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:
Food features heavily in the July entries. Melons originated in Africa or Asia Minor, although the melons of the earliest days, perhaps around 2,400 BC in Egypt, were not like today's melons, but probably more like cucumber, whose seed is very similar, and from the same family.
However, this eventually changed through cultivation and cross-breeding. By the third century AD, melons had sweetened enough to be eaten with spices, and by the sixth and seventh century they were accepted to be different from cucumbers. However, the first references to sweet, aromatic melons did not appear until the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, as a result of hybridization between different varieties. (1)
But it took some time for them to come to England, so that when Parson Woodforde is eating his melons, they've only been on the table for under three hundred years, from the time of Henry VIII. They would not have been eaten in the early Middle Ages.
Melons were first introduced to England around the turn of the sixteenth century, although they were known as "Mylone". One of the first places they were grown was Hampton Court in 1515, and from here they spread around the country, typically in the gardens of rich people, due to their initial rarity. (1)
Woodforde mentions seeing the "Polish Dwarf, Joseph Boruwlas". This was Joseph Boruwlaski who was was born near Halicz in Poland in November 1739, and would have been 49 at the time, during his tour of England. He had been adopted by Countess Humiecka from Podolia (a region partly in the modern Ukraine). At 15, he had been taken by the countess to Vienna, where he was presented to Empress Maria Theresa, and from thence he with her to Paris, the Hague, and Warsaw.
When Stanislaw II acceded to the throne of Poland, he took Boruwlaski under his protection. When Boruwlaski fell in love with the new companion of the countess, Isalina Barbutan, the countess threw him out. The King interceded on his behalf, giving him a small allowance and a coach to travel in, and, with the royal backing, he married Isalina. At first, Isalina, the child of a French couple who had settled in Poland, was reluctant to marry Joseph, but he bombarded her with love-letters and won her heart.
He decided to take a new tour and left Warsaw November 1780 with his wife and royal letters of introduction....When they eventually decided to depart for England, their ship almost sank in a storm before it reached Margate. In London, Boruwlaski obtained the patronage of Duke of Devonshire and of his famous wife Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire. Joseph was even presented to the future king George IV and eventually to the rest of the royal family. George IV presented him with two different watches, one of which was given when George was still Prince of Wales. Joseph used the title Comte (Count) Boruwlaski and organized subscription concerts. He also met the Irish giant Patrick Cotter and the famously overweight Daniel Lambert. In 1783-1786 he toured in Scotland and Ireland. Hearing rumours that Joseph was earning good money from his music, the King of Poland withdrew his allowance. Boruwlaski returned briefly to Poland for a while but soon returned and by July 1791 was touring again and in 1795 was again in Ireland. English appearances at this time included York in 1785 and 1789, and Leeds and Beverley in the early 1790s (2)
Also mentioned by Woodforde is the start of the French Revolution, with the fall of the Bastille on July 14th, 1789. But his memory is momentarily at fault and in 1791, he places it as "last Year".
Joseph Priestley, the scientist who first discovered the gas oxygen (which he termed "dephlogistonated air"), is also mentioned. Priestley was a non-conformist, and had written in support of dissenters " Remarks on Dr. Blackstone's Commentaries" in 1769 against the attacks of William Blackstone, an eminent legal theorist, whose "Commentaries on the Laws of England" had become the standard legal guide. Blackstone argued that dissent from the Church of England was a crime and that Dissenters could not be loyal subjects. The Birmingham Riots of 1791 were also known as the "Priestley Riots" as Priestley was a main target:
The riots started with an attack on a hotel that was the site of a banquet organized in sympathy with the French Revolution. Then, beginning with Priestley's church and home, the rioters attacked or burned four Dissenting chapels, twenty-seven houses, and several businesses. Many of them became intoxicated by liquor that they found while looting, or with which they were bribed to stop burning homes. A small core could not be bribed, however, and remained sober. The rioters burned not only the homes and chapels of Dissenters, but also the homes of people they associated with Dissenters, such as members of the scientific Lunar Society. (3)
Woodforde, while alarmed at the Revolution in France, was clearly sympathetic to Priestley, a civilised man like himself, and opposed to the rioters, even though they were attacking Dissenters from the Church of England.
Lastly, there is mention of a money such as "five guineas". In the pre-decimal system, there were 12 pence (12 d) to one shilling (1 s) and 20 shillings to one pound £1. But there was also a strange item of currency which was £1 1s, which was a guinea:
The guinea is a coin that was minted in the Kingdom of England and later in the Kingdom of Great Britain and the United Kingdom between 1663 and 1813. It was the first English machine-struck gold coin, originally worth one pound sterling, equal to twenty shillings; but rises in the price of gold caused the value of the guinea to increase, at times to as high as thirty shillings; from 1717 until 1816, its value was officially fixed at twenty-one shillings. Following that, Great Britain adopted the gold standard and guinea became a colloquial or specialised term...In the Great Recoinage of 1816, the guinea was replaced as the major unit of currency by the pound (4)
Even in the 1960s, when it had long ceased to be a coin, prices of goods in shops would be quoted in guineas, as it was a way in which crafty salesmen could make the price appear less than it was. So merchandise might be sold at 20 guineas on the price tag, which in fact was £21. With the advent of decimalisation, and the disappearance of the shilling, the guinea also vanished as a unit of currency.
