Activities and inventions

From the top to the bottom of society people were very much more active in the 18th Century than in the late 2Oth.At the bottom agricultural labourers aided by horses did by hand ploughing, sowing seeds and harvesting, their teenage children were mostly employed as servants, their wives worked most of the hours of the day preparing food, washing clothes by hand, gleaning in season.Nowadays the same group of people are aided by machines which take away the effort of work, or are unemployed and receive a dole. Likewise upper and middle class people use cars to travel and machines to do most tasks so that it is necessary to go to a gym for exercise. The diaries show us even well off people walking, riding and engaging in activities of a/l kinds.

The amazing Dr. Morris successfully pursued so many activities it is hard to list them. He had a professional life of visiting and diagnosing patients which involved much travel. He had his own ‘elaboraory’ in which he dispensed medicines. He played many musical instruments and played in consorts with his friends, took his children to their boarding schools. He ran s~veral farms, supervised the brewing of a vast quantity of beer and entertained friends regularly. Besides all these activities his mind was very inventive and he personally tried to solve many little problems which were thrown up in everyday life. He undertook tasks which we would pass on to specialists such as cleaning a watch or servicing a barometer. His mind was constantly active noting things which did not work well and thinking out solutions then trying to make the mechanisms himself. He made a new jack for his harpsichord of metal instead of quill which would have resulted in a very much louder sound. He made a mechanism for opening and closing his curtains which sounds very like the contrivances sold today for this purpose.He devised a way of counting the revolutions of his coach wheels so that he could record the number of miles travelled. He was indeed a renaissance man.

Dudley Rider as a student made himself a fountain pen, presumably fitting his quill pen with some sort of reservoir. All of our diarists were writing in the tedious way then necessary. They used the feathers of geese, swans, and crows. They had to point and slit the lower end. The hollow inside the feather held some ink but not much so writing involved constatntly dipping their quill pens in ink. In 1809 Joseph Bramah (1748-1840) patented a machine for cutting gooe feathers into three or four nibs to be used with a separate pen holder. As early as 1780 a Birmingham manufacturer, S. Harrison produced a metallic pen but it was too difficult to use We see passages faint as the ink supply diminished or blotted where it flooded and marvel at their industry and at the ease with which we can put down our thoughts on word processors.

One might imagine that aristocrats with many servants passed the days in idleness or at least dOing no more than the many social activities which undoubtedly occupied much of their time. Mary Delaney’s diaries show an intelligent and gifted woman engaged in many artistic and craft works. Her paper mosaics, flower paintings and shell work were famous in her time. She also did knotting,was interested in organizing gardens, growing orange trees and making wine.ln her old age she was a valued friend of King George.

But machines were being invented and beginning to effect all branches of society. Spinning and weaving and agricultural machines took away jobs while enabling less men to do the work. Mary Delaney noted an invention by which 1800 candles were lit in 3 minutes, but unfortunately not how this could be done. Part of the entertainment for the well off of her day was to see wonderful machines like the clock which played twenty four tunes perfectly or an Orrery.

Dr. C Morris 27 April 1709

“Saw out of my Garret Window Cox hanged at Stookley Hill with my little telliscope.” 11 June 1709

“I cleans’d my wife’s Gold Watch.” 28 July 1709

“I prescribed for Mr. Mayowe of Truro and sent the form by the post in Mr. Mills letter to him.” 20 February 1710

“I rivetted on the Brass ornaments of my snaffle Bridie.” 21 Nov. 1719

“Mr. Hill came and mended some faults in the Penning my Harpsichord … James Parfitt put on the Brass Gemels [Bars placed together as couples) on my Harpsichord.”

15 Dec. 1719

“Later I made an end of a Harpsichord Jack of mine own invention to strike the String with brass, without a Quill.”

20 Nov. 1720

“I had a new hand made of Deal, by Thomas Parfit, put into the Time-Beater … .1 went to our Cecilia-Meeting at Close-Hail.”

