Travels with William Porden: Regency era toilets abroad

It’s been a long while since I’ve blogged from Mr Porden’s diary, but we catch up with him now, at the English Hotel in Dieppe where he, his daughter Eleanor, and their fellow passengers on the Eliza arrived after their long channel crossing in 1816.   The town is unpleasantly smelly owing to a lack of sewers, and a French toilet is also described, not the kind of detail you usually find in letters and diaries, even now, so this particularly intrigued me…

With regard to another Accommodation, that was not quite so bad as what I found in Scotland.  I visited two of the Repositories which were in the very roof of a lofty House.  I must not say they were like poor Winifreds Tub with a pair of tongs across but  they were truly nothing more than a wooden tub in the shape of a Yorkshire Horsing block upon which you mounted and sat in trepidation lest any violent motion should overset you and blend you and the contents of the vessel on the floor.

I’m not entirely sure what makes a Yorkshire horsing block special, but generally horsing, or mounting blocks look like a short run of stone steps. You can still see them around these parts, like this one in Church Street, Matlock: 

 

 

 

 

Given the somewhat euphemistic description, I couldn’t be absolutely certain that Mr Porden was describing a toilet without tracing the mention of Winifred’s Tub.  That might not have been much to go on but as he had previously written ‘Sister Tabitha’s tub’ and then crossed it out, an internet search led me to Tobias Smollet’s 1771 novel, The Expedition of Humphry Clinker.

The principal reason it’s taken me so long to write this blog was that I felt compelled to read my way through Humphry Clinker to check the reference, and it’s taken me a while!  It’s a picaresque, rambling, epistolary novel about a family journeying around England and Scotland, and as such it’s a very suitable book for our much-travelled architect.  I suspect it was one of Mr Porden’s favourites (perhaps he had taken it with him for holiday reading) as I picked up another reference to an episode from it elsewhere in his diary.

I finally found the right passage on page 257 of my edition, in which maidservant Winifred Jenkins writes in a misspelled letter to her friend about her experiences in Edinborough:

… there is nurro geaks [privies] in the whole kingdom nor any thing for sarvants but a barrel with a pair of tongs thrown a-cross; and all the chairs [commodes] in the family are emptied into this here barrel once a day; and at ten o’clock at night the whole cargo is flung out of a back windore [window] that looks into some street or lane.

I imagine the pair of tongs formed a kind of rudimentary toilet seat, which seems to be missing from the ones in Dieppe.  Given the lack of sewers and overall bad smell, one assumes that the wooden tub in Dieppe was also emptied out of the window – yuck!

I still shudder when I remember the old squat toilets that were still common in French campsites when I was a child.  It sounds, however, like they were an improvement on the ones that the British travellers in 1816 had to contend with.

If you enjoy reading about eighteenth century life in its more eccentric and earthy forms, then I very much recommend Humphry Clinker.  Smollett fills in the details on some of those more practical ‘accommodations’ that you don’t always find in other writers of the time!

Changes to our opening hours

A few months ago, we carried out a survey about reducing our opening hours.  We asked which day our customers would prefer us to close: Monday, Wednesday or Friday.  The results have now been analysed and Derbyshire County Council’s Cabinet have agreed the changes.  There was a clear preference for Mondays, so we will be closing on a Monday and opening Tuesday to Friday as normal.

We will also be reducing our Saturday openings from every Saturday to one Saturday a month.  Many people who responded to our survey pointed out how important it is to have plenty of time to do their research when they visit us, so we have decided to extend our hours on the Saturdays we are open.

As of 1 June, our new opening hours will be:

Monday: CLOSED
Tuesday to Friday: 9.30am to 5.00pm
Last Saturday of the month: 9.30am to 4.00pm

We unfortunately need to reduce opening hours in order to make budget savings.  Although we will be closed to the public on a Monday, we will, however, be able to do other activities on that day.  We can open up more spaces for volunteering, as we can use our search room for volunteer activities on a Monday.  We will also be able to run events that aren’t possible when we have customers in the building, like larger (and noisier!) classroom visits from schools.

