Extracts from the diaries of Robert Foster

NB These are my transcripts of transcripts, which I believe to be authentic, however the whereabouts of the originals is not known to me. I have transcribed largely verbatim, including editorial comments and paraphrases by the first transcriber. It should be easy enough to identify these without further indication from me. Use of ' // ' and square brackets is also from the original transcripts. Quite a lot of the text, especially in the 1771 diary, is barely intelligible, and some of the references pretty opaque. Any editorial comment by myself will appear as {bsb:      }.

The second diary transcript is quite problematic, as chronological order seems to have been greatly disrupted by Mrs Madge, the original transcriber, and in quite a few cases it's not absolutely clear which year the entry should refer to. I have tried to restore chronological order as far as possible, but some dates may have been assigned to the wrong year. In most cases I don't think this is a major problem, as the reflection of working life at Hebblethwaite seems just as authentic, give or take a year that may have gone adrift.

There would appear to be two diaries, one from 1771, the other covering 1781 to 1784.


Shorthand notes in a diary dated 1771, written by Robert Foster.

Page headed January 1

Having resolved with myself to commit to this book a material chronicle which may // from Sedbergh school, there has been a vacation since the 1st ultimo. Last 1st day // own choice to be a physician (the profession that has always been proposed for me) which //  was not, and that I should prefer some other business. Whereon he declared it was // more suitable. On my return home I related our conversation to my father // of what has been proposed for me, but desired that I should have entirely // my own MSD merchant and go abroad, to which my father did not object. In mentioning this // favour offers to my going abroad, I pretended there might be some danger with respect to my //

Cash in hand this day. . .


4th day the 2nd.

At the control meeting. Received a letter of Duncan Besty Foster of DNM. Doctor BMN //


5th day the 3rd.

At grandfather's this afternoon with father. We acquainted him with the change of sentiment with respect to my being a doctor; // them till grandmother broke it SR' angry if I had failed upon anything. I told her I can like to be a merchant and go // great risk that attended it; but upon telling him this did not weigh with me, he acceded with the proposal, and of Uncle James // more than to any other person for a master. Uncle James desired that nothing more should be said about it //


6th day the 4th.

A windy day, with some sun. Abraham Johnson SHNR [    ] out attending and got //


7th day the 5.

This day grandfather sent me an old coat and waistcoat. My greatcoat came home today.

Was at a meeting this forenoon. Happened to be over a lot to go in the barn. This day it //


Page headed February 3.

Has heard them say he has blessing with the children, that they were relation to Hardman in the Friends.


Page headed February 17.

March 5th. The artillery were exercised today and the                 Militia reviewed by the [General]  [     ].


Page headed February 18.

{bsb: The transcript includes some text which is clearly notes on other matters, and not diary text at all. This is omitted here.}

Page headed April 28.

Wed. 24th.

This day I am 17 years old.


Page headed June 9.

Fr. 7th.

Sister Betsy is this day 7 years old.


Page headed June 16.

Mon. 17.

Resolved in my mind that all of us were present, to know that there is but one right teacher and instructor M B asking not this was that we might know him to instruct in [why] our undertaking, for it is in as we once has hand to God, that we know their satisfaction to our soul, [seeing] not the love TSFR will meet and the bad will RMNT. Let us consider that we ought to LVR for life, that we must worship Almighty God who said the secrets [     ] hearts. If therefore we desire in DNK by the rest, let us in good earnest seek after it, let us seek after it that [we] may dwell in the house of the Lord for ever. Such of those as are seeking in good earnest he will direct them. Let us not think we come, teacher, to us and be soon near what [     ] he shall do when we last meet; but to worship God in spirit and [     ], if we spend our time in considering what we will do when we leave here.


Th. 14

We'll hope there are one such in this meeting.


Fr. 15th


Captain FS dld. his account £4. 2. 4.
Thomas Hawes do. do. 3. 3. 3.
   do.    Hudson do. do.   10. 9.
[Wal]ter Robinson     1. -. 3.
      --- --- ---
      9. 10. 7.
      7. 6.  
      4. 6.  
      --- --- ---
      39. 2. 7.

Page headed July 29.

Old England land, England, that still guarded shore

That keeps us in peace and great plenty.

How I am afraid I shall not see thee more

If I do this 100 to 20.

For the CRBS [     ] our hands is dark and as fast,

The doors are all bolted I cannot get past,

But if I do live till my 7 years are past

Thus I'll bid adieu to Antigua.


When I was in England I lay like a courtesan

And stretched myself out on soft feathers;

But here Antigua I lay like a hog

My pillow was there a BRKTY log

I had under my pillow a GLS of rich beds

Those ashes prepared for all weathers.


Paged headed August 11.

Tu. 6th August.

Brother Chris {bsb: sc. Miles} is this day 12 years old.

Antigua May 15th 1772 in Lat 17o 05.


{bsb: All remaining transcript text omitted here, as not diary-related. The only exception follows:}


Page headed December 23.

Antigua May 14.

[Practice shorthand letters and alphabets.]







- - - - - -

1781 TO 1784.

Extracted by                          

Mrs. B.H. Madge,        

North End,         

     Findon, Sussex

The log-book and diary is bound in parchment:

this has been coloured green.

A typewriter is the worst medium for conveying the charm of the original; it is impossible to reproduce the texture of the paper, the faded ink, the individuality of the hand-writing—a beautiful and correct copy-plate style, with the old-fashioned long 's' and flourished terminals. Abbreviations are used and seldom is a Christian name written in full. During February 1782, a private shorthand is introduced and this naturally prevents the complete realisation of many entries.

The procedure, page by page, of the diary remains the same; three vertical columns neatly ruled, show the weekday, the day of the month, the prevailing wind; then, following a reference to the weather comes an account of the day's work.

Each page is headed, —

Heblethwaite Hall, the month and date of the year; occasionally this is preluded by 'Remarks ', or 'Transactions ', and once or twice Heblethwaite Place is written instead of Heblethwaite Hall.


