Our ‘Coll Misc’ series (essentially a collection of ‘odds-and-ends-with-nowhere-else-to-go’) includes significant numbers of personal and household account books, ranging in date from the late 17th century through to the early 19th century. Although on paper these don’t sound terribly promising sources, social and economic historians can use them to investigate in great detail changes in the costs and standard of living, and the development of consumption and spending patterns. But they are surprisingly accessible to non-experts too, and even a quick look through them can reveal a lot about the lifestyles of those who compiled them.
Coll Misc 0266 is the account book of a sugar planter, the owner of the Buenos Ayres estate in Trinidad. Covering the years 1799 to 1819, the book records both business and personal expenditure. The business accounts include the purchases of slaves, cutlasses for harvesting cane, iron pots and other equipment for sugar, molasses and rum production, repairs to estate buildings and livestock. The accounts suggest a workforce in poor health, with a high mortality rate, and frequent sickness (medicines purchased include glauber salts, cantharides, salt of steel and sulphur). The accounts also confirm a workforce that was actively rebellious, with several entries for monies paid for the return of runaway slaves. The personal accounts hint at a somewhat empty existence, with the consumption of enormous quantities of alcohol and substantial gambling losses. The only mention of family life is a brief entry for a son’s schooling.
Coll Misc 0369, the account book of an Anglican clergyman living in Wiltshire in the early 1790s, presents a very different prospect. His housekeeping expenses are dominated by laundry bills, utensils, coal and food (mainly plain fare – fish, chicken, watercress, bacon, eggs – but occasionally fancy items such as Souchong tea appear). He also includes a small list of stable and garden expenses as well as a longer list of ‘pocket and cash’ expenses including toiletries, books and concerts and plays. There are frequent small donations to beggars and other charity cases.
Coll Misc 0037, the personal account book of Sophy Ranson, provides us with a glimpse into the life of a genteel middle class lady in the 1820s. Sophy’s income was made up from dividends from investments, while her expenditure was dominated by clothing and clothing care, haberdashery, and toiletries. Music appears to have been Sophie’s main hobby, and there are records of expenditure on piano tuning, sheet music and trips to the opera. Other leisure activities include visits to the diorama and a water colour exhibition. Money spent on food is limited to drinks and sweet snacks which suggests that although she had her own sources of income she lived within a larger household. Religion and charitable giving are also strong themes; rent for a pew in Paddington Church, a charity school subscription and sacrament money all feature regularly.
Finally, Coll Misc 0377, the account books of Edgar Corrie, upper middle class merchant, show the prolific outgoings of a respectable family man and householder in the mid-nineteenth century: a relentless round of spending on clothes and shoes for his wife and nine children, dancing, music and archery lessons, servants’ wages, trademens’ and doctors’ bills, a plethora of rates, taxes and insurance, coal, new carpets and furniture, house redecoration, carriage and coach fares, his daughters’ weddings…. One more unusual item is recorded in January 1856 – ‘Claudet for photograph and frame’ – a reference to Antoine Claudet, one of the first commercial photographers, who learnt the daguerreotype process from Daguerre himself and then set up shop in London.