Dear Diary

on Tuesday, 06 June 2017. Posted in Archives, Wiltshire People

To celebrate the 70th anniversary of the archive service we are putting together an online exhibition of 70 favourite documents from the archive chosen by staff and volunteers. One of the items chosen was only recently deposited and is a remarkably detailed record of its type; Thomas Pinniger's farming diary for Little Bedwyn and Beckhampton farm, Avebury 1828-1832 (ref 4381/1/5).

Entries of note include the purchase of Beckhampton farm and Beckhampton Inn from Anthony Guy of Chippenham,  27 Feb and 18 Jun 1828; a note about Guy's subsequent bankruptcy, Nov 1829-Jan 1830; Work on the new house began 25 Sep 1828, completed Oct 1830; difficulties in digging chalk for the roads led to an accident in the chalk pit, 29 Jan 1830; note about the 'Swing Riots', Nov 1830 (pictured above); efforts to clear snow from the main road (A4) , 21 Jan 1830; fruit trees planted in garden, 8 Mar 1830;  fire at Mr Neat's farm at Monkton, 5 Jun 1831; trees planted in the yard, 10 Dec 1831; notes of the deaths of relatives and friends, including son Thomas (Large), 31 Jul 1828; verse by rev William Lisle Bowles on the death of Richard Sadler Smith at Bremhill, 31 Mar 1832; and references to thrashing machine, 6 Mar and 23 Jul 1832.

Unsurprisingly diaries can be one of the most engaging sources in the archives because they enable us to hear such a clear and individual voice from the past.

We have some interesting examples in our collections, including an almost complete series of diaries belonging to writer Edith Maud Olivier (ref 982/32-78). The entries are daily and written in detail covering 1894-1948 including this entry relating to a visit of Laurence Olivier and Vivien Leigh in February 1944.

Entry of Feb 1944 describing visit of Vivien Leigh and Laurence Olivier (ref 982/73)

The Wiltshire Record Society has also published volumes of transcripts of diaries and notebooks including:

‘Cherished memories and Associations,’ a manuscript memoir by William Small 1881 (Volume 64; original document reference 2713/2)

William Small, a painter and glazier of 1 New Street, Salisbury, of his life in Salisbury, with biographical details of his family and Salisbury people, tradesmen, apprentices and inhabitants of the Close. There are also details of the history of several houses, particularly in East Harnham where Small was born in 1820. The text is interspersed with poetry and items of local and national interest such as the funeral of Benjamin Disraeli in 1881, the Shrewton flood 1841 and an account of the history of Salisbury probably based on the work of Robert Benson and Henry Hatcher. There are also notes of various events in the Salisbury area 1737-1739 (probably taken from the Salisbury Journal).

These entries provide an insight into his trade, historic Salisbury, particular buildings, and into the detail of everyday life that would otherwise be lost to history. Plants and animals often feature as well as the agricultural area surrounding the city.

Through his description of The Close of 50 years previous, we gain an insight into how the area changed:

The Close was quite different then from what it is now, Wild thorn and elder hedges in a wild state, a great many large trees about… the Grass was laid up for Hay and Farmer Drake of Netherhampton, used to bring his Waggons in, & cart it away. In 1836 or 1837 there was a very high wind in January I think, & blow down all the stately Elm trees on one side of the walk (called lovers walk) but one, prostrate across the field, then the same year the present young ones were planted” (volume one, page 161-2)

WRS Volume 62 is a transcript of the diary of William Henry Tucker 1825-1850, a successful Trowbridge clothier. He kept a candid diary of personal and local events which he name ‘Reminiscences of Departed Years’. Sadly the original is lost, but the editor of the volume, Helen Rogers had made a typed transcript which was edited and published.

With his wife Emily Hendy, he had 6 girls and 1 boy. Following the birth of his fourth daughter, Emma he wrote “What shall I do will all these girls?”. Sadly, Emma did not live to see her fourth birthday and he writes a melancholy entry:

14 March. “Went into Studley’s field at eight thirty am with Emmy [his eldest daughter, Emily], and gathered the first violets if this season. Could find but four, took them home, and placed them in dear Emma’s cold fingers- she looks in her coffin what she really is, an angel.”

Although the diary seems to no longer survive we hold a collection of 'Poems by William Henry Tucker', 1879. The collection was published after Tucker's death by his daughter Lucy Mackay. The book is inscribed Lucy T Alexander from her mother June 1914 (ref 3840/2/3).

One poem, written in 1850, reveals Tucker's dislike of railways 'Demon of worldly selfishness and care, Tainting with rolling fogs the wholesome air, And drowning with vile distemper'd noise, The chiming Sabbath's harmonious voice'. Another, written in 1859, deals with the demise of Trowbridge fair.

Finally on our tour of diaries from the archives, another item selected as one of our 70 favourite documents is a journal kept by Audley Money-Kyrle while on board the ‘Riversdale’ during its voyage to Calcutta (1866-1867), illustrated with a few sketches and watercolour illustrations (ref 1720/717).


Through the diary entries and illustrations the attitudes of a typical young mid-Victorian gentleman are revealed. There are descriptions of on-board rites-of-passage ceremonies, like the shaving by ‘Neptune’ of those ‘crossing the line’ (Equator) for the first time, and the hanging aloft and burning of a stuffed horse to mark the passage of a month at sea.

Do you keep a diary? You never know, it might be the subject of interest and research in a few hundred years!

Naomi Sackett, Community History Advisor


Accredited Archive Service