Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Very fiery comets

Buried exactly three hundred years ago was one Jacob Bee of Durham. He is only remembered today because he left behind a diary chronicling - albeit in brief - public and private events for the best part of 25 years. He was particularly fond of recording astronomical phenomena, such as blazing stars and fiery comets.

The son of Nicholas Bee and Margaret Ussie, Jacob Bee was born in Durham, and baptised on 19 June 1636. He is recorded as being a skinner and glover, i.e. a tradesman who skinned dead cattle and goats, or who bought their skins from slaughtermen, cured them, and turned them into leather goods, particularly gloves. Aged 22, he married Elizabeth Rabbet.

It also seems Bee may have kept an ale-house for some part of his life; in any case he certainly did a little brewing, the ‘grains’ being sold by his wife after each brewing. He also possessed a stable and loft, but having not prospered in business, and aged 65, he became an out-pensioner of the hospital of Sherburn-house. He died early in 1711, and was buried on 11 January at St Margaret’s, Durham.

Bee is probably only remembered today because he left behind a diary, which is now held by Durham University Library. This was edited and annotated for a volume called Six North Country Diaries published in 1910 for the Durham-based Surtees Society. The full text is available online at Internet Archive.

Here are a few typical entries, starting with almost all of the published extracts for 1682.

27 March 1682
‘John Maddison’s child Margaret went out of Durham to Newcastle for London to be toutcht for the evill.’

April 1682
‘Two great floods of watter upon Wednesday and Thursday, being the 26th and 27th of April.’

6 May 1682
‘The first day that men and women servants presented themselves to be hired in Durham markett.’

31 May 1682
‘Betwixt 11 and 12 at night, was a very fearfull thunder, with flalshes of fire, very tirrible.’

28 July 1682
‘Captain Thomas Featherston, of Stanhope hall, departed this life, being Friday, at night about 11 a clock.

15 August 1682
‘A blazing stare appeared.’

6 September 1682
‘Mr William Witherington, one of the bead-men of Abby church [died].’

28 September 1682
‘. . . Sofly, sone to Richard Sofly, was borne, being Thursday: and Elizabeth Dobinson was her midwife and the first that ever she [had] laid.’

20 November 1682
‘Being Munday this yeare and a great wind which blew one half of the west end of a window in Abby church.’
‘William Ross, junior, departed this life.’

25 January 1683
‘A sad cruel murther comitted by a boy about eighteen or nineteen years of age, nere Ferryhill, nere Durham, being Thursday, at night. The maner is, by report: When the parents were out of dores a young man, being sone to the house, and two daughters was kil’d by this boy with an axe, having knockt them in the head, afterwards cut ther throts: one of them being asleep in the bed, about ten or eleven yeares of age: the other daughter was to be married at Candlemas. After he had kil’d the sone and the eldest daughter, being above twenty yeares of age, a little lass, her sister, about the age of eleven yeares being in bed alone, he drag’d her out in bed and killed her alsoe. [The same Andrew Millns alias Miles, was hang’d in irons upon a gybett nere Ferryhill upon the 15th day of August, being Wednesday, this year 1683.]’

4 November 1684
‘A foot race was runn betwixt Fairebearnes, a butcher, and a countrey-man called John Upton, and runn upon Elvittmoore, the hardest run that ever any did see. The countrey-man wone upon hard tearmes, being runn soo nerely that scarce any could judge, when they had but one hundred yards to runn, whether should have it.’

17 January 1685
‘John Borrow departed this life, and ‘twas reported, that he see a coach drawn by six swine, all black, and a black man satt upon the cotch box. He fell sick upon’t and dyed, and of his death severall apparations appeared after.’

20 December 1689
‘A figure of a comet appeared about three-quarters of an hour after four at night, the first appearance was in the form of a half-moon, very firie, and afterwards did change itselfe to a firye sword and run westward.’

23 April 1699
‘Upon St George’s day there fell haile in and about Durham that was estemated to be, by report, five inches about, some reports seven, and some four, but I am sure they were three inches and more.’

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