Please rest assured that we are working hard to get more of our material online and to  offer more opportunities for people to enjoy our collections in new ways.  We understand that our Monday closure will be inconvenient for some customers.  We very much  hope, however, that the work we are able to get done behind the scenes whilst we’re closed, to make our collections more accessible, will compensate for the loss of opening hours.

Results of our 2016 Visitor Survey

Back in Autumn 2016, we participated in the national survey of visitors to archives, which is carried out by the Archives and Records Association (ARA).  The national results have just been published – these may be of more interest to archivists than visitors, but if you’d like to see the results for the whole country, you’ll find them on the ARA website under the heading ‘PSQG National Survey of Visitors Reports’.  For Derbyshire, here are a few highlights:

This compares well to the national averages, which were 9.8 for attitude of staff, 9.7 for quality of staff advice, and 9.3 for the service overall.

The gender profile of our visitors has changed markedly since we last did the survey in 2011.  Then, 52% of our visitors were female and 48% were male.  A lot more men seem to be using us now: in 2016, 62% were male and 38% female.

Five years ago, 81% of our visitors were researching family history.  This has nearly halved – in 2016 only 41%  of our visitors say they are researching family history.  Local history is now the most popular topic of research at 43%.   We can’t say with absolute certainty why this shift has happened, but it’s likely to be caused by the rise in websites like Ancestry and Findmypast.  These websites mean that people can do a lot of their family history online, and don’t need to visit record offices so much.

For the first time, the survey asked people to say specifically what they were researching, and there is a fascinating range of subjects given, from the diary of Henry Colvile’s, who fought in late 19th century Uganda, to changes in church windows over the years.  If you’d like to see a bit more detail about what our visitors are researching, what they said about the Record Office, and our responses to their comments, we’ve compiled the key information into a document: 2016 Satisfaction survey – summary of responses.

You might think that this is all very interesting (or not!) but what impact does it have?  Well, knowing why people use us and what kind of subjects they are researching is enormously helpful in deciding what collections we catalogue or digitise, and the future work we do.   And the scores that our customers give for our various facilities and services help us to plan where we will be making changes.

As an example, the survey tells us that 49% of visitors search our online catalogue before their visit.  However, only 48% of them rated the usability of our online catalogue as very good.   We want more people to use the online catalogue, and for them to find what they want more easily so we’re at the very early stages of ambitious plans to overhaul the online catalogue over the next few years.

Thank you to everyone who participated in the survey.  I know it can feel like once you’ve popped your survey in the box, nothing happens, but it takes a few months to process the results for the whole of the UK.  Although it’s slow, it does eventually have an effect, so watch this space…

A tale of crime and punishment

Recently, I’ve been blogging about William Porden’s journeys, taken from diaries (archive ref D3311/4/1-7) written between the 1790s and 1820s.  There is more to these diaries than travel, however.

In 1820, William Porden recounts a sorry tale about his housemaid, Eliza Watson, which shows that he still retained the merciful attitude towards criminals he showed over 25 years earlier when he recounted the tale of an escaped prisoner.  On 5 October 1820 he has two visitors:

I was summoned to attend two Gentlemen whom I found to be Mr Mortlake [actually Mr Mortlock], the eminent manufacturer & dealer in Ornamental China and an Officer from the Police Office of Marlborough Street. They came in search of Eliza Wilmot, my House maid who was to have left her place that Evening and to be married on Saturday morning.  She was accused in being concerned with the Man she was going to marry who was her cousin & confidential servant of Mr Mortlock, in robbing Mr M of a considerable quantity of China, a practice that had been continued some years.  She was questioned and confessed that she had received money from him, and it appeared by a Book that was found that she had placed in the Saving Bank upward of 70£ the last deposit of £20 being Feby last.  Her Box was afterwards searched and China Cups, Smelling Bottles and other articles were found that sufficiently proved her guilty of receiving them to be stolen.  I was much shocked at this discovery, for although Eliza was not a good servant in her situation my daughter thought her a Good Girl and often spoke of her in those words as a reason for retaining her, and she had taken some pains that day to find a handsome shawl to be given to her when she left the House.

