The mystery of a Georgian gentleman’s diary

Two hundred and fifty years after they were written, the diary of an 18th century Doncaster Lord has been brought in to a focus – in a bid to fill in the gaps about his life.

Tuesday, 15th October 2019, 6:42 pm

Isabel Parkinson, aged 22, Oxford University graduate and Barnburgh resident describes herself as a history enthusiast along with her parents Catherine and Craig.

They have been working on the diary’s mystery together for as long as they can remember - they decided to take the local history project to social media in hopes of finding out more information about the mysterious lord.

They have been transcribing Jame’s Farrer’s daily entries from the year 1769 and uploading them to Instagram and Twitter - these usually include what the gentleman spent money on that day, where he dined, who he spoke with and other fascinating tidbits about his life in the 1700s.

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Isabel Parkinson with the diary.
Isabel Parkinson with the diary.

Isabel said: “James Farrer was a resident of Barnburgh.

“He was quite a grand gentleman - a lot of his business, expenses and appointments are recorded in this diary.

“It’s been with us for as long as we can remember, we have been able to trace it back to the 1830s in this family.”

There is very little information about the gentleman out in the world but through transcribing the diary the family have found out quite a lot about him.

Diary of James Farrah.

James Farrer born 1721, died 1791 (aged 70), was the last Lord of the Manor of Saddleworth - as far as the Parkinson family know that was his occupation.

He may have collected rents, handled local disputes on his estate and networked with other important gentlemen in the Yorkshire region.

He had seven children in total and at least one grandchild by 1769.

They also discovered that he was keenly in favour of the abolishment of slavery and would have been seen as a liberal in his time.

Isabel with the diary.

Transcribing the diary is a daily passion project for Isabel.

She said: “Even though the diary doesn't record many emotional elements or his personality, it's nice to be able to try and fill in the gaps yourself and use a bit of imagination to build up a picture of the life that went along with this one book.

“This was one of just many diaries presumably and just one small aspect of his life, I think that’s what makes it so tantalising to research and run this project.

“Filling in those gaps is an endless task but that’s what makes it so absorbing.”

Excerpt of the diary.

Many of the journal entries consist of day to day normalities such as expenses but occasionally there will be gems of humour such as the time the gentleman wrote: “parted with a rough piece of gravel today.”

Which translates to him passing a kidney stone - something even Lords had to deal with.

The entry for September 25, 1769, included a trip to the Doncaster Races.

Isabel said: “The diary reads ‘Doncaster Races began, dined at the Angel and supped with Lord Rockingham of after the assembly.’

“Lord Rockingham was Charles Wentworth who went on to be Prime Minister.

“So James Farrer was certainly quite well in with some of these grand people.”

The Angel mentioned was a coaching inn at the time but is now where Marks and Spencers stands in Doncaster Town centre.

The diary also shows that on that day he won £10 at the races which would be the equivalent of £2000 in today’s terms.

The family doesn't know if they have a personal connection to the lord but are actively seeking more answers.

“We’re hoping that by doing this that someone will pop up with a little bit of information,” Isabel continued.

“We’ve already had people come forward.

“I shared a photograph of Barnburgh Grange where James Farrer lived, the building doesn’t exist anymore.

“Someone was able to tell me details about the roof of the grange that we didn’t know before.

“We really want more people to come forward and help us to fill these gaps.”

The diary they own only covers the year 1769 and they are hopeful that there might be more out there.

If you have any information about his life you can contact us at [email protected]