The extraordinary diary of a barber and wigmaker, Edmund Harrold, from the early part of the 18th century, is being published for the first time in 100 years, and in more detail than ever before. While the new book has an academic rather than a popular price, the publishers have generously made the informative introduction, by the book’s editor, freely available online.
Edmund Harrold was born in 1678 in Manchester, the son of a tobacconist and the eldest of his four children. He probably lived in Manchester all his life, working as a barber, a wigmaker and a book dealer. He married four times; but his first three wives as well as six (of nine) children died before he did. Between 1712 and 1715 he wrote a diary, a poorly edited version of which was first published for the Chetham Society in 1867. Around 20 years later, John Eglington Bailey, who edited the important 16th century diaries of John Dee, was planning to produce a new version of Harrold’s diary, but this project never came to fruition.
Now, 330 years after Harrold was born, Ashgate (which publishes 700 titles a years and says it is dedicated to publishing ‘the finest academic research’) is releasing (on 28 November) The Diary of Edmund Harrold, Wigmaker of Manchester 1712-15, in a comprehensive version edited by Dr Craig Horner, of the Department of History at Manchester Metropolitan University. Apart from the diary itself (fully annotated), the book includes sample pages, the text of a lecture on the diary delivered by John Eglington Bailey in 1884, a list of comparable diaries, and an extensive introduction by Horner.
According to Ashgate, the survival of Harrold’s diary is ‘a remarkable piece of luck for historians’. Not only, it says, are such diaries for the ‘middling sort’ rare in this early 18th century period, but few provide such a candid insight into everyday concerns and troubles. It offers ‘a fascinating snapshot into the social, professional and private life of an impoverished inhabitant of Manchester during a period of profound social and economic change’.
The book costs £52 on Amazon.co.uk and $100 on Amazon.com, but at least the publisher, Ashgate, has made Horner’s introduction freely available on its website. In that introduction, Horner says Harrold wrote the diary as ‘a means of reconciling his mortal failings’, and in doing so, intentionally or not, detailed his family life, his business interests, a passion for books, and a colourful social life, including trips to the alehouse. It provides much else besides: a picture of his courtships following the death of his second wife; an idea of the conflict he felt about whether to attend church; an eye-witness account of Manchester’s part in the Jacobite rebellion of 1715; a record of two marriages and marital sex; and an idea of his preoccupation with death and illness.
One of the most interesting aspects of the diary is certainly the information regarding Harrold’s sex life. Horner says that, for Harrold, sex within marriage was a means of containing lust, and this is illustrated by the diary entry from 2 October 1712: ‘I obs[erve] that there is a many ways to spend ones time, but ye best and most comfortable way is in reading, praying and working, for ye devills always busie wth ye idle person leading him to lust, drunkenness etc.’
Extraordinarily, Harrold noted down when he had sex (he was with his second and third wives, Sarah and Ann, during the diary period), usually employing the expression I ‘did’ or ‘enjoy’, and ‘wife’ rather than his wife’s name. Here’s an example: ‘did w[i]f[e] now tho, tis [not] hard doing tw[ice] per [day] as Ive seldom mist thro variety’. He also talked about doing it ‘old fashion’ and ‘new fashion’!
There are very few references to Harrold’s diary on the internet (presumably there will be more following the Ashgate publication), but there is one in Emily Cochayne’s book Hubbub: Filth, Noise & Stench in England, 1600-1770. Christopher Hart, writing about it for Literary Review, says the book also delves into ‘an impressive array of diaries, letters and obscure pamphlets’. Cochayne ‘turns up’, he adds, one Edmund Harrold, a Mancunian wig-maker who recorded his own sex life assiduously in his private journal, boasting one day, for instance, that he ‘did wife 2 tymes couch & bed in an hour an[d] ½ time’.
Horner’s introduction to The Diary of Edmund Harrold, Wigmaker of Manchester 1712-15 refers to further extracts from the diary. Here are three of them, respectively about his second wife dying; giving thoughts about finding a new wife; and, about the day of this third marriage (which had taken place at 8am).
‘My wife lay adying from 11 this day, till 9 a clock on ye 18[th] in ye morn. Then she dy’d in my arms, on pillows. [Her] relations most[ly] by. She went suddenly, and was sencible till 1/4 of an hour before she dyed. I have given her workday cloth[e]s to mother Bordman, and Betty Cook our servant. Now relations thinks best to bury her at [the] meetin[g] place in Plungeon Field, so I will.’
8 March 1713
‘It is every [Chris]tians duty to mortifie their unruly passions and lusts to which ye are most prone. I’m now beginning to be unesie with my self, and begin to think of women again. I pray God, direct me to do wisely and send me a good one, or none, if it be his will I must have one.’
22 August 1713
‘I worked al[l] day till 9 at night, yn I fetched my wife from her m[aste]r, and father[-inlaw] [Joseph] Bancrofts. Came home about ½ hour past 11. Dr Redford got her to bed and me alone gave a brides possit amongst ye company in ye house.’