Mr Porden is torn between wanting to assist the police and his desire not to let Eliza incriminate herself, although the next morning…

 I had the mortification to find that I also had been robbed for many things were discovered at Mr Mortlock’s with my name upon them and in Eliza’s trunk was found a work-box of my daughters. She was taken to Marlborough Street for Examination.… calling at the office I there identified 4 Sheets, a table Cloth, a Napkin and 2 Brushes which had had my initials cut upon them by order of my Wife to prevent the stealing of them by the servants which frequently happened.

Although distressed by the theft, Mr Porden appears more upset on Eliza’s behalf, when she is remanded to the Clerkenwell Bridewell [prison]:

What must have been her distress to find a comfortable home, a plentiful table, and society of her own rank and creditable in their Stations, exchanged for a cheerless Prison – the Prison fare and the company of wretches who have lost sight of every moral or religious feeling. Whatever sentiments of this nature she still retained were now to be changed for the depravity of her associates till she became as wicked as themselves.  … I believe that no punishment that she will hereafter receive will be so severe as what she will feel during the first 24 hours of imprisonment.

Mr Porden recovers his stolen property and doesn’t prosecute Eliza.  He hopes that she has learnt her lesson and writes:

It appeared that she had at first resisted the temptation of her Cousin to whom she was going to be married, but as he continued the practice of robbing his Master she was at length drawn in to aid him in nefarious conduct…. The Articles she stole [from] me such as Sheets & blankets seemed preparatory to House keeping. If I had prosecuted her, she would have been sent to Prison and if a single feeling of religion was left it would have been extinguished and she would have come out seven times worse than she went in, even if she was not brought to trial.  If she were brought to trial and escaped either transportation or death, one or other of which would in all probability have been her doom, her character would have forever blasted and she would have no other resource than vicious courses till she was gradually ripened for the Gallows.

Eliza calls on him to thank him on 12 October, and it sounds as if he may have read her a bit of a lecture!  Her fiancé did not benefit from such leniency from Mr Mortlock.  Eliza’s fiancé was  Daniel Gentle, aged 26.  He was actually Mr Mortlock’s Warehouseman, who, with William Read (the confidential servant), was indicted at the Old Bailey on 28 October 1820.   Both were sentenced to death.  The Criminal Registers for Middlesex are on Ancestry and show that Daniel Gentle was executed.  After his execution, it looks like Daniel’s body was claimed by his relatives and a Daniel Gentle, aged 27 years, was buried in the Gibraltar Burial Ground at Bethnal Green on 14 December 1820.  You can read the account of his trial on the Old Bailey Online website.

Mr Porden’s last mention of Eliza was when she called for a letter for a Mrs Foy on 15 October 1820, so it’s hard to know what happened to her after that.  Searching for Eliza Watson in the Old Bailey Online brings us several similar thefts over the years, some of which may have been committed by the same Eliza Watson, but it’s hard to be sure, as it’s a common name.

The most likely ones are an Eliza Watson, aged 25, who is indicted for stealing some fabric from a draper in 1824. She pleaded distress, had a good character, and was recommended to mercy and fined a shilling.  In 1830, an Eliza Watson, aged 32, is indicted for stealing fabric from a linen draper in 1830, again pleaded poverty, had a good character, and was recommended to mercy and confined for 1 month.

These could possibly be Mr Porden’s former housemaid, who, despite not being prosecuted the first time around, might have found it difficult to gain employment without a good reference and been forced, by poverty, back into crime – but that’s just supposition.  Let’s hope instead that Eliza recovered from the tragedy of her fiancé’s execution, and was able to avoid having to take recourse to ‘vicious courses’ as Mr Porden feared.

Travels with William Porden: a channel crossing from Brighton to Dieppe, 1816

We’re jumping to 1816 this time, and a diary documenting William Porden’s travels in France (archive ref D3311/4/7).  The crossing (his first sea voyage) is described in detail.