May 3rd, 1781. Moderate breeze and cloudy. Tho: and T. Ratson hedging in Howthwaites. Sow'd and harrow'd the Bigg in the Oaks. 2½ pecks a hoop more wanted. Burnt the weeds. Sent to J. Wallace for his roller. Led a cart of out-lay peats out of the Horse pasture.

May 4th. Calm winds. Cloudy with showers. Sow'd the remainder of the Bigg in-the-Oaks 6 quarts. Emp:d felling and peeling wood in the Oaks for a stand for a lead cistern. Carpr: making it. Led away the weeds. Hedgers emp'd.

May 5th. Fresh breezes. Sold and del'd a fat calf to R. Mason for 21/-. Rolled the Bigg. Hedgers emp'd. Jn: Townson making a conduit in the fold. Sow'd peas and beans. Led two cartful of stones. Set up the cisterns.

Then follows a gap of seven months, the next entry being January 1782; there are signs that the intermediate leaves have been torn out, but whether intentionally, or by the stress of time it is now impossible to say. Reading the entries day by day and year after year there emerges quite a vivid picture of the writer, in spite of the dispassionate record maintained; a young man staid, zealous, determined; large in frame and large in mind; a disciplinarian as the man should be who could step into the Master's place during the heat of action, and carry all through to the approval of his Captain, on board H.M.S. Jupiter. He can be pictured riding & walking about the estate, watching the works & the work done, with his quick eye trained to note detail. A man proud and strong, a warm heart held in check by the reserve demanded of Quakers, but youth, and the poetry in life which youth demands appearing in his unwitting record of the black bird which he hears for the first time whistling on the last day of February. A man too, with a sense of humour, or is it unconscious levity—which causes him to pen such entries as the following—

March 19th, 1784. Ditto weather. Attended the funeral of J. Townson's wife.    Old goose began to sit.

The charm of these daily entries lies in the simple naive style employed. It has seemed best to copy only those which show some sequence of events. A pleasing sense of contrast is secured by having between the same covers, the start of the log-book of H.M.S. Pelican, and on reversing the book, the diary at Heblethwaite Hall.

{bsb: From here on the chronology is very confused in Mrs Madge's transcript. I am attempting to re-arrange the text in chronological order, but this will not always be possible.}


Robert Foster was regular in his attendance at the Quaker Meetings, for not only does he mention going to the meetings at Brigflats but also at Kendal, to Lancaster, and to several others. It would seem that these Meetings were also an occasion for social intercourse, as relations and friends having ridden in from long distances would naturally seize the opportunity for mutual intercourse and conversation.

Jan: 6th. 1782. A.M. pleasant and clear. Empl:d as above. P.M. Tho: at the Orchard hedge. Rode Jack to Kendal. Supt and spent the evening at Is: Wilsons, and slept at Cou: Braithwaites.

(George Braithwaite 1746–1812, married Deborah Wilson.)

Feb: 2nd. Frosty. The Turnpike road glaze'd with ice. Jn and Is: Collinson, Jn. Burton and Mary Thistlethwaite dined with us. Mary staid all night.

Feb: 3rd. A gentle thaw. Tho: hedging between Jn. Herds pasture and the plantation. Took Mary into Dent behind me. Spent the evening with Chrsr: Thistlethwaite, much snow in Denthead.

Feb: 4th. Mod: and clear. At 6 set out with Jn. Thistlethwaite for Kendal General Meeting. Overtook Molly and Ant: going there about Sedbergh town end. Baited at Brigflats. At 10 arrived at Kendal. (shorthand) Dined at Cou: Braithwaites. At 2 p.m proceeded for Lanc: drank tea at Burton, and arrived at 7 where I found all in general well. Fell in at Bolton with Jn. Coxall from Grenada.

(The West Indies such as here mentioned Grenada, and later on St. Kitts, were, it can be assumed, as well known to R.F. as Lancaster and Ky: Stephen

Feb: 6th. Still continues frosty and clear. At 9 set out in company with Capt: Heysham, who has lately had an account of the death of his son Wm: in St. Kitts, a valuable young man; parted company at Bolton. Dined at Tho: Sills at Birkrigg Park. At 3 arrived at Kendal, but staid none. (shtd)

Feb: 14th. {bsb: year uncertain} A hard frost and snow showers. Led 26 carts dung from the Highouse to the Oakbank. Kitchen and Co came to take building the Bridge and the Lime-kiln. They estimate the Bridge at £3.10.0, the kiln at 50/-.

Feb: 15th 1782. It still continues a hard frost in the night. Led 12 cartful of Rubbish out of the fold into Haygarth, and 12 ditto of compost. In the evening attended a meeting advertised to be held at Ed. Robinson's for establishing a Book Club.—present Tho: Willis Esq. Rev: Gawthorp, Oliver and Bateman etc etc. Resolved that they draw up the rules and produce them on the 6th day next. Spent 1/-. Fodder'd the sheep. Antho: badly with a sore throat.

Feb: 21st. Heavy snow showers. Geting home firewood. Tho: threshing. Led 9 carts out of near Midfield. Attended the Book Club, paid subscription and expenses 8.3.    (short hand)

Further on he notes "Attended annual book club dinner at Ed. Robinsons at which were present most of the members besides several ladies. Paid subscription 7/6. expenses 3/-.

There is Robert Southey's authority for knowing that Robert Foster "was scholar enough to quote Virgil aptly" and on the fly-leaf of his Hebblethwaite diary he has jotted down several Latin quotations. One for the Bee-house is from Virgil's Eclogue.

"Hinc tibi quae semper vicino ab limite saepes Hyblaeis apibus florem depasta salicti saepe levi somnum suadebit inire susurro".

(Here for you as always the hedge that marks your neighbours boundary and whose willow-bloom the bees of Hybla gather, with light murmur, will often invite the approach of sleep.)

Another is an inscription to put over a fire-place.

