Travels with Tony 1958-1973

(Anne Rieber insisted that I should write this record)

In 1957 we were a small family living in London in Cecil Road, Muswell Hill.
View from The Hill

We were content to be there.

Tony was working as a Senior Registrar at the Royal Northern Hospital. He had succeeded in the exam to become a member of the Royal College of Physicians MRCP. In a few months he should have gained a post as a Consultant in General Medicine.

At this time there was a bottleneck in the system so that there were too many Senior Registrars and many did not get the consultant posts for which they had been trained.

Three possibilities were open to them.

The first was to become a member of a GP partnership. This was not as easy as it would seem. Many Gps felt a highly trained specialist would not fit in with their practise.

The second avenue was to wait in the hope of eventually getting a consultant post. This was frowned upon as Senior Registrar was seen as a short term post.

The third was to become a consultant abroad.This appealed to Tony as he had wide cultural and linguistic interests.

So it came about that in February 1958 he accepted a post as Consultant to the NIOC (National Iranian Oil Company.)Perzie_1958_325-03
Robin had been born in 1955 and Clare in February 1957.


Clare was less than a year old when we travelled to Masjed Soleyman a village with a nearby oil company camp and hospital.

We arrived when it was not too hot and were given a furnished bungalow with a large bare garden to live in.

We had already started to learn Persian and went down to the Souk to practise it buying Persian textiles for curtains and table napkins.

Buying meat there was less pleasant as the carcasses of goats and lambs were hanging up in open stalls, quite covered in flies.

In the kitchen the first thing I noticed was a large stoneware vessel. This I was told was the water filter. It was to be used for drinking water as tap water was supposed to be dangerous. Otherwise it was a simple old fashioned space.

I was not expected to spend much time in it as we were expected to employ three local servants.

This was a change which took some getting used to. But the one I most appreciated was the gardener. He used a sort of pick axe to dig the ground which was hard and arid. He planted aubergines and peppers and marigolds.

The children enjoyed being in the garden at first but as the temperatures rose it was impossible to spend much time outdoors. We had a big air conditioning unit to cool the house.

We were visited by travelling traders, one came regularly to sell us eggs. My neighbours taught me to bring out a bucket of water and to put eggs in it, then to buy only those which did not float.  Also when cooking to break each egg separately into a basin to avoid contaminating all with one bad one.

We used to have tea parties with the Persian doctors wives and with Audrey O’Donaghue whose son Clive became a friend of Robin.


After a year in Khusistan we were transferred to Teheran.

To me this was a wonderful change.

Teheran was not a city of high rise buildings at this time.

It was a relatively small city without a gloss of modernity.

There were open channels in the streets called Jubes. Twice a day water flowed down them.We could manage well without a car and used the public taxis called Dolmahs by users as they stuffed a few people in going along the same route.

Most shops were small and open to the street and there was also a huge souk with separate areas for different sorts of artisans.

I loved the view of the Alborz Mountains to the north of Teheran and in winter we could visit the ski resort of Ab Ali and we benefited by having normal seasons.

Most foreigners lived in the north of the city but as Tony was working in the NIOC hospital in the centre we rented a flat there not far from the French Embassy.

Before we found it we spent weeks in a hotel which I found very tedious. Chantal was due to be born in April and I lacked the energy needed to keep my two small children from running under the feet of the other residents.

So it was a joy to find a ground floor flat with a small garden and an even smaller pool. Our landlady was called Madame Rosa and she lived above us.

The flat was unfurnished and we bought some items form other foreigners who were selling up at the end of their time in Teheran.

Tony was very happy that he had the chance to design our own furniture and have it made by a local craftsman.

He was an artist man though he had a vocation for medicine and this talent was inherited in different ways by my children.

Sadly we had to sell it when our turn came to leave.

My first preoccupation was the impending arrival of Chantal.

There was no difficulty about the place of birth as I could go to the NIOC hospital not far from our flat and a lovely English girl called Janet was my midwife.

All went well thanks to Janet. I found her well 13 years latter when I visited Teheran from Kuwait.

We needed a trustworthy nanny to help with the three children and had become friendly with the Anglican Community in Isfahan.

They recommended Minu Hakimpur, an Iranian girl of good family, who wished to learn English.

This proved to be a great success. Minu enjoyed living with us, her English improved and she loved and cared for the children.

When we left Minu asked if she could go to England with us. She thought that she would in due course study to be a nursery nurse.

We were happy to take her, but a huge obstacle appeared.

It was virtually impossible to obtain a passport and visa without bribery. Tony had a very moral stand and refused to bribe, but eventually he was forced to agree.

So Minu came with us to London and we had another happy year with her.

One day she came to me with a letter she had received and told me it was from Iraj asking her to marry him.

She asked me should she agree or go on to study to be a nursery nurse.

I asked her for some information about him and found that he was like her an Iranian, by race a Jew, and by religion an Anglican.

I said it seem to me unlikely you will ever find so perfect a match but do you like him very much.

Yes, she said and in due course they were married.

At the time Iraj was an Anglican priest and eventually he became a bishop and they had three children: Mary, Martha and Joseph.

They came to England later for a course at Canterbury where we met.

Alas the coming of the Ayatollahs caused the whole Anglican community of Isfahan and Teheran immense difficulties and we did not communicate much because we realised that contact with English people would make life even harder for them.

In spite of everything they survived and the children grew up, Joseph lives in Canada and Mary in Shropshire now and Minu and Iraj in their retirement visit them annually.

Daily life was pleasant. It was easy to shop for fruit and vegetables as traders walked down out little Kutche or street and we could buy vegetables and fruit on the spot from their barrows.

We were near two main streets Khiaban e Shah and Khiaban e Firanaceh, (France) where the French Embassy was situated and also a big Catholic Church where Chantal was baptized. So I did not have to walk far to do my shopping. We also had deliveries from a local farm of their butter and cream and delicious cherry jam.

Image from page 701 of "Russia, with Teheran, Port Arthur, and Peking; handbook for travellers" (1914)

It was a wonderful change from the arid desert of Khusistan.

We had also left the limited oil company friends for a much wider social circle of people from embassies, traders, and not least the British Council.

This was where we met Will and Winifred Roberts who were to become our friends for life.  One day Tony came back at lunchtime very excited saying he had met some wonderful people at the British Council and it had been arranged that I would meet them soon for lunch. He told me Will worked as an accountant for the Council and that they had lived in Iran for a time. They had many Iranian friends as acted as god parents to some of their children who were students in England. They had three teenage daughters. One of them Liz became an artist and eventually married an architect Tony Thompson. They too are good friends and we, Ros and I, see them quite often.

The Roberts lived in a small but beautiful old Persian house in the north of the city which we loved to visit. In the garden was a pool which must have been fed by a mountain spring. One day I jumped into it and was nearly in a state of shock because of the extreme cold.

Among our other friends were Antony and Ada Octapodas. Antony was a doctor and Ada taught me how to make many delicious greek dishes such as Pasticcio and Spanakopita which became part of my standard repertoire.

We liked them so much and were happy later when they came to London for a year. Their daughter Nadia was educated at the French lycée in Teheran and continued at the lycée in London. Their older daughter Ersy married Rick in England and we were all at the wedding in Richmond.

Eventually they went to South Africa and we lost touch with them.

Our cook Mohammed was an agreeable young man who showed me how to make Persian khoreshts and kebabs. He often grilled luleh kebabs minced lamb moulded onto little swords and barbecued. There was an American womens’ Institute which produced a useful book of Persian recipes.

I later bought more scholarly books but this little one provided all the groundwork.

England 1960

We returned to England in the summer of 1960 to our flat in Muswell Hill. It was already too small and we were awaiting Rosamund our 4th child in December.

The most urgent task was to find a house before we went to Borneo for Tony’s next contract.

We had in the past talked longingly of buying a span house in Blackheath. These houses were considered at the top of the architectural tree  in ready made houses, but we could not afford it.New Ash Green

Now one of our neighbours in Cecil Road was a nurse who worked with Tony in the Royal Northern Hospital. She was Clare Rayner who later became famous as a writer of advice in newspapers. She suggested that we look at another development in south London, built by Waites in Forest Hill.

Forest Hill

It was, like Span, built around a central green area with a small wood for common use, the house design was similar but not as elegant as span.

Because of the urgent need to settle we did not look at any other part of London or any other house, but bought the last house in the group on London Road. It was still unfinished.

We were so happy to have 4 bedrooms and a large open plan living space which was perfect for our small children.

Borneo 1961

It was hard to leave our new house in the hands of tenants and travel to Borneo in November. Tony went first by air and I travelled slowly by ship to Singapore with the children. As I was 8 months pregnant it was not easy to look after the children, but there was a charming French lady on board who became my friend and helped to amuse the children.

It was on this ship that I first heard the word ‘bingo’. As we slowly progressed we saw the phosphorescent waters and flying fish of the tropics.

From Singapore we travelled in a small plane to Brunei, a small country in Borneo but the Sultan was one of the richest in the world thanks to oil revenues.

Tony worked for Shell. We lived in a small community between Seria and Kuala Belait. Our friends and neighbours were Dutch, American and English. We lived in bungalows within a grassy area with no fences between the houses. In this way at least it followed the ideals of Span; the architecture was practical rather than elegant. We were raised about a metre above the dusty sandy like soil of the ground. The rooms were cooled by fans, but one bedroom in which the children slept had air conditioning. In the evenings with lights on and windows open huge numbers of insects many of them huge black flying beetles about 3 cm. long passed through our house.

bugging off

The insects were the cause of great misery at first. It was impossible to avoid their bites and in the humid climate many were infected and my legs began to swell, I longed for the birth of Ros but it was about 6 weeks before that happened.

In the middle of the night of 30 December 1960 we drove to the Company hospital. The nurses put me in a side room to wait as it was hours before the baby would come according to the nurses. Later they came back and realising they had miscalculated started wheeling me on a stretcher across the central courtyard saying don’t let the baby come.

I had no way of stopping Ros who came into the world under a dark starlit sky. I later heard that it was good not to be born under bright lights. In spite of the climate which made most babies look pasty Ros thrived and was a really beautiful baby.

We had learned to drive and passed the test while in England so we bought a little car and were able to drive to the little town of Seria and visit a religious book shop where we bought the big Larousse dictionary which I still use here. I like the old fashioned slang which it uses to translate many words. It is a comforting reminder of a time when a dictionary did not include the word computer.

In the opposite direction was the village of Kuala Belait. There was a street of little shops and a large open air fish market. We often bought wonderful unknown fish there and our Chinese cook lovingly prepared them.

Tony was not so happy that after cooking the fish he would take 10 minutes to decorate it.

The Director  of the hospital Keith Sweetman was an Australian. His wife played mah-jong and entertained large numbers with Chinese meals served in the correct Chinese bowls.

Other friends who made life good were Michael and Valerie Quick. But somehow we lost touch  with them after leaving Borneo.

The best thing about Borneo was getting to know John and Doreen Darvell who became life long friends.

John was the Shell Dentist. We found getting a filling not so alarming when we were in his hands, but he was so much more than an excellent Dentist.

Doreen was a nurse in the hospital and both of them were so special that life in Brunei became good.

After our return to England they married and later Doreen became God mother to Tom.

Tony was godfather to Francesca and I to Alexandra.

