[NB This is a transcript of a transcript: my transcription of that by Philip Spence, as in his privately printed 1939 Robert and Mary Spence of North Shields, which is not widely available. Philip Corder's transcript employs the long 's', but I have amended this to the customary 's' of the present day; I have made no other changes.]
Note by Philip Spence: ROBERT SPENCE'S JOURNAL begins with the account of his early life written in 1809 followed by a fragment of diary entered during 1802 and 1803 at Yarm, broken off, and the account continued from his arrival in Shields till his marriage in 1810. This continuation not filled in till 1836.
The latter intermittent diary notes were made from 1811 to 1839.
The Journal is written in a small red notebook with clasp.
Some acct &c.
I was born at Whaite Mill House in the township of Hartwith come Winsley, Parish of Kirby Malzard, and County of York; on the 10th day of second month one Thousand seven hundred and eighty four, my Parents had each of them been trained up and educated, amongst the religious Society of the People called Quakers, My father was the son of Joseph & Grace Spence of Darley a small Village about 3 Miles distant from the place of my nativity, whose circumstances as to this Worlds Wealth was during the early part of his life and for a considerable time after his Marriage, rather straightened, yet by an unremitting attention to business frugality and industry, he was in the course of a few years, enabled, not only to exercise the rights of hospitality to his friends, but to give to his children as their necessities required it, such assistance as set them comfortably forward in life; He was much distressed towards an advanced period of his life by one of his daughters leaving him and joining a young man not a member of our religious persuasion, in the solemn engagement of marriage, at Greatna Green, they were however both of them afterwards, placed in the station of membership, and I trust died at an advanced age "firm in the faith" yet it cost my grandfather many hours of mourning,—another daughter was married to a friend, or member of our society, of the name of Awmuck who afterwards conducted himself with great impropriety and brought himself & his family under great difficulties, he afterwards took up a rambling disposition, and went over to America, & I believe the whole family lost their right of membership, a third daughter Rachel was married to Robt Walker son of Robt Walker of Gildersome, and own brother to my mother, his eldest son John was married to Ann Vipond, a woman of much real worth and great mildness and affection of disposition, & my father his second son, Robert Spence, married Deborah the Daughter of Jonathan Hardcastle of Hardcastle Garth to his first wife by whom he had issue John and Hannah Spence, and she their mother being of a delicate tender frame, was removed by death on her third confinement,—Jonathan Hardcastle formed a very strong attachment to my half Brother and sister, and previous to his decease left to each of them a considerable estate, to John the family residence which I believe had been a grant from the crown for some particular services perform'd, together with the estate attached to it, and to Hannah an estate a little lower down the same Valley,—After a space of time my father became acquainted with Sarah the daughter of Robt Walker of Gildersome, and Hannah Hopkins his wife, and in course of time was married to her & had issue myself, Thos, Abraham, Thos, Rachel and Sarah;—when in either my 4th or 5th year, the Small Pox was rageing with uncommon violence, and my father was desireous that we, the 3 first named might be inoculated for them, to this my dr. mother felt a strong objection, yet gave in to my fathers desire, and accordingly the operation was perform'd by a surgeon who attended the family & it soon after proved that previous to being inoculated we had taken the infection in the natural way, this occasioned our disorder to be very trying indeed, & my two younger Brothers Thomas and Abraham were removed, the same fate seemed to hang over me also, for I believe I was blind eleven days, however the strength of my constitution proved equal to the conflict & I was enabled to struggle through.—
The next circumstance which I recollect was accompanying my father & mother to attend the weekday Meeting, appointed to be held in Jonn. Hardcastle's parlour in which he was laid upon I believe his death-bed the good old man, said a few words by way of encouragement to those then present and I think expressed a hope that truth would everywhere increase and prosper or something to that import, it was the first meeting I had attended and I got rather weary with sitting and some something to my father, which I immediately discovered by his looks gave him displeasure and as soon as the meeting was over I ran home across 3 or 4 fields and fastened myself in the lodging room where I slept, my father came and with threats of encreas'd punishment (I believe) induced me to leave my hideing place and open him the door, when he gave me a whipping which I never afterwards forgot, & after that time I do not recollect much impropriety of conduct in Meetings except sometimes in hot weather being overtaken or overcome by drowsiness which has oft-times filled me with shame and confusion of face, and it is very desirable that the youth in particular might endeavour to avoid unnecessarily heating themselves, especially betwixt meetings on first days, by either too much walking or other exercise, it will also be attended with (I hope) considerable advantage, the attention of friends being more turned to this subject as to the TIME of holding them most profitably, as by a letter from our dear friend George Richardson of Newcastle upon Tyne attending the present Yearly Meeting for 1809 addressed to his wife I understand has been strongly recommended by friends there assembled.—In a short time this valuable Ancient friend was removed at a good old age, & I doubt not entered into that rest prepared for the righteous, my Grandfather and Grandmother Spence I never knew; I believe that I perhaps once saw my Grandfather Robt. Walker but too early for me to remember him, just previous to his setting forth on his last journey in the cause of Truth, on a visit to the Meetings of friends in London and some of the Southern Counties, in which he expressed when in his last illness (which he had at the house of Thomas Phillips at Tottenham) that he felt great peace, and during the continuance of his disorder his mind was mercifully preserved in a state of solid peace, & it may be said joy, at the prospect of leaving works for rewards;—he dropped several weighty & instructive expressions in the course of his disorder, which have been preserved and are some of them recorded in the ninth part of Piety Promoted by Thos. Wagstaff "He departed this life on the 24th of 9th month 1785 aged abt. 68 years and a Minister 34 years, his corps was carried to Devonshire House Meeting house London after which it was interred in friends burial ground near Whitechapel on the 29th of the same." P:P: —I have been more particular relative to my honourable & worthy predecessor than I should have been, from a knowledge that in the after part of this compilation or narrative there will be frequent cause for me to allude to the branches that have sprung from him.—