"Hic focus et taedae pingues, hic plurimus ignis
Seper et adsidua postes fuligino nigri:
Hic tantum boreae curamus frigora quantum
Aut numerum lupus aut torrentia flumina ripas."

(Here is a hearth and fat pine logs, here always is a good fire and beams black with the busy smoke. Here we care as little for the chill blast of Boreas as a wolf for a crowd of people or a river in flood for its banks.)

There are several more, but the following with its appropriate reference to the joy of a peaceful rural life, is from the first Book of Horace's Odes, and from the first ode, lines 11 to 17.

"Gaudentem patrios findere sarculo
Agros Attalicis condicionibus
Numquam demoueas, ut trabe Cypria
Myrtoum pauidus nauta secet mare.
Luctantem Icariis fluctibus Africum
Mercator metuens otium et oppidi
Laudat rura sui."

(And one who with unwearied toil
Ploughs cheerful his paternal soil;
While in their several wishes blest
Not all the wealth by kings possesst
Shall tempt, with fearful souls, to brave
The terrors of the foamy wave.
When loud the winds and waters wage,
Wild war with elemental rage,
The merchant praises the retreat,
The quiet of his rural seat.)

{bsb: One-sentence note by Mrs Madge omitted.}

March: 17th. Cloudy. Attended General Meeting. P.M. came Thomas Capstick alias Stiff.

March: 18th. Moderate and small rain. Stiff getting inside stones for the lime-kiln. Led and scaled 54 carts of compost in Haygarth. Ratson empd: P.M. attended a parish meeting for letting the Poor. Edw Garlick took them for £175.

March: 19th. Med: and clear. stiff empld clearing a bank. Led 23 carts of inside stones. Digging drains. I sold my wool to T. Taylor of Carns Burn near Lancaster at 2/- a stone.

March: 21st. Moderate winds and a hard frost in the night. Stiff and Tho: led and scaled 52 carts compost, II from behind the barn. Anth: brought three loads of lime to the kiln. At noon died Ed: Clark of Bowscale, and honest man.

March: 22nd. Strong winds and cloudy. Stiff at the kiln making a road: and trailing down inside stones on a hand sledge. Fetched 3 carts of straw from Rich: Hutchinson. P.M. Ratson brought his Galloway. Ploughing the higher hill on Haygarth.

March: 23rd. Strong winds and much snow. Discharged Stiff. A.M. emp: occasionally. P.M. ploughing as above. Ratson cutting and guarding in Houthwaite Wood. Heavy snow showers and a very sharp frost. Begun with the hay in the Low Barn.

March: 26th. Mod: and clear. Attended the monthly meeting. Dined at Ann Holmes with Will: Fothergill, etc. At the invitation of F. Cudforth in the evening attended the book club; spent 6d. At 5 P.M. Tho: and Antho: returned with the corn, two sheets of lead, some quickthorns etc. At midnight the great cow calved a why-calf. At noon also came Will: Bainbridge and Tho: Stiff to build the limekiln. Memo: they are to have 30/- inclusive of their meat. Foddered all with hay.

March: 27th. Stormy and rainy. Tho: threshing. P.M. Sent them to Langstone Fell for lime. Overset and broke the mares cart. Brought 12 bushels. Ratson hedging in the Calf-parrock.

March: 28th. Very stormy and heavy rain. Sent two load of black corn to Burnt Mill. Kitchen employed making centre-trees for limekiln eye; mending the cart etc. Got three cards sand to the kiln. Returned Jn Fawcetts horse. Received from Jn Kitchen £10.

Apr: 12th. Ditto and fair. Took the rowel out of the mare. Sowing and harrowing. P.M. much snow. Led a gate stoop from the Fell. Jn. Herd empd: At 7 a.m. set out on Bonny for Kendal Quarterly Meeting, at 10 arrived. Robt: Valentine and Barb: Drury were there.

April: 16th. Fresh winds and cloudy. Tho: and Rich: Fawcett leading compost. Edmund Brown hedging. Sowing and harrowing as before. Tho: Capstick getting stones at the Kiln.

April: 28th. Ditto weather and very cold. Attended meeting. Dined at Harbourgill. At 4 set out, stopt at Dents town and paid Wm. Bainbridge and Tom Stiff for building the limekiln £1.11.0 besides their meat, it being their wages at     a day. Spent 6d.


May 2nd 1782. Ditto & clear. A.H. sealed the dung & set out 14 carts more. Chris: Taylor brought me up 12 guineas from my very kind G'father. Aggy Kitchen helping us to set upwards of two loads potatoes after the plough. P.M. Jn Kitchen at the Fell fence with Sam: Davis. Corn sown this year, in Haygarth, 8 loads blea, 3½ ditto black. Low Heber I load 6 quts Tartary oats & white oats. Little Brow 5 qts Tartary ditto.

Robert Foster would seem to have filled quite a public position in the locality; on his shoulders would have fallen such parish matters as the following entries in the diary show.—

Attended the funeral of a strolling pauper who was taken ill and dy'd at A. Bucks, she was about 16 stons w'gt, the Parish bury'd her exp's 16/-.

He arranged for the 'contracting of the poor' which was 'let' for varying amounts to various peoples once a year.

He would seem to have received the money for taxes; land tax, window and constable taxes. He signs a bond for the suppression of thieves; and gives 7/6 towards a charity for the relief of the poor.

He received a warrant for the Surveyor of the High roads; and he lets the repairing of conduits on the Turnpike to J. Blackburn for 42/-. When there is an exceptional fall of snow he raises the Hamlet to cut drifts. He goes to town for the auditing of the Parish accounts. He attended a vestry meeting for putting out parish apprentices, and signed Alice Hunters indenture whereby she was bound until 18. Busy as Robert Foster must have been as an agriculturist, busy, for with his public-spirited attitude he interested himself in so many of the local affairs; assiduous in his attendance at ever Meeting at Brigflats, the Monthly, the Quarterly, and the General, beside going to meeting at many of the other towns; yet he found time for study and for reading.

