Thursday, 2 February 2012

February - The Diary of a Country Parson

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.

February sees some planting and pruning, but a recurring theme in most Februaries as the years go by is the brewing of beer. A hogshead of beer is mentioned - that is a large cask of liquid of round 54 gallons.

Beer brewing was serious business in the 18th century aside as a commercial venture - it is estimated that by 1750 almost 1,500 barrels of beer were being exported by the East India Company from England to Asia generally, and this rose to 9,000 barrels by 1800! Alongside this went technological innovation. Large London breweries pioneered the construction of large storage vats, the use of the thermometer (about 1760), the hydrometer (1770), and attemperators (about 1780).

But the late 18th century also saw a progressive taxation on beer, with three gradations -  "table", "small" and "strong" beer. So perhaps there was a degree of incentive for James Woodforde  to brew his own beer. Drink also is mentioned in the diary of 1770 - Thomas Barnes had been a "long time killing himself by Liquor'.

Elsewhere there is frosty weather, and bets made, and a masquerade ball. The term "cum multis aliis" mentioned here simply means "with many others":

Masquerades flourished in eighteenth century England as one of the primary forms of entertainment and social life...All masquerades, regardless of their location or attendance, carried with them a strong atmosphere of the "carnivalesque"  Set in the late evening hours, the masquerade ball environment was festive, noisy and gay. Music and lavish food and drink played a crucial role in establishing this atmosphere.(1)

The "commendatory prayer" mentioned is in the 1662 Book of Common Prayer, a "commendatory Prayer for a sick person at the point of departure", from the Order for the Visitation of the Sick:

O ALMIGHTY God, with whom do live the spirits of just men made perfect, after they are delivered from their earthly prisons: We humbly commend the soul of this thy servant, our dear brother, into thy hands, as into the hands of a faithful Creator, and most merciful Saviour; most humbly beseeching thee, that it may be precious in thy sight. Wash it, we pray thee, in the blood of that immaculate Lamb, that was slain to take away the sins of the world; that whatsoever defilements it may have contracted in the midst of this miserable and naughty world, through the lusts of the flesh, or the wiles of Satan, being purged and done away, it may be presented pure and without spot before thee. And teach us who survive, in this and other like daily spectacles of mortality, to see how frail and uncertain our own condition is; and so to number our days, that we may seriously apply our hearts to that holy and heavenly wisdom, whilst we live here, which may in the end bring us to life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ thine only Son our Lord. Amen.

It comes as a shock to realise that the Anglican Church had a form of public penance in Church even up to the 18th century! Charles Cox, (1843-1919) describes this in his book "The Parish Registers of England":

Penance of a public character by no means came to an end with the Reformation. Its prevalence during Elizabethan,  Stuart, and post-Restoration times depended largely on the  vigour with which the archdeacon and his officials carried on their duties. For the most part the archidiaconal courts were held with regularity, and the churchwardens urged to make due presentments. On conviction for divers of the less serious offences, such as non-payment of tithes or Easter dues, or for the non-observance of Sundays or Saints' Days, offenders were admonished, and if obstinate excommunicated ; but in such cases absolution and discharge could  usually be obtained on payment of a fine. In proved cases of slander and of incontinence, humiliating public penances were, however, as a rule exacted. The ordinary penance for such offences was the standing in church during service time (and occasionally also in the market-place) and reciting a form of confession.

In the eighteenth century the custom prevailed in London diocese, and probably elsewhere, of penance for slander taking place in the vestry, immediately after morning prayer, when the offender confessed and asked pardon of the slandered person in the presence of minister and wardens and a select number of other witnesses. The white -sheet penance before the whole congregation was reserved for incontinence.

It is of no small interest to note that a man did public penance in Ashingdon church, Essex, in 1717, for the now civilly legalised sin of marrying his deceased wife's sister.

The form of penance varied, but the case of that performed by Margaret Tyler of Culworth gives an idea of what was involved where sexual misdemeanors were involved:

"Thes cl Marg. Tyler shall upon ye Sunday next after ye divine service stand before ye minister's Reading Desk appareld in a white sheet from head to foot and in ye presence of ye congregation there assembled make her confession as follows : Good People, I confess I have grievously offended Almighty God by falling into ye foul sin of Fornication and thereby given an evil example to my neighbours for wch I am most heartyly sorry and do earnestly beg pardon of Almighty God and of all others that I have offended by this my evil example and I do promise (by y e grace of God) never to offend in y e like again. And I do also promise before God and this congregation to live herafter more soberly and godly in all other respects as a good Christian ought to do. And that I may perform my vows and promises made before this congregation, I do most earnestly desire y or prayers."