The Yawn

I sat on the bench to wait for the 185 bus. One lady sat there already and yawned. She smiled and said Sorry.

“Life is hard” I replied.

“No its not that, its because I stayed awake painting 5 pictures last night.”

“Wonderful” I replied. She fished in her brief case and pulled out a folder with her pastel works. The first was a nice design, then came a Jesus like figure holding a communion cup.

“oh no” I thought, I’m with a religious fanatic, but the bad moment passed. She showed me a portrait of a child, not outstanding. I concluded her love of painting was greater than her talent.

Sometimes I give them to my friends” she said, but then a 185 bus came over the horizon. The bus was full and I had to sit next to her.

She continued her story “Well I have to put my paper on the floor and lie down to do my drawing and it gives me a pain in my back.”

I remembered that I have a wooden easel left by the girls and unused for 15 years and asked her if she would like it. “How much would you like for it?”

“Nothing” I replied I just don’t need it and would give it to you gladly. I was doing my 2 stop journey up the hill and it was time to get off . That is my house I pointed out as we passed and she got my telephone number before I alighted.

What a yawn had led to… for years I had wished to find someone who would use the easel. I have a slight worry supposing she is grateful and offers me one of her pictures.



In the 21st Century childbirth is safe and uncomplicated in the majority of cases, medical care is good so that early problems are mostly overcome .If the mother cannot breast-feed good substitute dried milk is available.

In the 18th Century parents could have no confidence that their children could be born safely and thrive.

About a quarter of all marriages were childless, half of these through infertility, the others due to the early death of the children. Many lower class women were several months pregnant when they were married. This was partly due to the need to be sure of fertility before the marriage was undertaken.

The risk of death in childbirth increases with the number of pregnancies especially after the fifth. This combines with the extra dangers faced by older mothers. In this time before the use of birth control many pregnancies were the norm. One woman Mrs. Hodgson of York died aged thirty eight in her twenty fourth labour. Even the highest in the land were not exempt. The Duchess of Chandos though marrying as late as the age of thirty had nine children in fourteen years and four miscarriages, seven of her children died in infancy. Many tried to space their confinements by delaying weaning the previous infant, by coitus interruptus, or by refusing their husband access to their bed. Condoms were on sale in London but were used as protection against venereal disease by men using whores as described by Boswell in his “London Life”. Childbirth itself was a dangerous process. Any complications could have a fatal outcome. Sepsis and puerperal fever took many lives.

Even very poor women had some sort of birth attendant. This was partly due to a statute of 1647 which forbade the concealment of a birth. English midwives evidently had a good reputation as Mrs. Stanley a midwife in Savannah, Georgia who had delivered 128 babies decided to be delivered herself in England in 1737 rather than trust herself to the other midwives of Georgia. Labours were difficult and there were few painkillers. An obstructed delivery could led to the death of both mother and child since Caesarean sections were not successfully performed until the nineteenth century.

The greatest man-midwife of the century was the Scot William Smellie (1697-1763), who came to London in 1739. His “Treatise on Midwifery” appeared in 1752 and gave a clear account of the mechanism of labour. He had attended 1150 cases himself. He laid down good rules for practice. He taught about 900 students. His most famous pupil was another Scot, William Hunter (1718-1783).who did much to improve midwifery.

Women of substance would go from the country to the town for the birth to benefit from these more skilled doctors. Theresa Parker of Saltram in Devon wrote;

“Mr. Parker begins to grow uneasy at my staying so long in the Country, but I am convinced I am safe if I am in Town by the 1st of October I am not desirous of going sooner than necessary, tho’ in reality I have no objection than that of leaving the little boy a week earlier.”

In fact the child was born before she could leave the country. Fever followed and a few weeks later she was dead. After the birth the mother unless in poor circumstances spent several weeks in bed. During this time she received visits from friends and neighbours. This period ended with Churching a service of thanks for the safe delivery of the infant.

Baptism took place within hours if the child was likely to die, otherwise usually days later.

If the Mother did not have milk, or was of high social status, a wet nurse was employed, that is another mother who had recently given birth and was feeding her own child. The wet nurse usually came from a lower social class and did not usually live in the child’s house, only the richest parents could afford to keep the wet nurse in their home; so most often the infant was sent from his parents’ home to live in the wet nurse’s home for weeks or months until weaning was possible. The musician Stevens mentions arrowroot, a pure nutritious starch, as a very early food for his son, this foreshadows the fine starchy foods which are still the first solid items to be offered to infants on weaning.

Wet nursing resulted in the child living in unhygienic conditions, and the possibility of being exposed to even more dangers to his health. Yet parents living in cities believed they were giving them a good start by sending them to live with a wet nurse in the country.

Dr. Peter Oliver’s entry that his wife suffered from sore nipples reminds us that some breast feeding problems have existed from time immemorial and the mothers of our century will empathise with women of earlier times as this problem still troubles them and little has been suggested to alleviate it. The use of a wet nurse was not confined to cases of necessity. In the higher social classes it was an accepted procedure. The quality of the wet nurse varied from excellent in a few cases to tolerable in most and a hazard to the child’s life in others. William Hickey became very fond of his, but both doctors Claver Morris and Peter Oliver had very bad experiences.

The period after the birth was referred to as the confinement until recently and it was literally so in earlier times. We see Mrs. Morris was kept in her bedroom and probably in bed for two weeks after her son’s birth. Another two weeks passed before she left the house to be churched. After this rite a woman would slowly resume normal life. Another 18th Century woman Mrs. Custance referred to in Nancy Woodford’s diary was in bed for months after one child birth due to complications.

Thomas Marchant’s diary illustrates the vast number of children who died soon after birth even the one who survived to become a student died then of smallpox.


Dr. Morris lived from 1659-1726/7.

In an age of very little medical training, of barbers as surgeons and quacks galore his qualifications were outstanding. He was an Oxford BA, MA, and MD. He was effectively a consultant to wealthy people who lived over a wide area within reach of Wells.

He made up the medicines he prescribed in his own laboratory.

His three marriages brought him wealth and land. He became a prominent citizen in Wells. In 1706 he was appointed a Commissioner for Land Tax, in 1709 he became a Commissioner for Sewers. He was also a District Commissioner for collecting the tax imposed on Catholics and a Burgess of Wells.

His hobby was music and he belonged to a musical society which met weekly to perform contemporary music. Every year they performed Purcell’s Cecilia music on that saint’s day. By his second marriage he had a daughter. In 1709 his third wife gave birth to a son to his great joy. This son, though he survived his father, was never strong and died in his 30th year. Morris records that in 1712 he had to dismiss a nurse, Hester Harding, to whom he gave £1-5s,;

“because put off for having the King’s Evil (i.e. scrofula) and infecting my little son with it whom she attended,”

This entry shows that though their nature was quite unknown, the Infectivity of the so-called scrofulous lesions was recognised.

The great lexicographer Samuel Johnson suffered the same bad start. This affected his health and appearance all his life. Morris’ diary records the event.

17 October 1709

“About 6 a clock my wife began to fall in labour.” 20 October 1709 “At 20 or 22 minutes after 6 in the morning exactly, my wife was very happily delivered of a son. I had many congratulations on that occasion: and in the evening Mr. Mills, Mr. Henry Gapper, & Mr. Henry Purchase were with me & we were merry but temperately so, & play’d >”Drink if you please.”

The baby was well enough to avoid immediate baptism in the house. Ten days later Morris wrote: 27 October 1709

“My son was at Evening Service Baptiz’d by the name William in the Cathedral at Wells.

Colonel Berkeley & Colonel Prowse, for Major Brag, with Bishop Hooper’s lady and my sister Farewell for my sister Leigh were suretys [Obsolete word for sponsor] I had a great company both of men and women at mine house (especially men) & some of them staid with me till 4 a clock next morning & seem’d very well pleas’d with their entertainment. Colonel Berkeley (my house being full ) lodg’d with me in my Bed.”

In the 18th Century it was not unusual for people of the same sex to share a bed. Difficulties of transport made overnight stays necessary and people of necessity tolerated sharing rooms and beds. William had a baptism appropriate to his father’s social status, one of the sponsor’s being the Bishop’s wife. Mrs. Morris followed the custom of spending two weeks after the birth in bed. This practice survived until the 20th Century among reasonably affluent people.

2 November 1709

“My Wife went out of ye Parlour Chamber & walked a little in the Hall-Chamber, being the 17th day after her Delivery.”

17 November 1709

“My Wife was Churched by Mr. Mills. She was carried in a Sedan & was clad in a Vail. No woman went with her but Mrs Rogers, the Midwife. Mr. Mills dined with us. My son Will went to Mrs. Poor to Nurse.” [one month old]

29 November 1709

“I visited Mrs. Poor & my Son.” Churching is the ceremony of going to church to give thanks, most notably after a safe childbirth.

5 December 1709

“My Son was very ill of the gripes. [Intermittent spasmodic pain of the bowel ] I went to him & order’d a Clyster [A medicine injected into the rectum] & some medicines for the Wind & he was much better.” Years later Dr. Morris refers to the weaning of his grandson.

26 July 1725 >

“I lent my Calesh & Servant to carry Mr Burland, my Daughter, & Molley to Mr Newman’s at Cadbury, to stay some time while Jacky is weaning.” .

Thomas Marchant’s bald recording of the facts of his childrens’ illnesses and deaths seems to indicate a lack of feeling. This was not the case. Religious teaching affected people very strongly and taught them to submit to the will of God, however hard. Diaries often expressed the need to accept the will of God which was seen to control these events. So it was customary not to express openly the grief and torment which most parents felt internally. By such fortitude one was working towards one’s own salvation. A similar acceptance of fate was expressed by Dr. Oliver when writing of the birth of his first child.

Thomas Marchant

A Sussex yeoman farmer 5 September 1715

“Paid William Nicholas 1s.6d. for raising the graves of my four deceased children Ann b.1706, d.1706 Mary b.1707, d.1707 Thomas b. 1703 ,d.1707 James b.1710, d.1711

10 September 1715

“My wedding day. We have been married 15 years today”

24 September1715

“My wife brought to bed of a girl. May went to Cuckfield Mill with Mrs. Howard. I gave her 5s. and my wife gave her a guinea.”

May would have been out to fetch the midwife.

4 October1715

“My daughter Ann christened. Mr Hart was godfather, Mrs. White and my sister Nanny godmothers. Mr. Sixsmith christened her here, at home, on account of the bad weather.”

26 February 1728

“Marrian set out for Oxford to bring J.Marchant home, on account of the smallpox , which is much there.”

29 February 1728

“Marrion returned from Oxford without John, who had caught, and was laid up with smallpox.”

1 April 1728

“A letter from Mr. Ratcliff, of Oxford, to inform us that John has come out with and is very full of the smallpox and that it is a very bad sort.”

8 April 1728

“Thos. Elvey and Marrian returned from Oxford, and brought us the sad news that John Marchant died on friday night last, about 11 o’clock.”

John had been intending to take Holy Orders. Thomas Marchant presented the living of Rusper to Mr Marten

“which he is to resign, should either of my sons take Orders, and I took a bond of him to this effect.”

This was on 7 December 1721.

