A Cobham gentleman of the 1700s: Mr Hayes Diary

One of our volunteers, Don Blackburn, has transcribed the diary entries of Mr Hayes, of Cobham, Kent. As a boy Richard Hayes (1725-1790), lived with his uncle, Richard Hayes senior, at Owletts (now owned by the National Trust) in the Parish of Cobham, Kent. On the death of his uncle in 1754, Richard Hayes junior, inherited Owletts and a considerable amount of property. This property included farmland that had been in the Hayes family possession since his Great Grandfather’s time.

Owletts today

Ms Emma Stevens (who lived at the Parsonage, Cobham, from the mid 1800s) transcribed a selection of entries from Mr Hayes’ Diary from the latter half of the 18th century. It’s a facinating read about daily life of the past. Mr Hayes discusses social events such as the death of King George II and local press gangs frightening strangers away. Agricultural concerns, estate management and the trading of wheat, hops and corn are important – “nothing but a peace would relieve our markets, in order to pave the way for free export” (1761). He complains of Parliament stopping the export of wheat while Americans bring wheat into England duty free, and in later entries (1778) worries about the war with America.

Weather and the natural environment are regular features. There is talk of flooding (here and in Europe), unseasonably wet or cold weather, solar eclipses, lightening striking Shorne Windmill (1776) and the Thames freezing over (1771). Birdsong and butterflies are often noted – “I heard the Nightingale sing but faintly” (1762).

Village life is never far from his remarks and covers cricket matches, local deaths, road accidents, his own social responsibilites, such as jury service, and church affairs. He complains that church services are held only once on a Sunday, and in another entry is surprised when marriage banns are forbidden. There are glimpses into simple delights of the day, such as having strawberries or ‘fruit pineapple’ for dessert or amusing himself with a friend after diner, with “firing at a mark fixed in lower barn door” (1773). [My Hayes proves himself to be a bad shot at this and when, on at least two occassions, he complains of geese flying too high for him to shoot.]

To take a break from modern life and immerse yourself in the concerns of earlier days click here to access a pdf of a selection of entries from Mr Hayes diary.

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