TAKING tea, going shopping or horse-racing, visiting the theatre, dancing in the assembly rooms, frequenting with the military – a diary is to be published this weekend shedding extraordinary light on everyday life in Richmond 250 years ago.

But it is a whodunit. Who did all these things in the 1760s, because after decades of research, the identity of the female writer is still a mystery.

“It is rather like following an elaborate set of clues in an Agatha Christie novel,” says Richmond historian Jane Hatcher who has co-authored the book with Bob Woodings. “There are all sorts of characters and different locations mentioned – many of which can be verified by studying parish records, wills, legal papers and other documents from the period.

“However, despite knowing all this detail, the diarist’s identity still escapes us – although we do make a good guess at who she might be at the end of the book.

“This makes the work even more intriguing: the more you know, the more questions you want to ask!”

The diary was acquired in 1988 by Richmond historian Peter Wenham, but the difficulties with its authorship caused him to set it aside. Two decades later, Jane took it back up, and although she hasn’t answered the central query, she has seen it into print.

It provides a remarkable insight into life between July 1764 and January 1766 when Richmond was a fashionable, prosperous town. Its population was about 1,800, making it the largest settlement in the area, and it was growing – new upwardly-mobile residents were arriving to enjoy its scenic beauties and its fashionable social activities.

They improved the ancient cobbled streets of Newbiggin and Frenchgate, rebuilding the old properties as fashionable townhouses, with handsome, symmetrical elevations and pleasing interiors.

And they provided work for lower classes, as servants or as craftspeople supplying them with luxury goods.

We can see all this going on the diary.

“What makes the entries so fascinating is that they show exactly what it must have been like living in the mid Georgian period in a bustling and fashionable town in northern England,” says Bob Woodings.

Life in Georgian Richmond, North Yorkshire: A Diary and Its Secrets is published this week by Pen and Sword, and Jane and Bob will be signing copies at The Castle Hill Bookshop in Richmond between 11am and 1pm on Saturday.

Taking tea

In the 1760s, tea was still very expensive and the diarist’s regular practice of “taking tea” with her women friends was a special ritual that could last anything up to three hours and occurred up to four times a week. It allowed the women to engage freely in conversation and is evidence of a growing age of leisure within certain sectors of society.

July 25, 1764: “Very dull day, Mrs Panton, Mrs and Miss Mawer drank tea with us. A girl of Nelson’s buried.”


THE diarist and her friends clearly enjoyed the shops and almost ten per cent of the diary entries refer directly to, or allude to, shopping – usually a pastime shared with friends.

In the mid-1760s, lively Richmond had shops which people from other places envied. The diarist often went shopping for items requested by her relatives at Winston.

March 26, 1765: “Wind with some Showers of rain, in the Morn Miss Mawer and I walk’d down Street to Miss Wrather’s. They are sel(l)ing up thear goods at prime cost, we got some ribbands.”

Social activities

The diary contains accounts of assemblies, horse races and plays. In this entry, there’s a £50 first prize in a horse race followed by a long night’s dancing…

September 4, 1764: “Miss Bell Emerson, Miss Fanny Emerson, Miss Robinson and I down street cald upon Mrs Simpson. Miss Fanny Emerson upon the Moor in Mr Witham’s coach. The 50L won by Mr Alcock’s roan mare Blackbird. Miss Emersons and I at the Assembly, all danc’d. Miss Bell Emerson, and Mr Hill, Miss Fanny and Mr Robinson, Mr Anderson and Me, we came home a little after 12 o’Clock.”

The Military

The Richmond area has had important military associations since the Iron Age and the militia had a huge impact on the town in the 1760s. The diarist refers frequently to soldiers, and most of her interest is in the young officers attending the musters of the North York Militia.

October 11, 1764: “Miss Bell and I walk’d up to Dr. Pringle’s to se Mrs James and Mrs Pye. Miss Mawer, Miss Bell and I went upon the field to see the Militia Exercise. After we got home it came upon very heavy rain. Dr. Pringle, Mrs James and Miss Pye drank tea with us…”


THE diarist had a garden, but whether it was her own or one she looked after in exchange for produce is unknown. She spent time in it regularly, always noting how long she was on the task, which was never more than two hours. Most of the entries relate to the harvesting of soft fruit, including strawberries, gooseberries and currants, from which she made jelly.

August 14, 1765: “In the garden an hour, Cold Wind. Mr and Mrs Wilson drankTea with us. Mrs Hutchinson at the Hall buried at Cat(teric)k. In the Eve I had Miss Carr and Miss Hogg in the garden to eat Goosbeers.”