Sunday, June 16, 2019

Many little matters

Today marks the 250th anniversary of the birth of David Elisha Davy, an antiquarian who spent the most part of his life travelling around the English county of Suffolk in order to collect detailed information on the county’s history. Although he never wrote that history, the collection of his manuscripts in the British Library today constitute a unique resource of materials for modern Suffolk historians. More than a century after his death, a pocket diary he kept while on his travels was found in a second hand bookshop. In it, Davy wrote about how his little book should be a ‘Companion in my Excursions’ so that ‘many little matters will then be preserved’.

Davy was born on 16 June 1769 the son of a farmer in Suffolk. His uncle, Eleazar Davy of Yoxford, sheriff of the county in 1770, who had no children of his own, paid for his education. He was schooled at Bungay grammar, and then at Yoxford under Samuel Forster. He matriculated from Pembroke College, Cambridge in 1785, graduated in 1790, and was ordained deacon in 1792. Although he worked for a while as a curate, he abandoned the church; in 1803, on the death of his uncle, he took over his estates, based at Yoxford, borrowing money to hold onto the debt-laden properties. He served as a local magistrate and as deputy lieutenant.

However, around 1805, Davy took up what would become his life’s work, gathering an immense collection of antiquarian and genealogical details for a history of Suffolk. Together with his friend Henry Jermyn, he painstakingly toured the country, taking notes and issuing questionnaires. Mounting debts led him to place his estate in the hands of a bank, thereafter he decamped from Yoxford to a friend’s house at Ufford, near Woodbridge. When Jermyn died in 1820, Davy took up with the Revd John Wareyn Darby as companion.

Although Davy published a few historical works anonymously, he never actually published a history of Suffolk. Nevertheless, it is the large collection (131 manuscript volumes) of information he amassed that remains his abiding legacy. He died in 1851, not having married; almost all of his manuscripts (and much correspondence) were soon to find their way to the British Museum (along with those written by Jermyn which had been given to the museum in 1830). There is not much further information about Davy online, other than at Wikipedia and the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (log-in required).

Davy also left behind a diary. This was found in 1979 by John Blatchly, headmaster of Ipswich School and a noted Suffolk historian, in a secondhand bookshop. He published an article on the diary in the Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Arcaeology and History in 1981 (which can be read online). The following year the diary was published, as edited by Blatchly for the Suffolk Records Society, with the title A Journal of Excursions Through the County of Suffolk, 1823–1844 (The Boydell Press). In his introduction, Blatchly explains more about the diary:

‘My discovery of Davy’s Journal on a North Norfolk bookseller’s shelves in October 1979 was, I like to think, providential. Its beginning coincides with that of its author’s exile from his inherited estate and home, The Grove, Yoxford. He had not kept a diary during the years of his travels with Henry Jermyn of Sibton, and the preface written in 1823 tells of a conscious decision that this little book should be ‘Companion in my Excursions’ so that ‘many little matters will then be preserved’ which would not otherwise find a place in his Collections. And so it accompanied him for more than 4,000 miles. Davy was not one to allow a personal preference or opinion to intruded into his formal work but the Journal is quite different; private feelings are not excluded and we are permitted more than a glimpse of a man who, after his resignation from public office, lived very privately. In reading the Journal we are far from feeling that we are trespassing, but we do gain a revealing insight into his methods of work and travel, his family and friendship, and the reception he enjoyed from acquaintances. We learn much, too, about the temperament and madders of this gentleman antiquary whose work should and may still earn him greater fame than hitherto; his reticence only is to blame for any neglect hitherto.’

And here is a sample of the kind of daily entries Davy made into his pocket diary.

29 March 1823
‘Barlee sent me in his gig to Pakefield Church, 6 Miles. I there took some additional Notes both in the church, & churchyard, copying the Verses in the latter, & rubbing off the two brasses still remaining in the former. I had not time to examine the Registers; but compleated the church notes for this Parish.’

8 April 1823
‘Went from Wrentham by the Mail Coach to Kirkley, where I took full church notes, not forgetting to examine the church chest, which I found the key of. Did not meet with the Registers, & had not time to enquire after them.

Went again into Pakefield Church to compleat rubbing off the brass of J. Bowff, which I had before left incompleat: So that I shall not have occasion to visit this church again.

Walked back to Wrentham. 7 Miles.’