May 6th. Fresh breezes and clear, and very cold. Attended meeting. Got some camomile and wormwood for a fomentation for my thumb, being much swelled into the hand.

May 7th. Strong wind and cloudy. Tho: hedging. T. Clayton getting flaws. Kitchen and Davis at the Fell fence. P.M. ditto and cold rain. Paid Clayton three days getting potatoes, and for this day 2/6. Tho: cleans out the Staghull, and seeting it out on the new Orchard that is to be. My thumb is so very bad am obliged to sit up all night.

May 8th. It still continues droughty and no appearance of vegetation. A.M. hedging between the Highfield and Fell. P.M. between Haygarth and Sayers Close. Hand grows still worse. Dr Dawson came up.

May 11th. [It?] Fine showers. sowed the Bigg. P.M. much rain. Dressing corn. At 11 my hand being worsened exceedingly and very painful, sent for Dr Dawson, who insisted that Dr Fell of Kendal should be sent for. Greenwood calved a bull.

May 12th. Heavy rain in the night. At 3 a.m. Anto: set out to Kendal for Dr Fell. At 10 returned with him and Dr Dawson. He laid open the ball of my thumb. They dined. Gave him a guinea.

May: 31st. Mod: and clear. Attended the meeting at Kendal. At 2 p.m. weighed and made sail. At 5 came to single anchor at Moss Side, drank tea. At 6 weighed again, carried away a shoe at Borthwick Lane End, put into Kellet to refit,—at 9 anchored at Lanc: and moored.

{bsb: A paragraph-long note by Mrs Madge omitted here.}

Jun: 3rd. Cloudy. Set out G'father in company. At Kirby bridge he found he had lost his gold watch. Returned as far back as Arkholme, where he had pulled it out but could not find it.

—Dined at Jas. Jopsons, Kirby, and left advertisements with him of the loss. At 7 got home, G'father much fatigued and very ill.

July: 18th. Light airs. A.M. foggy. Jn. Kitchen propping two broken ribs in the Lower Barn. Led two sleds of hay. P.M. clear at night Tho: finished Heber Mire. At 9 A.M. Will Buck came desiring I would go over to observe the actions of the people who had threatened to break down his bridge. Went with him. At two they came. Ellison the Lord's steward at their head, when with much altercation and three attempts it was agreed to be referred whether he had a right or no to build it there.

A clever piece of word painting, the few words suffice to bring the picture clearly before the eyes. Here is eloquent testimony that his neighbours looked to the Master of Heblethwaite to help in the settling of their disputes; they could be sure of his judgement, and his love of peace.

Wm. Buck lived at Nardleys, an Adam Buck goes to Heblethwaite to help in the mowing. They may have been brothers.

Aug: 25th. Heavy rain and a strong wind. Sent the house grate to L. Parrett to alter. At 9 set out for Aysgarth Gen: Meeting, but meeting Cou: Wm: Birbeck returned with him home. P.M. set out in company for Kendal. Discharged Jn. Archer. Began to get new potatoes.

Aug: 26th. Heavy showers. At Kendal Meeting.

Aug: 27th. Constant heavy rain. At 6 a.m. Ant: set out with 1½ quarters of bark for Kendal. At Scotch Jeans over set the cart and returned with the horse.

Aug: 28th. Showers. Ant: brought the bark into Kendal. At 2 returned with Cou: Rachel and Sally Braithwaite, and Hannah and Rachel Whitwell to stay a few days.

Sept: 19th. 1782. Pleasant weather. (shorthand) p.m. brought away the bull from Sedburk. Left him at Garsdale Hall.

Sept: 20th. Heavy rain. Tho: and Antho: went for the flats, and brought the bull home. Attempted but in vain to get him into Fog about Sedberg it has never been remembered so bad, and scare any even in Wensleydale.

Sept: 24th. Fair, Tho: Willis Esq. has very kindly admitted the bull into his fog. J. took him this morning, etc.

(Fog is a 14th century word indicating long grass left standing in water. The oxford Dict: says "feed cattle on fog.")

Two different entries.:– "sold all the sheep to James Simpson for 4/6, giving in the lambs and 6 old ones."

"Rich: Inman took up the wool only 32½ stone."

{bsb: Six lines of Mrs Madge's non-diary-related notes omitted here.}

Oct: 13th. Showers. Went to Kendal to see my sister and Cou: J. Bewly. P.M. returned. Received from the mill 3¾ pecks meal.

Oct: 17th. A fine day. A.M. went to Kendal. Returned with my Father, sister and Cous: J. Bewly, Ann Richardson etc. Shearing in Haygarth. J.K. & J.T. as above.

Oct: 21st. A.M. moderate. Shearing till noon, then rainy. Jos: Studholme came to take Cou: Sally home. P.M. Father, sister and self set out in company to set them to Brough. Drank tea at Kirby Stephen. Slept at Brough.

Oct: 22nd. A.M. parted company. Small rain till Kirby Stephen high lane, then very heavy with strong gales. Put into Jas. Bucks to dry. At 2 p.m. set off again, still very wet and got home about 5. Tho: and Ant: threshing.

Oct: 24th. Mod: weather. Set out for Lanc: my Father, and sister behind Antho: on Jack. Sheared out in Haygarth and Heber Close. Fodder'd with turnips. Dal'd 54 sheep.

Dec: to 9th. Frosty. Set out for Lanc: in company with J. Marshall arrived there about 7 p.m. Engaged there by my friends and by the Rheum: till 2nd day, during which time they had led 107 carts manure into Oakbank, and J. Blackburn a day to make 4 pads. Got 1 load sam ground and 3 pecks meal from another load of corn.

Small rain. At 10 set out for home. Din'd at Jn. Masons at Gale.

Dec: 10th. A hard frost. Was at the Gen: Meeting at Brigflatts. P.M. threshing.

