Two hundred years ago today, John Carrington - a farmer and man of many talents who was also dubbed the Hertfordshire Pepys - was writing the very last entry in his diary. A few days later he would be dead.
There is very little biographical information about Carrington on the internet. He was born in 1726, and owned Bacons Farm in Bramfield, Hertfordshire. At some time in his life he was also chief constable for a number of scattered parishes, as well as a tax collector and upkeeper of the highways. Otherwise, it is also known that he was a frequent visitor of the Rose and Crown at Tewin, a pub kept by his son Jack between 1791 and 1820. He died in 1810, and, it is said, a thousand people attended his funeral.
Carrington began writing a diary in the year after his wife’s death, when he was already 71 years old, and continued until a few weeks before his death. The manuscripts are held by Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies in a collection entitled ‘Diaries of John Carrington, senior and junior farmers, of Bacons Farm, Bramfield, and associated papers, c1780-1948’.
The National Archives website explains how the diary of John Carrington senior was first published as Good Friends and Merry by W Branch Johnson, and serialised by The Welwyn Times in 1947-1948. Initially, the book was edited by Johnson on the basis of a transcript of the diaries (dating from the late 19th or early 20th century), but, when the originals were deposited in the record office, he used them to check the transcript. Subsequently, the same version was published as The Carrington Diaries, and then later, in 1969, by Hertfordshire Countryside as The Hertfordshire Pepys.
One of the original pages of Carrington’s diaries can be viewed at the Herts Memories website; otherwise, a few extracts from the diary can be found on the web: Murder by poisoning, Visits to Shephall, Entertainment in the countryside, Life in Tewin
According to Johnson, the diary was written ‘higgledy-piggledy on any scrap of paper that came to hand - auctioneer’s announcements, instructions for collecting the first income tax and taking the first census, lists of deserters from the Army and Navy, regulations to innkeepers to prevent tippling on their premises’. And he claimed that among the million documents at the Hertfordshire Records Office (at the time of writing) none ‘gives anything like so complete a picture of Hertfordshire life as seen not by the gentry but by an intelligent countryman during the long, perilous and exhausting period of the Napoleonic wars, and no other document reveals so frankly, so artlessly a Hertfordshire personality’. Old John Carrington, he concludes, ‘was in truth the Hertfordshire Pepys’.
Here are Carrington’s final diary entries (with Johnson’s commentary italicised for ease of reading), from The Hertfordshire Pepys.
‘ ‘Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Fryday at Home as Very Ill out no ware as Cannot Eate nor Drinke.’ Dr Colbeck prescribed powders and draughts.
‘Took more powders but Dont see they Do me good O Health wt is thy Value had I knowne it I would have Clippt yr Wings that you should not have flown me.’
‘Very poorly took nothing.’
‘Took no powders Eate a small piese of mutton.’
‘Took a draught this morning.’
‘At Home Very Little Better all ways Dry & no Stomak to Eate.’
‘Wednesday Ver Bad indeed with pane in my stomacke & all night no rest till Thrusdy mornign.’
‘Thursday mong 7 poll [his daughter] went to Drs & Brought a drauft for me I took it and am something Easer but cannot Eate & Drink I must not but slops am so dry.’
So his entries ran for some months, but far from continuously. Fight on he could - and did. He was at Ware paying in tax money, at St Albans on militia business, at Bramsfield vestry, at Bramfield workhouse, at quarter sessions and assizes - here, there and everywhere, even as far as London. . .
Early in 1810 ‘thank God I am better’ - but improvement was offset and morale depressed by attending (in foul weather) the funeral of more than one old boon companion. In April ‘in afternoon to Tewin sons I was desired to spend the evening their with some Friends . . . They was all Good Company til 10 Clock.’
It was his last jollification - except, of course, for the wedding feast of Mary Larman on May 7, after a week spent at some races at Kimpton, at St Albans on official business, at Hertford quarter sesssions and at Ware on tax affairs. Next day he noted the arrest for debt of the Tewin blacksmith and Jack’s prompt settlement on the smith’s behalf, and on the following day the removal of one of his old friends from Tewin to Essendon.
On May 10 ‘at home all day.’
Thus closes the diary that had faithfully, unselfconsciously and with complete revelation recorded his later life. On May 22 old John died of the stroke, brought about by severe kidney trouble, that had overtaken him ten days earlier.’