The Society’s latest book was launched on 8 September. Appropriately sub-titled A middle-class family in late Victorian Bedford, it contains the diaries for 1878 to 1896 of Charlotte Bousfield, the wife of the manager of the Britannia Ironworks in Bedford. She tells us a little about her husband, Edward’s, work, especially his experiments with electricity and with new designs for automated reaping and harvesting equipment. She records her children’s successes: one son became a QC and Tory MP as well as sharing his father’s interest in inventions; another became a doctor and member of the Queckett Microscopical Club; the third was a patent agent; and one daughter was an accomplished artist.
The family were staunch Methodists and teetotallers and Charlotte, helped by her two daughters, was very active in spreading the good word of both causes, although her use of the description of her work as ‘a toiler in the vineyard’ is rather incongruous given the teetotal nature of her views. The diaries describe meetings of national temperance organisations in London and journeyings around the country – all spreading the good word. She was also involved in running a home for inebriated middle class women in London.
All these activities saw her travelling around the country but always returning to Bedford and Aspley Heath. Nearer home, there was a succession of Mother’s Meetings, Blue Ribbon clubs and temperance meetings in and around Bedford. She was amongst the poor law guardians elected after the Bedford Workhouse scandal of 1894 and she records some of that and conditions in the workhouse.
Amidst the daily round, there are entrancing accounts of watching convicts on Dartmoor, converting a Scottish travelling salesman and imbiber on a train journey, election canvassing in London, and watching her son’s introduction as a new member of Parliament. There are glimpses of middle class domestic life, of the social round, religious commitments and of the lives of servants, the working class and the poor.
The diaries belong to Charlotte’s descendants and have been transcribed and edited by two of them, John and Hilary Hamilton. They have been edited for publication by Dr Richard Smart who has added copious notes about the people and the social and political background of Charlotte’s world.
The Bousfield Diaries: a middle-class family in late Victorian Bedford, published by Boydell and Brewer, 2007, Bedfordshire Historical Records Society volume 86. It is available from bookshops or the publisher at http://www.boydell.co.uk/
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