In early August, William Porden and his daughter Eleanor embarked for France on the ‘Eliza’ packet (a ‘packet’ is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as ‘a ship travelling at regular intervals between two ports, originally for the conveyance of mail’).  Mr Porden has conveniently drawn us a little diagram to show how the ship was arranged:

d3311-4-7-eliza-packet

William Porden’s sketch of the Eliza. ‘These Cabinetts are stretched rather too large and the Great Cabin too small’

The journey took about 18 hours and just getting to and from the ship wasn’t easy:

About 8 o’clock in the Evening we embarked in a large row boat and were pushed into the water by the sailors as usual. …  There was little wind but a very considerable Swell & when we arrived at the Vessel Eleanor was much disordered.  With the assistance of the Gentlemen present she was got into the Packet and I deposited her in a Cot on the floor of one of the Inner Cabins in which there were four of these Catacombs or Cabinettes, two on each side one over the other.  I took my birth in the Cabinett over Eleanor.  Opposite to me was another young Lady and the Stewards Wife on the Ground floor below.

I found my situation comfortable and notwithstanding the motion of the ship and the noise of working the Vessel I should have slept very well if the Steward’s Children and Friends had not been perpetually in and out to relate the State of their friends and the other passengers for it seems all were ill except myself.  We had a brisk breeze till two o Clock when the wind fell and we were becalmed at the distance of 20 miles from Dieppe.

At 10 o’clock we were approached by a Clumsy Sailing boat from the Shore, manned by 4 Rowers and a Steersman. Into this we entered and were rowed toward the Shore; but our Seamen were so awkward and lazy, as well as too few in number that we were four hours before we arrived at the Beach before Dieppe on which the boat was run aground and the passengers carried to shore on the Shoulders of men that waded from the Beach.

If you’re wondering about the practicalities of the accommodations and being sea sick on a vessel like this, then wonder no longer.  I can’t help feeling sorry for the cabin boys:

All the business of the Cabins was conducted with decency and though men and women were in the same apartment and within reach of one another All were in their cloaths and shut up by Curtains in their Cabinetts. Even the disagreeable circumstances attending Sea Sickness was very little offensive as it was managed.  The Cabin Boys attended and removed the Basons in silence and returned clean ones so that nothing was left of Annoyance.  Eleanor was sick every half hour; but slept well in the Intervals.

Eleanor, though, doesn’t seem to have suffered as much as another passenger, Miss Elizabeth Appleton:

She was dreadfully ill from the Moment she entered the Row boat at Brighton to her landing at Dieppe.  She was so unable to assist herself that she was left in the packet (I know not whether by neglect or no) when all the other passengers got into the french boat and followed us in the ships boat.  We received her and placed her as well as we could but she lay helpless and almost insensible till we reached Dieppe and scarcely knew herself how she got into the Inn or any thing that had passed.

Miss Appleton was certainly an intrepid young woman to be travelling alone on the continent in the early 19th century.  Mr Porden describes her thus:

She is a tall and Elegant figure, not unhandsome – well-bred, sensible, speaks French fluently and has a literary turn.  She is active, courageous as appears by her venturing alone on such a journey and fully adequate to take care of herself on land.  I have found her very useful from her knowledge of the French language and my daughter has found in her a very agreeable companion.

After passing through customs, the travellers were collected by Mr Taylor of the English Hotel, where they subsequently stayed and “dined in the English way for which we paid English prices, though our dinner was far from having the English elegance of a Good Inn”.

Travels with William Porden: London to Lincoln with a dog and a portrait painter, 1795

On Friday 21 August, 1795, William Porden set off from London to Lincoln in the stagecoach.  On this occasion his travelling companions were:

My old friend Staveley, a Lieutenant Bromwich of the Navy, a Mr Thick, a miniature painter on a professional expedition to Hull and a young man whose name I did not learn and in whom there appeared to me nothing worthy of notice but a want of feeling for a portly little brown dog that he had with him in the coach.

They young man certainly is very unfeeling towards his pet:

According to his own account the little creature had been unable to follow him so fast as he wished, through the streets of London in a heavy shower, and in a rage he had struck him such a violent blow with a cane as to stun him so much that he roll’d over as dead.  In the Coach he found the care of him attended with some little inconvenience, and after having stewed up in the heat (for very hot it was) for several hours he inhumanly turned him into the Basket exposed to the cold and rain of a severe night, in spight [sic] of the remonstrances of all his fellow travellers.

