Sunday, June 11, 2017

The tricycle diaries

‘I tricycled over to Peers Court, Stinchcomb and lunched with the Brooke-Hunts, 16 1/2 miles; then on to Hempstead, to a garden party and home by Gloucester, 36 miles in all. I rode Clara’s tricycle and sustained a flying fall in going down a sudden pitch. I was not hurt and enjoyed my day immensely.’ This is from the sometimes amusing and colourful diaries of John Dearman Birchall, a cloth merchant who retired to Gloucester to live the good life as a squire, and who died 120 years ago today. Apart from tricycle expeditions, his diaries, which were edited alongside those of his wife’s by their grandson, tell of farming, fishing, flower shows and garden parties, as well as his work as a magistrate and wider political events.

Birchall was born in Leeds in 1828 into a family of wealthy Quaker merchants. His mother died when he was nine, and an older sister, Eliza, gave him religious instruction and was his closest friend. He was educated at small private schools in York and Croydon. As a young man, he joined a Leeds firm of cloth merchants, and then, in 1853, aged 25, he started his own company. In 1861, he married Clara Jane Brook, having left the Quakers and being baptised into the Church of England. Their daughter, Clara Sophia, was born the following year; but soon after Clara Jane died of consumption, aged but 21.

Birchall’s firm went on to win prizes for its cloth at international exhibitions as far afield as the United States and Australia. In the late 1860s, though, he bought a small estate near Gloucester, Bowden Hall, thus becoming a squire. There he was able to indulge his cultured passions, notably art (he was an occasional patron of the Pre-Raphaelites) and blue-and-white porcelain. However, now some distance from his company, he became less involved in its day-to-day business matters, though he retained the biggest share holding for another two decades. In 1873, he married Emily Jowitt who was only 20, and they had five children. In time, Birchall became a magistrate, an alderman, and ultimately High Sheriff of Gloucestershire. Emily, like Eliza, died tragically young, in 1884. He himself died on 11 June 1897.

There is very little information about Birchall online other than basic details at or Geneagraphie. However, because Dearman and Emily both kept diaries, a good deal more about their life became available in 1983 when Alan Sutton (eventually taken over by The History Press) published The Diary of a Victorian Squire, Extracts from the Diaries and Letters of Dearman & Emily Birchall. The book was edited and put together by David Verey, Birchall’s grandson. A couple of reviews can be found online, at History Today and John Edwards blog. Here are several extracts from Dearman Birchall’s diary as found in Verey’s book.

2 March 1871
‘The entry of the French capital by Germans is the news of the day and the dramatic sitting of the national Assembly at Bordeaux where by a majority of near 3 to 1 they confirmed this iniquitous treaty and deposed the Bonaparte family for ever. These and other striking scenes fill one’s mind to the exclusion of all ordinary topics.’

17 March 1871
‘We had a tremendous frost last night; fortunately my apricots which are all in bloom are well protected.’

28 March 1871
‘I hear that the Hopkinsons have sold Edgeworth to a Kentish gentleman for £40,000.’

19 April 1871
‘London. City in morning. Horticultural Show in the afternoon very charming. The azalias, roses and Veitch’s Stove plants especially the anthuricum Scherzerium with its gorgeous scarlet bloom and spiked centre tongue of rather lighter shade. Evening at Burlington club conversazione. We met Gambier Parry, Millais, Tom Taylor etc. Collection of fayence Urbino ware, Wedgewood, bronzes, Marquis of Westminster’s collection of paintings including Turner’s sketch and Constable’s greatest picture.’

10 August 1872
‘Constant rain. The county near here is dreadfully flooded and accounts are bad from all parts of the country. Potato disease prevails; foot and mouth amongst cattle. The seven milk cows have had it here, and now the sheep have it in their feet, swollen, mattering and maggoty, with the most disgusting stench. The quantity of keep in the park, and the dreadful wet season seem the natural causes. The sheep are sore, without wool and often bleeding in their breasts from lying in wet grass. It is thought they had better continue in the park in the hope of recovery which I suggest might be accelerated by nursing in a dry barn or what not.’

