Review of ‘A Victorian Farmer's Diary’, by William Hodkin

This review is by Julie Bunting, and was published originally in The Peak Advertiser, the Peak District's local free newspaper, on 17th November 2003, and is reproduced with Julie's kind permission.

Edited by T.A. Burdekin
Published by Derbyshire County Council Cultural and Community Services Department
ISBN 0-903463-72-5 (2003)

Publication of this true-life diary is certain to have wide appeal but will be of particular fascination to anyone with farming in their blood. Written by William Hodkin of Beeley in the 1860s and edited by his great-grandson, T.A. Burdekin, it gives account of Victorian farming life on the Chatsworth estate, illustrated with old photographs and newspaper cuttings.

These were the days before machinery, with little let-up in the daily grind on the 100-acre Hodkin farm. William is something of an entrepreneur as well as farmer. He buys and sells coal - being a regular customer at the Beeley Moor colliery, wool, vegetable colouring and other goods and always seems to have stock for sale, including a horse which nobody wants to buy. When he settles his account with Mr Orme of Bakewell he pays for his gin and wine by the gallon but brews his own beer for the harvest.

We all know a farmer or two like William. He refers to his cows, horses and farm labourers by name but his wife is simply 'the Mrs'. In October 1864, with Bakewell cattle show in its 16th year, he writes: 'Father and I went to the cattle show with some hens and one cock 2 gees and one gander and 6lbs butter ... I dined with members of the [Farmers'] Club ... Father and Mrs brought the fowls home.'

William does take the Mrs out once in a while, catching the excursion train to Buxton well dressings as a special treat. For everyday transport he relies on his horses; they bring back cartloads of stone for repairing the highways, lime from the Stoney Middleton kilns, flour and oatmeal from the mills at Alport, Edensor and Baslow.

William never bemoans his lot, admitting on just one occasion to getting drunk and sharing a rare snippet of gossip: 'A man from Buxton Station was at Mrs. Mayhews he often comes when the master is from home, I cannot understand them I expect there will be a divorce case.'

Life as a tenant on the Chatsworth estate suited farmer Hodkin well and it is fitting that the present Duchess of Devonshire has provided the foreword for his diary.

Review by Julie Bunting

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