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The Diary of Thomas Fenwick Esq. of Burrow Hall, Lancashire and Nunriding, Northumberland, 1774-1794

The publication of a previously unknown late eighteenth-century diary is a major occasion. Thomas Fenwick (born Thomas Wilson), c.1729-94, of Burrow Hall in Lancashire and Nunriding in Northumberland, MP for Westmorland 1768-74, may have maintained a diary for much of his adult life although it only survives from 1775 onwards. The diary remains in the possession of his successors, its existence unsuspected by historians.

The diary describes a life lived between London in the law terms and north Lancashire in the vacations, with diversions to manage his other estates in Northumberland and County Durham. As a man constantly on the move, Fenwick described not only his rural life but wrote extensive descriptions of his journeys through England. A man of great curiosity about the natural world and abreast of current scientific writing, he recorded his observations of agriculture, wild life and his speculations about science. It traces too his descent into illness.

Fenwick’s writings for these years run to over one


Burrow Hall
Burrow Hall, c.1824, a print made for Richard Rauthmell, Antiquitates Bremetonacenses; or The Roman antiquities of Overborough (sec. edn, 1824) (editor’s collection).

million words. Edited by Jennifer S. Holt, the diary will appear in three volumes. A fourth companion volume will include introductory essays, supporting documents and full indices. All four volumes will only be available as sewn hardbacks. Volumes one (the diary for all years to 1784, 352 pp.) and two (1785-89, c316 pp.) will appear early in 2012, the final two volumes in January 2013.

Hornby Hall
Hornby Hall by Arthur Devis (1712-1787). Picture courtesy of the Judges’ Lodgings Museum, Lancaster.

Excerpts from the diary

I was told by the landlord at the Half Moon, Howden that they can’t have good ale on account of their water & indeed I observed the water to be of a greenish colour which they said all the water in the town was. Mr Rutherford, the landlord at Escrick is a well behaved sensible man but I & my servant were obliged to lie in the same room. This reminds me of an observation which I have frequently made viz That in travelling a person ought never to think of staying all night where there is only one inn; where there is but one inn the person should go thither time enough, that in case the inn be full, he may go to another place. I cou’d have got in good time to York. (31 May 1775)

Rent day: was doing business with the tenants from half past 9 (dinner excepted) to 8. They all appeared except Hodgson of Dent & Paul Barker. They had for dinner ham & eight fowls, a large round of beef, a sirloin, forequarter of mutton, pies, plumb pudding & apple pie, ale rum & brandy punch. I dined on ham & fowl. Drank water. I had four bottles of rum from J. Davis. There was drunk near 2 bottles of rum & ditto of brandy. (1 Jan. 1782)


[Metcalfe] informed me that the man who came hither on Revd Mr Benison’s recommendation is sent to the house of correction at Wakefield, as is also one Hodgson of Settle who has used to kill game by the day for Mr Parker & others. A son of King the miller of Leck paid £5 for the like offence. He & the first transgressed in A[u]stwick manor; the second near Penegent in a manor belonging to the Duke of Devonshire. (10 Nov. 1782)

Between 5 & 6 Tom Brinnan with the wife of the Cantsfield dancing master came. Note: I was never so sensibly affected with a case of distress as this; a girl at the age of 15 or 16 by the irresistible persuasions of her mother married the man; now she is about 28 years of age, she had an estate of about £20 per annum which she joined with her husband in conveying away; he is in goal; she has 8 children & nothing left. I gave her £1.1.0. When I had done with those Dawson of Casterton about a contract for a building, & about a debt. Then Robert Atkinson respecting his bad wife & Lawson the waller. (5 April 1785)

Read Thomas Fenwick's diary for January 1783.

The author

Jennifer S. Holt has had a lifelong interest in the social and economic history of the early modern period. She has made a particular study of the development of trade and the related human and financial networks that integrated her native north-west of England with the rest of the world. Her current research focuses upon links between the Lancashire/Westmorland border and East Anglia prior to 1750.

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