QUAKER WOMAN'S DIARY REVEALS LIFE IN 18TH CENTURY BRISTOL

Issue date: 09 April 2003


ISSUE DATE : 09/04/03

The diary of a Quaker from Bristol which has never before been published has shed new light on the life of Bristolians in the 18th Century.

Sarah Champion Fox (1742 – 1811), the sister of the Bristol porcelain manufacturer Richard Champion, kept a diary for most of her life. She was on intimate terms with well known families of the time such as the Frys (Chocolate) and the Lloyds (banking), and she also knew the evangelist John Wesley, the writer Hannah More and the anti-slavery campaigner Thomas Clarkson. She left 40 volumes of closely written journals but all that survives of these is a 500-page manuscript edited by a Victorian Quaker in 1872. The surviving extracts from this manuscript are now to be published for the first time in a volume which contains a full introduction, illustrations and explanatory notes.

The book has been edited by Madge Dresser from the School of History at the University of the West of England for the Bristol Record Society. It will be launched at the Record Society's AGM at the Council House on 10 April, with Bristol’s Lord Mayor presiding

In her introduction to the diary Madge Dresser says, “The diary of Sarah Champion Fox offers us a fascinating glance into Bristol’s past. Bristol in the 1760’s and 1770’s was a place of real intellectual ferment and cultural change. Scientific advances were celebrated by Quaker ministers and exploited by Quaker manufacturers, including the Champions and the Frys. Sarah Fox’s diary shows her to have shared some of this enthusiasm. Whilst in Bristol, she scanned the heavens with a telescope, noted the transit of Venus, expressed intrigued scepticism about animal magnetism, and was literally shocked by an electrical experiment. She recorded an early balloon flight from the city and gossiped about an experiment at Dr Beddoes’s pneumatic institute.”

Madge Dresser says we also learn about Sarah’s personal life from the diaries. “It begins with her troubled childhood and an often anxious young adulthood through to a later and apparently companionable marriage followed by a tragically premature widowhood. It ends only at the beginning of an infirm old age. Throughout her adult life Sarah was concerned for the ‘poor’ and along with her brother Richard Champion was involved in many Quaker activities in Bristol working to improve life for the poor and sick in the city.”

One intriguing reference in Sarah’s diary refers to smallpox inoculations taking place in Bristol at Barton Hill in 1768, which predates Edward Jenner’s vaccinations by nearly twenty years (1796-8). It was known that Edward Jenner was apprenticed to a Bristol apothecary named Daniel Ludlow - could he possibly have been a relation of the Abraham Ludlow mentioned in Sarah’s diary?

Extract from the diary of Sarah Champion Fox
Editor Madge Dresser (Reproduced by permission of the Bristol Record Society)

1768
March 20th. Went with my niece and nephew Eliza and J. L. Champion to the inoculating house at Barton Hill, opened by one of Sutton’s partners, Abraham Ludlow and John Ford– a very commodious house fitted for the reception of many patients, and under good regulations. After the operation was performed we brought them home till they sickened, and then sent they back with a servant who was to be subject to the rules of the house.
April 4th. The children being pretty well, whom we had seen most afternoons at the inoculating house, I went to Stoke with my aunt for the summer.
May 1st. The Yearly Meeting (Bristol) The principal minister C. Payton, with whom on the forth, we spent the evening at A. R. Hawksworth’s.
July 29th. At Frenchay meeting, where was S. Neale of Ireland, with whom I had a few days before, drunk tea at M. Harford’s and supped at T. Frank’s. After meeting we dined and drank tea with him and John Elliot at J. Beck’s.
Augt 1st. Left Stoke in order to go to Cheltenham with my brother and sisters. We staid there till the 14th of September. Having spent so much time with my brother and sister C. and with each other, we found a great reluctance to separate, which produced a resolution in my sister and myself to live with them. There had been from infancy an uncommon affection subsisting between us, it had been my favourite wish that we might live together, and now it seemed as if the desire was almost irressistible. My aunt Lloyd and M. Harford’s family had been for some time united, which, I flattered myself set me at liberty; but I did not immediately declare my intentions, fearing her dislike to parting with me, thinking it would come on better gradually (Perhaps inclination alone dictated this change of abode. Every step we take is an important one, and inclination is often a very mistaken guide. Though we were very happy together, yet I fear it was of no real advantage to any of us – to my sister and myself particularly.)

The book is available to non-members for £17-00 from the Bristol Record Society,
c/o Mrs. Jenny Cousins, Regional History Centre, University of the West of England
St. Matthias Campus, Oldbury Court Road, Bristol BS16 2JP.
Members who join the Bristol Record Society for £10 pa receive the book as part of their annual subscription.

-ENDS-

Editor’s notes

Illustration attached: stjames.jpg

This image is for publicity use only in relation to the diary of Sarah Champion Fox.

‘A member of the Pole family at her desk c 1806 at 14 St James Square, Bristol’
by kind permission of Bristol Museums & Art Gallery

This watercolour illustration shows one of the daughters of Dr Thomas Pole (Eliza or Rachel) sitting at her desk studiously writing in the house once occupied by Sarah Champion Fox. Painted during Sarah’s lifetime it depicts the cultivated, austere elegance of the Quakers of that time – qualities shared by the Pole family and the Champions. Dr Pole was a Quaker Minister from Bristol and the families were on friendly terms. Sarah’s diary gives many details of the Pole family and their activities in the city at the time. The painter of this watercolour is not known.

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