20 Jan.1722

“I visited my Daughter, she having been, Yesterday morning about 8 a clock deliver’d of a Daughter.

Mr. Brook ofAxbridge came, with Mr. Thomas Parfit & set up the Five -Feet Pendulum Clock which I bespoke of him & calculated. I paid him 6 Guineas for it without a case.”

7Feb 1722

“I washed the mercury for my inlay’d Barometer”. 19 July 1722

“I bought in the Castle in Bristow, a large Cock for the Cistern in my Garden, & a Brass Wind-fall for the lower Pipe of my Pump. I bought, betwixt the Bridge and the Back, a Lock for my CoachHouse Door. My Servant waited with my Horses at the Glass-House in Bedminster, where I call’d & bespoke some Glasses. I got home by 10.”

8 Sep. 1722

“I put some of the Pictures which had been cleans’d, & vernish’d by Mr. Hodges [an ExeterJapanner] who came about this Country to cleans Pictures.”

13 Feb. 1723

“I went to the Toy-Man, now (from Bristow-Fair) at the Christopher, & bought a pretty Snuff-Box, for Travelling.”

16 May 1723

“I finished the putting on the Spurrs & Barrs of my Jack Splatter-dashes” [A gaiter or legging]

20 Sep. 1723

“I fitted the strings for my new-contriv’d manner of Drawing & undrawing the curtains of the Window in my Dressing-Room.”

19 Nov. 1723

“I made an end of calculating the Machine to be fix’d to my Calash to Count the Revolutions of the Wheel, & consequently the Miles travelled.”

28 Feb 1724

“Mr. Burland gave me a Bridge for my Bass Violin which he made on purpose: They all supp’d on Sturgeon.”


“John Bird fitted a Sprin[g]-Jack for my Harpsichord with the addition I had contrived.”

Dudley Rider

Monday, August 29. 1715.

“Began to read Perkin’s Law, but it came into my head to make my pen that belongs to my pocket book into a fountain pen, which took up all my morning and I did it at last.”

M. Grosley

Travelling from Dover to London on a sunday on which day the police law forbade coach travel.


“Between Canterbury and Rochester the inhabitants of a village situated on the side of the highway had made choice of that day on which the high road was to be free, to remove a windmill from the left to the right side of the road, to the place which seemed best suited to it.

[Shades of Don Quixote !]

“Now as the country is very woody, the body of these mills is a sort of high cage, which receives the wind above the trees: this cage which bears a strong resemblance to a bee-hive, consists of a circular frame of wood, surrounded with a lattice rough cast with lime. That which was to be removed having the form of a cone thirty feet high, with a diameter of 12 or 14 feet, moved on in a hollow way which we were then travelling in, and which it filled: twenty or thirty men, some of whom dragged it along with cords, the remainder pushing it on with their hands, advanced

slowly; and as it had twenty fathom length of road still to go, we had little hope of soon getting rid of it: coachmen, postillions, passengers .. alighted, and joined those who pulled or pushed it on: after about an hour’s labour, we reached a part of the road, where the slope, which bordered one of its sides, was least steep; this slope was made level, and lengthened out by a pick-ax: at last the carriages reached the ridge of the road with the help of cords, which entered the body of each carriage and the coach-box. All the frenchmen present laughed heartily at the adventure, but this had not the least effect on the flegmatic temper of the English: both young and old talked of many different expedients to get rid of us: at last they went about their work in good eamest, disengaged our carriages, and resumed their business with all the seriousness of men who had passed their life in removing windmills. ”

Mary Delany

February 9 and 11. 1724-5 To her sister, Ann Granville

“I was interrupted by Lady Peyton and her daughters who called on me to go to hear the musical clock … it is a new one, and a complete piece of ingenuity as ever I saw; it plays twenty-four tunes with as much exactness as it is possible for them to be played in concert, the price of it is five hundred pound. He was hoping to dispose of it to the King for Prince Frederick.”

[Lady Peyton was the wife of Sir Tewster Peyton, of Doddington, Camb., Bart.]

