1776 Monday January 1st
“Mama & Lucy drank tea at Mrs Martin’s. I stayed at home to make tea for Papa and Cousin James.”
1980 Thursday August 7th: 204 years later my mother and I drove from our home in Surrey to the little village of Childrey, near Wantage, in Oxfordshire, to visit my elderly great aunt in her beamed and thatched cottage.
I wrote a diary all through my teens and early twenties and my entry about the trip refers to our conversations with my great aunt and records that my mother was “so good at getting her on to family history” and that at some point during the day Great Aunt Helen sent us into her sitting room to find a photo album at the bottom of the china cabinet. I record that, “This we found but whilst sniffing about among the dusty books, we also came across a small leather-bound diary, dating from the year 1776!” Great Aunt Helen did not know much about the diary but she let me take it away.
I must have tried to read it straight through when I got home as I go on to write a paragraph or two about the contents of the diary, concluding that the girl who wrote it must have lived tantalisingly close to us in Surrey and also that her “life seems to consist of one long drink of tea”. Great Aunt Helen died aged 98 and I inherited a few other family items from her. I never forgot that I had the diary, but I didn’t take it out to look at again for 34 years, when my dear mother was dying. The little diary is very fragile, and I started gently looking over the pages again and this time I was determined to find out:
Who was the girl who wrote the diary?
What was her name and how was I connected to her?