My grandmother survived him about years, [sic] and continued to reside at the house where they had previously lived for many years, situate in a field just adjoining to the School taught by John Elliss at or near Gildersome, a village distant about 3 miles from Leeds in the West riding of the County of York; My Uncle Thos. Walker the youngest of the family carrying forward the business (a cloth manufacturer) on his own and his mother's acct.;—either a short time before or soon after his Mother's decease he married Elizth. Jackson daughter of John Jackson of Gildersome Street. My Uncle Josh. Walker of Leeds had been placed with Jervis Storey of Leeds to learn the trade of Tobacconist, & after the expiration of his apprenticeship he commenced the business on his own acct. in a cellar & from an uncommon number of favourable circumstances taking place soon after that time & his plodding, industrious activity and perseverance he accumulated property fast, and was married to Sarah the daughter of John Armistead of Leeds by whom at different periods he also obtained considerable additions to his encreasing wealth, & the American War (so fraught with unnatural crimes for it seemed like unto the father lifting the sword against the Son & the son against the Father), occurring about this period, brought a great influx of property into the hands of many individuals, holders of Tobacco etc etc.—My Uncle Robert Walker, his eldest son who married my Aunt Rachel Spence, I believe went to reside at the house where my Grandfather Spence had lived or did then live, & commenced the same business nearly as my Grandfather had before carried forward.
I was first sent from home to an old woman residing about 6 miles off along with two of my cousns. in order to learn my letters &c. &c. & I continued under her care a considerable time & soon afterwards went to a day school kept by the Parish Clerk's son where I first learnt the art of writing, I was so exceedingly clumsey and awkward with my pen that he tied it to my fingers, (I believe after being here for a while I was sent to a place called Burntyeats abt. 2 miles off where was an old established boarding school and a surly old teacher, his or rather the manners of his family displeasing me I concluded upon the cowardly scheme of running away, and observing a man ride past who I thought might possibly be going to my father's house, I pursued him for some distance, when I found to my no small sorrow that he was not, & on looking round I discovered my Masters son in close pursuit, when I faced round to meet him & was hurryed along to the School, where my old master gave me such a lecture as I never before thought him capable of, he threatened to cut me into collops if ever I dared to do the like again, this had such an effect upon a mind and disposition naturally timid, that I resolved the next time I went home which was soon afterwards not to return, & by representing the case to my parents they determined, that i should return to the one I had left, nearer hand home;—it is worthy of remark that the family I had been placed amongst were very district dissenters (I believe) and the old master used almost every night after supper, & previous to going to bed, to offer thanksgiving or prayer to the Almighty, & on these occasions he expected all his household to join him, & the first night I was there not kneeling down as the rest, I drew on me his displeasure; Why don't you do as the rest do? Because I have not been taught to do so, & they do not so at my fathers; But I insist upon you doing as the rest whilst in my house, KNEEL DOWN DIRECTLY, I dared no longer to disobey, & I found remonstrance or explanation in vain so whilst I continued under his jurisdiction I conformd. to his requirings. In the evenings after my return from the day school I used to take great delight in reading to my mother in the Bible, friends journals & the like, and she used to endeavor often to impress me with a sense of the worth of her deceased father, & to direct my young mind after the pursuit of best things, & to point out in impressive terms the dangerous consequences of giving way to or indulging in unlawful things, such as when committed brought the mind into sorrow affliction & distress I have therefore great cause to acknowledge with heartfelt gratitude that the days of my youth were guarded by a parent tenderly watchful over me for good.—My father was of a remarkably generous disposition & this used sometimes to lead him into errors for it is possible to have failings "which may lean to virtues side" and my father's open free and easy manners was a disadvantage to him and the means of leading him more into company than was profitable; before or about my 10th year he had an apoplectic fit, by which he lost the use of nearly the whole of one side, and the medical man who attended him advised his going to Harrogate, I accompanied him & my mother and was left behind along with my father, to assist and take care of him, I used to fetch him the water from the wells in the morng. &c.. &c. his health rapidly declined, and it was concluded best for us to return home, the journey altho only about 9 miles was accomplished with difficulty and my father got gradually worse & I believe a second attack disabled him almost entirely & on [sic] he was removed from this scene of afflictive tribulation, I stood by my mother at the bedside weeping when the solemn hour arrived which ranked her amongst the mournful list of widows & placed me amongst the tribe of the fatherless.—