“I hope you received the harpsichord strings, the ballads and the edging. I send the rest of the strings this post.

-Mary Delany

12 October 1727. The day after the Coronation of George 1/ and Queen Caroline. To her sister Ann Granville.

“I was a spectator in West minster Hall, from whence the procession begun, and after their Majesties were crowned, they retumed with all their noble followers to dine … The room was finely illuminated, and though there were 1800 candles, besides what were on the tables, they were all lighted in less than three minutes by an invention of Mr. Heideggar’s, which succeeded to the admiration of all the spectators; the branches that held the candles were all gilt and in the form of pyramids … Everybody I knew came under the place where I sat to offer me meat and drink,

which was drawn up from below into the galleries by baskets at the end of a long string, which they filled with cold meat and bread, sweetmeats and wine.

I hope you found the worsted; I packed it with the flax, which if it proves good I desire you will give me the satisfaction of knowing.”

[Mary Granville and her mother were celebrated spinners, both in flax and in that preparation of wool called Jersey. Her descendant Lady LLandover who edited the letters still possessed her spinning wheel, a piece of purple poplin and damask napkins of the finest texture of her spinning in 1860.]

A more ordinary day. Mary Delany’s letter to her sister vividly conjures up the day.

“Last night I returned from Court cold and weary, … 1 found a room full of smoke, the wind and the rain beating against my windows, my pussey lost (as I thought), but she was found. Well, into bed I tumbled about half an hour after one. I slept tolerably well, dreamt of nothing at all, waked at eight, roused Mrs. Bell, huddled on my clothes, bought eighteen yards of a very pretty white silk for Trott, something in the nature of shagreen, [a sort of silk taffeta with a grained look] but a better colour than they ever are; it cost sixpence a yard more; the piece came to three pounds and twelve shilling. Then I called for my tea-table, sent John of a Howdee [hOW d’ye do?] to my Aunt Stanley, and at his return he brought me a letter from my dear sister.”

August 23. 1729.

to her sister

“Lady Sunderland is very busy about japanning; I will perfect myself in the art against I make you a visit and bring materials with me.”

to the same

September 9. 1729

“Everybody is mad about japan work; I hope to be a dab at it by the time I see you.” 8 June 1731

“The next day I met the Percivals at Mr. Wesley’s where after a good repast and kind welcome, we walked up-stairs, where we were to be entertained with an orrery. You must understand that this is a machine in form of a sphere, wherein is demonstrated the solar system, with all the motions and distances of the planets. Just as the learned man was going to explain to us, a summons arrived for me to go to Mrs. Monck’s Christening, which with great regret I did. I represented Lady Shelburne. no woman there but myself. I stayed there about an hour, and returned to the good folks in Conduit Street, but the celestial affair was over.”

Letters and post to her sister March 3. 1738-9

“to tell you all the particulars … would flourish out more paper than a single frank would contain.”

Mrs. Foley, of Stoke Edith, Herefordshire to Mrs. Dewes at Bradley near Droitwich in Worcestshire.

November 11. 1740

“I am, my dearest Mrs. Dewes, quite out of patience with your post, for your letter dated the 4th I did not receive until last night and the one you mention to have wrote in answer to mine never came to my hands: can you blame me for being anxious .. Please to put “post town at Gloster upon your letters; if they don’t come safe we will try by way of London.”


same person and date

“I was engaged with my crayons and painted whilst they talked the world over, and now and then put in a word to let them know I had my ears at liberty though my eyes were employed:that double entertainment is a high regale to me, but it come seldom in my way.”

30 October 1746

Daily activities at Cornbury, seat of the Duke of Queensbury.

“We meet at Breakfast between nine and ten, which lasts near two hours intermixed with conversations; when over, the coach is ready for D.O. and me to tour in the park,and to see my Lord’s improvements, and the rest of the company ride … We return home at two and spruce out, dinner at half an hour


after two; the afternoon- coffee, sauntering, conversation comes on, and tea; my drawings produced, many civilities are uttered, and the whole ends with a pool at commerce, which brings us to our hour of supper; and we go to our separate appartments at eleven.”


