A Page in the Life of Thomas Parsons: Masculinity and the Lifecycle in a Stonemason’s Diary

[In our mini-series ‘A Page in the Life’, each post briefly introduces a new writer and a single page from their manuscript. In this post, Tawny Paul introduces us to a frustrated eighteenth-century artisan whose life she explores in more detail in her new article on ‘Accounting for Men’s Work’.]

In 1769, Thomas Parsons, a young stonemason in Bath, penned a daily account of his life. He may have written quite a lot over the years, but only one volume of his diary survives, covering a period of eight months. Though relatively modest in size, the text provides an entry into the world of a young man at a formative stage of life.

Parsons was twenty-five years old when he produced the diary. At this age, many young people in the eighteenth century married, finished training, assumed occupational status, and became more independent. Parsons’ diary therefore gives us insights into many themes related to lifecycle. This makes the text extremely valuable, because while histories of women have done remarkable work in uncovering the nuances of female lifecycle experiences, we know rather less about how men transitioned through life’s stages.

His entry for 13 April 1769 shows this in vivid detail as it centres on his struggles with his father: Continue reading

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A Page in the Life of Anna Margaretta Larpent: Reading about Revolution and Writing about Writing

[In our series ‘A Page in the Life’, each post briefly introduces a new writer and a single page from their manuscript. In this post, Emily Vine examines the daily records of a remarkably busy woman in late eighteenth-century London.]

From 1773 to 1830, Anna Margaretta Larpent, the wife of John Larpent, Examiner of Plays, kept a diary of her daily life divided between Newman Street, London and Ashtead in Surrey. She recorded the time she woke up and went to bed each day, the meals she ate, the details of the books she read, the letters she wrote, her daily prayers, her time spent sewing and shopping, her family business, and her significant contribution to her husband’s work in theatre licensing. The delight is in the detail; even in predictable repetitions such as ‘Rose at 8. Breakfasted. Prayed’, Larpent is brought to life on every page.

In the first week of February 1792, she recorded the following: Continue reading

A Page in the Life of Jacob Bee: Four Kirkings and a Funeral

[In our series ‘A Page in the Life’, each post briefly introduces a new writer and a single page from their manuscript. In this post, Brodie Waddell introduces us to another ‘chronicler’ who appears his new article on ‘Writing History from Below’ in early modern England.]

Jacob Bee was a glover and skinner who lived out his whole life in the city of Durham. Over the course of about twenty-five years, beginning in 1681, he filled a notebook with records of the births, deaths and marriages of his fellow townspeople. Bee also kept a patchy chronicle of notable local and national events, including a prize fight in the town’s marketplace and the execution of the Rye House Plot conspirators in 1683.

Intermixed with his historical register were a few pages of rather scrappy financial accounts. The most detailed and consistent fit on a single page and ran from January to March 1689: Continue reading

A Page in the Life of Joseph Bufton: Murder, Robbery and New Church Pews

[In our series ‘A Page in the Life’, each post briefly introduces a new writer and a single page from their manuscript. In this post, Brodie Waddell introduces us to the main character in his new article on ‘Writing History from Below’ in early modern England.]

Between 1679 and 1699, an inconsequential tradesman named Joseph Bufton kept a chronicle of his town of Coggeshall in Essex. He wrote it in the blank pages of an old almanac, Rider’s 1677 British Merlin, in which he also recorded notes about local births, deaths, marriages and various other miscellaneous memorandums.

Between printed pages listing the saints’ days and predicting the weather in November, Bufton inscribed the events from late 1684 to early 1686 that he considered worthy of remembrance: Continue reading

A Page in the Life

Brodie Waddell

Long before writing became a skill that every child was expected to learn, all sorts of people still scribbled away.

Some men and women did so for mostly practical reasons – keeping track of their finances, corresponding with distant family and friends, or preserving successful recipes for future use. Many others wrote in order to monitor the state of their soul or to record godly wisdom preached at the pulpit. A few tried to create texts that told the story of their life in more self-consciously ‘literary’ ways, sometimes even aiming for eventual publication.