#Dr. Thomas Wilson

A typical Whig clergyman of his time, he was the son of the saintly bishop of Sodor and Man. His early life was taken up with seeking preferment and he eventually became rector of St. Stephens, Walbrook. He married his widowed cousin, a marriage which appears to have been happy except for the death at one year of their only child. During the 18th century midwives were slowly beginning to be superseded by men. The Reverend Dr. Thomas Wilson gives an early and rare example of both being present at a birth and the competition between them.

Tuesday 18 March 1734-5

“This morning about 6 my dear wife began to be in labour. I went immediately for Dr. Bamber to be present at the labour and he came at 8. At 14 minutes after eleven she was delivered by Mrs. Gates of Gower Street of a fine boy, with very little pain. God be praised for his mercies. The Dr. was afraid some of the skirts of the after burthen was left behind by the midwife’s being so very quick, and pulling it with the child away at the same time, which is very wrong practice.

“In the afternoon I wrote to Mr.Thoresby to give me leave to baptise my child privately, afraid of any mischance, intending, God willing, to present him publickly in the Church. Baptised him by the name of Thomas.

Wednesday 19th

“My wife much better and the child in a fair way to do well.”

Thursday 20th

“Dr. Bamber came here and found all very well.”

Friday 21st

“I measured my boy and he was 27 inches long. My dear wife tried to suckle her little one but her nipples were so sore and so small that the child could not get hold of them and so I hope it will be pardoned for I know that it is every woman’s duty to nurse her own child.”

Monday 24th

“My dear wife taken with a disorder like the Stranguary” (a disease of the urinary organs, slow and painful emissions of urine.) “I am afraid she got cold by having her room washed this morning.”

Tuesday 25th

“My Molly made water freer but had a great forcing afterwards. I am afraid her midwife did her some injury. She drunk Emulsion.”

Wednesday 26th

“Still the same disorder, weak, restless, no stomack, drinks Emulsion. I cut my finger to the bone.”

Thursday 27th

“The same disorder, tho’ a little better.”

Friday 28th

“I would have sent for Dr. Bamber, but she did not care for it.”

After a great forcing of water on Saturday he sent on Sunday for Dr. Bamber. He ordered her

“A stoupe of warm spices and white wine twice a day and spermatic tea draught every six hours.”

On the following Tuesday she was still feverish and he ordered 25 Gr. Of Gascoin’s powder and 25 Gr. of Crabbs Eyes every 6 hours. By 7th April she was improving. Dr Bamber came and ordered the Spermacetea draught and the Gascoin’s powder every 8 hours. But Dr. Wilson’s cut finger was very much inflamed. By Friday 20th April all was much better.

“My dear boy was received in Newington church by Mr. Thoresby. Father Patten (his Wife’s father) stood himself. Mr. Hayward for my father and Aunt Jackson for Cousin Thomas Patten’s wife.”

The priest Mr. Thoresby was the son of the diarist Ralph Thoresby.

Mrs. Pendarves

(later Mrs. Delany) Lived from 1700-1788 She was the niece of Lord Lansdowne. In 1718 her family forced her to marry an old man Alexander Pendarves. She was seventeen. Her husband died in 1724 leaving her with nothing but her jointure. She repelled suitors including Lord Baltimore.

From 1731-1733 she visited Ireland with her friend Mrs. Donnellan. She met Dr. Delany and Dean Swift with whom she occasionally corresponded after returning to England. In 1743 Delany came to England expressly to ask her to be his wife. Her noble friends and her brother were indignant at this misalliance, but she resolved this time to have her way and was married on June 9. 1743. They lived happily until Delany’s death in 1768.

She was introduced to the royal family, and George III called her his “dearest Mrs. Delany.” She became well known for her flower work,and for paper mosaic cut out of bits of coloured paper. It was praised by Darwin in his >”Love of the Plants”. Between 1774 when she began it and 1784, when her eyesight had failed she had finished nearly one thousand specimens some can be seen in the British Museum today..

We get some idea of the preparations for a new baby from the letters of Mrs. Pendarves. No easy visit to Mothercare for ready made garments. Long nightdresses reaching well below the infants feet were cut out and sewn at home and the same long dresses were used in the day by both boys and girls. Such long nightdresses were still in use in the 1950s for the first 6 months. The change came when new materials with greater elasticity led to the all in one baby garment the “babygrow”. This was followed by babies being dressed in cut down versions of current adult clothes and fashionable materials like denim which would have been considered too rough for a baby’s tender skin by our ancestors.

To her sister Mrs. Dewes April 23. 1741

“I will get myself perfectly informed of the new dress for the bantling, that I may instruct you when I come to Gloucester. I have sent you four yards of course long lawn, and two yards of finer for the little nightcaps, etc.; I suppose you will line the cradle with dimity or white calico, quilted…as for pins, I think you must pay the compliment to Gloucester of buying pins there.”

November 12. 1742 to her sister

“I am as much perplexed for you as you can be for yourself in regard to my godson, but I think you can be reconciled to the nurse’s house, that the story you have heard can be no great objection, but will for the future make her more careful, as she seems a good sort of woman. A deaf nurse is not to be endured; the poor little dear may make his little moans, and have a thousand uneasinesses that she will hear nothing of.”

February 28. 1745-6 Delville to her sister

“Mrs. Viney tells me you are better than you have ever been yet, and that my niece eats paps purely. It will save some trouble if you can bring her up by hand, and since she is naturally so stout I believe it may perhaps be done.”

March 8. 1745-6 Delville

“I am very glad my niece Mary takes so well to her food; I don’t see why it should not rear her up as it did me.”

The system of wet nursing could produce excellent results both in the health of the child and in providing happy early years as seen in William Hickey: Memoirs of a Georgian Rake.

#William Hickey


William Hickey, a man who loved good company and pleasure, sowed his wild oats in London. He spent 27 years in India, as an attorney at the Supreme Court in Calcutta. He claimed that the object of the Court was to counteract the prevalent notion that Europeans could with impunity harass the natives. He worked hard and like others there at that time was very well rewarded. He kept 60 servants including an Italian hairdresser. He was fortunate in escaping the many fevers which overcame most Europeans and returning to retire in Beaconsfield in 1807 where he wrote the story of his many adventures.

“I made my appearance …on the 30th of June 1749. I was soon pronounced a most lovely child. My mother had suckled the first three infants herself, but, this being deemed prejudicial to her health, she was forbid continuing it, and I was therefore sent to be nursed at Hampstead, at a clean and neat cottage, the property of a respectable old woman named Page, from the breast of whose daughter, Ann Page (for she had married a person of her own name), I drew my nourishment. Ann Page was an uncommonly beautiful creature, who also adored me….At Hampstead I remained until nearly four years old, when my first breeches were put on, and I was then taken away from my dearly loved, ‘sweet Ann Page’, the separation from whom wrung my little heart with the first sorrow it ever felt, nor did I ever forget her extreme affection for me”.

A different aspect of childbirth is dealt with by James Lackington. In the 18th Century paternity was assumed on the allegation of the pregnant woman. Some innocent men must have suffered but in this case events saved Lackington.

#James Lackington

James Lackington was a man from the humblest of backgrounds who taught himself to read after his conversion to Methodism. He rose so far as to become one of the most well known and biggest London bookseller. Instead of destroying books which did not sell well he sold them cheaply thus starting the modern way of selling remainders. Lackington, then a journeyman shoemaker, left his mistress at Taunton after a quarrel and made his way by stages to Bristol. Later:

“The Taunton carrier gave me a letter from my good (former) mistress Bowden. The contents of this letter very much surprised me. It informed me that a day or two before I fell out with my last mistress…Betty Tucker, a common lass, had sworn a child to me; that the parish officers had been at my Mother’s shop within an hour after I had left to go to Wellington, and they had been at Wellington just as I had left that place, and afterwards hearing that I was in Bridgewater, they had pursued me thither. But the morning they arrived I had set off for Exbridge; and believing that I had intentionally fled before them, they had given over this chase for the present…I was weak enough to imagine that a kind of miracle had been wrought to save me from a prison, or to save me from living with a woman I could not bear the idea of living with a single week..I had not any knowledge of her being with child (not having seen her for three months before). This girl was delivered about two months afterwards of a still-born child, so that I was never troubled for expenses.”

Elizabeth Drake’s advice that Mrs. Wrightson should feed her baby herself indicates that towards the end of the 18th Century ideas about the use of wet nurses were changing in good Society.

Towards the end of the century people in higher social circles were evidently accepting the idea that breast feeding by the mother was much better for the child than wet nursing. Mrs. Drake to Miss Heber Mary Heber of Weston 1758-1809 Not a diarist nor a letter writer but a recipient of many letters which throw light on her time. They were published as >”Dear Miss Heber” edited by Francis Bamford in 1936. The letters were found in a trunk in Weston, Northamptonshire by Sir Sacheverell Sitwell. Mary Heber’s portrait, a miniature by Richard Cosway shows her as delicate and beautiful. Among her correspondents was Lady Banks, wife of Sir Joseph, the naturalist and botanist.

Elizabeth Drake

Elizabeth Drake was wife of Francis William Drake, Vice Admiral of the Red, 2nd son of Sir Francis Henry Drake, 4th Bt. A descendant of the Elizabethan Sir Francis Drake.

Tuesday 20 May 1788

“I much wish to see your little Niece, but hope that you will not admit anyone for a fortnight at least to visit your Sister, [Harriot Wrightson] as her future health depends greatly on her being kept quiet. I hope she means to nurse the dear little Girl herself, for I am sure it will be a great pleasure to her, and of advantage both to her health and the child.”

Mrs. Wrightson to Mary Heber Swalcliffe. 8 March 1789

“The child has now pretty quiet nights, but that nasty humour still continues & has lately disguised her amazing by breaking out in scabs on her face. She yesterday became possess’d of a 7th Tooth, which like the former she cut with ease. She is remarkably quick in understanding everything that is said to her.”

Mrs. Drake to Miss Heber Decr. 1789 “…I feel inconceivable pleasure at your sister being so well and able to perform what I think the duty of every Mother to her little Boy, who will, I dare say, thrive much better than if he had a wet nurse.”

Mrs. Drake to Miss Heber Hillingdon Heath. 17 Febry. 1793

“…Mr. Fane and Lady Elizabeth [her sister] came; their four daughters with them. Augusta is the name of the youngest: she has had three Wet Nurses and none gave satisfaction, so the old Lying in nurse came here with her, and she is fed with pap made of Asses’ milk and it seems to agree with her for she looks extremely healthy and well.”

#Dr.Peter Oliver

Dr. Oliver was born in 1741 and raised in Boston, New England. He was a Loyalist and left his home for England in 1776 when the danger from rioters became unbearable for supporters of George 111 He attended lectures at the Royal College of Surgeons by John Hunter. Though very well qualified he does not mention practising in England . He settled in Birmingham and devoted himself to bringing up his three children after the death of his wife. His wife and two of his children died of tuberculosis.

“On the 7th Day of Jany. 1771 early in the morning Mrs. Oliver was delivered of a fine Girl. She was put to bed as well as any Woman whatever & had a fine getting up, but little milk & the Child throve but poorly, however at 5 months old it was weaned, it then grew very fast was a great favourite with everybody whereupon I thought myself exceeding happy but immediately gave it up to the Care of Heaven as it was only lent me.” [Margaret Hutchinson Oliver, first child and only daughter known as Peggy. The last sentence seems to suggest she died in infancy, but must have been a pious sentiment as Peggy lived to be a young woman, but only just.] “In July the 15th 1772 Mrs. Oliver was brought to bed of a son [Thomas H. Oliver] a good Travail, but the child weak and feable. She made out to suckle it & did well only she was severely troubled with sore nipples.”

