And a Wiltshire New Year to You!

on Tuesday, 31 December 2013. Posted in Events

As New Year is almost upon us, I thought to take a look at how some of our previous Wiltshire inhabitants spent their New Years’ Day by taking a look at their diary entries. The authors’ backgrounds range from lords to schoolboys, schoolmasters to reverends, and how different their experiences of New Year were…

It was the plague that was the main concern at the beginning of January in 1666 when Sir Edward Bayntun of Bromham noted in his Commonplace Book on January 6th:

“Orders of the justices of the peace for Wiltshire to prevent the spread by the carriage of goods or by wandering beggars of the plague which infected London, Westminster, Southwark, and Southampton.”

New Year’s Eve offered a poignant moment in the diary of William Henry Tucker, a Trowbridge man born in 1814 who worked his way up to become a successful clothier. The entry of 31st December reads:

“Our usual party. Stood on Emma’s grave while Trinity church clock struck twelve at the close of the first half of the nineteenth century”…

The Reverend Francis Kilvert, who grew up in Langley Burrell and was curate there for a time, tells us of his New Year’s Day exploits:

“New Year’s Day, 1871.
My mother, Perch and I sat up last night to watch the old year out and the New year in.The wind was in the north and the sound of the bells came faintly and muffled over the snow from Chippenham to Kington… I was carrying my travelling clock in my hand and as we stood on the terrace just outside the front door, the little clock struck midnight with its tinkling silvery bell in the keen frost.”

“New Year’s Day, 1873.
Dora and I were early at the Church to finish our decorations. Young John Couzens, the Langley House gardener, brought his steps, hammer and nails, and helped us greatly in nailing up some wreaths. Then he cut evergreens for us, ivy and laurustinus, while old John, his father, who had carried the wreaths to Church for us, gathered moss from the Churchyard...” The preparations were for the wedding of Keren Wood, taking place later that day."

“New Year’s Day 1875.
This afternoon I walked over to Kington St. Michael in a thick blinding snow storm carrying in a bag a book and a piece of ancient needlework which Edward Awdry had lent us… Graham Awdry, articled to an architect in Bristol, was copying on paper a fragment of one of the old window dogtooth mouldings of Kington Church. After tea I returned by Jackson’s Lane.”

Herbert Spackman, a Corsham boy who emigrated to New Zealand, recalls his New Year aged 18 and 19: 1st January 1883

“Had some violin practice in the morning. Dad, Lewin and I helped to pack Harry’s box up and valued all the articles to insure them against risk. Lewin, Clara and I went up to the [Corsham] Court at nine o’clock to the Servants’ Ball. There were a good many Corsham tradespeople there... I made a fair start with the polka, but that was all I could manage except the round dances; I enjoyed those last very much…. I enjoyed my first ball very much, considering how little I knew about dancing. I couldn’t get to sleep when I got home, through excitement I suppose. Before leaving Lord Methuen wished us all a happy new year.”

On the 1st January 1884 there was a Sunday school treat at the Town Hall in the afternoon:

“tea and magic lantern entertainment, at the expense of Miss Bella Dixon… A present was given to each child and also to the mothers.”

Jeffery Whitaker was schoolmaster of Bratton between 1739 and 1741. He gives a sad account of his New Year’s Day, when he:

“spent the day in the Closet looking over and sorting fathers papers. I am thinner than usual and sweats at night, by confinement and Abstinence”.

Isambard Kingdon Brunel appointed Daniel Gooch as GWR’s first locomotive superintendent at the age of just 21, and it was he who recommended Swindon as the site for the company’s works. The subject of his diary entry of January 1st appears to trouble him, and tells of an event occurring on Christmas eve:

“our 10.15am train for the north was thrown off the line near Kirklington… by a tire in the first carriage breaking, and the result was a frightful smashing up of the carriages and the loss of lives… It is the most awful railway accident that has ever happened in England. As far as we can ascertain it is a pure accident; no one seems to have neglected their duty. This is a comfort to us all…”

He reports on January 1st, 1877 that the past year had been:

“a year of sad depression. All trade and commerce has been carried on either at a loss or with little or no profit, and the repudiation by Turkey & Egypt of the payment of interest on their debts has placed many thousands of people in great difficulty. The working classes have also been learning a lesson in the fact that trade unions cannot fix a standard of wages”. He also notes that “the county has, for the last 3 weeks, been very seriously flooded”.

But we should take heart as the situation appeared to be on the up by 1st January, 1880:

“I think I have only once, since I commenced housekeeping, dined out of my own house on New Year’s Day, and this occasion was when I was at York engaged with the gauge exp[eriment]ts. The new year has opened with a great improvement in the weather, today having been fine with a few slight showers, but we got our walk morning and afternoon. There is also a general improvement in the trade of the country in the last few months, and a hope is felt that the tide has turned and the new year may be the beginning of a brighter time for all”…

Julie Davis

Local Studies Assistant


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