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The Diary of Thomas Fenwick Esq. of Burrow Hall, Lancashire, and Nunriding, Northumberland, 1774 to 1794 (4 vols)

‘The Fenwick diary provides not only a fascinating introduction to the life of provincial England between 1774 and 1794 but is also an important window onto significant changes in English society in those years’ – Professor Jeremy Black, author of Eighteenth-century Britain.
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Selected extracts from the diary

1790: 18 May. Rose at ¼ past 3. Wind west, cool & a trifling hoar frost. Walked to the sheep. Breakfast bread & butter & milk. Thompson gone to Hornby. Yesterday I was invited to Mrs. Place’s funeral; she is to be buried today. Thompson informed me that last Friday Mr. Doran (I suppose with others) killed sixteen dozen of rooks at Halsteads. Yesterday he & some others were shooting rooks at Whittington. Two men & double cart at the highways. Yesterday & today Harry & Frank weeding potatoes. Much sun with a brisk cold air. At 12 therm’ 56; on Sunday between 3 & 4 p.m. 66. Dinner a pig & brocoli. Up on the walk whitethorn is in perfect flower, in many other places tis very nearly so. Much sun & warm this afternoon. Walked to the sheep. Thompson did not call since morning. Supper a salad, the first this year. Bed ½ past 8.

1791: 16 August. Rose at 5. Wind south east. I am told there was much lightning about 9 o’clock last night. Breakfast cocoa, muffin & butter. Now, 7 o’clock, thunder & a shower. Last night letters from Hurd & Brett. Heavy rain till 11 o’clock. Dinner minced veal, moorgame. Very hot. At ½ past 2 therm’ 70. Paid Sam Winn for a dozen knives & forks £1.10.0, – two tortoise shell razors 5s. 8d. – two ditto mock tortoise shell 2s. 4d., – a pig 10s. He had 2 & ½ guineas. To the Bailiff of Westmorland who came to summon to Grand Jury 2s. 6d. Postage 1s. 6d. Harry 6d. Jos. Gibson came about Captain Nowell’s estate at Wraton, he drank a little ale & staid a considerable time. No rain this afternoon. Neither wind nor sun. Supper bonniclapper. Thomas Dixon agreed with the miller & my labourers to reap all my grain for 10s. an acre. Bed ½ past 8.

1792: 1 November. Rose at ½ past 5. Wind south. Heavy showers in the [night]. Talked a considerable time with the miller. Breakfast, cocoa, a cake toasted & butter. Wrote to Vipond, kept a copy. Sent Frank with the letter to the post. Began to rain between 9 & 10. Carradice brought a basket of nuts; paid her for 8 lbs of honey 8s. & for nuts & on account of the distressed situation of her mother, the whole paid & given £2.2.0. Dinner a neck of lamb boiled. Frank went to the post, & paid the butcher’s bill 6s. Rain all the afternoon with a very turbulent wind at south east. Supper some small potatoes boiled & skimmed milk. Gave Ralph Tallon’s servant 1s. for bringing the meat from Kirkby. Heavy rain when I went to bed at ¼ before 9.

1793: 16 April. Rose at 5. Wind north. Clear; a very great frost. From 12 till 6 yesterday evening, it was a sleet, afterwards entire snow, & began to lie on the ground & trees. The flakes were large; the trees were quite covered when I rose, & the snow was two inches thick on the level. The therm’ was at 5 at 21, but the bulb was covered with frozen snow. There was no snow on the walk, but a little on the cinder walk. I took a little rhubarb at 2 in the morning, & then full of stars. Breakfast cocoa, bun toasted, butter & honey. The men winnowing & thrashing oats. Let John Warrener have £10.10.0 without any promissory note or memorandum; he says last night at 10 there was a kind of ice or frozen snow came down. He brought a letter from J. Davis. Much sun with a cold wind at north west. Dinner salmon broiled & mashed potatoes. Ann got home at one. Paid for last Saturday’s fish 1s. 3d. – a brush 2s. 4d. & gave Taylor 5d. Much sun. Walked to Wherton bottom. 3 stools. Supper 2 raw eggs. Bed 8.

The publication of an unknown eighteenth-century diary is a major event, especially when the diarist had so rich an eye for his surroundings as Thomas Fenwick did. Fenwick, born Wilson, MP for Westmorland, 1768–74, was a lawyer who unexpectedly inherited the estates of his brother on the latter’s sudden death in 1757. Fenwick has hitherto been defined by his subsequent relationship with his newly widowed sister-in-law, Ann Fenwick (founder of the Catholic presbytery at Hornby), but here we meet him on his own terms. Through his diary we see Fenwick the landlord, the lawyer, the politician, the experimental scientist and observer of nature, the social commentator, and – not least – the resort of many who sought his help. He offers unparalleled insights into the life of north Lancashire, Westmorland and Northumberland and also those parts of England through which he travelled in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.

Triumphantly brought to publication under the editorship of Jennifer S. Holt, the publication consists of three volumes (and nearly a million words) of diary entries from 1774 to just before Fenwick’s death in 1794. In the fourth volume, the editor traces Fenwick’s family background, describes his short parliamentary career between his defeat of the Lowther interest in 1768 and his narrow loss to them in 1774, and discusses his myriad interests. Appendices provide details of the family estates, and full transcriptions of supporting documents, including extant correspondence between Fenwick and his sister-in-law and others. The volume concludes with comprehensive indexes.

All-in-all this is a powerful research tool for anyone interested in eighteenth-century society and especially in the North, but this is also a diary which can be read for pleasure.

Read selected months from the diary

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