23 Sept. 1774

“Mrs. Oliver was brought to bed of another son a fine hearty boy.” This was Peter. These children were born in Middleborough, Mass. Their parents had been born in Boston. The family fled to England in 1776.The chapter on parents and children tells more of their childhood.”

April 19th 1775

“The fatal Battle of Lexington which blocked us up in Boston.”

June 17th

“Following: the fatal battle of Bunker’s Hill We remained blocked up in Boston till the beginning of March 1776 when we were ordered to embark. Governor Hutchinson’s Family [Oliver’s wife was Sally Hutchinson] went aboard the Hyde pacquet for England.

March 25 1776

“We set sail for England after a tedious passage of 35 days we arrived at Falmouth the last day of April following. The day before we set sail from Nantucket Tommy’s Wife was delivered of a boy which had not a drop of milk during the whole passage was much emaciated & no one thought it would have lived- the Lady well. As to myself I was sick 21 days without any support reduced almost to a skeleton- 7 children on board ship & the oldest not 6 years old.”

They landed in Falmouth and on 6 May 15 of them set out in Post Chaises and came to London.”

12 May

“to St. James St at the Govrns.”

23 Dec. 1778

“Mrs. Oliver was delivered of a fine boy christened Daniel & the same complaint of the breast [sore nipples] from suckling.”

April 1 1779

“I inoculated the child at 4 months old but what with the Death & the anxiety of its Mother he was so loaded with it that it killed him-26 days from inoculation.”

Dr. Oliver’s agony and grief at the loss of his wife and subsequently his children is intimated by his manner of writing the date, the month and days of the life. They are noted as if he is meditating on each day the life lasted as precious and pointing the gulf between those days and a barren future. He seems not to have remarried .At that time it would have been highly unusual for a widower with 4 children, one an infant, not to have remarried rather quickly. He lived as what today is called a single parent, mainly in lodgings which he changed frequently. This sounds uncomfortable, but house ownership was rare at that time when most people would rent houses,

18 May 1780

“Mrs. Oliver delivered of a son- put to bed well but in 3 days she faltered. Mrs. Oliver grew worse faster every day ’till she died which was the 28th of June past 3 o’clock in the morning. That day I compleated my 39th Year. She was 36 Years & 7 months old. She died perfectly resigned to the Will of Heaven, but in great agony of body.”

July 3

“She was buried in Croydon Church next to her Father.”

July 21

“I set off with a wet Nurse and my 4 children for Oxford.”

July 22

“From Oxford to Birmingham.” [where his father now lived.]


“I put my two oldest boys to School at Winson Green under the care of Mr. Pickering.”

July 27

“I put my daughter to school at Moseley in Worcester.[now South Birmingham] under the care of Mrs. Henrison. & the Nurse & Baby in New Hall Street. Thus I had disposed of my Children in the best manner I possibly could. It appeared at first hard to part with them but I have got reconciled at last to it-but the pleasing reflection I had of seeing them often was soon turned to sorrow for my dear little Infant who was very near my heart particularly was drooping in a few weeks after I had got lodgings for it and finally was seized with convulsions the 20th August, lay in that state till the morning of 27th, 3 o’clock and then died in the greatest agony. I had it opened by Tomlinson Its Lungs, Heart, Diaphragm, Stomach & Intestines & all its Viscera were in the soundest state–whatever produced the fits was something on the Brain which could not have been perceived if we had opened its head. I moved the 29th August to High Street opposite New Street at Mrs. Ballard’s one bedroom only at 3/6d. per week for the Hotel.” [bed without board]

August 30th

“I buried my little baby the Northside of St.Philip’s Church [now Cathedral] near the Vaults 6 feet deep. Mr. James read Prayers.”

August 31. “I paid off and dismissed Nurse Dove hoping never to see her again.”

[The deep burial of the infant is an indication of the care of his father. The note on the dismissal of the nurse suggests that at the least Dr. Oliver thought her care of the child inadequate.]

R.J.S. Stevens

Organist and song writer Stevens was trained as a choir boy, became a glee club singer, and a private teacher. His fortune improved after Lord Thurlow, the Lord Chancellor, engaged him to teach his daughter Caroline. His love story deserves a place among the more extraordinary stories of devotion. More details are in the chapter on music.

Just over thirty years after Peter Oliver’s last baby was born an only son and first born child was born to a 43 year old mother. On August 7th 1811 Anna-Maria Stevens gave birth to a son after a labour of only 4 hours. Considering her age and that it was her first pregnancy all went well and quickly. Stevens got the apothecary, Mr. Spry to his wife in time to assist her, then spent the rest of the night walking about in search of a doctor, arriving back with Dr. Sims half an hour too late.

“When I saw my dearest Woman, I was happy to find her much better than I expected. My son looked very small, but cried stoutly, which I thought a sign of strength. My Footman, John Farndell, was exceedingly active in going to our nurse Mrs. Howard: by his exertion she was at the Charterhouse time enough to dress the child. Mrs. Gunn who slept at Charterhouse was likewise very attentive to Anna while I was absent before Mrs. Howard’s arrival.”

Thursday August the 8th

“It was discovered that the child had not strength sufficient to draw his Mother’s Milk. We then applied to Mrs. Greenwood, who was suckling her infant, and she came occasionally to my Son; all of us thinking that her milk would flow much easier than my dearest Anna’s milk.”

Monday August the 12th

“My dearest Anna -Maria, and my Son were gaining strength every day: this continued to the 15th of August. On Friday the 16th of August, we did not think the Child quite so well, and I applied to the Reverend Arthur Trollope of Christ’s Hospital, and Curate of St. Botolph, Aldersgate, to half baptize my son. This he did in the morning by the names Richard George.” Saturday August the 17th “We were advised by Mr. Croft (I believe very foolishly) to have a wet nurse for my Son. We engaged one, Sarah Cole her name. Notwithstanding this engagement, Mrs. Greenwood came to the Child occasionally, and her son John Greenwood used to draw Anna’s breast, having more strength than my Son Richard.. ”

Sunday August the 18th, “I thought my dearest Anna-Maria and my Son Richard were in better health. They both gained strength daily! and on Tuesday August the 20th, Mr. Croft said, “my little boy was now perfectly safe”. We parted with Sarah Cole our wet nurse, this day, as it was thought her milk did not agree with Richard.”

Friday the 23rd of August

“Mr. Croft recommended Anna to have another Wet Nurse to my little boy, as Anna’s milk was still so backward. He mentioned an Irish woman to her, and she agreed to come to us immediately; at the same time this woman came to the Charterhouse, and Anna saw her she gave her a Dollar. the woman was so base, as never to come to us afterward!”

Sunday the 25th August

“We had a third wet nurse to my Son. Anna’s milk was notwithstanding every effort, so backward. Her name I have forgotten. She would not let my Son have more than the produce of one of her breasts; she brought her child with her. not withstanding this, the child got forward with a little of her milk, and a good supply of arrowroot.”

Thursday the 29th of August

“Anna and myself, were determined that our son Richard,should endeavour to suck his mother. The child was a little griped at the first operation, but according to Mr. Spry’s strong advice, by perseverance, and the greatest attention on the part of my dearest woman, the child did succeed in getting his nourishment from his Mother’s breasts.”

The 31st of August, Saturday

“My dearest Anna came down into the dining room for the first time since her confinement. My son was improving every day in health, in consequence of having his Mother’s milk. This day we discharged the 3rd Wet Nurse as she was of no use to us. She was a very fine lady.”

This account illustrates very clearly the difficulties of feeding babies when there was no alternative to breast milk either from the mother or some other lactating mother who was willing to feed both her own and some other child. A slightly unusual aspect of this case is that the two women Anna & Mrs Greenwood at times exchanged babies to enable the weaker child to suckle from the woman whose milk flowed more easily. Today with the epidemic of AIDS hospitals do not allow stronger mothers to help in this way. The Stevens were clearly desperate in trying every possibility both breast-feeding and wet nursing and in engaging one wet nurse after another. Two weeks later Anna Maria became ill with violent night perspiration. The child also began to droop. Stevens consulted Dr. Babington who recommended leaving London immediately. They went to Mr. Jeffery’s house in Peckham, at that time a village in the country. During the next fortnight Stevens feared he would lose both of them, but on

Sunday the 22nd of September

“Our dear little treasure was thought to be better! a very great comfort to his anxious father and mother, and all Mr. Jeffery’s family.” Happily this much loved child survived to manhood. The birth saga ended with the Churching of Anna in the parlour of their house at Charterhouse on October the 8th. This private ceremony seems odd as the purpose of Churching was to give public thanks and marked the woman’s return to the community after childbirth. Richard was weaned on August 11th, four days after his first birthday.

The last extract is an amusing account of a consequence of breast feeding which was a little embarrassing to the gentleman, a clergyman in the early 19th century. The writer Eliza was wife of the speaker of the House of Commons, later Viscount Hampden.

Eliza Brand to her husband Henry Brand

August 25th 1844. Glynde

“Dearest Henry I went yesterday to see the small St. Croix, a very nice baby but there is some difficulty about the nursing. Mrs St. Croix told me in a plaintive voice that she had sat up in bed four hours in the early morning trying to make the baby eat as it should in vain. At last she was obliged to send for William to pump out some milk for it. I looked naturally a little surprised. Oh! she said I have a little air pump to do it with, but cannot manage it myself. I laughed internally, fancy the dear William pumping. I must say it strikes me as rather a queer occupation for a gentleman.” [Mr. St, Croix had recently become vicar at Glynde.]

Note Breast pumps were used to relieve breast engorgement. Some mid-Victorian examples consisted of decorative brass pumps, with a shaped milk reservoir stored in a polished velvet lined mahogany case. Women who fed babies well after the eruption of teeth needed the protection of nipple shields which were made in sterling silver, glass, pewter and rarely boxwood.

The use of wet nurses virtually ceased in the19th Century after the invention of formulas to replace breast milk. The first was invented in 1869 by Justus von Liebig and was mixed with cows milk. Henri Nestle later created a formula which was mixed with cows milk. Formulas have continued to improve but today the mother28s breast milk is considered to be the best option for a baby. Medicine too has made great progress so that in the West today it is unusual for a baby not to survive infancy.


The first printed evidence we have of Chocolate being used in London is in the notice in the Public Advertiser in 1657:

In Bishopsgate St is an excellent West India drink called chocolate to be sold, where you may have it ready at any time, and also unmade at reasonable rates.

By the end of the Commonwealth in 1659, Thomas Rugge, a London diarist, was writing in his Journal about coffee, chocolate and tea as new drinks in London, and referring to chocolate as ‘a harty drink in every street’.

Charles II’s physician Henry Stubbe wrote ‘The Indian Nectar’ in praise of chocolate. He said there were two qualities of chocolate- ordinary and royal. The royal variety which the King enjoyed was rich in cocoa, and not too sugary. Samuel Pepys wrote in his diary on 24 April 1661 that in order to allay his appalling hangover, following the festivities surrounding the coronation of Charles II, he drank chocolate as a morning-after cure:

“Waked in the morning with my head in a sad taking through the last night’s drink, which I am very sorry for; so rose, and went with Mr Creed to drink our morning draught which he did give me in Chocolate to settle my stomach.”