When the time arrived for the removal of his remains, sorrow almost seemed as though it would have overpowered me, and as I stood by the grave side I thought I could have felt reconciled to have been laid beside him, for some time it was no uncommon thing for my mother & myself to repair to a piece of ground which overlooked the grave yard (which had been given by the Hardcastle family I suppose for the use of friends, as it is annexed to the estate)—and there we have stood & wept.—About this time or before, my name had been put on the list for admittance to Ackworth School, and in a short time afterwards a ticket of admission arrived for me, and also for my Couns. Edwd. Spence & Robt. Dougill & our neighbour Abraham Theaker. My Mother and the greatest part of the family were at that time under the influence of the Scarlet Fever, & a few days before I left home, I was on the 5th day of the week going out to Dacre Banks about 3 Miles to the weekday meeting, & left my dear Mother in so extremely weak a state, as to strongly impress me with the idea, that I should scarcely see her alive on my return, this impression brought my young mind into great exercise and I believe I knelt down in one of the fields I had to pass through & implored the Almighty ruler of the Universe if it was consistent with his holy will, to be graciously pleased to prolong her life for the sake of her family & perhaps I might enter into covenant with him also on my own behalf.—I was much refreshed by attending the meeting & on returning home I had the gratification of finding my dear mother considerably better for her fever had got its turn and was much abated.—before she was quite well, I set out for Ackworth School along with my beforenamed companions and for a long time after my arrival there, I used to retire to some solitary place to weep, for or in consideration of my dr. mothers trying situation, John Hipsley Senr. was there then as Superintendent and his very looks oft times used to fill me with terror, for his frowns much oftener appeared than his smiles; we had afterwards a numerous train of temporary superintendents untill Dr. Binns came who had an excellent business as a Physician, and came to take charge of the school, on his coming we found our situation much more comfortable, I continued at Ackworth 2 years, and then return'd home to my Mothers house, I felt but little regret at leaving Ackworth, untill I was about to take my leave of William Sowerby, when my spirits entirely sank, for during most of the time I had been there, William had evidenced very considerable regard and affection towards me.—After my return home an invitation was given me to pay a visit to my relations at Yarm my half brother John Spence being an apprentice to my Brother in law James Procter, who had during my abode at Ackworth married my half Sister Hannah Spence, James was at that time a Grocer Draper & Spirit Merchant, I passed a month very agreeably along with them & the last time I was in my Sister Hannahs company,—for previous to my next visit she had been removed "beyond that bourne from which no traveller returns."
She had a most amiable and engageing mind and a fine & interesting person, my Bror. in law James Procter felt the extent of his loss very severely, she left behind her James & Jane her only children, Jane was soon afterwards removed, following her mother with hasty steps. On my return from Yarm to my mothers house, I was taken very unwell, and for a considerable space of time continued so, and during my continuance at home I discovered that a Gentleman farmer a man of considerable property was very desirous of ingratiateing himself with my mother, he was a liberal hearted man, but had a large family of children, his visits used oft times to disturb me but as my Mother remained firm in her determination not to have him, I understood it had taken very strong hold on his mind, and he became quite cast down & dejected, & lived only a short while afterwards;—previous to this circumstance taking place my Cousn. Edward Spence and myself went to Gildersome School, to my half Cousn. John Elliss's and here I found myself placed amongst a considerable number of my Grandfather Walker's relatives, my grandmother had been dead for some years and my Uncle Thos. Walker had crossed the Atlantic Ocean with his wife and family in order to settle at New York, my Uncle Joseph Walker of Leeds, joining him in partnership in the Woollen Cloth Trade, so that on my arrival at School I found the old premises deserted by all the family; we had soon a more favourable opinion about Gildersome School than we had entertained of Ackworth, for we were much indulged & had far more liberty, I had in the course of my residence at Gildersome, many very instructive letters from my Dr. Mother & during this period I formed a very intimate and close acquaintance with my mothers half Bror. and Sister Thos. and Mary Willson & her family, for my Grandfather Walker had been twice married & I paid a very agreeably interesting visit to Greenhouse, the place of their abode near Huddersfield, Yorks. and a correspondence was then commenced with my cousns. which has continued nearly without intermission untill the present time, 1809. At the expiration of my year I return'd home once again to my Mother's house to assist in the farming operations as much as I was able to render myself useful and a short time afterwards an offer was made by my Brother John Spence of Yarm, to take me as an apprentice, which after some letters had been exchanged was determined upon, I now had to bid a final adieu almost, to the comforts of a home which once I highly prized. On my arrival at Yarm I was introduced to my Sister Rebecca, my Brother John having since my former visit got married to Rebecca the youngest daughter of Joseph Procter, and my Bror. in Law James Procter's sister, James on their marriage had given up the grocery business to them & taken the Drapery & Spirit Trade across the street for a considerable time after I went to settle at Yarm I was exceedingly desirous of returning to assist my Mother, and the day I believe was fixed for my return when I concluded one 7th day night all on a sudden to be bound to my Brother immediately if he had no objection & none appearing, we entered into reciprocal bonds that very night, in most cases Apprentices going long upon tryal, is attended with disadvantage & where boys are likely for suiting, the best plan I think, is forthwith to bind them. Some time after I had got quietly settled at Yarm, owing in part to the example of a young man who resided with my Brother, I was drawn into the unprofitable and undesirably dangerous situation, of forming an intimate and close acquaintance with a young woman who resided in the family, she was of a very respectable family, but her circumstances in life rather low, I was often times thrown off my guard during the continuance of this intimacy, hearing through an indirect channel that some of my own relatives were dissatisfied with it, but that they were prevented speaking to me in particular on the subject on acct. of one of my Relations who saw either no objection towards it or at least so few, as to be easily laid aside; this however did not satisfy my mind for I had now begun to reflect rather seriously on the case, and I found my own peace of mind depended in no small measure on my declining the connection altogether, accordingly, after having well considered the subject, and looked at it in all its bearings, I concluded to state to the young woman that from what I had heard relative to objections of relatives and considering also that I was a minor and had no prospect of being able to maintain a family very soon, I was of the