Dec: 31st. A slight frost. Attended monthly meeting. Tho: employed getting and leading stones from the roadside in Penny farm to where the bridge is to be built. N.B. a sledge loaden with stones is made fast the the hinder end of the loaden cart to retard its motion down the hill, this I only call a cartful. Led 4 carts.

Jan: 1783. Fresh gales with heavy hailshowers. Led 6 loads of Arch-stones. Peace proclaimed at Sedbergh.

{bsb: A single paragraph historical extract by Mrs Madge omitted here.}

Jan: 8th. Foggy and very wet. Dressing corn. Put up two load. Let Jas: Blackburn the getting Archstones for the bridge for 6/-. Applyed to Attorney Davis to get a debt from L. Hutchinson for 35/-.

Jan: 13th. Cloudy and snow upon the Fells. Tho: threshing white corn. Laid the first stone of Penny farm bridge.

Jan: 28th. Cold and fair. Was at monthly meeting. Led 13 carts Archstones. Artificers at the bridge.

Jan: 31st. Hail showers. Getting stones out of the Beck. Blackburn at the Bridge.

Feb: 1st. A.M. moderate and fair. Tho: Tomlinson backing the far buttress of the Bridge with stones. Tho: getting stones. Blackburn fixing the Centres.


Feb: 4th. A.M. fair. Tho: Tomlinson the buttress of the bridge with stones. Tho: getting stones. Came F. Mattison, collier and his son to get coals out of J. Fawcetts shaft. Carried poles and got sods to build him a hut.

Feb: 10th. Much snow in the night. Tho: and Anto: went with the horses and Galloway to Ulldale Coal-pits, and took John Townson with them. They backed out 73 load. In returning the clog came off one of the carts which obliged them to leave it on Ravenstonedale Fell. They brought into Elleray about 4 load. Memo: to get no more of them, they agreed to let me have the coals as they got them at 4d a load, and 21 to the score, now they refuse them under 5d. Foddered the hogs and the sheep. Widening the road. The snow in general melted till 4 p.m. it began again.

Feb: 13th. Heavy showers. At noon fired the kiln, which with difficulty got forward everything being so wet. Breaking stones etc.

Feb: 17th. A slight frost. Drew 16 load lime and set it out in Haygarth in half load heaps, at the rate of one load to the perch of 6 yds. Tho: Ratson threshing. Blending up the compost heap at the Barnend. Let Jos: Higginson the filling up the bridge ends for 20/- and the road making at 12d a rood.

Feb: 18th. Foggy. Drew 12 loads of lime and set on as above John Kitchen supporting the limekiln which was in danger of falling, with a buttress.

In 1782–85, the getting of coal must have been a mightly different proposition to 1929. Surface workings brought coal into the list of legitimate husbandries; and the prices obtained were even more legitimate viewed against the prices maintaining now!

Feb: 22nd. Pleasant and fair. Drew 20 load lime. Got a road over the Bridge.

Apr: 5th. Ditto weather. J. Higginson planting larches firs etc in the Rash. T. Tomlinson hedging in a clump of fire and chesnuts in the near corner of the Lowfield. Ploughing as yesterday. My Father and Uncle Robert Foster of Worcester paid me a visit.

Apr. 16th. Very fine weather. Father and Uncle dined at Brigflats, then set off for home.

May: 13th. 1783. A.M. rainy. Stir'd the Bigg sow'd and harrow'd it, in all I Sedberg bushel.

June: 17th. Ditto weather. Tho: hedging. Antho: and R. Davis leading coals from Bluecaster Gill on tryal; for which I am to give 3½d a load

June: 23rd. Mod: and hazy. At 5 set off for Lanc: at 9 arrived there. Found Uncle James Birket mending, G'mother just the same. Jn. Herd bled all the cattle.

June: 24th. Light airs and sultry. Righting peats. Tho: mending the road in Pennyfarm. At 1 p.m. set off for home, baited at Burrow. At 9 arrived. The wheat begins to shoot.

July: 14th. Fresh breezes and hazy. Came the haytime man Tho: Greenwood jun. and maiden, Ann Dent and boy, James Winn. Finished Oakbank by Heber Mires. Led from Heber Close 3 carts hay in all, three carts new leys, and II ditto second year mowed in the sable loft, leading off Oaks mire, but cannot ascertain the quantity it is so very windy.

Augt: 10th. This week generally wet except 4th day. Tho: Ratson mowed his boon, and Tho: Eglin, the low dale, Lowfield, instead of his two boons. On 7th day discharged the haytime man and maiden, having the Little Brow, a little of the backside of Warriners Bank, Barn meadow and two midfields, except the Mires yet to mow.

Aug: 22nd. Very hot till evening, loud thunder and rain. Cleared Haygarth and finished the hay. By the appearance of the mows we have not got the quantity of hay as last year by 50 yds, exclusive of a great deal of hay in the Old Barn. Led 3 carts and the last of the peats, being in all 108 carts. Received from Lanc: a small cask, 2 gals.

Aug: 26th. Mod: and clear. At noon set off for Lanc: via Moss-side, at 8 p.m. arrived there. Staid till 5th day morning, went with my father to the Wood. 6th day p.m. went to Kendal & 7th day parted he for Lanc: and I for home during my absence they have been empd: as (shrtd:)

Sept: 1st to 5th. Fair weather. Shearing Bigg. At noon received a letter from my Father acquainting of the death of my G'mother on 7th day last. Went to Lanc: on 3rd day attended funeral of my G'mother at the meeting house, on 6th day came home. Richard Garlic and Jonas Kitchen 3 days joisting and ceiling the houseloft. Ant: Ashburner one day shearing Corn & Bigg. Tho: etc employ'd shearing when the weather would permit and thatching the Low barn. Got 15 bushels lime for plaister.

It is as well, perhaps to pause one minute, after recording this entry, to remark that it is the first reference to the alterations and additions which from now onward are mentioned as taking place in Heblethwaite Hall. It might have been expected that some indications would have appeared in the diary concerning the approaching marriage; but this is not so. Here again the shorthand may conceal much.