19 August 1872
‘Ann has a letter giving account of poor Cobb’s lamentable suicide in the Barnsley Canal. She had first tried to be run over on the rails. Our cooks have not been fortunate. Mrs Dyson an incurable; Jane died from cancer and now Mrs Cobb committing suicide.’

13 May 1876
‘We dined at the Drummonds. They have had a scare about scarlet fever. The under nurse was taken ill on Thursday and yesterday the doctor recognized it as a mild case of scarlet fever so she was sent to the fever hospital. Nobody was there except Lady Elizabeth. Cecil has heard this afternoon that the Government have very bad news from Turkey and that war is imminent. The outbreak at Salonika is likely to be repeated elsewhere and the mussulman blood is rising; with 7 million soldiers in Europe desiring war, as much as a spark could set such inflammable material on fire.’

23 May 1876
‘Mr Warburg came for one night. Looks well and is in good spirits. He describes the general business as being well managed beyond former precedent (the absence of Mr Webb in America as beneficial). We stand well everywhere abroad. He says the waters of Carlsbad are very efficacious in the cure of severe forms of gout [Dearman’s chief weakness] and that the Grosvenors and Bedfords are never absent. He describes Bohemian scenery in the neighbourhood of Carlsbad as very lovely.’

27 May 1876
‘Margaret left us today (the faithful maid). She was much depressed. We gave her £10 and hope her marriage may prove a happy one.’

10 June 1876
‘Had long conversations with partners. Mr Webb in particular who gave us a most interesting description of his American experiences. No improvement at the Mill. Average this year 86 pieces a week, 2230 pieces value £18,900. Trade getting much flatter. Today we had separate interviews with Cheetham. He first privately told me of his sorrows, father dead, sister insane, brother wretched, uncle unkind, wife ill at Scarborough - fears for her brain. I suggested Oswald spend half his days at the Mill till the end of the year, as a support to Cheetham to make more sympathy between the departments. Webb, Campbell and Oswald agreed to do away with cheviots and confine themselves to certain specified makes - at present with all their patterns they are getting few orders.’

20 May 1881
‘Went to stay at Enderby [the Drummonds]. Garden Party on the Saturday. Two bands and plenty of lawn tennis, and 5 splendid fire balloons. Emily came out in her terracotta aesthetic dress and Clara in her summer costume. No one looked half as nice.’

27 May 1881
‘Drawing lesson from Mr Watson, perspective mostly but to-day he brought a cast of an ornament for me to do in chalk with view to improving myself in light and shade. Emily has lessons in Spanish. In afternoon I went to Ealing to see a procession of tricyclist clubs, Gloucester and many London ones. We saw examples of the Special Salvo, Otto, Cheylesmore, Meteor, Humber, Devon, Tom Tit and Omnicycle.’

1 June 1881
‘Emily had her first At Home, 4-7. Great success. 80 people came. Afterwards we went to the (aesthetic) Opera Patience; the love-sick maidens most charming, jokes amusing, airs lively. The children have measles.’

13 June 1881
‘I went to Bowden. The house had not even got one coat of paint all over it. Best bedroom begun papering. Ordered stables to be colourwashed. Called on dear old Mr Jones. He said, “I shall be under the sod before you come down again. I am very happy.” I tried to encourage him thinking the pain he complained of in his chest was partly indigestion. Mrs Jones told me he was sinking; but I could scarcely credit it. I only stayed 10 minutes as he soon fatigued. The next day Mr Jones died aged 84. It will be a great loss. His end was peaceful without pain. He dozed away and the time when his spirit fled was not marked or even noticed by those who had the privilege of being present. May we be sustained by as robust a faith when our end comes.’