decided judgement that our connection had for the present at least better be given entirely up, but still if at a future period I should be so placed, as to render the renewal of our connection desireable, I should I believed, be no further from reviveing it, at the same time I requested that if any more deserveing young man should make application for her hand and affections, that she might by no means refuse him, she received it with a great deal of calmness and quietude & said "I believe also, it is for the best this should be given up at least for the present" or something to that effect and appeared more reconciled to it that I had at all looked for: but the breaking off of this connection cost me more bitterness of soul than I had ever before experiences for I feared everything that was bad might be the consequence and knew not how to hope for anything good. However after a short time she returned home to her relations and a young man who resided in the neighbourhood afterwards renewed his applications, which once before had proved ineffectual, was kindly received, and an union in due course of time determined upon, I met her at a Quarterly Meeting held at York, a short time before she was married & in a relations house near at hand, we had an opportunity for free conversation, & I felt not a little joy in being told she freely forgave me, and attributed my conduct to the folly of youth this I knew to be very true and after an interchange of kind wishes for each others welfare & happiness we parted: she was soon afterwards married to the friend before alluded to, a person in easy circumstances, & I believe is now the mother of a family of a fine family of children. The very great disadvantage to young people arising from connections of this sort, before the understanding is at all ripened or the judgement matured, can only be in some degree conceived by those who having been led into such errors and coming to a sense of their situation, have pulled back before their deliverance has been irretrieveably lost, besides it is a barbarous sort of wantonness, to trifle with the delicate feelings of the fair sex. This circumstance aided by another of nearly an equal tendency, which I shall next relate brought my mind into that state of exercise which is evidenced in the Diary which will follow it;—
My poor Mother having I believe given way to the artful insinuations of an old servant, who had resided with her before & since my father's decease and had got one or two of her own brothers introduced as men servants, and my mother thinking she had been rather slighted by some of her relations who ought to have encouraged and cheared her, got into a low & depressed state of mind, and in some strange delusive whim took off with one of the Brothers called Wm. Stotheart, to the chapel or church & they were married, none of my relations had courage or inclination to inform me of the state of things and the first account I received of it was by a traveller, & I was so exceedingly distressed about it, that my bror. James Procter took Post Chaise & followed him some distance to enquire whether or no it was the truth, on his returning he confirmed the statement I had first received, and made several additions of further information; I thought I could have more willingly followed her remains to the grave than that she should have so completely thrown aside all recollection of her worthy and amiably pious Father, who could he have presented himself when she appeared before the priest, would, I cannot but think, have occasioned her to change her purposes;—I found I had lost, completely lost, as well as my Brother Thos. and my two sisters Rachel and Sarah, our once comfortable home.—After giving vent to my griefs, I determined upon always endeavoring to chear and comfort her, whenever I went to see her, and to appear as much like what I used to do, as I possibly could, this I have invariably attempted to perform, to the greatest extent I possibly could, down to the present time 1809.—My father in law, is now, a very strict and scrupulous Methodist, but they are surrounded by such a numerous train of hungry relations that seem like a tribe of locusts, and my poor Mother does now get but very little out to Meetings; still I am at times willing to hope that the day of returning brightness, may dawn upon her, if not upon her husband also.—During the early part of my apprenticeship, I was often introduced into scenes of levity and folly, which tended to bring my mind into affliction and distress, and although i do not know that I was ever guilty of many of those things which the world ranks under the list of great crimes, yet, I was often led into the commission of those things, which tended to destroy that peace which the world can neither give or take away.
In 1804 at a time when I had been visiting my relations in Nidderdale, my Cousn. Barba. Wigham (formerly Procter who had been married to Cuthbert Wigham, and to whom my bror. in law Jas. Procter had given up his drapery business, and confined his own attention to the Provision and Corn trade, together with his spirit business) proposed to my Cousin Joseph Procter of North Shields, to take me into partnership in his business of Linen & Woolen Draper, as the very poor state of his health was such, as to render some measure of that sort necessary, to which he had agreed [very readily, and my Brother John set me at liberty, some months before my apprenticeship expired, after a little consultation and reflection on the subject I concluded with I think the leave of my father's Trustees or executors to accept the offer, and I soon afterwards left with great regret my kind and dr. Relations at Yarm, and accompanied by my Brother John in a Gig to Stockton, I then took the Coach for Sunderland, had a most distressingly sick . . . . . ]
The last passage in brackets has been erased and the succeeding six pages cut out.
Thirty-six pages in the form of a diary follow, headed:—Diary commenced 9th mo. 1st 1802—and ending in 1803, They are devoted entirely to religious struggles and self examination, largely arising from the difficulty of keeping the attention fixed suitably during meetings and were written at the age of 18. Perhaps a few quotations containing old Quaker expressions, almost obsolete, may be interesting:—
9th mo. 3rd. Attended the weekday meeting where was that antient and venerable friend Mary Ridgeway from Ireland and susannah Appleby from Coal-brook-dale, who had come as a companion for her, they were both favored in Testimony, Mary Ridgeway from the following words "a good beginning ends well" upon which she enlarged very considerably. . . . .
10th mo. 8th. Attended a public Evening Meeting for Ann Alexander from Needham and Ann Burgess from Leicester which was favored with the divine presence; and Ann Alexander appeared in Testimony in a very powerful manner. . . . .