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Preparing to write (British Museum, F,6.161)

Scholars have long used such ‘personal’ sources to study the early modern period, often mining them for information about topics that are more rarely documented in ‘official’ archives. More recently, a growing number of researchers have turned to analysing such sources as texts in their own right, seeking to understand how and why these writers wrote. The study of ‘life-writing’ and manuscript culture is now a well-established academic field, with excellent studies of the process of writing diaries, letters, financial accounts, sermon notes, commonplace books, and so on. As you’ll see from even the very abbreviated bibliography below, there is no lack of interest in early modern writing practices.

Thanks to the efforts of several tireless groups of scholars and students, there are also some great online resources cataloguing and illuminating such sources, such as the Perdita Project, Early Modern Letters Online, and – for a more recent period – Writing Lives. These often build on the more traditional lists and catalogues created by William Matthews, Heather Creaton and others. Laura Gowing has now started a crowdsourced handlist of early modern first-person writing in print. As a result, we now know about hundreds of writers who would otherwise be forgotten.

However, I think there is more that can be done. In a new article on ‘Writing History from Below’ in early modern England, I tried to use material from some writers who have received little or no scholarly attention yet, focusing in particular on those who lacked substantial wealth or education. Why did they decide to write chronicles and gather archives? What did they select to preserve for posterity? How did they tell the story of their lives and their communities? Continue reading

History Carnival 157: Anything but Brexit

Brodie Waddell

If you’re in Britain and reading a history blog, you’ve probably spent most of the last week thinking about Brexit, reading about Brexit, and arguing about Brexit. I’m sure at least some of you would like to mentally escape the current omnishambles, so here’s your chance.

Hey, look! An amusing historical image that has nothing to do with xenophobic populism or constitutional crisis!

‘Skimmington Triumph’ (c.1720). An amusing historical image that has nothing to do with xenophobic populism or constitutional crisis!

Today the Many-Headed Monster is hosting the 157th edition of the History Carnival which means I get to share a selection of some of the best history blogging from around the web from the last month or so. Thankfully there has been a bunch of great posts about all sort of fascinating topics that have nothing to do with the current political omnishambles. There are, of course, also a few that are directly related to The Vote That Shall Not Speak Its Name, but I’ve attempted to quarantine those by putting them in a separate section at the end. If you are looking for a bit of historical escapism, read on. If you are a masochist, just skip to the end. Continue reading

Class conflict in Elizabethan Norfolk?

Brodie Waddell

In early March 1601, four men got into an argument in the small village of Wicklewood, about eleven miles west of Norwich. Although no blows were exchanged, one of the men uttered words that were dangerous enough to lead to a legal examination by a local magistrate. It is only thanks to this brief deposition – which I’ve transcribed at the end of this post – that we have any knowledge of what was said that day.

I came across this document last summer at the Norfolk Record Office when I was searching through the county quarter sessions files looking for something else. I’d completely forgotten about it until Mark put up a post last week that discussed the history of conflict hidden in England’s rural landscape. That post reminded me that the argument recorded in this deposition might provide some further illumination of this oft-debated aspect of early modern history.

The story, as recorded on this small slip of paper, goes like this. Roger Wells of Wicklewood had hired John Chibocke and Richard Hamond of the neighbouring village of Morley ‘to worke with him’. But Chibocke and Hamond arrived very late and Wells was angry. He declared that if he paid them the wages they really deserved, they wouldn’t be pleased. The two workmen replied that Wells and his ilk ‘Cared not thoughe poore men wrought the[i]re harts out’ and wished ‘that wee might have warres againe, [for] then we should have Corne Cheaper’. At this point, William Seaborne – presumably a partner or employee of Wells – stepped in. He rebuked Chibock and Hamond for their rash words, saying ‘these be matters you understand not’. Yet this just incensed Chibock further. ‘If a thowsand mysters were deade’, he said, ‘we poore men should farre the better’. Continue reading