Sept: 6th. Hard gales with heavy and incessant rain. R. Garlick and Jn. Kitchen ceiling the houseloft. Tho: working up plaster.

Sept: 8th. Incessant heavy rain. R.G. & J.K. studding the partitions. Employ'd as above. Took the underset got nearly 8lbs of honey.

Sept: 9th. Constant rain. Richard Garlick making the window frames for the houseloft at his own house. Thatching the Low barn.

Sept: 15th. Ditto weather. Sheared out in Heber Close 75 hattocks. Jn. and Jonas. Story enlarging one window and breaking out another in the houseloft. Led boards of different thicknesses sawn by Wm. Hardman, out of a 3 inch deal plank bought of Jas. Evans.

Sept: 16th. Fair. Sheard out the Bigg in all 42 hattocks, and began on the higher hill Haygarth. Masons finished the windows. Leading corn from Hebers Close.

24th. Showers in the night. Tho: thatching. Put Rosslay etc for feeding. Got 1 inch deal laths for the houseloft at 16½d.

Oct: 20th. Cloudy and small tain {bsb: rain?}. Led from Jn. Constantine 7 loads of coal, and laid them at the Fell Yeat. Jn. Garlick joiner making window seats in the houseloft. P.M. dressing corn, and whipt 2 stones wheat. Sent it to the Mill.

Oct: 24th. Heavy showers. Four masons lathing and putting up a chimney piece in the houseloft. Tho: employ'd occasionally. P.M. Wm. Hardman and his man saw'd an Eller log into wash boards.

Oct: 29th. 1783. Heavy showers. Took the black why to Sedberg fair, brought her back unsold, people being afraid to buy, haymows are so small.

Nov: 3rd Pleas't weather. Emp'd at the kiln. Led 3 carts of lime, 1 for plaister, 2 for the sod heap in the Lowfield. Discharged Jn. Garlick having finished the room. Sam. Davis getting potatoes. J. Herd hedging.

Nov: 11th. Excessive wet. At 3 a.m. Broadford bridge fell, being the 4th time within these twelve years.

Nov: 12th. Pleasant and Frosty. J. Kitchen walling Pennyfarm bridge ledge. Led 4 carts lime, 2 upon the near Dale Lowfield, 2 to the sodheap which completes them. Jonas Story plastering the houseloft.

Nov: 14th. Strong gales and snow. A.M. frosty. Got 2 stone hair and a grate for the houseloft, 8 apple trees from my father. P.M. J. Herd etc leading 6 carts lime. Mod. and clear. Jonas mixing up plaster and setting up the grate.

Jan: 6th. Winds E N E. Light airs and cloudy. Went to the Meeting. P.M. winds W S W. fresh breezes and small rain. Came Tom Smith. Dr Dawson and Thos: Harrison of Sedbusk spent the afternoon; returned and supt with them at the town.

Jan: 7th. All night strong gales and heavy rain. A M moderate and showery. Tho: Herd and Ratson employed on the Road. Stiff clearing a hole for the limekiln. Taylors arrived and employed making me a coat and breeches. Went out to collect Land Tax.

Jan: 10th. Moderate and clear. At 8 A M, it began to freeze. Tho: and J. Herd at the road. Stiff at the hole. Sent Anto: with two pecks of potatoes to Mary Burton, a load for Marg: Gibson and the sheepskin. Got the Hogs in and foddered them up.

Jan: 11th. Light airs and cloudy, frost continues. Finished the hay in the stable loft. Got the hogs in 37. Tho: employed on the road. Stiff at the Limekiln. Got two pecks malt. P M fresh breezes and small rain.

Jan: 12th. Pleasant and calm with a slight frost. Tho: and Herd at the road. Stiff blasting. 4PM foggy. The bells ringing all the afternoon. Ed: Clarke cut some hedging which I gave him in Penny farm.

Jan: 14th. Warm and cloudy. Employed on the road. Tho: and Stiff got in the hogs. The bells were ringing for Esq: Willis' wife's birthday. Perceived a good many peats to be stole last night, secured the door of the barn and peat-house.

Jan: 15th. Light airs and rain. Tho: and Stiff threshing till 9 AM it cleared, then employed on the road. Sprung one blast (limekiln). Turned out Hogs.

Jan: 16th. Fresh breezes and rain. Tho: and Stiff threshing. P M wind veering Northerly and snow. Received two letters from G'father with 30 lbs tow; answered them.

Jan: 21st. Moderate west winds and snow at 9 A M cleared up. Stiff at the limekiln, intending to blast but the stone is so hard it spoils his jumpers, bent them and the great-hammer: to steel and shapren. Afterwards at the road. Tho: at the High Plantation hedge, laying it. Anto: returned from the Mill with a lead, one hoop meal one of groats.

Jan: 22nd. A M moderate and cloudy and small rain. Stiff sprung two blasts at the kiln. Tho: hedging. Turned the hogs out. Speckled hen began to lay. P M rainy threshing. Stiff gone home. Paid him 5/-.

Jan: 28th. Pleasant and clear. At Kendal went to the limekilns on the Fell, having heard there was a square one there, but the lime-burners said they never had even heard of such a one. Tho: hedging. At noon returned. Stiff employed blasting. Finished black corn and began with the high back mow.

Jan: 29th. Cloudy and much snow in the night. At ten set out for home; dined with Rich: Williams. At seven got home. Found Mary and John Thistlethwaite come avisiting. Memo: Jn bought a cow to kill. Tho: was employed hedging and Tom blasting. Anto: led three carts full Oak tops. Expences—Hair cutting 6d. 3 blank books 1/6d. a slate 6d. Turnpike 6d.

Jan: 30th. Frosty and clear. Tho: hedging. Stiff blasting. Got in the hogs, foddered the old sheep. The hounds put up a hare in the low plantation, gave chase, after a long round on to Frestray Fell, they got her in the Highfield Wood and broke her up. P M. Sent for Jn Kitchen to help Tom to lay the foundation of the lime-kiln. Spent the evening at the Hill.