On the journey, Lieutenant Bromwich recounted some of his experiences in Naval engagements at Guadeloupe and Quiberon Bay, but I confess to being somewhat more interested in the other passenger, Mr Thick:

A huntsman by William Thicke, 1805

A huntsman by William Thicke, 1805

Mr Thick our other companion was a little fat jolly facetious man, as illiterate as an artist could be desired and seemingly taking small interest in the Arts or in subjects relative to them. His mis-pronunciation w[oul]d rival Mrs Slipslops.  He abounded in jests and smutty stories which he told tolerably well, though sometimes, as it must happen, with men who are always telling stories, lost the spirit of the story and seemed not always to know where the joke lay.

 

Mr Nathan Crowe by William Thicke

Mr Nathan Crowe by William Thicke

 

This miniature portrait painter is someone that I have at last been able to positively identify.  A search on Ancestry found William Thicke, miniature portrait painter of Marylebone, in London directories of the time.  A Google search also brought up several images of miniatures painted by him that have been through auction houses.

 

 

His miniatures aren’t of the first quality – they’re somewhat naïve in style – but perhaps that befits a painter who has little interest in the arts and prefers telling ‘smutty stories’.

For our next journey with Mr Porden, we climb aboard the ‘Eliza’, where we get to experience a channel crossing in 1816 – not an experience that many on board enjoyed!

Travels with William Porden: Hull to Lincoln and Sleaford, 1795

We continue our travels with William Porden, beginning in Hull on 1 June 1795, where his diary (archive ref. D3311/4/4) records that he is in his town of birth, Hull:

I found my mother tho’ very infirm yet chearful and happy.  She now approaches her 80th year.

I amused myself at my leisure in ranging over the scenes of my boyish days, where every stone and every tree appeared as an old acquaintance and strongly interested my heart. For this reason a visit to Hull is never a visit of chearfulness.  There are too many objects to awaken by feelings and to induce a comparison of the present with the past, and my emotions are too strong to admit of any sensation of Gaity.

Kingston upon Hull in 1790 by Thomas Malton courtesy of www.albion-prints.com

Kingston upon Hull in 1790 by Thomas Malton
http://www.albion-prints.com

On 4 June he set off in the stage coach to Lincoln…

My companions in the stage were a young Lieut of the Navy & a farmer & his mother, [and] a venerable old officer in the army whose name and rank I did not learn. He had been a General Officer in the East India Service but as he did not name his rank in the line I conjectured that he held a much lower rank now.  He was upward of seventy, tall, strong and healthy, had a last few of his teeth and was good tempered and cheerful.  I conjectured that he had been at Hull to seek out a habitation for himself and family which consisted of a Wife and Daughter to which place he was attracted by an idea of living cheaper there than elsewhere which I believe to be the case.  He had lost the fire of Youth and had nothing of military insolence.

The ‘venerable old army officer’ relates a story about what happened between the sailors and the ladies of the town when his ship arrived at Portsmouth which is a bit too racy to relate on this blog (you’ll have to read the diary for yourself for that).

William Porden quite often seems to encounter sailors on his travels.  On his previous journey to Newark in 1794, he is joined by two merchant seamen, whom he describes as ‘displaying the true sailors character – Rough, cheerful, careless, eating hearty, drinking hard, and at home every where.’  The officers of the Navy whom Mr Porden meets on his various stage coach journeys are somewhat better behaved than the sailors in the Portsmouth story, but make hit and miss companions.  On this occasion:

The Naval Officer was a stout healthy looking man, but though he had been in many countries to Asia, Italy &c and spoke of Naples, Rome, Smyrna & other places yet he was so illiterate, and so little knowledge out of his profession and perhaps so little of imagination or Understanding that I could derive neither information or pleasure from his conversation. We were joined by a sprightly Woman at Spittle.  As the young sailor rode with his face towards the Horses I gently hinted to him that possibly the Lady might prefer that seat; but he was not galant enough to resign it.

They stayed overnight in Lincoln and then took up a new passenger, a child with a sad story:

June 5 this morning we left Lincoln having parted with our farmers and taken up a beautiful Girl of 12 years going from school to visit her parents and sister at Sleaford. She was in high spirits and enjoyed the idea of the Romp she should have when she got home; but at Sleaford she learn’d with sorrow that her hopes would be disappointed as she had arrived only time enough to take her last leave of her dying mother.  Whether she had been sent for or had left her school of course at the vacation for the holidays I know not; but if her friends had sent for her at the request of her sick mother they had acted most inconsiderately and cruelly in not making her acquainted with her mother’s danger; Also in raising high hopes of pleasure only to plunge the child into the greater misery.