25 July 1883
‘Emily and I to Gloucester and back on tricycles. Clara Armitage left. She is not yet 20 years old, and reminds me of Clara’s mother - her bright complexion and open face please all who have made her acquaintance.’

27 July 1883
‘Splendid day. To Thornbury Castle with the Archaeologists. We went by rail to Charfield and drove thence. Country lovely. Mr. Stafford and Lady Rachel Howard invited us to tea.’

28 July 1883
‘Superb day for our Garden Party which went off brilliantly. 200 people here, Probyns, Gambier Parrys, De Ferrieres, Guises, Bells, Gibbonses, etc. Violet and Lindaraja in Russian costumes made sensation. It was the finest day since we returned home. Dawes Band played.’

4 August 1883
‘We had the Upton Feast before us on the Bench. A man called Page was fined 10/- and expenses 27/6 for being drunk and assaulting the police whom he struck and kicked; Middlecote 5/- for being drunk. The evidence showed a disorderly and disreputable gathering.’

5 August 1883
‘Last week 13 gallons of milk came in per day. Mrs Warner made 20 lbs of butter in the week; we sold 8 lbs and used about 12. She says that 30 quarts of milk per day are ample for all our requirements - it is getting wasted for want of vessels. Mr Gray proposes that Mrs Keylove shall make the excess milk into butter and sell it.’

9 August 1883
‘Excellent Village Flower Show of fruit and flowers but the afternoon was stormy and the garden muddy and soaked. We had 68, all our neighbours, to tea in the hall.’

11 August 1883
‘Emily and I went to Whiteholme [Mary Birchall’s] picking up Florence in Leeds on the way, for the grouse shooting.’

13 August 1883
‘We joined the Townhead party on the moors, Edward Birchall, Charles Armitage etc. It was very warm and fatiguing. I never saw half as many birds before. We shot 49 1/2 brace.’

23 August 1883
‘I tricycled over to Peers Court, Stinchcomb and lunched with the Brooke-Hunts, 16 1/2 miles; then on to Hempstead, to a garden party and home by Gloucester, 36 miles in all. I rode Clara’s tricycle and sustained a flying fall in going down a sudden pitch. I was not hurt and enjoyed my day immensely.’

16 September 1885
‘Tricycled to Upleadon. The Grays commence their departure on Saturday. The place looks very nice. I then went on to Huntley to call on the Ackers. The house struck me as looking very dull and uninteresting. [This was by S.S. Teulon, and would probably not compare very favourably with Prinknash.] Ackers says how bad everything is. He cannot get an offer for Prinknash and has to keep it up, and cannot sell the Prinknash herd of shorthorns. He has now the three houses and is going to give up butler and footman and keep waiting maids. I had been 32 1/2 miles.’

22 September 1885
‘Sale of Mr. Hobbs’s stock at Park Farm; very bad prices realized. Things are now probably lower than for 20 years. The season has been good and stock is plentiful, importations continuing the prices continually fell. The horses brought exceptionally bad figures. I bought a colt for £13.15.0. Mr Davis purchased sheep and horses. He looked very wild. I believe Mr Hobbs would have remained at Park Farm if Mr Davis had given him a sensible reduction from his rent of £500 p.a.’

29 June 1885
‘Fishmonger had caught a sturgeon this morning at Awre, 9 ft. long, weight 260 lbs. It was still breathing when I saw it.’

24 August 1885
‘Garden Party at the Doringtons at Lypiatt Park. We took the Greens and enjoyed a very pleasant expedition. It took us nearly two hours with barouche going by Stroud - a mistake - returning Miserden way; it was a most superb day and the company numbered over 200, all the best people in the county, and the Greens were much struck with the beauty of the place and agreeable party and the picturesque country.’

25 August 1885
‘Garden Party at Hardwicke 3.30 - 7. A smaller party than yesterday. Mr Baker was walking about and seemed very cheerful. The garden looked in nice order; but the grass plot much cracked from the unusual drought which has prevailed for at least a couple of months.’

The Diary Junction

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