Jan: 31st. Ditto weather. Foddered the old sheep. Loading manure. Discharged and paid Stiff 5/-. P.M. Got Jn Simpson to help lead manure, 37 carts. The evening at Brigflats. Drank tea at Dr Dawsons with F. Nicholls just left the Sceptre at Portsmouth.

Feb: 4th. 1784. Cloudy and inclining to thaw. Sawing the deal baulk received from Milnthorp. At noon came J. Garlick

Feb: 5th. Rainy. J. Garlick making a pair of bedsteaks. Chr: Medcalf and son a new bed. (shorthand) Sawers as above. P.M. a thick snow.

Feb: 9th. Much snow. J. Garlick emp: shifting the partition of the parlour loft. Threshing.

{bsb: a superfluous line of Mrs Madge omitted here.}

Feb: 10th. A great fall of snow, and large drifts. Empd: 5 men ½ a day to cut drifts in the turnpike. 3/5. John Garlick doing various jobs. Empd: occasionally. Discharged J.G.

Feb: 14th. Intense frost & snow showers. Borrowed 2 loads of lime from C. Thirnbeck. At noon Jonas Story came working up plaister, and putting up a chimney piece in the parlour loft.

Feb: 17th. Mod: and clear. Attended the funeral of Rich: Fawcett's son from Sarthwaite. Very large drifts, and more snow than can be remembered. Set up the grate etc in the houseloft. (shorthand)

Feb: 20th. Fresh winds and much snow Anto: gone to Lancaster for my sister. Tho: threshing etc. Jn. Kitchen ½ a day.

Feb: 21st. Much snow in the night. Tho: emp: threshing etc. Antho: returned with my father and sister.

Feb: 26th. Cutting snowdrifts in the lane etc.

March: 1st. Mod: and clear. (6 shorthand figures.)

On March 1st 1784. Robert Foster was married to Mary Burton at Brigflats Meeting house; this diary maintains the most complete reserve upon the subject, in fact the only entries between Feb. 21st and 29th are in regard to the weather, even the work on the farm is not mentioned. On March 11th occurs the entry "Father and sister return to Lancaster." They arrived for the wedding presumably Feb: 21st.

The Burtons lived at the 'Hill' near Sedbergh. It would seem there were a brother and a sister, John and Mary. Several times there is mention of Robert Foster going to the Hill. "Dined at the Hill" "To the Hill in the evening". In Jan: Feb: and July in 1782. In Jan: 1783 he attends Margery Burtons funeral at Kendal. In Sept: 1783 Robert Foster rides with John Burton to Appleby, but whether this was to attend a Meeting, or whether it was for a matter of business, is not disclosed. On Dec: 6th he sends a cart load of coals to John Burton. In March 1784 comes the mention of "Bro" J. Burton sending 4 loads of seed-corn to Jn. Mason at Middleton. Later again in April "Ploughing for Bro: J. Burton at Hill."

John Burton married Margaret Walker; he died in 1796. Later on in 1802, Margaret Burton, née Walker married Robert Foster at the Brigflats Meeting house. An entry of July 1783 records that Mary Walker comes to stay at Heblethwaite Hall. She may have been Margaret's sister.

{bsb: A little over a page by Mrs Madge omitted.}

March 18th 1784. It still continues a hard frost with strong gales and snow showers. Jn Herd drest 8 loads corn. Ploughing the upper hill in Haygarth. Dined with the School master Chr: Hull.

{bsb: One-sentence note by Mrs Madge omitted.}

For politicians the spring of 1784 was frought with tremendous possibilities.

Mar: 29th. Very cold wind and frost. Ploughing as before. Went to Arckholme, met G'father and Uncle James Birket there. Parliament diss'vd.

{bsb: Just over a page of historical notes by Mrs Madge omitted here.}

Mar: 30th. Mod: and frosty. Ploughing. J. Herd threshing. (shorthand) Duncombe and Wilberforce in the interest of Wm. Pitt candidates for the county against Foljambe and Weddell Coalition men. Canvassing for the former.

April: 4th. Mod: brezes and cool. At 11 set off for Lanc: with two freemen James and John Gibson to vote. At 7 arrived.

April: 5th. Cloudy. Ploughing at the Hill; put Dick in. Polled for Rawlinson and Reynolds against J. Lowther.

April: 6th. A fine day. At 10 set off for home. Dined at Kirby Lonsdale. Let the Poor to Alice Bindloss and J. Cockbone for £173. Ploughing at Haygarth.

April: 8th. Fine weather. Began to sow 1 load Magpie oats which G'father sent from Lanc: on the lower Hill big stubble in Haygarth. Ploughing till noon then sowing with blea oats, the higher hill Haygarth and harrowing. Foljambe and Weddell gave way up. (shorthand) T. Davis threshing wheat.

This is the last entry in the diary.

"On the 4th day, 23rd of June, we (short hand.) set off for Lanc:

{bsb: A page of typescript apparently missing here.}

The last entry is dated June 19th, to 23rd, 1784. It is, perforce, the last, as the next page but one has the list of hammercoes and bags issued to the men on board the H.M.S. Pelican.

The dividing page is interesting, for it shows a clever pencil sketch of some monastic or cathedral-like building, which is either in ruins or half finished. In Robert Southey's letter of Feb. 1806, he writes—"it is five or six-and-twenty years since he was at Lisbon, and he gave me a vivid description of the Belem Convent, as if the impression on his memory was not half a day old".

"The most interesting architectural object at Lisbon is the unfinished Hieronymite Church and monastery at Belem. The church was begun in 1500, near the spot where Vasco da Gama had embarked three years before on his famous voyage to India. The style is a mixture of Moorish, Gothic and Renaissance, with beautiful details".

Lieut. Robert Foster was appointed by Capt. Reynolds to H.M.S. Pelican at Lisbon. It would seem that here is a positive clue, and it may well be that Robert Foster made the sketch sitting on board as the ship lay in the Tagus.

