 0. Female ditto, for ditto 0. 10. 0. 0. Horse Tax, for ditto 0. 10. 0. Additional Horse Tax, for 1 Quarter, 0. 1. 3. Cart Tax, for Half a Year 0. 1. 0. Bottled of Mr. Palmers Rum this morning, it is strong, but nothing near so fine flavoured, as what we had last from Mr. Priest of Norwich. Sent Briton early this morning to Norwich with my little Cart, for many things from thence but more particularly for Letters as we are in daily expectation of seeing my Brother &c. Killed another fat Pigg this Morning, and the weight was 9 Stone and half. Briton returned home from Norwich about 4 o'clock this Afternoon, brought me a Letter from my Brother John, informing us of the Death of Mrs. James Clarke on Friday Sennight last, 'pray God she may have a happy change'. I sincerely pity the 2 infant Children that she has left, and likewise her disconsolate Husband poor Doctor Clarke I heartily pity him. My Brother also informed us that himself, Wife and Mrs. Richd Clarke intend being at Norwich Friday.
Nov. 13, FRIDAY. I breakfasted, dined, supped and slept at Norwich. Nancy breakfasted dined &c at Norwich. About 11 o'clock this Morn' our Somersett Friends my Brother and Wife and Mrs. Richd Clarke arrived at Norwich from London in the Expedition Coach after travelling all night. We were very happy to see them arrived safe thanks be to God for the same, considering their great fatigue they all looked very well, they breakfasted, dined, supped and slept at the Kings Head.
Nov. 19, THURSDAY. . . . About 10 o'clock this morning my Brother and Self took a Walk to Mr. Townshends Plantations where we met Mr. and Mrs. Townshend and Mr. Du Quesne and we took the diversion of coursing all the Morn' and till near 4. in the Afternoon. Very fine Sport indeed we had, both my Greyhounds were there and they beat the whole field, I suppose there were 12 Greyhounds out and as many People on horseback to beat for us. My Greyhound Bitch, by name Patch, met with a sad accident towards the end of our Coursing in running after a Rabbit, by breaking a large Ligament in the off hind Leg in jumping over some paling, we all thought at first that she had broken her thigh. We sent her home immediately, and Dr. Thorne who by chance happened to be there, said, on examination, that she might do well, and that we should bathe it with Vinegar and Brandy. Mr. Townshend was very much concerned at it. We got home about 4 o'clock, rather tired. My Brother
complained of a Pain in his Stomach was afraid that it was a gouty Pain. He was rather better before he went to bed. Mr. Townshend gave us a hare.
Nov. 27, FRIDAY. . . . Mr. Custance very kindly called on me this Morn to enquire how I did, he did not stay long as he was going on to Mr. Townshends on a Visit. I thank God had a better night of rest than I have had the 3 last Nights. Had no Cramp at all. My Brother recommending me last Night to carry a small Piece of the roll Brimstone sewed up in a piece of very thin Linnen, to bed with me and if I felt any Symptom of the Cramp to hold it in my hand or put it near the affected part, which I did, as I apprehended at one time it was coming into one of my legs, and I felt no more advances of it. This I thought deserving of notice, even in so trifling a book as this is. My Brother and Wife, Mrs. Richd Clarke and Nancy went to Mr. Du Quesnes to dinner. Mr. Du Quesne sent his Chaise for the Ladies and my Brother went in my little pleasure Cart with Briton. I privately named a Child of John Reeves's this Afternoon at my House by name William. I was not well enough to go with my Company to day and therefore begged to be excused. They returned home to Weston Parsonage about 9 o'clock, very well pleased with their Jaunt. I had only a little mince-Veal for Dinner and eat but very little of that. Mr. and Mrs. Jeanes were at Mr. Du Quesnes and dressed in high Style indeed as they told me. Mr. Priest of Reepham was also with them.
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