Review of ‘John Joseph Briggs's Diary’, by Philip Heath

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 4th July 2005, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.


John Joseph Briggs lived from 1820 - 1875 and, though comparatively wealthy, was closely concerned with the everyday pains and pleasures of farming, from cattle disease, potato rot and a failed walnut crop (all recorded within the space of a week!), to the first skylark of spring. In one particular year, we learn that the skylark and ‘other vernal choristers’ were heard in late January, when the honeysuckle was already in bud and the violets in flower.

Then there are floods and droughts, deaths by lightning, table moving (‘all the rage’), the beginning of the railway age ... and the birth of ‘An Association for Killing Sparrows’. Customs familiar in and around the Peak range from Plough Monday to Morris Dancing. As for proper winters, in mid-May 1853 it snowed incessantly for 15 hours at Chapel en le Frith, leaving drifts up to four feet deep, while six inches fell around Matlock, Bonsall and Winster.

Briggs was also fascinated by antiquities and counted amongst his friends Thomas Bateman of Middleton, with whom he visited Arbor Low - ‘the happiest day of my life’, and Llewellyn Jewitt of Winster.

Briggs was a true nature lover with a keen eye and ear for detail, yet he confessed that ‘To employment of an agricultural nature I had from infancy a great aversion’. Nonetheless, a farmer he became, but he found time to write poetry, books on local history, articles for newspapers and journals and, of course, his extensive diaries.

Melbourne 1820 - 1875, A Diary by John Joseph Briggs, is edited by Philip Heath and published by Melbourne Historical Research Group in association with Derbyshire County Council and South Derbyshire District Council, price £10.99 (ISBN 0-903463-78-4)

Review by Julie Bunting

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