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A lady's personal accounts, 1751-1770

1988/1 pp2–3


A lady’s personal accounts, 1751–1770


A tailor’s account book kept by W.T. Furniss of Epsom for the years 1820–1834 has been lent to Bourne Hall Museum by Mr. John Furniss for transcription. The entries are, in fact, overwritten on to an earlier journal of personal accounts kept by a lady for the years covering 1751–1770. We are not sure of the identity of this person or whether she was actually a member of the Furniss family, but they provide an interesting insight into a daughter of the middle class at this time. We are grateful to Ina Goodman for the following summary of these interesting pages.


Several pages of this old journal (owned by John Furniss) were devoted to some personal accounts of a lady, probably fairly young, as they started with an allowance from her ‘mama’ of £2 2s. 0d. in August 1751, and £2 2s. 0d. in October, but this was increased in December to £5 5s. 0d., and in January 1752 she received a payment of £19 15s. 0d., possibly to bring the total up to what was to be an allowance of £50 per annum paid quarterly. But mama soon got behind in her payments. Now and again she obviously made an effort and brought them up to date, but they soon fell into arrears and in 1762 (after which there is a gap) she was a good six months behind hand. In 1770, when few more entries were made, ‘my mama’ had become ‘my mother’ when she paid a year’s allowance in January for the previous year.


In the meantime, about 1756, mama had obviously borrowed £30 from the daughter, who carefully recorded receiving £1 10s. 0d. interest each year. I get a very strong feeling that ‘mama’ was a gambler, who was sometimes lucky, but more often not!


The young lady also received dividends of £15 a year on some investments, so she was not at all hard up, and her expenditure entries appear very modest in comparison, though several pages of the debit accounts are missing. In 1751 she purchased materials such as 14 yards of poplin for £1 15s. 0d., 10 yards of black calimanco (a highly glazed material with a broad, slightly raised stripe in the same colour) for 10s. 0d., and 8 yards of superfine stuff for 10s. 0d.


It cost 6d. to have an apron starched and 2/9d for a shift and petticoat to be washed (only one in the whole year though!). Cotton stockings at 4/6d a pair, gloves at about 1/- a pair, or 2/- for French ones, and muslin for neck handkerchiefs and morning ruffles were further expenses, together with 9 yards of long lawn for £1 4s. 9d., 8½ yards of figured cotton for 18/-, and a paper of pins for 5d.


Two gowns were made for 6/-, and a half sacked petticoat for 5/-, against which 13/- seems a lot to pay for a pair of canvas jumps (a loose unboned bodice worn instead of stays), though the materials for the dresses and petticoat were probably those bought earlier.


The other recorded payments are also interesting. The young lady paid £2 12s. 6d. for the hire of a harpsichord, and 7/6d to have it tuned; she put 6d. a week in her ‘Book Purse’ presumably to pay for her library books, and paid 3d. a week for a girl’s schooling. But over about a year (1752/3) she only records three times that she ‘staid at Church and gave 1/-’. She also bought ½lb of tea 2/8d for a Mrs. Bell, a copper kettle 5/-, tiles for a chimney 13/-, a quire of blue paper 6d., 2 quires of brown paper 6d., and narcissus roots 8/-.


Several pages have been cut out here and the record resumes in 1757, by which time her expenditure had changed a little. She bought oranges at 1d each, at least 3 times, a paper hat 1/-, a chip hat 1/8d, 2 ‘trowells’ 10d, 45 shades for the garden (what could these be?) 4/7d, 2 Delft garden pots 4/- and 2 dozen green garden sticks. It would seem that she had taken up gardening and she paid a gardener 14/-, but there is no indication as to how long a period he worked for that.


She seems to have paid several visits as she records various payments to other people’s servants, and some travelling expenses: 1/8d to London, 7d for the turnpike, 3d for the ferry. She also paid 2/7d for two foreign letters. There is not much mention of clothes in this year: 2 pairs of pumps 11/- and a pair of shoes 5/-, a pair of gloves 1/3d, and what seems like the makings of an indoor cap. Snuff at 2d. makes a solitary appearance – was the lady feeling her age?


There the accounts stop, with the exception of three credit entries in 1770, and that is all we know of this lady. No name – only five and a bit pages of her handwriting, and much of that overwritten in 1828, possibly by a descendant who was certainly in the tailoring trade. Incidentally her writing and most of her spelling was a good deal better and easier to read than her nineteenth century successor’s. It would be interesting to know what she looked and sounded like, and where she lived, though that was almost certainly in Epsom somewhere.

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