I’m possibly slightly obsessed with identifying Mr Porden’s travelling companions, but I suspect that, if the girl’s mother did indeed die, a diligent search of the parish registers for Sleaford and environs for June-July 1794 should reveal a suitable burial which could then be used to find the baptism of a daughter about 12 years before.  If anyone frequents Lincolnshire Archives and wants to do a search then please do let me know what you find.

Travels with William Porden: London to Newark… an escaped prisoner!

On Monday 17 November, 1794, William Porden left London in the Newark stage coach on his way to Lincolnshire.  His fellow travellers didn’t particularly impress him:

My companions were a Quaker from Sheffield and a young man of York, neither of them entertaining in any shape whatever and not possessed of so much civility as may generally be found under the meanest Garb and in the most untutored mind. They however were not positively disagreeable.

Things got a bit more interesting when they got to ‘Kates Cabbin’, which now seems, appropriately enough, to be a service station by Peterborough.  There, a new passenger joined the coach: a Bailiff from York who had been taking a prisoner under sentence of transportation to London.

The Prisoner has been a servant to a Gentleman near Hull and having paid his addresses to a female servant either in the same or another family, the woman had robbed her master and prevailed upon the youth to secrete the stolen goods. This was the crime.  In other respects his character was uncommonly Good and his master and others had solicited his pardon.  He was low in stature and of a mild character, yet altho he was handcuff’d and had irons on one leg and was chained to an iron bar or rail on the top of the Coach he had the courage and dexterity to make his escape which he effected by throwing himself off and thereby breaking his chain.  This was about two o’clock in the morning, extremely dark.  The Bailiffe the Coachman and the Guard got down to pursue him but in vain, under cover of the darkness he eluded their search and got off but whether he was afterwards retaken or not I have not heard.  I think it probably that he had thrown himself into one of the ditches by the road and laid quiet otherwise the noise of his irons must have discovered him.  The Chain which he broke by the jerk was as thick as a common waggon-trace chain.  A piece of it was found next morning on the Road.

William Porden here, and in other diary entries (archive ref. D3311/4/4-5), , shows himself to be more merciful than the justice system of the day:

As his crime was not great and he had suffered a long confinement if the Bailiffe could justify himself, I wished he might not be retaken.  The end of punishment would probably be as perfectly answered by his future fears and anxieties as by transportation and perhaps his mind might escape the contagion and corruption of Newgate and the voyage to Botany Bay and he be preserved a useful and worthy member of society in his own Country.

With a bit of digging in the York Quarter Sessions or Assizes records for 1794, it would probably be possible to find out the name of the prisoner.  Whether it’s possible to find out what happened to him after his escape is another matter.  Like William Porden, I rather hope he got away, changed his name, and lived a long and happy life.  Of course if he did, he may well have created a future nightmare for some poor family historian trying to find his birth in the parish records!

Travels with William Porden: London to Guildford, 1793

As his diary records (archive ref. D3311/4/4), on 25 May 1793, architect William Porden set off in the stagecoach to Guildford in order to visit Hampton Lodge in Farnham, Surrey.  He doesn’t mention why he was going, but possibly the owner of Hampton Lodge was a client.

This is a journey that nowadays takes just over an hour (according to Google Maps – I feel sceptical you can actually get out of London by car that fast!), but in 1793 took three to four days.  Mr Porden rarely mentions the scenery on his travels; on such long journeys it was your travelling companions that made the journey more or less enjoyable. There only seem to have been two other passengers on this journey:

At 8 in the morning left London in the Guildford – Passengers W Gill a Gentleman of some fortune in the Neighbourhood of Guildford, and the Rev W Chandler … a neighbour and acquaintance of Mr Gill. He was a Gentleman Parson and more interested in the affairs of this world than the next. I had no reason to think his natural abilities or his arguments extraordinary. His remarks were common place and related more to fashionable amusements than general life and literature.