July - The Diary of a Country Parson
JULY 15. . . . After breakfast I walked out a fishing, had not put my Line in Water more than five Minutes before I caught a fine Trout of one Pound and a Quarter with a Grasshopper. It measured in length 14 Inches and in the highest Season. Mrs. Pounsett Senr dined and spent the Aft: with us. After Tea this Aft: walked out again with my Rod and Line up the Bruton River and there caught another fine Trout which weighed 1 Pound and ¼ and measured 14 ½ inches. Mr. Sam: Pounsett supped and spent the Evening with us.
JULY 7. . . . Mr. Custance sent me a Melon and with it a Note to inform us that Mrs. Custance was this morning about 2 o'clock safely delivered of another Son and that both Mother and Child were as well as could possibly be expected in the time. Mr. C. also desired me (if perfectly convenient) to wait on him in the afternoon and name the little Stranger. After Dinner therefore about 5 o'clock I took a Walk to Weston House and named the little Infant, in Lady Bacons dressing Room by name, Neville. The Revd. Mr. Daniel Collyer of Wroxham was with Mr. Custance when I first went in but he soon went. I stayed and drank Tea with Mr. Custance and Sons and did not return home till after 8 this Evening.
JULY 18. . . . Mr. Walker from London ( Betsy Davy's intended) spent part of the morning with us -- He came to his Uncles Mr. Thorne of Mattishall last Night. He looks ill indeed and Country Air advised for him. .
JULY 28. . . . I was very low-spirited this Evening after Tea. I believe that Tea made me worse rather I think. I shot a Wood-Pecker this Morn' in my Garden.
J ULY 29. I breakfasted, dined and spent the Aft. at home. In the Evening took a ride to Norwich and Briton with me, and there I supped and slept at the Kings Head. In the Evening before Supper I walked into St. Stephens and saw the Polish Dwarf, Joseph Boruwlaski and his Wife who is a middle sized Person, he is only three feet three Inches in height, quite well proportioned everyway, very polite, sensible and very sprightly, and gave us a tune upon the Guitar, and one Tune of his own composing. The common price of admittance was one Shilling, but I gave him rather more 0. 2.0
JULY 14, THURSDAY. . . . I hope this Day will be attended with no bad Consequences, this being the Day that the French Revolution first took Place there last Year, and many Meetings advertised to be held this Day in London, Norwich &c. throughout this Kingdom to commemorate the above Revolution. Pray God! continue thy Goodness to this Land and defeat all the designs of the Enemies to it. Dinner to day, Giblet Soup and Shoulder Mutton rosted. Very busy all day about painting the Doors of my Coach House &c., quite tired at Night.
JULY 21, THURSDAY. . . . Shocking Accounts on the Papers of dreadful Riots at Birmingham, Nottingham &c. on Account of commemorating the French Revolution the fourteenth of this Month. The Presbyterian and Independent Meeting Houses pulled down to the Ground and the inside furniture burnt, many of the Dissenters Houses destroyed, amongst the rest Dr. Priestlys, both Town and Country Houses burnt.
JUNE 26, TUESDAY. . . . Begun cutting my Clover being a fine Day. Mr. Du Quesne called here about 11 o'clock in his Whiskey, did not get out, as he was going to Reepham. A little before 12 I walked to Church and publickly presented Miss Charlotte Custance in the Church -- present Mr. and Mrs. Custance with all their eight Children, and Lady Bacon, the Sponsors were represented by their Proxies Lady Bacon for Miss Hickman, Mrs. Custance for Mrs. George Beauchamp, and Mr. Custance for Mr. Willm Beauchamp. Immediately after the Ceremony Mr. Custance very genteelly presented me with a five Guinea Note from Gurney's Bank at Norwich. We dined and spent the Afternoon at Weston-House with Mr. and Mrs. Custance, Lady Bacon and Mrs. Press Custance. We went and returned in the Coach. Dinner boiled Tench, Peas Soup, a Couple of boiled Chicken and Pigs Face, hashed Calfs Head, Beans, and rosted Rump of Beef with New Potatoes &c. 2nd Course rosted Duck and green Peas, a very fine Leveret rosted, Strawberry Cream, Jelly, Puddings &c. Desert -- Strawberries, Cherries and last Years nonpareils. About 7 o'clock after Coffee and Tea we got to Cards to limited Loo at which, lost 0. 6. Sent Briton to Norwich this Morning to put a Letter into the Post-Office, an answer to my Niece Pounsetts. In his return I recd another from her in Town fearing that her first Letter did not arrive, still pressing us much to go to London and return with her to Cole.
JULY 9, MONDAY. . . . Mem. A Stalk of Wheat (from a field that was formerly a Furze-Cover) I measured this Morning, and it was in Length six feet seven inches and about a barley corn. Dinner to day Peas and Pork and Leg Lamb boiled.
JULY 9, WEDNESDAY . . . Nancy, very busy most part of the Morning, in Ironing her Cloths in our Kitchen.
JULY 12, SATURDAY. . . . Nancy had another Swarm of Bees about Noon from the same old Hive which the last Swarm came from. It should have been mentioned Yesterday instead of to day as Yesterday it happened unknown to me and our Maids hived them. They settled in our Wall-Garden on one of the Sticks put into the Ground to prop up and for Peas to twist round & keep from the Ground. The Swarm of Bees happened very suddenly. Our Maids hived them very well indeed and they seemed to settle very well this Morn'. I think Nancy very lucky with her Bees. Dinner to day, Peas & Bacon &c.
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