The start of the log-book of H.M.S. Pelican bears the date May 20th, 1779. It is the Quarter Bill of the ship, and in beautifully clear and neat hand-writing, there are set down many details relating to the officers and men on board, Henry Lloyd Esq., Captain, was in command. There seem to have been about twelve officers, including Lieut. Ornsby, who was the officer of Marines. The Quarter Bill sets out the names of the men of the crew, and the guns they were to serve. There is a list of the clothes issued to the men; some had as many as seven shirts and three hats; there is mention too, of "frocks", but no man had more than two, and the majority only one.

The 'Watch Bill' follows, Starboard and Larboard. Here are mentioned Boatswains Mates, Quarter Masters, Quarter Gunners, Carpenters, Forecastle Men, Fore top Men, Waist Guard, Main Top Men, After Guard, Marines and Idlers. There are named fifteen idlers, a tailor, a cooper, a poulterer, the Lieut's. servant, and a Loblolly Boy named David Man.

Thirdly comes the 'Station Bill'. Every man has his post for the reefing of sails at sea and the furling "of ditto" in harbour. Foretop bowlines, reef tackles, buntlines, leechlines, halyards, braces, and cluelines, all had men duly apportioned to loose the sails in harbour and to hoist and furl the sails in harbour. Jib and foresail, main top mast sail, foretop gallant sail, mizen stay sail; but when it came to hauling out the 'Mizen' John Weir only was needed. When the sails were furled in harbour, the spritsail had to be clued up, and the fore clue garnett and the mizen brails needed twelve men and their leader respectively. The main sail needed 20 men.


In harbour they are to appear on deck in their proper uniform. None to have leave to remain on shore longer than 24 hours, and to take it by turns.

When sails are loosed to dry they are to repair to their stations and to keep a list of men stationed to Clue Garnetts, stay sail Down hauls, etc., and not to suffer the seamen to make any noise or confusion, but to be attentive to the orders given from the Quarter Deck.

They are to keep lists of the seamen's clothes quartered under them, and to muster them once every week, and if they appear dirty, or are lost or sold, to represent the same to the Lieutenant.

Washing days in the week to be Wednesdays and Saturdays.

No clothes to be hung up in the fore shrouds after ten o'clock in the morning.

They are to be attentive to all boats that come on board, and to order the Corporal to search them, that no liquor is brought on board.

Seamen are by no means to be suffered to smoke between decks.

Men to be appointed to sweep and clean below.

No shore boats to be suffered to remain on board after sunset, without leave from the commanding officer.

All boats to be hoisted in by 8 o'clock, unless wanted for immediate service.

Warrant-Officers' Store Rooms never to be opened unless one of them goes with their yeomen, and to be careful of the lights which are to be kept in a Lanthorn. The keys to be lodged with the Lieut. or the commanding officer, in harbour.

The fire and the lights to be put out at the setting of the watch.

The ship to be washed below thrice a week.

Cleanliness being the greatest preservative of the health of the Ship's company, the following rules & orders are strictly to be observed.

The seamen & Marines are always to appear clean, the seamen with short hair or tyed up; the Marines constantly to have their hair tyed agreable to their officers orders. Those who are found negligent therein will be punished at the gun.

One man of each Birth is to see it swept out after breakfast, dinner and at six o'clock, the dirt to be put by the main hatchway, and a Boatswains mate is to appoint one man daily to carry it on deck and heave it over board.

The men's bags are to hang against the ship-s side, and their kettle in the galley, their hammercoes to be stowed in the Quarters Waist and Tops every morning by 8 o'clock, and to be up in fifteen minutes on pain of forfeiture of their days allowance of grog for the first for neglect, for the second punishment at the Gun; unless bad weather prevents, then they are to be lashed and triced up to the Deck.

The ship's Log-book ends with a list of the mens bags and hammercoes.

{bsb: Roughly three pages of notes by Mrs Madge omitted here, as not related to the diary.}

It is difficult to arrive at any concluding regarding the acreage which went with the farming at Hebblethwaite Hall at this time, there is mention that it took 5 horses 15 days to plough the backside of Haygarth; this has the sound of being very big. The land also seemed to carry a deal of stock; the flock of sheep would have run into several hundred. Most of the cows and horses were known by name. There were also the swine.

There can be counted 33 names of fields, both pasture and arable. In the summer the sheep were run upon the Fells, sometimes Tommy Simpson and sometimes Jn Irvin's grandson, as herd boys, look after the sheep for "their meat".

Six horses and carts go to fetch coal.

Tho: and J. Ratson are empd, hedging ploughing and mending the roads and are daily mentioned. Antho: also, but he seemed to have had more the care of the horses; he was sent to Lancaster: to fetch "My sister". He also would appear to have been impulsive in a Celtic sort of way, and he would upset carts and break axles on almost every journey with impunity. Besides there was Jn Herd who was an authority upon the ills of cattle; and, constantly fluctuating, an outside supply of labour, carpenters, joiners, bricklayers, colliers, hedgers and ditchers, blacksmiths.

It can only be conjectured that there was living at Hebblethwaite someone else besides Robert Foster; when mentioning the arrival of visitors, he writes, "Din'd with us."

The house was roomy; on several occasions, four, five and six friends come back from Meeting and spend the night. There is little doubt that Robert Foster was master at Hebblethwaite, there is no indication in any of the entries that he deferred to another, or that his judgement was ever questioned. "Taylors arrive and are empld making me a coat and breeches"; As regards the indoor staff there are several mentions of Molly, she may have been Anth:sister; in one entry she "wheels peats," also there is an Aggy Kitchen who on one occasion helped to plant potatoes.

{bsb: Half a page of Mrs Madge's non-diary-related notes omitted here.}

{bsb: Three pages of family trees by Mrs Madge omitted here; ditto a page listing field names and a page of places named.}


Contact me

Foster page | Family history home page | Website home page

© Benjamin S. Beck, 2017–2023