During the 18th Century there was a great increase in the consumption of chocolate throughout Europe. It was not long before cocoa suffered the same fate as tea and coffee and had duties imposed upon it. All chocolate, at this time to be made into drinking chocolate, had to be wrapped in stamped papers supplied by excise men and then sealed proving tax had been paid.

By 1800 the tax was two shillings in the pound on cocoa imported from British Colonies. So its use was restricted to the well off and chocolate became a feature of the daily life of the smart set. Addison wrote in the Spectator that its use was considered a token of elegant and fashionable taste. Beautiful sets of china were made for the service of chocolate. Some can be seen in the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Much chocolate was supplied not by specialists but by grocers. the Russells of Bloomsbury used a grocer who supplied them with many other products.

Likewise the Purefoys, a landed Buckinghamshire family used an agent to buy things not produced on their estate and he bought chocolate from a grocer called Moulson.

Mrs. Purefoy, a determined lady, kept a close eye on the transactions of her agent. On one occasion she wrote that the chocolate was so bitter and highly dried that she could not drink it. perhaps the grocer had heated it too long or too quickly. Her complaint illustrates the variations in quality which one might expect from small workshops.

One superior grocer who supplied chocolate was a woman, Teresa Mocenni of Sienna. She was the friend and supplier of the Countess of Albany, the widow of Bonnie Prince Charlie, when she lived in Florence.

Letters written by the Countess echo this awareness of variation in the recipe and quality of the chocolate.

21 November 1797 she wrote saying the chocolate was good but she preferred more vanilla.

25 July 1798

“the chocolate would be as good as Livornese if it were worked a little more and smoother.”

Again on 25 April 1801 she asked for chololate pastilles saying,

“Put in as much Vanilla as you can. I would prefer to have the best Chocolate even if it is dear,”

We have seen that chocolate was drunk and valued by the upper classes and beyond the reach of the lower classes, but the middle classes?

For them it was a rare luxury.

A lawyer called Burrell living on the then large income of £300 a year kept a diary between 1692 and 1711, in which he mentions the new hot chocolate drink twice only, once as a gift and once when he drank chocolate in London.

The account book of Sarah Fell of Swarthmoor hall, includes this entry:

“I penny was spent on chocolata” in November 1675.

She was married to George Fox, founder of the Society of Friends. This may well be the first known reference to a Quaker in connection with Chocolate.

Middle class people living in the country relied on travelling tradesmen for goods not produced locally.

One was the Reverend William Cole who was visited from time to time by the Cartwright Brothers, who were lace buyers visiting their workers. On one occasion Cole records in the Bletchley Diaries that they brought him 2 pounds of chocolate. It was not clear whether this was a gift or in exchange for some other service.

Clearly some middle class families did obtain chocolate, but the supply was infrequent and not to be relied upon.

One young lady, Miss Elizabeth Cartwright, who lived on the edge of Nottingham, wrote teasing letters to her good friend Mr. Dodsley. He had failed to arrive on two occasions when she was expecting him.

“…the Chocolate ready, the Balm Tea prepared, my cap put on much tighter than usual; all this done on two mornings together, yet no Mr. Dodsley appeared.

The accounts of Abraham Dent, who kept a grocers, mercers and stationers shop in Kirkby Stephen, indicate that chocolate usage in the 18th Century in the North of England was minimal. Between 1762 and 1765 tea appears often, coffee rarely and chocolate only once.

The middle and lower classes would have to wait until the twentieth century when reductions in taxation, large scale manufacturing, improvements in processing and transport would finally enable them to enjoy chocolate.

One exception was the navy. As early as 1780 it was served to British sailors by Captain James Ferguson, who had enjoyed drinking cocoa while the fleet was anchored in Antigua, in the British West Indies. He and the ship’s surgeon understood the nutritional value of cocoa, and as a dried provision it was ideally suited to long sea voyages. Limes provided essential vitamin C, therely preventing scurvy while coca provided a whole gamut of other vitamins and minerals as well as valuable and nourishing proteins and fats. the comfort and stimulation afforded by the drink to men taking the night watch must have been considerable.

By 1824 the cocoa issue or CI was instituted in the Navy , and each man received his daily ration, a one ounce block of chocolate along with his rum and limes.

Dr. Hans Sloane who we have already encountered as the friend of diarist and antiquarian Ralph Thoresby, both at the Royal Society and afterwards at the Grecian Coffee house, valued chocolate highly for its restorative qualities. He was the first person to try mixing it with milk. This was a closely guarded secret remedy, which was sold to an apothecary after some years. The secret was eventually bought by the Cadbury Brothers in 1824. They subsequently successfully mass-marketed it. Hans Sloane had already made himself a considerable fortune, and invested some of it in cocoa plantations in Jamaica, where he had first observed its dramatic effects in reviving sickly babies.

His ideas were evidently shared by Dr. Claver Morris, who we shall see in the following extracts dosing himself with chocolate in times of indisposition. Dr. Morris, however, rarely referred to meals in his diaries.

Dr. C Morris

21 Feb 1721

“Mr. Hill, Mr. Lucas, & I went to Mr. Burland’s [his son in law] to see his and his wife’s Pictures, & Breakfasted on Chocolate.”

8 August 1726

He was very ill with Rheumatick fever, cough, mucous ,loosing weight.

“I could not eat anything all this day, but a Dish of Herb-Porridg for Dinner & a Dish of Chocalate & Bread weaken’d & thinn’d with Milk for Supper.”

9 August 1726

“I continued Ill with my Cold. Wrote a Prescription. I eat only all this day a Dish of Herb-Porridg, & in the Evening a dish of Chocalate & Milk with Bread.”

This was the last entry but one in his diary. The last entry was on August 12th. His diary editor Hobhouse says:

“Tea, coffee and chocolate were infrequent luxuries, though they were all known in England in Morris’ time and could be obtained at the coffee houses which first began to be established about 1650. Morris records as unusual: “I breakfasted on tea (at home)”. I breakfasted on chocolate (at Mr Burlands).” “I drank coffee at Mr Hillses (after morning church).”He also records purchases of tea in small amounts. In 1712 Bohea cost him 7s.6d for a quarter pound and green tea 5s. Chocolate was relatively much cheaper; he buys it at 3s 6d. and 4s. a pound, probably unground as he also purchases a chocolate mill for 6d.”

Dudley Rider regarded chocolate as a food so necessary that he delayed his journey with his cousins rather than start without it.

Dudley Rider

Wednesday , September 14, 1715.

“Rose between 6 and 7. Got myself ready for my journey to the Hay (Westbrook Hay, Herts. where his brother Richard had an estate) with Cousin Billio and his wife. At 7 o’clock cousin and his wife came. They would not stay to drink chocolate and so left me to follow them after having drank some chocolate.

Monday, September 26.

“We went then to visit Mr. Partridge and his wife: we were treated at his lodgings with tea and fruit and chocolate. Tuesday, September 18. Rose at between 5 and 6. Went to Mr. Marshall’s…drank some chocolate there.”

Mary Delany

Though an aristocrat , Mary Delany complained about the high price of chocolate.

October 5. 1727 to her sister

“Mrs. Badge nor I could not rightly understand you about the Bohea tea, for she does not remember she was ordered to bespeak any, and you say in your letter that I must send the Bohea tea that was bespoke and a pound more.

She imagines the tea Mama meant was “tea dust,” but she can’t get any for love nor money, but has bought two pound of Bohea, at thirteen shilling a pound, which the man says is extraordinarily good; but everything of that kind grows very dear, chocolate especially. I have sent you a pound at three and sixpence, the best in town at that price, but am afraid it is not such as my mother will like, but I desire her approbation of it as soon as she has tasted it. [Mrs. Granville having been brought up in Spain was particularly fond of chocolate.]

February 29. 1727-8 to her sister

“By monday’s coach I will send the chocolate and tea, and the new plays…”

March 12. 1728

“..I sent by a gentleman who came from Mr. Skin [a carrier] last Friday, three pounds of chocolate at four shillings per pound, one pound of Bohea thirteen shillings…when the lampreys come in , I shall be glad to have as many potts sent as will come to the money I have laid out in the chocolate and tea, which is twenty-five shillings.”

May 11. 1728 to her sister

“.. The man at the Poultry has tea of all prices,-Bohea from thirteen to twenty shillings, and green from twelve to thirty.”

April 19. 1729 to her sister

“I sent a little box last night to the carrier with a set of china as my mama ordered me: I hope they will come safely, I gave great charge about packing them carefully. China is risen mightily within this month. My Aunt Stanley liked them so well for the oddness of them, that she bought a set of cups, saucers, bason, sugar-dish and plate costing fourteen shillings.”

March 30. 1732 to her sister

“Yesterday we had an entertainment of another sort, and very agreeable in its way,-an assembly at Mrs. Butler’s. I played two pools at commerce: when that was over, at 10 o’clock was placed on little tables before the company as they sat, a large Japan board with plates of all sorts of cold meat neatly cut, and sweetmeats wet and dry, with chocolate, sago, jelly, and salvers of all sorts of wine. While we were eating fiddles were sent for.”

Mary Delaney gives us a vivid picture of life among the upper class. Difficult to imagine the pandemonium of all the activities she describes as going on simultaneously. But which of us would have imagined games, breakfast and harpsichord playing all taking place at the same time in the same hall without her witness? From that grandeur she shows us how simple her evening meals could be when she was alone. On a Thursday evening in 1740 it was chocolate and an egg.

April 5. 1733

To her sister from Dangan, the estate of Mr. Wesley. “We meet at breakfast about ten; chocolate, tea, coffee, toast and butter, and caudle, are devoured without mercy. The hall is so large that very often breakfast, battledore and shuttlecock, and the harpsichord go on at the same time without molesting one another.”

[See famous men file for party where Handel was served Chocolate.]

April 12. 1734} A thursday evening in 1740

Ann Granville, now Mrs. Dewes, to her sister Mrs. Pendarves, later Mrs. Delany, after her departure. “..To tell you what my heart feels of love and gratitude no day or night can suffice! I am going to drink your health in chocolate- your own dear chocolate, shall eat my egg and go to sleep because it is the only way I can see you now..”

February 13. 1745-6 Mrs. Delany to Mrs. Dewes

“Today a strange gibble gabble woman has plagued me all the morning; I never was more provoked to be rude in my life. I crammed her with chocolate and plum-cake, and then sent her packing, but she has robbed me of what is not in her power to restore- a good hour of my time.” [Time to write letters to her sister was the most valuable of commodities.]

One cannot imagine am aristocrat living in lodgings in this century, but in the 18th century buying property was rather rare. It is unusual to see a precise description of the decoration of a small apartment, so the next extract is particularly interesting. The Cocoa Tree was a famous chocolate house.

15 January. 1746-7 Pall Mall

“My lodging consists of one parlour (staircase is light and easy) and a drawing room, a size larger than what I had in Clarges Street: tapestry hangings, crimson stuff damask curtains and chairs, and tolerable glasses between the windows. The bedchamber backwards, new and clean; crimson and yellow flaring hangings of paper and a bed of the same materials as the curtains in the dining room; but it looks into a pretty garden, and over the Prince of Wales’s into the park, which is cheerful and pleasant. The two pair of stair rooms and the garret are all very tolerable. The rent four guineas a week; the situation is next door to the Cocoa Tree, which is the direction to me.” This is to show the address in letters as house next to Cocoa Tree.