Mrs. Delany to Mrs. Dewes October 27. 1750

” •. 1 am knotting a plain fringe to trim a new blue and white linen bed I have just put up; as soon as that is finished I will do some sugar-plum for you .. ”

In 1861 Lady Uanover still had some brilliant blue linen chair covers with a border of oak leaves cut out in white linen and tacked down in different sorts of white knotting which also formed the veining and stalks, the work of Mrs.Delany. She said it was the custom of ladies to use their knotting shuttles in periods of relaxing such as the tea-table hour.

January 12. 1750-51

“I have made a pipe of orange wine and next week shall make raisin wine by your receipt.”

[very much larger quantities of light wines and syrups appear to have been made annually of currants, raspberries, and other home fruits in private families than is now the case. note of Lady Uanover, editor 1861)

January 19.1750-1 Delville

Mrs. Delany to Bernard Granville

“I am now considering about a greenhouse, and I believe I shall build one this spring; my orange trees thrive so well they deserve one. I propose having it 26 ft. by 13, and 13 high.”

December 16.1755

Mrs Delany to Mrs. Dewes. Spring Gardens

“I hope you do not take damp walks, but make use of your sedan.”

[It appears from this advice that sedan chairs were used in the country as well as in London.]

January 31.1756 New Street,Spring Gardens Mrs. Delany to Mrs. Dewes

“Mr. Wesley [her godson] came one morning to see me. I told him if he would cross the park from Pall Mall, (where they live) he might come to me at any time after nine: he seemed pleased and I gave him my key of the park door.”

17 November 1756. Bath Mrs. Delany to Mrs. Dewes

“We got to Bristol at one. Mr. Calcot, the philosopher was there, who has the famous collection of fossils … his collection is rare and curious, of spars, minerals and tossns, such as I have never seen, and unanswerable testimonies of the Deluge. But his heart I believe is of the petrified kind, and encrusted with avarice, for he has many of most sorts in his collection, and he gave me not so much as a single grain of tin! however I was not disappointed, as I went for instruction and entertainment, though not without some small hope of a little gain.!

September 4.1757 .Bath Mrs. Delany to Mrs. Dewes

“Lady Caroline Fox has taken lodgings in this house, and comes on tuesday.”

No date

“Lady Andover and I have entered on a piece of work to surprise the Duchess of Portland on her return, which is flourishing. It is a frame of a picture, with shell work, in the manner of the frame to your china case; and we are as eager in sorting our shells, ptacinq them in their proper degrees, making lines, platoons, ramparts, as the King of Prussia in the midst of his army, and as fond of our own compositions.”

December 29.1757. Bulstrode Mrs. Delany to Mrs.Dewes

“I have now in hand two frames of shells in their natural colours … The Duchess has just finished a bunch of barberries turned in amber, that are beauti{ll, and she is finishing an ear of barleythe corns amber, the stalk ivory, the beards tortoishell. At candlelight, cross- stitch and reading gather us together. .. 1 think the knowledge of houswifery is very necessary to everybody, let their station be what it will, but I am afraid my Pauline (Her niece) got cold with her mince-pie making.”

February 11. 1758. Spring Garden Mrs. Delany to Mrs.Dewes

“I am glad Mr. Lucy is so well; I wish he would bring some shells from Naples; there are very pretty ones there, though none extremely rare … 1 sent you a specimen of Gibraltar shells, to let you see Captain Meade may bring you very pretty ones ..

We had like to have lost all our week’s linen and three suits of the finest Irish damask;

the washerwoman’s goods were seized by her merciless landlord, and Lady B–th and the Steward threatened, that if we did not lay down six guineas our linen should be sold! I sent for Mr. Chapone, who got us our linen, only paying for the washing. Glorious news came today of Clive’s great victory.He shames all our generals.”

