Rumney was born in 1764 into an old Cumberland family, the second of three sons and two daughters, and christened on 3 June. His father died when he was 5, and he was then educated locally before being apprenticed as a clerk to South Sea House in London, a position his uncle had secured for him. He stayed there for a decade, rising to become head of the Counting House. In 1798, his uncle died and left him £1,000; and, about the same time, his older brother drowned in Ullswater Lake, leaving him a small estate at Mellfell. This allowed him to leave London and become a farmer or, what was then called, a yeoman.
In 1806, Thomas married Anne Castlehow, the daughter of a custodian tenant who came with a £500 dowry. The union does not seem to have been particularly happy at least in the early period; and they were to have no children. He, though, became a useful member of the local society, as a trustee of the local school, an overseer of highways, and a foreman of the manorial jury. He died in 1835. There is very little more biographical information about Rumney easily available online, but Folk Life Newsletter has some details.
Rumney is only remembered today because of his letters and diary. These were edited by A. W. Rumney, Thomas’s great-great-nephew, and first published in 1914 by Smith, Elder & Co., with the title From the Old South-Sea House, being Thomas Rumney’s Letter Book 1796-1798. It is freely available to read at Internet Archive, although a 1936 version - called Tom Rumney of Mellfell, 1764-1835, by himself as set out in his letters and diary - is not so readily available.
Arthur Ponsonby, the early 20th century expert in diaries, was given access by A. W. Rumney to the full manuscript of the diary by Thomas Rumney, and considered him worthy of inclusion in his More English Diaries (Methuen, 1927). However, Ponsonby goes to some lengths to excuse Rumney for his lack of literary effort:
‘When a man is occupied all day riding, carting, digging, weeding, ploughing, manuring, ditching, hedging, haymaking, building, quarrying, carpentering, planting, painting, or road making, he may have leisure for occasionally drinking tea with his neighbours and playing at cards, but he is unlikely to have much inclination for the literary effort, such as it is, of keeping a full diary. Thomas Rumney was an indefatigable manual worker. We can gather this from the diary he kept in 1805-6; and although he made punctual daily entries we can understand that after a vigorous day’s toil he was in no mood to do other than just register the work done. [. . .]
To show his activity we will take a month in each of the two years. In February, 1805, on the 1st and 2nd, he was carting; 4th shooting; 7th and 8th, stubbing; 9th, fencing; 11th, ditching; 12th to 16th, walling; 18th, carting; 21st to 26th, ditching. In December, 1806, on the 3rd he was painting a cart; 4th, timber hauling; 5th, holing posts; 6th to 9th, carting; 10th to 12th, quarrying; 15th to 18th, cutting drains; 20th, mending pond; 22nd, killing vermin; 26th, ditching; 29th, carting and attending cattle; 30th, fence making; 31st, dressing oats and barley.’
Here is Rumney himself, though, writing in his diary about his daily affairs, his negotiations for marriage, and, soon after, the disaffection he already feels towards his wife.
22 June 1805.
‘Weeding Quicks [rhizome weeds like couch grass] in Union Field. An extraordinary Review upon Penrith fell yesterday of Volunteers of Leath Ward, Kendal and Whitehaven. Met a few neighbours at John Edmondson’s floor laying. John Brown’s daughter very unwell at Mr. Thwaites’s. Weeding quicks in Folly Union etc.’
24 July 1805.
‘Jemima Clark returned home to Penrith. Rev. Mr. Robinson of St. John’s died suddenly last Saturday. A man found dead upon Patterdale Fells with a little dog with him.’ [Gough, the young Quaker naturalist, who lost his life on Helvellyn. The fidelity of his terrier, who watched by his body until its discovery, is celebrated in well-known verses by Scott and Wordsworth.]
27 July 1805.
‘The weather very showery. Bespoke a pair of boots of John Grisdale. Tea’d at Castlehow’s.’
31 July 1805.
‘Settled with Joseph Todd up to this day, when I received a balance of £4-5-0. The rent of the whole five Tenements from Lady Day last is £125-0-0 per annum with the deduction of £5 and cost of 10 Cart Loads of Lime, say £2 more, making £7 at which rate £118 will be the rent commencing at Lady Day last.’
1 August 1805
‘On coming home late last night I met with the Rev. Mr. Hoggart in Lambgill, who had lost himself on horseback in trying to get to Threlkeld from Pooley - had rode all night. I took him home and he slept with me.’
5 December 1805
‘A Prayer Day or Thanksgiving on account of Lord Nelson’s Victory. Received a note from Miss Castlehow at my seat in Church by her servant Ruth. Waited on her in consequence of it in the evening at her request. When I spoke to her father concerning matters between her and me, he said he would give her in marrying £500, and with her own etc. she would be at present equal to about £600. He also said her fortune might in time be three times £500 or more - much more, however, said he than I might suppose. I wished him to advance £500 on her wedding, but that he said he could not do, as he had given the rest no more and he wished to serve them all alike. I proposed to Miss C. that she would give up the matter of our engaging to marry, but she objected to that in her father’s presence, and seemed exceedingly affected, and pressed our agreeing about it much, but we parted without doing so.’
31 December 1805
‘An excessive, wet, stormy, day. Miss Castlehow and I went to Penrith. I had John Clark’s horse. Purchased a marriage license of Mr. Fletcher for 2½ guineas - a gold ring for 6/6 - 16 pairs of gloves, viz. 9 men’s, 7 women’s.’
1 January 1806
‘I, Thomas Rumney, married Miss Elizabeth Castlehow of Watermillock Chapel per Rev. Joseph Thwaites. Gave him one guinea and pair of gloves, and to J. Thompson 5/-, and gloves to Schoolboys 2/6. Miss Ann Robinson acted as Bridesmaid and Thos. Castlehow jun. as Bridesgroom’s man, Thos. Castlehow sen. as Father. Dinner at his house at Watermillock. Present - Mr. and Mrs. Thwaites, Mr. and Mrs. John Clark, Mr. and Mrs. Jos. Todd, John Castlehow and Miss Ann Robinson.
The company remarkably cheerful. Played at cards. The company departed about midnight. No attendance to Bride and Bridegroom upon their going to bed, as is customary upon the occasion in this country.’
18 June 1806
‘Mrs. R. and I had much talk about housekeeping arrangements in which our opinions did not agree.’
2 July 1806
‘The day showery - made up the hay into great cocks. Joseph Abbott’s sheep-shearing. I find my spirits the lowest I ever remember, owing to domestic matters displeasing me most sadly.’
The Diary Junction