Victorian diary goes online

By Matt Elton, 12 January 2010 - 12:12pm

The diary of a 19th century wharf clerk describing life in Victorian London is being published online, offering a fascinating personal insight into the period.

Nathaniel Bryceson was 19 years old when he recorded his daily activities throughout 1846, covering diverse aspects of his own personal and professional life as well as references to wider political and military events. The 260 entries, running from 1 January to 12 December, are being published on a daily basis by Westminster City Archives, allowing visitors to experience Bryceson's life as it unfolded.

When the journal begins its author was working as a clerk at Lea's Coal Wharf in Pimlico. Little is known of Bryceson's childhood beyond his date of birth – 5 June, 1826 – but by 1846 he was living with his mother, Mary, her new husband Matthew Ward and an uncle and grandmother in 9 Richmond Buildings, Soho. He has a relationship with Ann Fox, which he describes with surprising candour, and entries feature his thoughts on everything from food and fashion to his family and employers.

One entry, from 3 January 1846, records an unsuccessful dinner in typically wry style: "Saw in Chelsea ‘Leg of Beef Soup 2d per Bason’, so had a bason for dinner, which make-believe bason was nothing more than a large saucer on a high stand, with a broad thick bottom with pieces of meat like so much twine. ‘Remarks’: no more Chelsea soup."

Another, taken from later in the year, describes very familiar wintry conditions: "Fall of snow during the night, which gave the Mall, St James's Park, a very grand appearance, owing to the tree having through the late mild weather, come out in full bloom... Generally in winter the branches are bare but this morning they looked like a hearse of white funeral feathers."

The diary was bought by Westminster council for £115 in 1974, but has only previously been available in manuscript form at the council's archive in St James's. Project organisers hope that publishing the diary will allow readers to draw striking parallels with their own lives: "What comes across is that, despite more than 150 years of history, human nature remains pretty much a constant," says Ed Argar, Westminster's Cabinet Member for Adult and Community Services. "I'm delighted that we will be able to share this fascinating piece of work with the wider public and would urge anyone with an interest in history or Victorian Britain to take the time and read the diary online."

 

Take it further

Nathaniel Bryceson's diary will be available to read throughout the year at the City of Westminster Archive Centre's website here.

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New records section online at The National Archives
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