[Colonel Clive in conjunction with Admiral Watson gained a victory over the Nabob Suraja Doula after a campaign of only thirteen days.]

March 7 1758

[Mrs. Delany’s husband.the Dean of Down, also had a victory. After a case lasting for years Lord Mansfield in The House of Lords declared in his favour in the matter of a marriage settlement of his late wife. The decision vindicated his reputation, though he was left liable to pay three thousand pounds.]

c.P.Moritz Travels in England

At Oartford “I first saw (what I deemed a true English Sight) in the street two boys boxing.”

Shoe making craft

James Lackington’s Memoirs

He worked for Mr. John Taylor of Kingsbridge … ” he never treated me as a journeyman, but made me his companion. I was the first man he ever had that was able to make stuff and silk shoes; and it being also known that I came from Bristol, this had great weight with the country ladies,and procured my master customers, who generally sent for me to take the measure of their feet, and I was looked upon by al to be the best workman in the town, altho’ I had not been brought up to stuff-work, nor had I ever entirely made one stuff or silk shoe before.”

Learning to write

“I was obliged to employ one or other of my acquaintance to write my letters for me. My master said to me one day he was surprized that I did not learn to write my own letters. The thought pleased me much, and without any delay I set about it, by taking up any pieces of paper that had writing on them, and imitating the letters as well as I could. I employed my leisure hours in this way for near two months, after which time I wrote my own love letters, a bad hand, you may be sure; but it was plain and easy to read which was alii cared for.”

Dr Peter Oliver

30 March 1784

“I sent a power of Attorney to Dr. J. Jeffries to get my Dividend for me.” 30 November 1784

Dr. Jeffries in company with Mr Blanchard set off in an Air Balloon from the Rhodenum, Park Lane 25 Minutes before 3 o’clock & landed in the Parish of Stone in Kent 10 minutes before 4 o’clock.

[Dr. John Jeffries 1744-1819. American balloonist & Physician, born in Boston. A loyalist during the American Revolution, he settled in England and made the first balloon crossing of the English Channel with the French aeronaut Francois Blanchard in 1785.

Jean Pierre Francois Blanchard 1753-1809, french baloonist and inventor of the parachute. With Jeffries was the first to cross the Channel by balloon in 1785. A flight which was reported upon in the diary of Sophie van la Roche. Blanchard was killed during practice parachute jumps from a balloon.]

Nancy Woodeforde 15 June 1792. Friday

“I wrote a letter to Mr. Samuel Woodforde my Brother which I began at seven and finished before eight, being in haste to send it up to Mr. Bidewells that he may put it into the Post Office tomorrow.

14 July 1792 Saturday

Received a letter from Brother Sam. Paid for the letter 5 pence.

Penelope Hind

Diaries and Correspondence 1787-1834 Sarah Markham After a visit to friends

“Rarely did we return without finding marks of the tender way our Mother employed herself during our absence. At one time a little room alloted to us, and where we deposited our choices things, was fitted up afresh;pretty boxes Etc. of her own making to ornament, fresh prints to adorn it; and at another our chamber was fresh papered and made gay and chearful; and in one way or other, proofs were given of a delight in making us happy.”

Hannah Mary Reynolds

[See housework for details of diarist.] 18 August 1793 friday

“Walked with my father [Abraham Darby of Coalbrookdale] to the Parade and saw the Camera Obscura.” [In Liverpool]

William Holland

1 April 1803, Friday

“no clock striling this morning. Little William jumped down from the staircase window, jarred the clock so much that the pendulum fell off and was bent so we must have Mr Coles to it.After dinner Coles came to set the clock in order.”

26 November 1804, Monday

“Called on Coles the clockmaker about the Jack.” 3 December 1804, Monday

“I walked down to Stowey, called on philosopher Coles and paid for some little articles. He shewed me aa curious clock of his invention which was carried to London and exhibited before the Society of Arts and then raffled for and won again by the philosopher. He is certainly a wonderful man.”

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