Today marks the 330th anniversary of the death of young Sir Thomas Isham, the third to hold the Isham Baronetcy title. As a teenager, his father, the second Isham Baronet, ordered Thomas to keep a diary in Latin, as an educational exercise. And it is thanks to this lively and colourful diary - said to be the only diary by a 15 year old boy in 17th century England - that the Third Baronet is remembered today.
Thomas was born at Lamport, Northamptonshire, in 1656, the eldest son of Sir Justinian Isham, himself the son of John Isham, High Sheriff of Northamptonshire, for whom the Isham Baronetcy was created in 1627. Thomas studied at Christ Church, Oxford, and soon after succeeded to the title on the death of his father, but he died, still a young man, on 27 July 1681. Today the title is held by Sir Norman Isham, the 14th Baronet, who was born in 1930.
Sir Thomas is largely remembered today thanks to a diary he kept in Latin at his father’s behest from 1671 to 1673. It is made up of brief entries, sometimes only one sentence, and when the entries are longer this is usually because Isham is recording an anecdote - a local murder or other crime, for example - told by a visitor. Nevertheless, the diary does give a lively picture of the everyday country life of a gentry class boy in his teens.
The diary was first published in 1875 by Miller and Leavins of Norwich, but a more recent edition dates from 1971 when Gregg International published The Diary of Thomas Isham of Lamport (1658-81) kept by him in Latin from 1671 to 1673 at his Father’s command. This was based on a translation by Norman Marlow, and was annotated by Sir Gyles Isham. Here are a few extracts.
10 November 1671
‘. . . The carpenter made new shelves to put our public books on. A white cock of brother Justinian’s, named Taffy, which was at Thomas Pole’s, had one of his spurs violently wrenched off and died, from which it is clear that the people of Houghton are indeed rustic and altogether ignorant of learning, not to remember the trite saying, ‘Never lay hands on a white cock’.’
2 December 1671
‘A stranger died here while on a journey, and was buried in the churchyard.’
16 December 1671
‘Tom a’ Bedlam [local lunatic] paid us a visit, and said that his only son had been eaten by a sow, that his wife was home consumed with grief and that he had become melancholy.’
20 December 1671
‘Today we challenged the Maidwell men to a cock fight. Two oxen were killed for Christmas . . .’
8 January 1672
‘Mr Wikes came and promised to bring four cocks to help us . . .’
11 January 1672
Maidwell was beaten in the cock fight. . .’
27 January 1672
‘John Chapman told us that a woman convicted of clipping coin of the realm has been condemned and burned alive in the cattle market at Smithfield, London.’
29 January 1672
‘John Chapman came to dinner and said that a new telescope, far more perfect than previous ones, had been invented [probably Isaac Newton’s reflecting telescope].’
8 April 1672
‘Father forbade us to keep cocks . . .’
30 April 1672
‘Michael Wright . . . while pulling and handling the largest church bell unskilfully, threw it over, which pulled him up to the ceiling and nearly knocked his brains out; I know for certain that his leg is broken . . .’
24 May 1672
‘Today my sister Vere’s bees swarmed.’
25 May 1672
‘They say we have taken a Dutch vessel which was full of riches, and that her captain died of grief. A French galley took a Dutch ship laden with salt, and other merchandise.’
4 June 1672
‘The bull was castrated today and grew so savage that he broke his rope that bound him and after the operation charged at everyone he met.’