1803. 1st mo. 4th. Attended the Quarterly Meeting held at Darlington where our highly valued friend Joseph Cloud from America had good service of something very close to say to those who were making a formal profession and were seeking after the World and the things of it and forgetting their Lord & Master.
2nd mo. 6th. . . . . in the afternoon our dear friend Joseph Procter had a short but lively communication to us & concluded in praise and thanksgivings to the name of the adorable all merciful god whose abundant goodness endureth for ever. . . . .
However, most of this diary is in the following strain :—
9th mo. 6th 1802. The unwearied adversary of my soul, is busily at work to frustrate every good resolution which I have taken "Without thy divine assistance, Oh Lord, the spoiler will prevail against me, & I shall be utterly cast off for ever!
9th mo. 7 & 8. Extreme lowness and inability to perform any of the necessary functions of a spiritual nature appears to have dominion. . . . .
From the 6th to the 13th a most sad week, may never such another be my lot, almost a total departure from that which is good, one transgression after another, surely the Lord's tender mercies will no longer be extended to my unworthy soul. . . .
13th. Attended the two meetings but alas little of true worship was experienced from the admission of wandering thoughts, and want of a true settlement of mind.
Very occasionally a more cheerful view is taken. At the close of 1803 these entries abruptly cease as the writer eventually realised their monotony and wisely destroyed the remainder. He continues :—
The memorandums kept in the form of diary were continued by me until the time of my settling at Shields before referr'd to, but the sameness or rather similarity of the records to those already penned have induced the writer to destroy them—he considers it to have been a great advantage to him that so excellent a man as Joseph Procter was at that time altho' a great age and fast declining as regarded the outward man, still in the full vigor and freshness of the spiritual life and often found it his duty to minister to the little flock by which he was surrounded, his fatherly interest and care respecting me was also a great blessing to me, and the council and caution he gave me a great means of keeping me nearer to that which tended to my peace than I fear would otherwise have been the case—for full of spirit, and naturally of a buoyant disposition, I should often but for his friendly and watchful oversight have stepped further from the narrow way than I did—and still I feel that both as regards the period to which this more especially refers and the subsequent one there is "nothing belongs to me but blushing and confusion of face."
The account then continues; written in 2nd mo. 1836.
7th mo. 1804. My removal from Yarm a place to which I had become most fondly attached proved a very bitter potion to me.—The situation in which my friend and future partner carried on business at that time was in premises situated in the low street at the Wooden bridge across the Dogger Leitch a place that had received its name from the Dutch Doggers having in former times been moored there and a Wooden bridge at that time being placed across the small runner of water which here fell into the Tyne—it was a filthy situation of a striking contrast to the one I had left—I found my future partner at Lodgings on acct. of his health—he had also been making several alterations in his premises which were not ready for his reception and the first night I slept in Shields at a house in the Church Way they had taken as a temporary residence from George (or John) Storey. Among his assistants was John Foster afterwards my brother in law.
I found the accounts from want of health & other causes several months in arrear & imposted, & had a most laborious set to get them into a proper state & it was not until the 1st of the 4th month 1805 that our new arrangement commenced when it was arranged that I should have one third of the profits of the business on providing my share of the capital. . . . . .
In 1805 my future father in law Robert Foster came to visit us at Shield, I had become much attached to his son James then an apprentice with Bragg & Rooke of Newcastle & his son John lived with us.—In 1806 Elizth. Foster and Mary Burton of Hebblethwaite came on a visit to Shields—and about the same time 8th mo. of 1806 on account of my health having suffered by close attention to business I went along with my kind friend Hadwen Bragg into Scotland, we visited Edinbro—Glasgow—Air—Dumfries & retd. by Gretna & Carlisle, it was a delightful round and one I enjoyed exceedingly.—In the 8 mo. of 1807 I attended my friend Joseph Taylor to Penrith where he was married to his friend Elizabeth Harris and during this journey paid my first visit to the lakes, saw Derwentwater—Grasmere—Rydal and called on the poet of the lakes Wm. Wordsworth, from thence by Windermere to Kendal, lodged at Isaac Wilsons & William went with me to the Meeting at Brigflats where we met Thos. Cash—& the Foster family. I passed 2 or 3 delightful days there & then along with Myles, set off to Joseph Taylor's marriage at Penrith.—In 8th Mo of 1808 Mary & Elizth. Foster came to visit their brothers at Sheilds & Newcastle. I had been at the previous Yearly Meeting in London, where all that was good about me had been a little stirred up and I . . . . thought the members of the legislature might have taken some useful lessons from attending the sittings, my quarters were at Tugwells a Bookseller in Threadneedle Street, a noisy confined place but next door to where my fellow traveller & afterwards Bror. in law Anthony Clapham had his lodgings with his Cousin Harrop.— . . .
We had gone up from Darlington—on our way we saw Danl. Lambert a short time before his death, Soon after our return A.C. paid a visit to Hebblethwaite—& the visit of M.F. & E.F. soon laid the foundation of that union which afterwards took place between Anthony Clapham & Elizth. Foster & myself & M. Foster—I contrived to pay a visit at Yarm whilst they were on a visit to my friend there in their way home—& in Meynill Wood a place endeared by many former recollections, unfolded to my friend the wishes of my heart.—This was about the end of the 10th m. 1808.—My sisters Rachel & Sarah being also both on a visit there—my dearly old friend Joseph Procter recommended me to turn my attention to one of these young women, & on asking which? he fixed on the object of my own choice, my friend Henry Taylor having previously done the same.—I left my friends here with a very heavy heart and in crossing the Tyne at a very late or rather early hour had been nearly upset by the boat getting fast on a Hawser—but providence was pleased to preserve me from the danger I was in—about this time my sister Rachel came to act as housekeeper for me—we lived at the Wooden bridge—and although the house was comfortable yet from the closeness of the situation, my own close application to business & other causes I was subject to considerable depression and poor health. . . . .
