1796 Ann Williams’ diary

Diary of Ann Williams, (1772-1838), Ystrad Teilo, 1796 (when she was about 24). NLW MS 22269A

She was daughter of the Reverend Isaac Williams, (1734-1811) Ystrad Teilo, near Llanrhystud, Cardiganshire, and Ann Jones (married 1769). He was vicar of Llanrhystud parish from 1764 until his death.

This small diary, for only one year, contains brief records of her social life, her domestic chores and some items of expenditure on tea, coffee, sugar, candles etc. fabrics and payments to a mantua maker. Her education was sufficient to enable her to write fluently in English, and to read an English novel (Clarisa), but it seems that the family’s income was not sufficient to employ enough servants to do all the domestic chores. Ann spent many days helping with the washing, ironing, putting out the linen, cooking, bottling but most of all, sewing.

Personal Expenditure
Her diary shows that she had occasional gifts of cash from her father, normally of a few shillings, a total for the year of nearly 50s. She recorded expenditure on fabrics, clothes, gloves, hair power, pomaturn [pomade?], a toothbrush and admittance to an Assembly at Aberystwyth (2s 6d), a total of just over 120s but this included £3 13s 6d on 7 yards of muslin at 10s 6d a yard, and a further 19s on white feather, both from London, which may have been for her mother and sister too.

She spent many days sewing, often reporting that she was busy with her needle. She mended and darned stockings, handkerchiefs, napkins and tablecloths, did darning for her mother; made wristbands for her father (she made four over three days), mended his shirts and made new shirts for her brothers. She wrote ‘Assisted in cutting out Isaac’s shirts; Finished cutting out seven of them, began making them; employed about Isaac’s shirts; Busy at the shirts (for 2 days); and ‘finished Isaac’s shirts’ nearly 2 months after cutting them out (although they might not have been the same batch); ‘Busy at my needle, assisted in cutting out 4 shirts for David’ and begun making them the following day.

The diary provides clues to the range of clothes she had, but recorded only the purchase accessories and fabrics, not of complete new clothes, other than 8s on a muslin petticoat. The evidence suggests that she bought fabrics for clothes and employed a Mantua maker to make special garments.

She spent three days in ‘piecing my purple and black gown’ and refers to mending ‘another dark gown’, an old gown, a red gown and an old red gown. She mended a shift and flounced a petticoat, cut out 2 pair of pockets, made up a cap; altered her cloak, her mother’s habit and her sister’s coat; stitched collars for her father, made pillow cases of calico and assisted in patching a quilt. She did some work on other garments, but she used abbreviations for them, (sl., shs., cl.), the meaning of which is uncertain.

The most important entries as far as social history of clothing is concerned, are those which refer to the Mantua maker who was at the house for three days in July. The entries read: ‘mending my stays. Mrs Lewis the Mantua maker here. Busy with Mrs Lewis. Making a Dimity stays. Finished Bess’s stays.’ A few days later she recorded ‘A new Dimity stays came to 4s.’ It is not clear whether this price was for materials and cutting and sewing, or just for making them. If the latter, Mrs Lewis was paid just over 1s a day, presumably with food and accommodation provided. There is some evidence that the country women of Wales did not wear stays at this time, but their English peers did. It is not surprising that the middling sort had stays and that they were made by a specialist.

Other garments
Mrs Lewis the Mantua maker was also paid 3s each for ‘our dark robes’ (presumably for Ann and her sister Bess) and 2s for making bathing dresses; Ann went bathing in the sea, presumably at Llanrhystud several times during the autumn.

Ann also recorded spending 7s 6d on ‘Making of three robes’;  2s each on two pairs of gloves; 4s on a ‘new muslin handkerchief, ditto for the head’ and later had ‘two muslin handkerchiefs, two for the throat ditto’ but did not record the cost.

She also spent £1 6s 0d on a ‘new beaver hat, band and all’; 5s 6d on pair of Morocco slippers, and had a pair of neat strong slippers an old pair mended for an undisclosed sum.

If she purchased, or the mantua maker provided, the fabric required for new garments, she rarely recorded such expenditure. One of the largest payments in her diary was for ‘seven yards of muslin 10s 6d per yard £3.13.6, ditto white feather 19s’, both from London. At this price the muslin would have been for clothing and not for domestic use (in the dairy, for example). She bought 1½ yd of much cheaper muslin at 2d a yard on another occasion. The only other record of expenditure on fabric ‘had from Lampeter 8 yd and a half of cotton 2s 9d per yard.’

It is often thought that needles, cotton thread, ribbons and other materials used to ornament garments were purchased from peddlers, who travelled around the countryside with their wares. However, Ann noted that she had ‘sent to Carmarthen to pay for ribbon for Mamma’s hat etc etc 6s’ but did not disclose where she purchased her ‘narrow pink ribbon 6d’ or ‘edging 10s’

For more on her father and their home, see  D. Emrys Williams, ‘The Reverend Isaac Williams of Ystrad Teilo’, Ceredigion, vol. 7, part 3-4, (1972-5), 332-44. (see Welsh Journals on line)

Note on currency
12d (pence) = 1 s (shilling), 20 shillings = £1