And one which is like that described by James Woodforde is as follows:

"1728 (Uxbridge, Middlesex). N.B. On July 7, Unity Winch did penance at morning service for May 26. [On the 26 of May is an entry of the baptism of the illegitimate child of Unity Winch.]

The practice certainly continued throughout the 18th century, and we can be glad that it doesn't exist any more, although Bishop Charles Gore, writing in 1930, seemed to lament the fact:

In the Church of England confession is required of no one, and public penance has almost ceased...the result is this, that most of our members do not seek the judgement of the Church upon their lives, but are content to trust their own consciences; and we must leave them to the judgement of God. But this is only tolerable if we are doing our best to instruct their consciences and let them know what the mind of the Church is, as on other matters, so on the sexual relation. It is both foolish and sinful, now that sexual mysteries are matters of common conversation in all classes, to avoid plain speaking in religious instruction.(3)

February - The Diary of a Country Parson.

1764 FEB. 20. . . . I have been very busy all this day in planting my Peas and Beans and Radishes, and Spanish Onions, in my garden at Babcary. . . . I was sent this afternoon to a Poor Woman that lives by the Church, to come and pray by her -- which I did. . .

1765 FEB. 5. Breakfasted, dined, supped, and laid at Babcary again. I have been busy to-day in pruning the apple trees in my garden there. .

For laying a wager with Betty Crich my old Woman's daughter concerning frosty weather last Thursday, and losing with her paid. . . 0. 0. 6

1766 FEB. 17. . . . One Robert Galpine, an old School Fellow of mine at Winton College [Winchester College], who was expelled genteely from it, and whom I have not seen this ten years, called upon me this evening at Parsonage and spent the former part of the evening with us there. . . .

1766 FEB. 20. . . . Galpine (I believe) is in the capacity of a servant to Mr. Meach of Serne in Dorset an Apothecary.

1767 FEB. 3. . . . I spent the evening and supped at Ansford Inn, there being a Masquerade Ball there this evening, and very elegant it was, much beyond my expectation in all respects. . . . Parson Penny, Gapper, Baily, Witwick and Overton and myself were the Clergymen that were there. . . . Brother John [was in the character of] a Counsellor, Brother Heighes, King Richard the Third; John Burge, Othello; Sister Jane, Shepherdess; Sally Clarke, Diana Trapes . . . cum multis aliis, all in very rich dresses but in no particular characters. . . . I did not dance the whole evening. We had good musick viz., four Violins, a Bass Viol, a Taber and Pipe, a Hautboy and French horn played by Mr. Ford.

1767 FEB. 9. . . . I got up at 3 o'clock this morning to brew a hogshead of strong beer. . . . I was busy all day at the Lower House, and therefore stayed there the whole day, and did not go to bed this night as we could not tun our liquor till near two in the morning.

1767 FEB. 12. I got up before one this morning and brewed a 3 quarter barrel of strong beer and some small beer and had it all cool and tunned by four o'clock in the afternoon. . . .

1768 FEB. 3. . . . One Sarah Gore, came to me this morning and brought me an instrument from the Court of Wells, to perform publick Pennance next Sunday at C. Cary Church for having a child, which I am to administer to her publickly next Sunday after Divine Service [which accordingly was done after the sermon on Sunday Feb. 7th].

1768 FEB. 17. . . . As I returned from Church [it was Ash Wednesday] I went into Ansford Inn and read the Commendatory Prayer to poor Mrs. Perry, who was just departing this life and who died just as I had finished. She went off extremely easy, without any visible emotion at all. I hope she is gone to unspeakable joys of Eternity. Lord, make us wise to consider our latter end and live good lives.

1770  FEB. 13. . . . To a wager with Brother Heighes that he could not walk the Scratch this night at 10 o'clock, lost o. o. 6.

1770 FEB. 2 8. . . . I buried poor Thos Barnes this afternoon [who had been 'a long time killing himself by Liquor'] at Cary, aged 48. A great many people attended him to his grave. He was, I believe, no man's enemy, but to himself a great one. .


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