In 4th month of 1809 I was made one of the overseers of the poor for North Shields—an arduous task & then especially so from various malversations that had taken place in the work house & amongst the outdoor pensioners; and in addition a dispute arose about this time respecting the powers of a selfelected body called the "Four & twenty" who considered that on account of their connection with the established Church, and influence they held in all proceedings of the vestry that they had a right to control both the Churchworkers and Overseers of the poor—this was resisted—& counsel's pinion being taken on the subject it was found they had no more power legally than any other twenty four persons in the parish—; My various duties, public & private, added to that of visiting the outdoor pensioners at their houses, and cold taken in returning home outside the coach from the Monthly Meeting at Sunderland held on the 4th of 5th month 1809 brought on a violent attack of Fever and on the 6th day morning following I sent for a Medical man who decided it to be an attack of Typhus. After the close of the morning meeting on 1st day my kind friends Joseph and Elizabeth Taylor proposed if the doctor would allow it, to remove me to their house in Toll Square which being in a quiet spot and surrounded by a large garden proved a delightful change, as the zeal and energy of my friend had me removed in less than 4 hours from its first being suggested to me; this was a strong proof of the genuine kindness of heart of my dear friends who by taking this step incurred great risk of catching a fearful disease and I desire to feel truly grateful to the great preserver of men for having mercifully prevented any one from suffering by their great kindness to me, or being infected by the disease; during one period of it I thought it very probable I should not recover. . . . . After being about 3 weeks at my kind friend Joseph Taylors, I was invited to spend some time at Willington Mill with Joseph and Margaret Unthank and after this I paid a visit to my friends and relations in Yorkshire.
The restriction I was under not to visit my dear friend Mary Foster was removed in the course of this year—my friend Anthony Clapham having been married to her sister Elizabeth—and soon after her return home from acting as the Bridesmaid I had the delight of a kind reception by the family at Hebblethwaite Hall; where my visits were continued until the time fixed for the consummation so ardently desire; and on the 29th day of the 8th month 1810 at a Meeting held at Brigflats, and most numerously attended by friends and others my beloved friend Mary Foster became my wife—It had often been the earnest prayer of my heart that we might be blessed with an evidence of our proceeding being in the ordering of the Lord—and a more delightful heart tendering time I never experienced—Dear Cousn. Geo. Braithwaite; Anna Sanderson of London—Jas. Collinson & John Wilkinson all preached the last commencing "Right Marriages are made in Heaven" following on in a strain of great beauty and instruction—The following day we set forward for Shields, accompanied by our dear Aunt Elizth. Foster, and Mary Burton & Mary Goad as Bridesmaids,—We had a delightful journey home.
(The book then continues in Diary form from 1811 to 1839 with entries of the births of their children, births and deaths generally, notes of contemporary events, Bank failures of 1826, cholera in 1832, etc., reflections, quotations from letters, poems, sayings and the like, some verses by R.S. himself, etc.)
There is very little of personal interest in the twenty years covered by these occasional notes in the diary from which a few extracts follow. The first entry is:—
On the 4th of the 10th mo. 1811 our first born a daughter blooming full of promise & beautifull gladdened our hearts, but alas after a transient tarrience of 19 days she fled to scenes of more enduring bliss & to our great grief was interred the day following in the graveyard at the head of the Town; we had called her Mary after her mother and grandmother Foster.—On the first month following our brother Myles Birket Foster who had been married in the course of the preceeding year to Ann King was presented with his first born a son called Robert 28 of 1st mo. 1812.
On the 7th of 9th m. 1812 my dr. Mary left Shields on a visit to Hebblethwaite & on the 24th I followed her, leaving the coach at Shap & crossing the mountains from Orton, a very dangerous & harassing experiment.
On the 27th attended the preparative meeting at Brig Flats where poor Edwd. Smith made an exception to the query respectg. "Vain Sports etc." and in explanation said "it was something of the Mountebank Mak ! ! !"
On the 7th of 1st mo. 1813 appeared before the Lieutenant at Newcastle on acc't of being Balloted for the local Militia—one of them offended at my hat—the rest remarkably civil.
1813 2nd mo. 2nd. A very severe frost, the River frozen both above & below Newcastle bridge—tents, sledges, horses etc. on the ice, & at the close of the Mo' Meetg. a genl. adjournment onto it.
1815 3rd mo. 23rd. James Gilpin of Newcastle married to my sister Sarah Spence; may their union be blessed.
On the 1st of 12th mo. 1818 died my Brother in law John Foster, the dearest friend I ever had & his loss to me seems irreparable . . . . . . and in many of the most important movements of my life I was greatly indebted to his judicious counsel in forming my decisions;—in reference to one especially, that took place on the first of the eighth month of this year, a copartnership with Edwd. & Wm. Chapman as Bankers at Shields under the designation of the North and South Shields Bank, had it not been for his decided judgement in favour of the project, i should not have dared to embark in it—and it has proved one of the happiest events of my life and of great importance to my family. The loss to my father in law is one of the severest description living under the same roof and leaning upon him for comfort in his declining years.
