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Women's Diaries and Related Sources

Part 2: Sources from Birmingham Central Library and Birmingham University Library

Part 2 of this project brings together Diaries, Commonplace Books, Travel Journals and Letters from Birmingham Central Library and Birmingham University Library describing women's lives and experiences in their own language. It covers the lives of a further 33 women in the period from 1744 to 1940. This is an excellent resource which relates to a wide variety of disciplines, such as literature, social history, gender studies and women's studies.

Amongst the items reproduced here from Birmingham University Library are five travel journals providing excellent sources for the social history of leisure and offering sources for comparisons between women’s lives in Europe, America, Asia and Africa; a humourous and gloriously illustrated account of a ball; accounts of the education of young girls; plus a large body of material from the Church Missionary Society Papers in the form of diaries, letters, journals and photographs.

The two volumes of a mid-nineteenth century journal kept by Annie Lambert, daughter of John Lambert, wine merchant of 33 Tavistock Square, London provide a detailed record of middle class family life in the early years of Queen Victoria's reign. The first volume covers the period January - September 1845. It faithfully describes visits to and from a wide circle of friends and her father's business acquaintances, records gossip and intrigue, visits to theatres and concerts, shopping ("walked to the Bazaar, bought 2 camp stools & some ribbon for trimming our bonnets") and, on a more serious note, the occasional visit to a junior school, where she observes the children's progress and chats to the schoolmistress. On July 4 she and her mother drive to Walton-on-Thames ("took luncheon in the Duke's Head; the landlord a very civil man") where they arrange to take Captain Stephens' house for 2 or 3 months. Thereafter, until September, her activities are in the country, with walks or drives to Esher, Sunbury, Addlestone and Hersham and renewed socialising. Its very triviality creates an accurate picture of the life of a middle class girl of the period.

The second volume begins in November 1845 when the family is about to start a 12 month visit to Oporto in Portugal, where Annie's brother John worked in the port wine trade. Annie finds Oporto "a much more civilised kind of place than I had expected" and takes full advantage of dances at the Assemble, socialising with other great "wine" families (eg: the Sandemans), the company of the young naval officers from the "Cyclops" and other visiting British warships; she enjoys riding on the banks of the Douro, the gossip of "the Factory House", and much attention from male admirers.

The Diary of Lavinia Bartlett also reveals much about the personality of the writer. She tells of her tour to Paris in 1843 in the company of her husband, Charles Bartlett. The diary is written for her five young children. The trip to the Pyrenees and the Riviera in 1851 were intended to benefit the health of her husband. Accompanied by three daughters and one niece, they visit the thermal baths of the French Pyrenees, Toulouse, Montpellier, making their way along the French Riviera to winter in Nice, and continuing to the Italian Riviera. The diary ends in Genoa.

The manuscripts of "Lady Noble's Ball" (a humurous 23 page account of a Ball) and "A Book to the Wise, a story in letters from two young ladies concerning the most interesting period of their lives" (47 pages) contain charming pen and ink drawings depicting episodes from the two stories. The accounts are written and dedicated to her aunt Ann by Issy of Bond End, Knaresborough, dated 13 August 1850.

A journal by A M Tierney of Malvern Wells describes six months residence in Bonn from October 1855 to April 1856. She is presumably a girl in her early teens and the journal is written with humour and a keen perception of people and the things she sees. Here is a brief extract:

"We are very comfortable, Mama & Agnes have a room, Matt has one & Harriette & I one, all of which open one into the other off the drawing room. Our rooms are on the second floor from the bottom. Miss Fook's room is at the end of the passage & the School room is next to hers .... We are delighted to think we are English when we see the way the Germans go on - the men sit with their elbows flat on the table & lap up the sauce with their knives. The smells in the street of Bonn are dreadful, the Germans are very coarse in their manners, especially the women .... Oct. 22nd .... unpacked all our things & settled ourselves for the Winter .... discovered Mr Hensler the Music Master ...."

Another journal by a young lady details a tour from Leeds to Scotland and to Lichfield in 1837. She writes on the first page: "The first thing that attracted our attention en route this morning was the spire of the church at Chesterfield; it is 220 feet high and so curiously twisted that whichever way you look at it, it appears falling down." Other volumes cover a tour to Paris in 1802; the diary of a young woman living near Bath; a family journal for 1823 to 1827 written by a farmer's wife on the Warwickshire-Leicestershire border; visits to Paris in 1888, 1893 and 1896 and part of a voyage from England to Mombassa.

The Diaries and Photograph Albums of Miss Edith Baring-Gould, 1894-1939 make up the bulk of the Church Missionary Society material included here. They encompass tours of North America, much material on Japan and China - she sails from Vancouver on the "Empress of Japan" arriving in Yokohama, and spends a considerable amount of time travelling throughout Japan. She records visits to Paris, New York, Niagara, Toronto, Winnipeg and the Rocky Mountains, whilst a number of volumes feature the CMS Delegation to the Far East in 1912-1913. Her travels and experiences all round the world are noted down in solid detail in 41 volumes.