February 1750 Delville Mrs. Delany to Mrs. Dewes

“Sunday morning just as I was going to church, I heard a tantararara at the door, and in walked my Mrs. Hamilton, her eldest daughter, and two sons. They went to church and drank chocolate afterwards; but she never dines abroad and left me a little after two.”

The excitement must have been extraordinary at the ball where such efforts had been made to create the ambiance. Instead of servants carrying round the cups of chocolate however did they arrange pipes to deliver hot chocolate to the leaves of trees and what was done to stop the flow when the cups were full?

February 7. 1752 Delville “The grand ball was given last Wednesday…the musicians and singers were dressed like Arcadian shepherds and shepherdesses and placed among the rocks. If tea, coffee, or chocolate were wanting; you held your cup to a leaf of a tree, and it was filled; and whatever you wanted to eat or drink, was immediately found on a rock, or on a branch, or in the hollow of a tree. The waiters were all in whimsical dress.”

James Woodforde

James Woodforde a country clergyman, like many others who travelled was commissioned to buy chocolate and also records it as part of a special celebration.

3 October 1763

“Went to Sherborne this Morning early on purpose upon ye Grey to get me a Beaurou of one Hodinett a Cabinet-Maker and to get a pound of Cocoa for Mrs Melliar of C.Cary, of one Mr. Sanson.”

9 August 1763

“I went to Mrs Melliar’s publick Breakfast in the Vicarage Garden, where was Coffee, Tea & Chocolate & all kinds of Cakes & proper for the above (a very large Company there, a very good Band of Musick, Bells ringing, 80 loaves given to the Poor of Cary, every thing very elegant and handsome) all done in honour of Lord Stavordale being this day of Age. His Lordship is on his Travels abroad. There was dancing after breakfast in the Garden till three in the afternoon. I danced one Minuet in the Garden with Miss Martin, but would not dance Country Dances.”.

Dr. Hans Sloane who we have already encountered as the friend of diarist and antiquarian Ralph Thoresby, both at the Royal Society and afterwards at the Grecian Coffee house, valued chocolate highly for its restorative qualities. He was the first person to try mixing it with milk. This was a closely guarded secret remedy, which was sold to an apothecary after some years. The secret was eventually bought by the Cadbury Brothers in 1824. They subsequently successfully mass-marketed it. Hans Sloane had already made himself a considerable fortune, and invested some of it in cocoa plantations in Jamaica, where he had first observed its dramatic effects in reviving sickly babies. His ideas were evidently shared by Dr. Claver Morris, who we shall see in the following extracts dosing himself with chocolate in times of indisposition. Dr. Morris, however, rarely referred to meals in his diaries.

Chocolate was not generally available to the poorer classes until the 20th Century.

One exception was the navy. As early as 1780 it was served to British sailors by Captain James Ferguson, who had enjoyed drinking cocoa while the fleet was anchored in Antigua, in the British West Indies. He and the ship’s surgeon understood the nutritional value of cocoa, and as a dried provision it was idelaly suited to long sea voyages. Limes provided essential vitamin C, therely preventing scurvy while coca provided a whole gamut of other vitamins and minerals as well as valuable and nourishing proteins and fats. the comfort and stimulation afforde by the drink to men taking the night watch must have been considerable.

By 1824 the cocoa issue or CI was instituted in the Navy , and each man received his daily ration (a one ounce block of chocolate along with his rum and limes.

A curious use of Chocolate.

Private Parsons arrived at the Balaclava front in the Crimea in November 1852.

“chocolate also used to be sent out to us, this reaching us made up in the shape something like a big flat cheese. This chocolate we found would burn, so breaking it into pieces and piling stone around, we then would set fire to it, place our canteen on top and then wait for something warm, this being the only way we succeeded in doing so in the first few months.

Today chocolate is available in many forms varying from cheap basic to the most highly refined luxury products such as those sold by Rococo based on a single organic estates beans from Grenada. TEA and COFFEE TEA AND COFFEE Thomas Turner Shopkeeper

3 December 1755

‘Made an entry of my shop and kitchen to retail coffee, tea etc. and dated it as tomorrow’

By statute every retailer dealing in coffee, tea, cocoa or chocolate was required “before he take any of the said goods into his possession to make an entry in writing of all the store houses, shops, rooms, and other places intended to be used by him at the excise office for the division” on pain of forfeiting the goods plus £200 fine.

Travels of Faujas St. Fond 1784 Faujas visited Greenwich Observatory with a Committee of the Royal Society, was introduced to William Herschel, at four o’clock they adjourned to a tavern where dinner was served. “We rose from the table at seven o’clock not to depart, but to pass into another room, where cut bread and butter, tea, coffee, brandy and rum awaited us… the tea is always excellent in England; but nowhere do people drink worse coffee. The English must be little sensible of the delicious flavour of this agreeable beverage, which nature seems to have created to solace at once the body and the mind …Voltaire, who was extremely fond of coffee, called it with good reason the quintessence of the mind. Why then does the English government, for political and commercial reasons, prevent the people from using coffee which they might prepare according to their own taste, and compel them to purchase from monopolist dealers a kind of inferior quality, and bad flavour, which has been roasted a long time before …. I was so disgusted with the bad coffee which I found even in the most opulent of houses.

Smuggling and Customs Officers

Smuggling is a crime with an unusual status.

Although most crimes are abhorred by the middle classes smuggling was the exception which for reasons of economy and presumably of enjoying the thrill of taking a risk was regarded by them as the exception to their usual stance of not supporting illegal activities.

The temptation was great the excise duties were large and were levied on the goods which were an important part of the lifestyle of the well off -wine and spirits. If caught the smugglers suffered the penalties of the law. The £12,000 which Morris says Mr Bragge is to be fined sounds an enormous amount if considered in terms of today’s inflated equivalent.

The Smuggler’s trade could not have continued unless their social superiors bought from them. This they undoubtedly did as numerous diary entries testify.Those who bought the smuggled goods feared detection but it was very unlikely that they would be prosecuted in the same way as the smugglers, as is shown in the extract from Claver Morris’ diary. A further extract showed that the law could detect the perpetrators from time to time.( 26 Jan. 1726.) Thomas Turner admitted that he gave charity to a smuggler out of self interest. He feared that the Smuggler might inform the Customs that he had bought their goods.

The high Excise Duty and the accessibility of this area of Sussex from the sea made smuggling a recognised way of life. The Custom-House was at Newhaven. But at Pevensey Bay or Cuckmere Haven, a dozen miles south of East Hoathly, were good quiet beaches where the smugglers of the Alfriston area could land their contraband french brandy. It was then sent to the Forest Ridge (Mayfield, Burwash, Robertsbridge etc.) and so towards London through a chain of receiving cottages.

Dark nights were used for this business, as Horace Walpole learned to his cost. Finding travel difficult he and his friend decided to put up at the Robertsbridge Inn, but found all the beds occupied by smugglers who were posing as ‘mountybanks’. So they pushed on to Battle, which was full of Excisemen who had just shot a smuggler. Feeling very insecure they took links and lanthorns and made their way through the mud to their destination at Hurstmonceux. Smuggling in Sussex reached high periods of activity during both the seven Years’ War and the Napoleonic Wars. The opportunities in each period were huge at the same time as the prevention resources were much depleted by the demands of the services.

Almost the whole population participated including the clergy, who were often won over by a keg of ‘Nantzy’, french brandy from Nantes . After 1830 the Preventive Service was much strengthened, and after a series of bloody battles on the beaches smuggling slowly declined. The strangest aspect of the Customs duel with the smugglers and their customers is the periodic sharing of the booty. Thomas Turner tells us of a party given by the Customs Officers. Holland when complaining that the smugglers overcharge says that he could get very good spirits for half the price at Customs House.

Smuggled goods included spirits, tea, silks, tobacco, coffee, cocoa and chocolate, as well as home products like candles, salt and soap.

Dr C Morris

15 May 1719
>”The Claret (10 dozen) John Baker driving 2 horses home, was seiz’d on, Forfeited Goods, yesterday, by the Lime [Lyme Regis] Custom House Officers.

2 1 Dec. 1721

>”Wm. Clark brought home a Hogshead of Claret, in the morning early, from Sadbury, coming from thence all night.”

4 Dec. 1721

>”Being my Daughter’s Birthday I went to her house about 5 & Carryed a Bottle of French Claret.”

“I5 Oct.1723

>”I got up to let in Amey Rodgers with 4 Gallons & 6 Pints & half of French White-Wine.”

[This late night transaction implies the wine was smuggled.]

21 Sep.1724


>”I upped to let Coggin of Somerton in about 4 a clock with one Anchor of (Brandy) which I bought of him which weight 87 lb, of which 14 lb was allowed for the caske. he brought in also 3 Anchors more & left them in my Inner Cellar.”

[No doubt this was smuggled, probably brought up from the Dorset coast.]

26 Jan.1726

>”I went to get Mr. George Mattocks to go with me to-morrow to Sadborrow from the news of Mr. Bragge being charged by the Government to pay 12000 for avoiding to pay Custom on Goods brought in his Shipps.”

[It is pretty clear that Bragge had been engaged in extensive smuggling operations, and that the wine Morris got from them was contraband.
On 18 Dec 1725 he had put the claret in the Hole in the Inner Cellar, presumably to conceal it from the Customs Officers]

#Walter Gale

Schoolmaster 1749 to 1759

>”I set out for Laughton after drinking a quartern of gin and came to Whitesmiths where was a hurley bolloo about Mr. Plummer’s (now a custom house officer) having seized a horse loaded with 3 anchors of brandy which was carried off by him and two soldiers.”

#Thomas Turner

Shopkeeper of East Hoathley

On 10 November 1757 Turner records an attempt of a father to rehabilitate his sons from a life of smuggling. Master Paris came to him and begged him to draw up a petition on behalf of his sons to ask some relief of their neighbours.

>”upon which I drawed up the following petition, viz., Whereas John and Francis Paris having formerly through mistaken notions followed that unwarrantable practice of smuggling though for a considerable time past being convinced of the mischievous consequences of such a practice…having entirely refrained from the said practice, but as they who have once ventured on such an illegal course may years after become subject to the law (as many unhappy instances too justly testify) and which is now become the case of those unhappy men who have lately been sworn against in his majesty’s court of the Exchequer for a very considerable sum. Which if the law is executed against them in the most rigorous manner they must be obliged to abandon their native country and that which is most dear to them- their family and relations, but as they have some prospect and hopes to believe the said affair may be made up for a small sum in proportion to so great a one which they are sworn against for, though still so great that they are unable to raise the same from their effects. They therefore humbly implore the assistance of their neighbours and acquaintance hoping they will commiserate their unhappy affair and yield them some relief and succour in this their day of adversity and trouble and they will ever (as in duty bound) thankfully acknowledge the favours they shall be pleased to confer on them. I gave the man 2s. 6d. for his son-not that I did it so much from principle of charity as self-interest, having formerly bought some brandy of them. I could not tell but their poverty might induce them to do that for me which another had done for them, in order to clear themselves.”

24 November 1763

>”Mr. Bannister having lately taken from the smugglers a

of brandy, entertained Mr. Carman, Mr. Fuller, and myself, in the even, with a bowl of punch at my house.”