On the 16th of 9 mo. 1819 my sister Rachel was married to Thomas Hagen of Stanwell near Staines, Middlesex—& altho' removing to a great distance there is I think every change of it proving a happy union.
On the 24 of 11 mo. 1819 I attended at the Church or Chapel of Hartwith the burial of Old Spooner of Bramham Rocks, in his 95th year and placed the first sod on his grave—a young woman was interr'd just after called Atkinson about 16—& I led the poor infirm old parson Capstick from the Church to the graveside—stood at his elbow whilst he read the service & then led him back to the Church—it was moonlight, the scene most impressive & beautiful.
1821 on the 20th of 2nd month I went over to Hardcastle Garth to visit my dear Mother whose health had been for some time declining & on the 26th of the same induced her to return with me to Shields—she was in a very reduced delicate state requiring constant medical attendance & her disease soon assumed so serious a character that in addition to our usual kind & attentive medical man Dr. Greenhow, Dr. Headlam of Newcastle also attended, but all their labours were of no avail, & she sank under her disease & died on the 1st of 4th mo. 1822.—One of the kindest & most affectionate of parents & much beloved by those that knew her worth.—
On the 12th of 8 Mo. 1822. George the 4th passed from London to Edinbro by Steam Packet, & a large party went out to sea several miles in a lifeboat in order if possible to present and address to him.
3rd mo. 3rd & 4th 1823. A very severe gale from the North East, & much damage done in consequence—on the 12th of this month the wreck of the "Pallas" sold on the rocks at Tynemouth for 390£, built about 9 mos. ago & £3800 offered for her before sailing.
On the 22nd of 3rd mo. 1823 died at Lancaster, my beloved and affectionate Aunt Elizabeth Foster—who for many years had evinced the true kindness & affection of a parent to my dear wife & myself.
5th mo. 4th 1823. Left by the Mail for London. Arrived there on the 6th at ½ past 6 waited on Jno. Lambton, Sir M.W. Ridley & Chas. Jno. Brandling with petition for the abolition of slavery—received great personal kindness from Jno. Henry Ley Esq. Chief Clerk of the House of Commons.
On the 5th of 7th mo. 1824 in company with near 50 friends by the Britannia Steam Packet to Stockton to the Quarterly Meeting.
On the 22nd of 7 mo. our daughters Mary & Sarah left home for School at Doncaster—my dear wife & I along with them—taking John Procter & Jane Spence's marriage at Staindrop on the 23rd in our way.
On the 8th of 2nd mo. 1825 Captn. Brown of the Royal Navy attended a public meeting at the Library with his plans for a Suspension Bridge across the Tyne at Shields. On the 23rd a public meetg. at the Northd. Arms & 1,400 subscribed in the room.
5th mo. 7th 1825. Bought the premises at the corner of Howard St. for 1,600£.
2nd mo. 18th 1827. The Betsy Cains wreckd. on the Black Middins.—The ship that brot. King Wm.
4 mo. 28th 1827. John & Hannah Walker join me in a journey into Scotland. On the 30th the General Meeting for Scotland held a clear answer respectg. love !!! after a lapse of many years.—5 mo. 1st on the top of Arthur's Seat before 6 in the morn'g—a very singular scene. 5 mo. 2 to Glasgow Lanark, etc. On the 3rd to the splendid falls of Clyde—on the 4th retd. by Kelso & Coldstream.
On the 5th of 6th mo. Died at Newcastle my excellent & venerable father in law Robert Foster, his remains were interred in the old graveyard Newcastle on the 20th, a large concourse of friends and others attending to evince their regard for this very superior man.
7 mo. 15th 1828. My Wife, self, twelve children & 3 servants at Newcastle by Steam. "Too many eggs in one basket."
11 mo. 24. 1828. Fry & Co. stopped payment (the Bank's London Agents). Banknotes and gold on hand on the 26th when the acct. reached Shields, £31,000 odd.
(Sums paid out during the run on the Bank.)
Confidence completely restore & many very gratifying instance of it exhibited.
12 mo. 26. Burk convicted of killing persons for their bodies at Edinbro !!!
12 mo. 27. Remmington Stephenson & Co. failed owing to the roguery of Roland Stephenson, a Member of Parliament, Treasurer of St. Bartholomews Hospital, &c. &c. the suns he had absconded with were from 150, to 160,000 in Notes and Exchequer bills.
5 mo. 17, 1830. Interview with the Duke of Wellington at the treasury on the Custom House at North Shields—great courtesy and attention to the deputation consisting of Wm. Clark of Bruton House,—Alexr. Creighton—Henry Mitcalfe—John Tinley—C. Wawn & myself headed by Henry Liddel. 5.24. In the House of Commons until ½ past 2.
6 mo. 26. 1830. King George the IV. died at ½ past 3 in the morning. 7th mo. 2nd King William the 4th proclaimed at Shields, 8 of the children in bed ill of the measles—viz. Jane, Mary, Sarah, Elizh. Rachel, Ann, Margaret & Hannah Maria.
2nd mo. 1st 1831. A dreadful gale from the East So. East with violent storms of snow—above 30 vessels wrecked on this coast betwixt Hartlepool and Alnmouth—the snow from 8 to 9 ft. deep in many places & several North Mails due.
The result of the debate on Lord John Russell's reform bill on the 9th of 3rd 1831—was that 37 members have spoken in favour and 36 against, & they are classed as below:—
! ! ! leave given to bring in the bill—read a 2nd time on the 22nd 302 for 301 against.