Mr Gill appeared to be a man of sense, and well acquainted with men and books. I did not think him polite with regard to me, but perhaps I ought to have blamed myself, for having rose early after a night of little sleep I was not much disposed to attentions – however it seemed as if he was willing to keep state with Passengers in a Stage Coach.

The Rev W Chandler seems to have been doing most of the talking on this journey, and the topics of conversation certainly didn’t verge into the religious.  They discussed Ranelagh, the fashionable public pleasure gardens in Chelsea:

A View of Ranelagh Gardens, 1754, copyright of Victoria and Albert Museum

A View of Ranelagh Gardens, 1754, copyright of Victoria and Albert Museum

Mr Chandler said that about 30 years back the Company used to assemble at Ranelagh from 6 to 8 o’clock and retire about 11 or 12. It was no uncommon thing for a Gentleman to drive himself in a Phaeton, full dressed, bag [wig] and sword to drink tea there and return by eleven or earlier – At this day few persons of fashion think of going till eleven or twelve.

Mr Chandler also had something to say about horses:

When Horses are landed from a vessel they always fall down the moment their feet touch the Ground. Those who are acquainted with the circumstance take care to have them landed on straw to prevent them from breaking their knees.  Mr Chandler was once obliged to swim a favourite Horse to a packet that lay off Brighton at above a mile distance.  The Horse was slung and hoisted out of the water when the tackle broke and plunged him again into the sea – by good fortune he turned towards shore and swum out amidst the hollowing [hallooing] of the spectators which with the peculiarity of his situation hade him tremble with terror.  He was afterwards swum back to the vessel and safely embarked.

Poor horse!

Introducing William Porden…

d3311-5-1-000002

Portrait of William Porden (D3311/5/1)

Just before Christmas I flicked through a couple of diaries written in the period 1793-1820. I love reading diaries and letters. Through them, I feel like I know the people who wrote them; they become familiar friends and their world, even if 200 years old, seems as real as our own.

I thought I would share some of the diary entries in this blog, partly just because I like them (a good enough reason in itself – that’s partly what this blog is for), but also because their author, William Porden, is a Hull man and so we can do our bit to celebrate Hull’s status as City of Culture 2017.

So firstly, a quick explanation about the man himself.  In his first diary and commonplace book, he notes family events, but interestingly, it looks as if he didn’t know the date of his own birth.  He records himself thus:

W Porden son of Thomas & Hannah Porden of Kingston upon Hull was Baptised January the 29th 1755 as St Mary’s Church and it is supposed his Birth was sometime in December preceding.

An eminent architect of his day, he lived in London and his most famous surviving building is the riding school and stables at the Brighton Pavilion, built 1803-1808, which is now the Brighton Dome Concert Hall.

Brighton Pavilion Stables

Brighton Pavilion Stables

If you’re wondering why on earth his papers are held at Derbyshire Record Office, it’s because William Porden’s daughter, Eleanor Anne Porden (1795-1825), was the first wife of Sir John Franklin (1786-1847), who famously led a disastrous voyage of Arctic exploration along the Northwest Passage in 1845 (you’ll find more blog posts about this here).  Their daughter, Eleanor Isabella Franklin, married into the Gell family of Hopton Hall, Derbyshire, and so her mother’s and maternal grandfather’s papers came with her into the family and now form part of our Gell collection D3311 – it all makes sense in a way!

William Porden didn’t use his diaries to record his everyday life, but begins his diary in May 1793:

If every man would treasure the Observation, which he makes in his Journey through life and Register the remarks of others he would soon collect an abundance of knowledge and preserve the means of amusing many a future hour. I have often made this remark and I have often resolved to put the matter in execution nay I have frequently begun to do so; but idleness and want of perseverance has rendered it of little effect.  I again resolve to do so and I now again begin to register what has occurred during a Journey of three or four days.  I dare not flatter myself that I shall be more steady than I have been – but I will try – Whatever may be the end I shall consider all that is got as gain.

I confess to also being guilty of occasional idleness and want of perseverance in my blog posts, and may also not be more steady than I have been – but I, too, will try.  In the next post, we journey with Mr Porden on the London to Guildford stage…