10 April 1823
‘Walked from Wrentham to Brampton Church 4 Miles. Went into the church, took some few notes, before omitted, & from the head stones in the churchyard:

Returned by Uggeshall 1 1/2 Mile, to look again at the inscription on the Steeple, & to see whether I had copied it correctly. To Wrentham 3 Miles.’

17 April 1823
‘Went from Wrentham by the Mail Coach to Kirkley, 6 Miles; walked from thence by Mutford Bridge to Oulton Church, 3 Miles; Took full notes there, both inside & out, & rubbed off the three brasses in the Chancel, in completing which I was near 5 hours employed. Had not time to enquire after the Registers & Terrier. In my way through the Village of Oulton, I observed on a low building on the left hand side of the way a shield of Arms cut in stone, but they seem to have been lately coloured over with black & white, & I took no account of them. These must be examined & enquired into, when I go after the Registers & Terrier. They probably belong to some School or

Walked back to Wrentham, 8 Miles.’

18 April 1823
‘Went in Barlee’s gig with my sister to Southwold, & took the opportunity of being there, to copy the Inscriptions on the Head stones in the churchyard. I had intended to go into the church to take some further notes there, & to rub off again the brass there, that which I now have, been very imperfect, but I had not time.’

17 May 1823
‘Having occasion to see Mr. Robinson, I walked to his new House on the Heath, which he has lately built in a most singular situation. It stands in Dunwich, on the bare heath, about a quarter of a Mile from the Sea, & on so bad a Soil & so bleak a spot, that none of the trees, of which he had planted many, have hitherto grown. From thence I went to Dunwich, & took a few notes, all that were necessary, of the remains of All Sts. Church there. Distance there & back 8 Miles.’

22 September 1827
‘At the Parsonage at Hoxne. Walked to Syleham Church, to get the brasses there, & to pick up any other small matters I might have left at my former visit, & what might have been placed there since.

From Syleham Church walked to Brockdish Church, to see whether there was any thing in the churchyard which might be useful. I did not go into the church. From Brockdish, I walked on to Thorp Abbot’s; went into the church there, but found not a single memorial within, nor anything in my way without the church. Returned to Hoxne by the Water Mill.’

24 September 1827
‘Doughty drove me to Wingfield Church, where I found a great treat; & having the whole morning to myself, I employed it in the church, from I obtained full notes.

I afterwards walked to the Castle, which I had not seen years for more than 30 years; but had only time to reconnoitre the outsid

The Incumbent of Wingfield resides at Hoxne & has the Registers with him there. I was therefore obliged to postpone the examination of them.’

25 September 1827
‘Went, with Doughty to Denham, where I got some few further notes from the church there. I afterwards borrowed my friend’s gig, & went to Horham & Redlingfield Churches, to reexamine & pick up what I could there. I was rather surprized to find all the by roads in that neighbourhood so good.’

14 July 1831
‘I went by the Mail this morning to Little Glemham, having agreed to meet Darby there to proceed with him on to Iken & Snape. Arriving at Glemham before 7 o’clock, I had a good opportunity of visiting the church, which I had not seen for more than 20 years: besides I was very anxious to get impressions of the 3 brasses, in the Dormitory, upon the Glemhams. These I obtained, together with such other notes as I found, beyond my former ones. I was more than 2 hours in doing all this, & had then to wait half an hour for my companion, who at last arrived, when we proceeded on thro’ Blaxhall, where we stopped opposite to the Ship Public house there to look at a coat of arms carved on Oak, & fixed to the front of a cottage: these were formerly in Sudborn Hall; it was bought by the present owner abt. 30 years ago at an auction in the parish; & contains the arms & quarterings of Sr. Michael Stanhope Knt. a former owner of the Hall. We found the road from hence to Iken very heavy & bad, & were obliged to walk a good part of the way, & when we got to Iken, had some distance to go to obtain the key of the church, for which we were ill repaid, for the church contains not a single inscription, or monumental memorial of any kind: we found a few inscriptions in the churchyard: the building stands in a singular situation; on an elevated bank by the side of the river, far away from any house, & in the most inconvenient position for the population, which fortunately is but small.’

7 July 1833
‘Being resident for a few days at Aldeburgh, I of course paid a visit to the church, where I found several new monuments &c. as well within as without. In the churchyard I found considerable gleanings: the names on the head stones I had not before taken.’

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