On the 20th of 4 mo. 1831 the reform bill was lost by 299 against 291 a majority of 8.
8 mo. 17. 1831. The Rothesay Castle lost betwixt Liverpool and Bangor with about 100 passengers & about the same time the Ben Nevis' from Stornoway to Glasgow—crew & passengers saved.—Steamers are not infallible.
9th mo. 4th. The coronation of King Wm. and Queen Adelaide. Above 3000 Tickets issued to the poor, and from 120 to 200 old men & women dined at New Quay—the result of a private subscription from a few individuals—Low town the shops all closed, a public Procession and address to the King & Queen voted, Boat Races, Balloons, Fireworks etc. etc. etc.
3 mo. 22. 1832. The Reform bill passed the Commons by a majority of 116—355 & 239.
5 mo. 7. Lord Lyndhurst's motion carried by 151 to 116 majority 35. "Incurables" & on the 10th Lord Ebringtons by a majority of 80 "The aspect of the nation was like an approaching thunderstorm, black, grim, sultry, suffocating but breathless & silent as death."
6 mo. 7. 1832. The Reform Bill received the Royal Assent by Comission.
8 mo. 4. Jobling gibbetted at Jarrow Slake for the murder of Nicholas Fairless a magistrate at South Shields.
12 mo. 13 & 14. First Election of a Member for the Borough of Tynemouth. George Frederic Young of London & Sanderson Ilderton the Candidates—the first elected.
12 mo. 22. Joseph Pease elected for the Southern division of the County of Durham—a friend ! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
8 mo. 14. 1834. Jas. & Rachel Foster—Robert & Mary Spence—Elizabeth Foster Spence & Rachel Spence left for Edinbro. 8.16 by sea from Leith to Aberdeen. 18 General Meeting for Scotland, left for Urie Stonehaven. 19 Perth to Dunkeld. 20th Pass of Killicrankie, Taymouth & Killeen. 21st Trossachs, Loch Katrine, Callender to Stirling. 22 return to Edinbro & 23 home by Berwick a most delightful excursion.
2nd mo. 11th 1835. James Watson & my daughter Mary, Joseph Watson & my daughter Sarah laid their intentions of marriage before friends at the Monthly Meeting at Newcastle—May the blessing of heaven rest upon their intended unions! Daniel Oliver spoke very encouragingly to them and they all acquitted themselves with great propriety & gained much credit from their friends.
3rd mo. 12th 1835. Jas. & Mary & Joseph & Sarah married at Friends Meeting House, North Shields—it was a most interesting occasion—and excited quite a sensation in the town.
9 mo. 15th 1835. My son Joseph Spence bound apprentice to A. Sanders & Cuthbert Wigham at Stockton.
1st mo. 23rd 1836. A fearful gale from the West South West blew down the bank chimney through the roof of our back room, & Emma had a very narrow escape with her life, being enveloped by the dust & mortar of the falling ruins just as she left the room.
On the 1st & 3rd of Second Month I returned to the Office after being confined upstairs from the 9th of 1st month by a slight injury to the ancle joint.
The Duke of Grafton died aged 86 & Dr. Johnson aged 84—Two proofs that drinking Tea strong is not destructive of Longevity, both were immoderate Tea Drinkers.
6th mo. 7th. Sold the Goodwill of the Banking Concern of Chapman & Co. for £20,000 to the Union Banking Co. & the old partners continued in the management commencing on the 1st of 7th month.
11th mo. 6th. Caleb Wilson of Cotherstone died aged 74. Caleb's description of the fresh sea breeze in the square was "Unchewed air."
6 mo. 20th 1837. King William the 4th died and Alexandrina Victoria proclaimed Queen of Great Britain.
6/23/1838. Accompanied by my dear wife & Joseph & Sarah Watson went by the Chevy Chase to Melrose, thence by chaise to Abbotsford & Selkirk to Hawick a most beautiful & interesting ride & abounding with scenery & incidents of no common interest.—Left Hawick on the 27th by Moss Paul, Langholm, Longtown & Carlisle to Wigton, on the 28th attended the Q. Meeting there—the town in bustle on acct. of the Queen's Coronation.—29th After the General Meeting returned by the Rail to Newcastle & thence home delighted to be back to my own nest.
8/29/1838. The Twenty Eighth Anniversary of my Wedding Day ! ! ! ! a source of unmixed comfort and manifold blessings.
1839. 1 mo. 7. The Shop closed owing to a violent hurraine from South West to North West & business of all sorts suspended.—Poor Mrs. Orange the wife of William Orange the printer killed by a stack of chimnies falling through the roof, immense damage done. 3 American packet Ships wrecked near Liverpool . . . . . the full extent of the calamity unknown.
6/17. The North Shields & Newcastle & Brandling Junction Railways opened—terrible thunderstorm & waterspout at Newcastle.—Holiday trip to the Victoria Bridge.
7/16. Jno. Foster Spence, Charles & Richardson Brown set out on a tour to the Continent.
 [ . . . ] On reaching the quay, I found no steamer would start for 20 minutes, and an omnibus driving past at the moment I planted myself in that where I was alone the whole way. No one now travels by them unless they cannot wait for the steamer or the tide happens not to suit, which I feared would be the case. [ . . . ]
On the 18th of 12th month 1839 the very occasional entries in the Diary cease.
© Benjamin S. Beck, 2017