Sunday, 13 March 2011

18th century gossip

A member recently drew my attention to a small collection of eighteenth century letters he came across in the Document Collection. He forgot to mention however that the box also included a lock of Mrs Annesley's Hair. She was a blond, although discolouration of the paper in which the hair has been kept for perhaps 250 years suggest that Mrs A's hair may have been dyed.
The earliest item is an account of the 'my father's christening' dated 13 October 1701. Unfortunately it is n in pieces, but carefully put together offers a vivid portrait of a family occasion. The writer, a family friend Richard Harrison, talks loving of the christening cake, but it was the drink in the gossop (?) cup that was much on Harrison's mind 'because I love liquid it [was] upmost in my thought.' The cake was so large however that even though only half the cake was divided up 'my share served my family a week as bread.'
The next document is a draft petition for divorce presented to the parliament by Francis Annesley the younger of the Inner Temple. It is a most unusually item for divorces was almost impossible until the 1850s. He married one Elizabeth Gretton on 26 September 1724. In the petition she is accused of 'unlawful familiarity and adulterous conversation with 'Don Rodrigo a person of foreign birth.' Although couched in legalise Annesley's bitterness comes through when he declares all children 'born of the body of the said Elizabeth' are bastards.
On 10 January 1726 Francis Annesley, of Lincoln's Inn Fields wrote to his son Martin offering advice on his behaviour as a priest and which commentaries of the bible should be consulted in his studies. One piece of advice should be heeded by all family history lecturers: 'As to your preaching... provided it be in clear and proper language, as you can possibly contrive... And depend upon it, the more intelligible you are to the meanest the more acceptable you will be to the best and most judicious of your hearers.'
Ten years later, on 4 November 1736, Martin now at Bucklebury writes to his father about some family gossip which is means nothing today, although he notes his wife had been very ill 'tho is much better.'
The Library is lucky to have a history of Bucklebury (Arthur L. Humphries, 'Bucklebury: a Berkshire parish' (1932)), which includes biographical notes of the incumbents of the parish. Martin was the vicar between 1726 and his death in 1749 and family historians can be reassured that he 'kept the parish registers with great care and wrote the entries in beautiful handwriting'. As Martin was aged 25 when presented to the vicarage which suggests that the christening described above was his. He married in 1732 Mary Hanbury and their son, Francis, became MP for Reading in 1774.
The last dated letter was to 'dear nephew Annesley' from Francis Barrell written on 3 October 1761. Again it is letter of advice, encouraging the recipient to work hard. It includes a full description of the coronation of George III 'which [has] taken up our whole conversation for some time past' and with which the writer was 'much pleased with the sight' He belonged to 'an agreeable party who resolved to... stayed up all night and played Quadrille and were all in good humour and the time passed on very pleasantly.'
The rest of the letter however is full of family news who is visiting whom and who is ill. The collection also contains two undated letters. The first is a letter presumably sent to Martin by his brother Francis in the early 1720s as it congratulates him on his choice of career and gives very full advice (four pages worth) about his studies.
As with genealogy, in his theological studies Martin must 'carry on his studies to the end of his days.' Lastly there is a note from 'Mr Harrison' [Richard?] to a friend of the Annesley family, recalling: 'There was formerly very great intimacy between his family and ours. His grandfather and my father constantly corresponded till their death, travelled together through Scotland and often visited with much friendship.' There is reference to Uncle Francis marrying 'indiscretely' and to being at Eton and Cambridge with 'your friend's father.'  

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