On the 24 December 1764 he wrote

>”…Mr Bannister, our officer of excise, having lately made a seizure of some brandy, brought in 2 bottles of it to my house, and myself, Sam.Jenner, Thos. Durrant and Joseph Fuller Jr. clubbed for lemons and sugar, and we had an agreeable bowl of punch in the even, and spent the even till near 12 o’clock.”


Arriving from France

>”I had great reason to be pleased with the custom-house officers in England. These were two men whom at first glance I took for beggars: they had the appearance of persons of that station, which in England is the lowest and meanest of all. They came on board, and e most submissive manner asked permission to examine the contents of my trunk, which they opened, and retired with the utmost humility, without so much as searching my pockets, or even my linen-bag. It cost me half a crown to get my effects from the custom-house, where they had been left at my landing; but this is an old due and not an exaction of the officers: it is called the Viscounty fee.”

Compare with Sophie Van La Roche account.

#James Woodforde

14 February 1777

>”…Andrews the smuggler brought me this night about 11 o’clock a bagg of Hyson Tea 6 Pd. weight, he frightened us a little by whistling under the Parlour Window just as we were going to bed. I gave him some Geneva and paid him for the Tea at 10/6 Per Pd.- 3.3.0.”

29 December 1786

>”Had another Tub of Gin and another of the best Coniac brandy brought me this evening abt 9. We heard a thump at the front door about that time, but did not know what it was, till I went out and found the two Tubs but nobody there.”

6 June 1788

>”…1.18.0 for a Tub of Coniac Brandy of four gallons by Moonshine Buck and 2.6.0 for two tubs of Geneva of 4 gallons each by ditto and the odd 8d. for Horses shoes removed.”

#William Holland

29 July 1805

>”After breakfast moved about the garden and trimmed the arbour. While I was at work with a bill hook in my hand Little Cockney Shitfield the Brandy Merchant called. I desired him to walk in. I paid his bill but did not order more as what I had is not yet out. I made him give me a receipt this time which he used not to do before. He said it made a great difference to him but said I the Law requires it. It does so returned he, then he jumped up skipped on his horse and was off in a trice telling me that at any time when my stock was out if I would but drop a line I should have it in a trice.But really they are become now so abominably dear that there is scarce any drinking of them and moreover at the Custom House one may have very good spirits for half the price he sells at.So Mr Cockney I think I shall be able to cater better in future.”

A vast range of goods were smuggled not just the brandy and tobacco which first comes to mind but also many everyday useful goods which might have been defined as luxuries in this time such as tea, silks, coffee, cocoa, and even necessary items like candles, salt and soap.
Smuggling was part of the unending fight between the Government which needs to levy taxes to pay for public services and the citizen who knows this, but still attempts to evade paying his share.

The Army

Few aspects of modern life are more different than the conditions endured by soldiers in the 18th century army.

Our soldiers today still fight, endure wounds, amputations and death but their conditions of service are so much better that they would be astonished if they read the accounts left by their ancestors who fought in Spain and Portugal during the Peninsular wars against Napoleon.

The 18th Century soldier besides fighting had to himself undertake the duties of the commissariat, as such provision was utterly inadequate. This applied to all the absolute necessities of life, food, clothing, shelter and medical care and travel.

Most of the earlier wars were fought in other countries and the armies endured long and dangerous journeys in sailing ships before they could even meet their enemies. The soldiers often arrived weakened by sea sickness and battering for days by storms.

After their arrival they travelled overland mainly marching on foot, aided by horses, ponies or donkeys. The greatest problem for both our army and their French opponents was provision of food for men and animals.

Modern armies enlist some women, not so 18th Century armies though one or two women did fight disguised as men. But some women followed the army in the Peninsular War and were officially recognised. The usual number was 6 per regiment. Some were of great help to the soldiers, others brawling, drunken nuisances. All endured incredible hardships. They were both a help and a burden to the soldiers who themselves had to provide for their needs as well as they could. How inadequately is shown in the example of one sergeant who secured a small pigsty for his wife to shelter in when on the march, she worked hard to clean it but was dispossessed by the adjutant’s clerk. She then spent the night in the open with her husband, the two of them sharing his blanket. for four years both officers and men had to sleep under the stars and in their later years many peninsular officers and men suffered greatly from rheumatism.

When tents were supplied in the last year of the campaign the situation for a modest woman was equally dreadful. Sergeant James Anton wrote in his memoirs that the tents were in theory to house 18, in practice it was usually less. On one night 11 soldiers lay in it with the Sergeant and his wife. They all stretch out with their feet to the centre, every man’s head below his knapsack. One half of the blankets were below them, the other half on top so that they all lay in one bed. At daybreak every man got up folded his blanket, strapped it to his knapsack and was ready for the march. As for the poor young woman she could scarcely sleep waiting for the dawn.

“I now resolved, if possible not to mix blankets with so many bedfellows again because at that time the whole of the men were affected with an eruption on the skin similar to the itch, and their clothing was in a very filthy state, owing to it being seldom shifted, and always kept on during the night. I now set about erecting a hut for self and wife.”

With the help of others he finished his temporary hut in a day. His wife’s apron did service for a door and when up they were not disturbed. He made more weatherproof huts in the following days but did not long enjoy them as the call to orders soon came. the camp and the hut were abandoned as the march began.

John Spencer Cooper, a sergeant in the 7th Royal Fusiliers, recounts an even greater hardship on the march. “After passing through an immense forest of pine trees, nearly all of which were remarkably crooked, a soldier’s wife was delivered of a child after we had halted for the night. Next morning she was placed on a horse and marched with the column.”

Sergeant Joseph Donaldson likewise was amazed at what the women who followed the men in the Peninsular campaign endured: marching often in a state of pregnancy, frequently bearing their children in the open air, in some instances on the line of march by the road side and suffering at the same time all the privations to which the army was liable.

“In quarters on the other hand they were assailed by every temptation that could be thrown their way and every scheme laid by those who had rank and money to rob them of their virtue. Their starving condition was often taken advantage of by those who had it in their power to supply them.”

Most of the soldiers wives were stouthearted. Bridget Skiddy was one of them. She was married to a private in the 34th Foot, and carried her husband, his knapsack, and musket when he could go no further during a retreat:

“an’ me back was bruck intirely from that time to this, an’ it will never get straight till I go to the Holy Well in Ireland, and have Father McShane’s blessin’. “

These women were tough and hard-bitten, no better and no worse than their men. Their language and propensity for looting was a perpetual source of irritation to the Provost Marshall, yet Wellington knew his army could not manage without these stouthearted women. They succoured the wounded, mended the clothes, cobbled their shoes and helped them to retain their basic decency.

The wives of Officers also worked and suffered. John Luard records that Susan wife of Charles Dalbiac hurried out from England to nurse her husband through a fever he had contracted in the steaming valley of the Guadiana, in doing so she braved the disapproval of the commander in chief who very much disapproved of officers’ wives accompanying their husbands on campaign.

Colonel Dalbiac later wrote to a friend:

“Whenever the Regiment took to the field Mrs. Dalbiac accompanied me on horseback and such was the case on the day of the battle of Salamanca. She remained near the extreme right of our position, whence the heavy brigade of the cavalry had moved for the attack…here she had the fortitude to remain during the whole of the action, tho’ so completely within cannon range that shots from the enemy’s guns frequently raked up the dust near her horses feet. Of this incomparable wife I will only add that with a mind of a most refined cast, and with a frame alas too delicate, she was when in the field, a stranger to fear.”

For many hours after the battle she believed her husband had been killed. She spent the night searching the battlefield for her husband’s body. It was a horrifying experience. The wounded were lying suffering under the stars and being plundered by soldiers and camp followers. All the dead bodies were stripped naked by their own troops. They thought little of it as they suffered such privations, needed good clothes and knew they too might soon be dead.

Susan Dalbiac survived this ordeal and found her husband alive the next morning and rode at his side in the triumphal march into Madrid. Mary Anton was left behind as the army crossed the river Adour. While waiting for the bridge to be repaired she was asked by another woman to look after her loaded colt. This animal would not move when the time came. She was in despair when a grenadier came up. He noticed that she had a horn with the masonic arms cut into it. The sight of these talismanic hieroglyphics inspired him to help her with the colt and move safely on.

A sidelight on the thinking of Peninsula soldiers on more general problems is given by Sergeant Anton who encountered Jews in spain and shows a high degree of tolerance for his time.

Sergeant Anton on Jews in 1829

“A considerable number of Jews reside on the rock of Gibraltar. not a few of the mercantile speculations are conducted by them. They are not excluded from any civil employment, and it is rare to find one of them betray any public trust confided to him.. When we witness their mercantile abilities, their devoted attachment to a religion that hurts not the nation in which it is tolerated, it is somewhat surprising that they are not held in more esteem than they really are. Like the Society of Friends, they form no hostile intentions towards the state which gives them protection; they set up no rival-ships for converts, to cause jealousy; their religion is that from which we have partly drawn our own, and that to which we refer in many cases for religious observances. If these people have acquires a bad name for extortion and usury, it may justly be ascribed to the many arbitrary impositions to which they have been subjected.”

The extraordinary and almost total lack of provision of food during the Peninsular campaign is made startlingly clear in the memoirs of Sergeant John Spenser Cooper. the picture he paints is almost surreal. the soldiers seem almost mad in their hunger.

“The commissary having no bread for us, we were marched into a newly reaped field of wheat, of which each man received a sheaf instead. Laughable it was to see hundreds of soldiers bearing away their burdens, but we could make little use of the corn for want of the means of grinding it.”

“Notwithstanding our weak state through want of food, we had to drag the artillery by ropes up some steep mountains, as horses could not keep on their feet. Great numbers of these animals died. Men looked like skeletons. Our clothing was in rags; shirts, shoes, and stockings were worn out; and there was no bread served for six days. All we got was a pound of bad lean beef for each day. Happy was the soldier who had a little salt.”
Later they halted on the steep banks of the Rio del Monte. They had to cut holes in the hill to rest in at night to prevent themselves sliding down the steep hillside.
They had no tents, not even blankets. how did they sleep?

“We slept in the open air. The greatcoat was inverted, and our legs were thrust into the sleeves, one half was put under us, and the other half above. The knapsack formed our pillow. Thus arranged and with the forage cap pulled over our ears, we bid good night to the stars, and rested as we could.
We frequently went down to the river, pulled off our shirts, washed them with or without soap, knocked them well on the flat stones, and then hung them on the rocks or bushes, picked off the vermin, and when dry put them on again.”

At camp near Badajoz they were afflicted with scorpions. One crept up the sleeve of a soldier’s great coat while he slept. His arm turned blue and he was in hospital for several days.


“I had an attack of dysentery; this was succeeded by fever. A large blister was put on my back and one on each instep.”

Blister plasters were designed to act as a “counter irritant” to alleviate pain. The plaster, applied to the skin, caused a red spot or blister. The idea was that blood beneath the plaster and the whole “bulk of blood in the body” would set forth to the reddened area. The artificially created inflammation, it was thought, would draw the blood away from the afflicted part of the body and hence ease any “pain and suffering.”

