Sometimes the diaries of my ancestor are interesting because of what he does not say – and in a way his diary from May 1767 is a case in point: basically, he only remembers to talk about two things, health and the weather.
Two hundred and fifty years ago, 5th May was a Tuesday – and it was cold, remarkably cold. So much so that London had a scattering of snow. Apparently Richard trudged over to see Mr Sykes, but I bet he didn’t stay late, partly because of the weather, and partly because the previous week had seen “an attempt by some rogues” to break into his house in the evening. Also, they cannot have had much to talk about, because the identical entry about visiting Mr Sykes appeared three days earlier. Mind you, that was before he started his new medicine (“May the Lord’s Blessings attend it”).
The next day, Wednesday, was a real non-event: he didn’t go anywhere, he didn’t do anything and he didn’t see anyone – but it was “mostly dullish, a cold day.” Thursday saw rain in the morning but it was dull and mild in the afternoon. And then on Friday we had “Fine morning, dull in the afternoon, and very mild.” But guess what, tucked in at the end “Went and took up my Freedom of the City.” You would have thought that there would have been more of a fanfare, something about what he wore, or who he met, or whether his wife came and watched – but no, just “took up my Freedom”.
It is not as if it wasn’t quite a big deal: he was not allowed to trade within the City boundaries unless he was a Freeman – and he had just opened his shop at Number One London Bridge three weeks earlier. This had incensed the Haberdashers Guild – because Richard had served his apprenticeship in Southwark, where the long arm of the livery companies did not reach, and he had therefore escaped paying his dues to the Haberdashers for all his adult life. When he moved North of the River Thames into the actual City of London, they had him by the proverbials – and they duly fined him to make up for all the past payments he had avoided. Whether he knew this when he paid his £4/5/00 by way of an admin. charge I do not know – the actual fine of £25/14/06 was not imposed until September the following year – but that is bureaucracy for you! To get an idea of the scale of the fine, multiply by at least eighty. Or, to put it in context, he paid his maidservant about one quarter of that amount for the whole year. Still, she couldn’t complain, as she got her food and lodging thrown in for free….
I still have all Richard Hall’s papers relating to being made a Freeman – his Oath which he had to swear, the receipt for the fine, and so on. I reckon it should have been a red-letter day for Richard, so I am disappointed that he made no other mention of it.
Back to the diary: the following day, Saturday 9th May saw Mrs Snooke leave Town. Mrs Snooke was his sister in law – immensely wealthy and accustomed to coming up once a year to stay a few weeks with Richard in order to see something of her sister (Richard’s wife). It hadn’t been an easy year for Mrs Hall – she miscarried six weeks earlier. Richard’s diaries at the time commented on the miscarriage with a laconic “My wife miscarried in the Evening – the Lord is gracious to her. A very fine day, mild.” And that was just about it – just one more mention that “Thru the Goodness of God my wife continued poorly, a raw dull cold Foggy day.”
On the Sabbath Richard went as he usually did to hear the great theologian Dr Gill preach – from Hebrews Chapter 9 verse 27 – and for good measure also got a sermon from the visiting Baptist Minister Mr Cole, who took as his text Isaiah 8:17 (“I will wait for the LORD, who is hiding his face from the descendants of Jacob. I will put my trust in him.” – Just thought that you would like to know…..).
Then on the Monday it was a “Dull, dribbling day” – what a lovely description, and so appropriate to the British climate! The wind was cold, and “Poor John” (servant) “was very bad at night.”
Richard noted the next day that John was “thro’ Mercy, better” but apart from noting that the weather was “Dull in the morning, Fine in the afternoon, Mild” all he had to say for himself was what he did NOT do – he didn’t go to Mr Sykes again – because Mr Sykes was not well.
So, not a lot to report 250 years ago. In his defence I have to say that having just opened his new shop, and moved house, Richard must have had his days pretty full, and his diaries get much more communicative and interesting once he retired, and had more time to fill in the entries every day.