Other Church Missionary Society material comprises the Corby Diaries for 1930, 1931 and 1933 with sections on teaching and education, summer holidays and "nine hundred miles of motoring in Central Africa"; the Martha Venn Diary of 1838-39 and Emelia Venn's Diary of 1815 with accounts of Waterloo, visits to Liege and Worms and travels in France and Switzerland. There are the Letters and Journals of Frances Dennis (sister of Archdeacon Dennis) whilst stationed in Southern Nigeria in 1902-1906; the Diaries of Mrs William Compigne Shaw; the Diaries and Papers of Miss Ellen Brighty, 1899-1937, including missionary activity in Persia and the CMS Medical Mission; and the Journal letters of Isobel E Barbour recording a visit to Uganda and Kenya in 1927, Jubilee celebrations of the Church in Uganda, and the long journey from Marseilles via Port Said to Port Sudan, Aden, Mombassa and the final destination.

Material reproduced from Birmingham Central Library begins with 12 volumes of Travel Diaries of Helen Caddick, 1889-1914. They cover Palestine, Egypt, Canada, Japan, China, Cambodia, the Yangtse, Korea, Burma, Hong Kong, Moscow, the Philippines, Java, Australia, New Zealand, India, South Africa, British Columbia, Africa, Uganda, USA, Mexico, Peru, the Andes and Buenos Ayres, Panama and the West Indies.

A small typescript volume contains the Early Reminiscences of Elizabeth Anne Galton, a young lady from Birmingham, eldest daughter of Samuel Tertius Galton, a prosperous Birmingham banker of an old Quaker family. Francis Galton, the Eugenicist, was her younger brother and Erasmus Darwin her grandfather. The volume starts with references to the coronation of Queen Victoria.

Six remarkable journals, 1790-1801, of Mary and Martha Russell (family friends of Joseph Priestley) document a truly amazing set of experiences, starting with reflections on the French Revolution and first-hand accounts of the Birmingham Riots, and proceeding with their voyage to America, and their capture en route by French pirates. Their portrayal of events provides a vivid and refreshing view of a very turbulent period, politically and socially.

Other diary sequences include the Autobiography of Miss Florry, 1744-1812, the daughter of an ironmaster in Birmingham, who took over and ran the business from 1788 onwards; a Diary of excursions to London, Lichfield and Cheltenham by Sarah Sargent, 1822-1832; The Diary of Sarah Robinson, c1800; and the Diary of Mary Elizabeth Hall, 1891-5, who writes:

"I have been very busy and like it, we are expecting a lot of people here on Tuesday to see the Prince & Princess of Wales, I hope I shall be in a good temper" with an afternote "The Princess came and everyone including myself was in a good temper. Jack was in prime form and took good care of me...I love Jack more each week; he is so good, & oh ! how thankful I am that I wrote to him as I did last February 19th ... for I want to obey him, as much as I can, & how could I, if he had been of a different way of thinking & had wished me to do things contrary to the will of my King ?" The entries end just after her marriage.

There is a small diary of Margaret Pigott, a nurse in 1913. Miss Smythe's travels in France in 1917 are documented in a 4 volume diary. The Diary of Miss M C Albright records a missionary visit to Madagascar in 1924.
The Travel Diaries and Notebooks of Rosamund and Winifred Bayes, c1922-1935, cover journeys throughout Europe, Greece, the Balkans and the Middle East. Volume 27, stretching from August 1928 to April 1929 features a European tour, another volume is entitled "From the Baltic to the Aegean Sea", volume 31 records European, African and Asiatic Travels, many other volumes contain much material on Greece and the Balkans, the Middle East, archaelogy, family matters, the Refugee Settlement Commission, with descriptions of the local people, the terrain, mode of travel, other fellow travellers. One group comes in for some criticism:

"There was an American missionary and his wife and 4 children going home on a furlough from Abyssinia, 3 days journey on mules, then several by boat on the Nile, a journey of several weeks, not altogether a joy ride with that family."

There is also one diary of the wife of a Wesleyan minister for the early nineteenth century and two commonplace books written by Sarah Mary Breedon (1793-1850). The latter describes various religious and natural phenomena.

Forthcoming parts of this project will make available sources from Suffolk Record Office and Cambridge University Library (see Part 3 below - now published and available); the National Library of Wales and the National Library of Scotland (in preparation as Part 4); and from 2001 onwards it is hoped that we will be able to add further parts to the microfilm project from Essex Record Office, Wiltshire Record Office, Hampshire Record Office and Somerset Record Office.

Editorial introduction
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