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Thursday, 23 September 2010

Diary of a Victorian Clerk

I’m currently subscribed to a feed from Westminster City Council, which is the daily diary of Nathaniel Bryceson. 
Nathaniel was nineteen years old when he wrote the diary in 1846, and at the time was employed as a Wharf Clerk, seemingly at a coal wharf as he mentions coal quite a bit. It’s quite fascinating to read about his hobbies (history, exploring churches and taking engravings of old gravestones) his family, and his mistress, Ann Fox.
Some of the entries are quite amusing, such as today: 

Wednesday 23 September 1846
A sorry job – broke old tobacco pipe throwing it down to show the hardness of it.

And this from last month:

Friday 7th August 1846
Cut date in piece of quartering in brickwork inside hayloft over stable of Eccleston Wharf ‘AD 1844’ (when built); broke own knife over the job.

And equally as funny are his attempts to have his wicked way with Ann:

Sunday 13 September 1846
Bathed at Mechanics Bath, Queen Street. Morning went to the church of St Martin Outwich by the New Road and Shoreditch. A church has just been completed in Old Street Road. Went round to see if I should meet Mrs Skirriker, great grand-daughter of John Bunyan, but was unsuccessful. A new stone has been lately fixed against 103 Bishopsgate Street Without, corner of Spital Square, showing the City bounds A D 1846. Afternoon took walk to St Paul’s Cathedral and took down in scrapbook the Latin inscription … of Doctor Samuel Johnson as also that of Sir Christopher Wren …Had Ann up in my room, Got her drawers off at last, but to no purpose. Took walk with M Ward in evening.

Sunday 06 September 1846
Started quarter before 8 o’clock for Hendon by Primrose Hill and Hampstead. Had lift in carriage box above a mile beyond Hampstead Heath by offer of the coachman. Got to Hendon Church half past 10 o’clock. Picked and ate a quantity of blackberries in the lanes there, and took down some inscriptions from the tablets and tombs within and without the church. Interfered with a policeman for not keeping the footpath and annoying the congregation by walking about the grounds. Dined at the ‘Greyhound’ Public House close to burial ground. Commenced cutting my initials and date on burial ground gate, but only completed ‘N B 1’ when I was interrupted by the sight of two policemen approaching, upon which I made off, leaving my job unfinished. Left Hendon Church about half past three and dawdled away an hour eating blackberries, when I made for home at a smartish pace, arriving thither soon after six, walking four miles per hour. I tried to paw up Ann but she evaded me somehow, but I saw her comfortably seated in Tottenham Court Chapel where I let her remain unmolested, for which I am not sorry. Very warm, distant thunder throughout the afternoon accompanied with a few large drops of rain. Had tea in coffee shop in Dean Street , opposite Little Dean Street

She must have gone off him, because he was making a bit of progress last month!

Sunday 9th August 1846
Rose at 6 o’clock, went to Westminster Baths, After tea had Ann Fox up. After looking through prints got to our old tricks in which I got a little further than ever by just catching a glimpse of the hairs covering her c**t. She wore a new straw bonnet for the first time. Hope to get on better hereafter in matters of secrecy. Saw two persons of whom I have not seen a long time, Benjamin Smart and Henry Kitchingman – the former in Fore Street, Cripplegate, the latter in Dean Street, Soho – neither of whom spoke to me, not liking my appearance, being too ancient. At home the rest of evening.”Charles Street, Oakley Street, Westminster Bridge Road, for first time this season. Home to breakfast half past eight and after ditto went to St Margaret’s Westminster. Very well amused with monuments etc therein; sat on free seats north side. After dinner took walk up Holborn to see the late smash of two houses falling down, 22 and 23 Middle Row, directly opposite
Grays Inn Lane. Such a sight I never before saw. The ruins have not been disturbed since they fell (one day last week – Sunday last, 2nd instant), and they falling straight have carried all the furniture with them, completely burying greatest part, but some few articles may be seen sticking out, of which I noticed a chest of drawers and a chair, and against the wall I saw a print or two hanging, with two looking glasses, presenting a novel sight. One flight of stairs was still hanging. This event had likely to have caused a great loss of life, but they providentially escaped, having just quitted the crumbling fabric. Walked on through the City and returned by Clerkenwell, noticing the damage done by the late storm and the fast increase of buildings in the new street in continuation with Farringdon Street.

Sunday 16th August 1846:
Rose quarter past six. Went and bathed in Serpentine. Breakfasted and to St Margaret’s Church. Stopped but a short time, took down Mr Emery Hill’s inscription, and then went to Christ Church, Westminster, and took down a few inscriptions in burial ground, the most remarkable of which is ‘Margaret Patten 136 years of age’, and also inscriptions on almshouses in York Street. Home to dinner and afterwards to St Margaret’s Church again, and took down some more inscriptions in scrapbook before and after service, which I stopped, making third visit to this church successively. After tea had Ann up but to very little purpose. I saw more of her cabinet than I ever did. At home reading remainder of the day.

I’m not sure what a ladies “cabinet” is, but I can perhaps guess…

And they even had frustrations with banks back then too:

Friday 11th September 1846
Something extraordinary – sent to the London and Westminster Bank, Sent message that Mr Mitchell, the proprietor, must see Mr Lea before he can take any more money in. Looks somewhat disgraceful [?]. Took walk over Westminster Bridge with Ann Fox - it looketh quite a wreck with the loss of its balustrades and semi-octangular arches; being boarded in the carriage road is the present footway.
Stratford Place to pay in money. To my surprise they refused taking it in.

Westminster Bridge was renovated in 1846, here he sees it in a state of disrepair:

Friday 4th September 1846
Pipes laid down at Eccleston Wharf for gas to communicate with bench, Wharf Clerk’s office, and stable. Weather cock removed from bench. After tea took walk with Ann Fox over old Westminster Bridge, which at the present time is being pulled down. No thoroughfare for carriages, and the foot way is along the centre of the bridge, boarded on each side. Most of the buttresses and the semi-octangular towers removed, with their round lamps, and fixed to the boards temporarily on each side. The road is strewed with the old stone work which is carefully piled, most of the arches are stopped, navigation being only through the centre ones. We shall now soon quite lose sight of this old structure, for which I am sorry, it being the oldest fashioned built stone bridge on the Thames.

Some are not so interesting:

Saturday 8th August 1846
Black cat at Wharf caught mouse this morning.

All in all however, I have followed the diary for most of the year and found it rather illuminating to examine a Victorian up-close, so many texts and books concentrate on the Victorian people as a whole, or the luminaries.

It’s nice to read something so personal, even if the most interesting thing that happened to him on that day was a black cat catching a mouse.

The full Diary from January to September can be read

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