One of the worst causes of suffering was being moved by the primitive transport available. Cooper was moved on a cart drawn by two bullocks. The slow pace and jolting were unbearable. The slowness in receiving attention was the next problem. The numbers of sick and wounded always being far greater than the soldier orderlies there to tend them. Cooper was left on the cart until night. He was then helped up the steps of a convent and laid down on the cold flags at the stairhead and left there until removed by order of the surgeon. He was carried into a corridor among 200 sick and dying men.

“My appetite and hearing were gone; feet and legs like ice; the three blisters on my back and feet unhealed and undressed; my shirt sticking in the wounds caused by the blisters; my necessaries lost.”

He asked a woman belonging to the regiment to bring him some tea and gave her some small loaves he could not eat, but she forgot to bring the tea. Some days later he was moved in small covered wagon drawn by mules to Elvas. He relapsed again. The orderlies were brutes. In spite of all his appetite and strength began to return. The doctor allowed him more bread and a pint of wine a day and he recovered. Orders came to march to join the army at the other end of Portugal. In spite of his weakness he managed the first day’s march of 8 miles. Thereafter he grew stronger but his problems were not over. He and his companions had sold their blankets and greatcoats on the route to buy bread coffee etc. On arrival they went up before the Colonel who wanted to know where the kit issued to them at Elvas had gone. Lost, stolen or worn out were their replies. At last the Colonel said:

“It astonishes me that you Light Company men sly and keen as you are, should have been so unfortunate.” It was more astonishing that we escaped flogging.”

After a 4th bout of fever while quartered in a convent in Guarda he tried to improve his appearance by ripping up and turning the inside of his trousers out. In the process he ran the needle deep into his knee joint, but by taking great care managed to remove it without breaking and suffered no more bad effects after but stiffness.

The alternative thinking provoked by the extreme lack of food is shown in this anecdote.

” While in the village of Avarios de Cema in an old house we probed as was usual the earthen floor with a ramrod, and we found a box in which was a bag of Indian corn. This was taken by one of our men who had been a miller to a windmill at some distance. He set it going and ground the corn, of which we made several messes of passable porridge.”

Later passing through a wood they found several bags of meal and tried dumpling making but the stuff would not stick together.

“When boiled the dumplings looked like little frightened hedgehogs. To get a mouthful I had to pick a lot of prickles from the mass. The stuff turned out to be unsifted barley meal and was meant for the french cavalry.”

After the battle of Vittoria where they nearly captured King Joseph who seeing his danger sprang from his carriage and mounted a horse and gave them the slip; the famine turned to feast. Among the enemy stores they found sacks of flour, leaf tobacco, and hundreds of bullocks and sheep.

Cooper made and baked several loaves which were rather burnt and milked a goat from which he had a splendid supper. Three days march later he came upon his brother who was famished. He and his companions had been obliged to eat bean tops for three days.

“I was happy to supply him with some badly burnt cakes, some flour and a little money.”

note: From “Seven Campaigns” by J.S. Cooper. Late Sergeant in the 7th Royal Fusiliers.
Carlisle: G. & T. Coward, Ltd.

The conditions of soldiers

Apart from the danger and suffering inevitable in their calling from battles and travel to foreign lands there was much suffering from the conditions of every day life imposed upon them by their profession. Such necessities as food and clothing which their commissariat should have supplied in reasonable quality and quantity were often lacking. As Napoleon said an army marches on its stomach and both french and English soldiers suffered.

The problems of logistics and supply in the Peninsular War loom large in Douglas’s memoirs. His ability incisively to illustrate the fundamental factors inhibiting the mobility of the British Army in the Peninsula is vividly illustrated in the following extract (pp 62-3):

“The pursuit commenced at all points. But this proved to be one of the hungriest marches we encountered during the war. Nor will it appear strange how this could happen when rightly understood. Say the troops marched four or five leagues each day at least, while the Commissariat mules with their provisions were not able to make three or three [and a half]. Thus every day we were getting further away from our own rations, without the smallest hope of relief on our front.”

James Anton in his retrospective of Military Life details problems caused by the care of hair in 1804.

“a general order was issued for the Army to discontinue the tying of the hair, and to have it cropped.
Never was an order received with more heartfelt satisfaction than this, or obeyed with more alacrity.
The tying was a daily penance, and a severe one, to which every man had to submit. Every morning he had to daub the side of his head with dirty grease, soap and flour until every hair stood like the burr of a thistle, and the back was padded and pulled so that every hair had to keep its due place. It was no uncommon circumstance for us when on the guard bench and asleep to have rats and mice scrambling above our heads eating the filthy stuff with which our hair was daubed.”

Harry Ross-Lewin confirmed this description.

“When I joined the Militia in 1793 all military men wore their hair clubbed, that is each had a huge false tail attached by means of a string that passed round the upper part of his head, and over it the hair was combed and well thickened with powder of flour; a plastering of pomatum or grease was then laid on; a square bag of sand was next placed at the extremity of the tail, rolled up with the assistance of a small oblong iron until it touched the head and tied with a leather thong. After the arrangement of the tail, the officers’ foretops were rubbed up with a stick of pomatum, a most painful operation, especially on cold mornings, and often calling the salt rheum to the eyes. When this was over the Friseur retired a pace or two for the purpose of frosting, which was effected by means of a elastic cylinder filled with powder. It let fall upon the hair a light shower of powder. Lastly the powder knife prepared the head for parade by arching the temples and shaping the whiskers to a point.The men powdered only on dress days.

John Skipp enlisted when he was 13 looking forward to a merry and exciting life. his first experience was disillusioning.

“I was taken to a barber’s and deprived of my curly brown locks. My hair curled beautifully , but in a minute my poor little head was nearly bald, except a small parch behind which was reserved fora future operation…having my hair tied for the first time. A large piece of candle grease was applied first to the sides of my hair, then to the hind long hair; after this the same kind of operation was performed with nasty stinking soap.”

Like the other men he suffered having a bag of sand poked into the back of his head round which the hair was gathered tightened and tied with a leather thong.

“When I was dressed for parade I could scarcely get my eyelids to perform their office; the skin of my eyes and face was drawn so tight by the plug that I could not possibly shut my eyes.”

Fortunately for the soldiers the queue was fazed out in 1808.


In museums and book illustrations we see how new or decently preserved uniforms looked. But when in use on campaign they were almost unrecognisable.

James Anton wrote:

“The clothing of the 91st. Regiment had been two years in wear. some had the elbows of their coats mended with grey cloth, others had one half of a sleeve of a different colour from the body. As out march continued daily no time was found to repair shoes until completely worn out, this left a number to march with bare feet or as we termed it “to pad the hoof”. The men with no shoes were made to march in the rear of the brigade, their feet cut or torn by sharp stones or brambles. The raw hides of newly slaughtered bullocks were cut up to form a sort of buskin or substitute for shoes for the bare footed soldiers.”

John Shipp also wrote on clothes:

“I was then paraded to the tailor’s shop and deprived of my new clothes-coat , leathers and hat for which I received in exchange red jacket, red waistcoat, red pantaloons and red foraging cap. I was exceedingly tall but my sleeves were rather longer than my fingers and the whole hung on me.”

Shipp went on to have an original army career. At the age of 15 he was sentenced to 999 lashes for desertion, but this was cancelled by a humane CO. he was then promoted from the ranks not once but twice. and twice sold his commission.

Wives of Soldiers

The Government allowed six wives to embark on service to every hundred men. women with more than 2 children were never allowed. The others should be of good character and were of use and comfort to all doing their washing and needlework. More than this some were heroic.

The rules of the 95th Rifle Corps stationed at Shorncliffe, Kent specified that Needlework should never be given out of the regiment by the Quartermaster, that a charity fund should assist sick women, the children of the regiment should be under its care, should be well and cleanly clothed and regularly attend school. This seems a high standard for the time, but all changed on foreign service. Those who went overseas were selected by ballot. On campaign they were to march or ride donkeys ahead of their husbands to prepare meals and bivouacs though in practise this was often impossible.
The wives of Officers also worked and suffered. John Luard records that Susan wife of Charles Dalbiac hurried out from England to nurse her husband through a fever he had contracted in the steaming valley of the Guadiana, in doing so she braved the disapproval of the commander in chief who very much dis approved of officers wives accompanying their husbands on campaign. Colonel Dalbiac later wrote to a friend:

“Whenever the Regiment took to the field Mrs. Dalbiac accompanied me on horseback and such was he case on the day of the battle of Salamanca. She remained near the extreme right of our position, whence the heavy brigade of the cavalry had moved for the attack…here she had the fortitude to remain during the whole of the action, tho’ so completely within cannon range that shots from the enemy’s guns frequently raked up the dust near her horses feet. Of this incomparable wife I will only add that with a mind of a most refined cast, and with a frame alas too delicate, she was when in the field, a stranger to fear.”

For many hours after the battle she believed her husband had been killed. She spent the night searching the battlefield for her husband’s body. It was a horrifying experience. The wounded were lying suffering under the stars and being plundered by soldiers and camp followers. All the dead bodies were stripped naked by their own troops. They thought little of it as they suffered such privations, needed good clothes and knew they too might soon be dead.

Susan Dalbiac survived this ordeal and found her husband alive the next morning and rode at his side in the triumphal march into Madrid. Mary Anton was left behind as the army crossed the river Adour. While waiting for the bridge to be repaired she was asked by another woman to look after her loaded colt. This animal would not move when the time came. She was in despair when a grenadier came up. He noticed that she had a horn with the masonic arms cut into it. The sight of these talismanic hieroglyphics inspired him to help her with the colt and move safely on.

William Green late Rifle Brigade wrote his memoir “Brief outline of his travels and Adventures.” He was in the retreat to Corunna under Sir John Moore. The march was 250 miles.

“We had no tents. A blanket had to be served out to each man; we marched from daylight until dark; the bullocks were driven before us; and slaughtered as they were needed; they had little or no fat on them. But if we had time to boil our mess well, we counted more of the soup than the meat, as it was so tough. But it was not often that we could do this. We seldom halted for more than two hours; and having wood and water to seek to cook our victuals, before we could do so, the order would be given to get under arms and get on the march.”

In spite of the dreadful conditions of war some extraordinary examples of compassion were recorded. Near Cacabellos a soldier had been tried by court martial and was sentenced to be hanged. He had the rope round his neck, fastened to the branch of a tree and sat upon two men’s shoulders, with a cap drawn over his face, waiting for the signal for the men to let him drop, when Sir John Moore, with a loud voice, said “If I forgive this man, will the army be answerable for his future good conduct?” Our brave Colonel said “Yes?” and the word “Yes” went round the ranks three times, and the man’s life was spared.

Claire Rayner Obit.

Claire Rayner was a nurse in the Royal Northern Hospital when Tony and Eric were doctors there. She and her husband lived in Cecil Road Muswell Hill as well as us. So they became friends.This was in 1960.

We had outgrown our flat and needed to buy a house. One days the Rayners came round and said there are some new wates houses in London road Forest Hill which might suit you. They were still being built and surrounded by mud. We bought the last. It was the first house we had looked at … we were like that..thus we left north London.

Claire's husband put up some curtain rails for us. That was in August and in November we had to go to Borneo just before Ros was born. Unfortunately due to our years abroad we lost touch with the Rayners.

Eric wrote a history of the Royal Northern Hospital and asked me to make the index. Had this been done a few years later Claire would have featured in it as a nurse who became a journalist and an agony aunt of National repute.