Tuesday, 16 February 2016

Looking Through a Window

Snowing like blazes out. I need to make a milk run later, but I think I will postpone the library run for a day or two.

One of the books I had out this round is the diary of a parson in late 18th C England. I love things like this - they're a fascinating look at the everyday life of the time and place. Pepys' diary is well known as being full of detail (although I must admit I didn't finish that - it was too full of details of his affairs with other women and fights with his wife and servants). Parson Woodforde is calmer, and of course rural rather than urban, but still full of detail.

We hear about his worries and annoyances over the frequency with which his brother comes home drunk, and we learn about the ubiquity and cheapness of alcohol in the era - one party where he hosts 5 others they go through madeira and port, beer, cider, and ale at dinner, and then arrac punch and port wine after supper - 8 bottles of port total for the night, beside the rest. Travelling, he records that a glass of wine at an inn is 3p, and at the parsonage he has gin and whiskey delivered by the barrel by a local smuggler, but brews his own beer and mead. He is also proud of his farm, and we see his barley, butter, and apples being sold or gifted.

We see the going rates for servants - from 2 to 10 pounds per year for live-in people (who get food, board and clothing paid for), and a shilling a day for outside hired labour (with 20 shillings in a pound).

The market town is 2 hours ride away, and they get letters and newspapers there, but people come around selling also. The cloth-peddler often gets good custom there - on one occasion he pays over three pounds to the peddler, buying gown material for his servant girls, waistcoat material for the men, and morning coat material and lining for himself.

Travelling is slow, and if you visit, you stay for a while. On the rare occasions he visits his sister and family, it takes a few days to get there, plus they usually stop in London to shop and see the sights when passing through. He is away from home for several months for such a visit, and with shopping and travelling expenses and tips, it can cost 70-80 pounds (out of his yearly tithe collection of maybe 260 pounds).

Charity, and giving money or goods, is a constant thing. From sending a piece of veal or a shilling to a sick parishioner, hosting Christmas dinner for several local old men and women, giving sixpences to beggars, to donating to a relief fund for the poor during a particularly cold winter, to giving pennies to children on Valentine's Day, his money is always going out.

Medicines are basic. Rhubarb (a purgative or laxative, I think) is as commonly mentioned or used as aspirin or tylenol nowadays. Basilicum ointment and blistering are also used, among others. On one occasion when his niece is feeling ill, the doctor recommends she drink 2 pints of wine daily.

The parsonage is thatched but apparently not insulated, as in cold weather it can be frigid. He records days where the apples freeze indoors and the chamber pots upstairs as well. And yet it is the rare day he records that he has his bed warmed or a fire in the bedroom, while noting that he slept badly because of the cold. You would think he would take a hint and warm the bed at least. I know from experience it helps!

There are the thousand and one other things that make daily life interesting as well. News of the war (England is at odds with America, France and the Dutch during this period)and the accompanying tax hikes, of local alarms (his neighbor's dog, thought to be mad, escaped and bit a number of animals and a person before being caught and killed), of special events (a concert of Handel's music in the cathedral, or rubbernecking with 5000 other people when the king and his family come to visit a local lord), and social issues (his maid is found to be pregnant, and swears to the magistrate about the father's identity, which meant the man in question would be put in jail until he paid a large fine or married the girl).

Altogether, it was a lovely wander through a bygone era!


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