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Abington, Herbert (1847 – 1872)  DIARY

Abington, Herbert (1847 – 1872)  DIARY

For most people in these biographies we only catch glimpses of them, as through cracks in a fence, from the official records. A number of the Abington family have featured because they have left more of their lives behind than their neighbours. We see mainly a family of shopkeepers, tailors and craftsmen, usually with a strong non-conformist faith. The Abingtons, however, as the little ‘Memoirs’ of Leonard Joseph and his son Leonard James are at pains to emphasise, were from an old family of landed gentry from Cambridge, dating back to the Norman Conquest. The Abingtons had owned estates in Worcestershire, Shropshire and Herefordshire and suffered for their Catholic sympathies during the Tudor and early Stuart periods.

The estates eventually passed by bequest, on the death of Thomas Abington, to the Crompton family of Hartpury in Gloucestershire. The ancestors of the Abingtons of our story had become lawyers and musicians at the Georgian royal courts. Unmentioned in the Memoirs is Mrs Francis Abington who was briefly married to one of the Abingtons on her way from flower girl to famous actress and notorious celebrity before dying in relative poverty. It was into this line of musicians that Leonard Joseph was born but his father died when he was very young and, although he was also a musician he had to be apprenticed to a trade [see chapter on Leonard and Herbert senior]. He later came to Ringstead as the Baptist pastor and his son Herbert Joseph became the village tea dealer, grocer and chemist

We see the children of Leonard Joseph spread across England and beyond from London to the Potteries, London, Bristol and Northamptonshire. Their children, too, often looked beyond their home towns or villages for work. We have seen the sons and daughters of the village’s agricultural labourers emigrating across the world but the regular visiting and links across long distances was something unusual in Ringstead at this time. Of course they were helped by the new cheap national postal and railway networks. The diary of Herbert Abington junior reveals people visiting relatives in Ringstead from London and returning home within the course of a long day.

Herbert Joseph Abington had married Kezia Bull who was from a local family also with a strong Baptist tradition. Her mother and father had kept the Ringstead Paper Mill and after her husband's death his widow had continued for a time with the work [see biography of William Mitchell]. Both Herbert and Kezia came from large families and this web of uncles and aunts and cousins provided the network that the main characters moved along in this story.

Herbert was the couple’s sixth child, born in Ringstead on 28th July 1847. He followed Jedidah Louisa (1837), Leonard Joseph (1838), Ebenezer Edwin (1840) and Mary Jane (1843). A brother, Benjamin Edmund, had been born two years previously to Herbert and died when Herbert was some five years old. Another brother, Joshua James, was born two years later but died within a few months. His namesake was born in 1851 and finally the youngest child, Samuel Edmund was born in 1856. With cousins often having similar names it is a complex family tree in which a name like Jedidah stands out as a welcome certainty.

Herbert, like his brothers and sisters had to learn a trade and in 1861 he is recorded as a baker. His uncle, Andrew Bull, was the village baker so it is likely that Herbert was learning his trade with him. He is only thirteen and it is unclear how long he carried on with this work.

In September 1867 he took a small brown cashbook and on the second page he wrote his name, ‘Ringstead 1867’, and a short verse telling people to keep out


Frontispiece of Diary

With the kind permission of Muriel Pack

On the first double pages he carefully wrote ‘DIARY’ on another drawn scroll and beneath it the quotation, ‘Our Lives are made up of Trifles’. On the opposite page he wrote in bold lettering ‘1867 September 28. Saturday’ and underneath the first entry:


I returned to London with my brother J [Joshua] – my cousins Margaret and Emma [Edmonds] and Louisa [Bull]; after enjoying ourselves at the feast. We arrived at Euston a little before eleven A.M. from there we went in a cab to Aunt Edmonds where we dined, after that we rode in a bus to my brother Edwin’s. after tea I amused myself by reading the newspapers  


First Entry in Diary

With the kind permission of Muriel Pack

As we have said, Herbert’s mother, Kezia’s, maiden name was Bull and she had at least six brothers and sisters. As Baptists they believed in adult baptism which can allow siblings to be hidden from our view but the family included Sarah, Susannah, Kezia, Eneas (Enos), Eliza, William, Andrew and Samuel. Two sisters, besides Kezia, had stayed locally. Sarah had first married Thomas Cheney and, on his death, George Smith: Susannah had married Noah Abbott. However, a younger sister, Eliza, had moved to London where she had married John Edmonds in 1849. John was a carpenter who had been born in Willoughby in Warwickshire and the couple lived in Clerkenwell in London. They seem to have been a very welcoming family and from the start, aunts, nieces and nephews are staying with them. In 1861 Herbert’s brother, Leonard Joseph, a journeyman Butcher, is staying with his uncle and aunt and their daughters, Selina, Margaret and Emma.

At this time Ringstead was on the Blisworth -Thrapston (Bridge Street) - Peterborough line so villagers had many choices and could pick up trains going north or south to London at Northampton, Wellingborough or Peterborough. From Thrapston’s Midland Road station, via part of what is sometimes called the Varsity Line, they could get to the main lines at Huntingdon and Cambridge or go north through Kettering.


Entrance to Euston Station (now demolished)

© British Library Board (074019)

When the young people arrived for the first time at Euston Station it must have been something of the shock with the large classical style Great Hall some 126 feet (38m) long, 61ft wide (19m) and an incredible 64ft (20m) high. Outside, they would have left through the great Classical archway. We know that some of his companions would already have seen it but we are not sure if Herbert had already been in London. The phrase ‘I returned to London with my brother’ could be read either way. He was staying with his brother Edwin (Ebenezer) who had married Elizabeth Barringer and at this time was probably living in Riley Street, Bermondsey with their small daughter Louisa. Within the next two years he had acquired a tailoring business in Kimbolton, not far from Ringstead).

There were other relations in the area on whom Herbert could call. 'Ebey' (Ebenezer) Smith, the son of his mother’s eldest sister Sarah and her second husband George Smith, was living in the area. So Herbert had places to stay and people to see. It would have been an exciting if rather daunting experience for any young man with, close at hand, magnificent buildings and opulence but also the terrible poverty and dangers of Dickens’s London.

Two days after he arrived we see that there is a serious reason for his move to the capital.

            Sept. 30 Monday

Went to Brompton Hospital and got a supply of medicine and oil, commenced as an outpatient August 5. I rode there and back by steamboat. Edwin brought the harmonium home.


So Herbert had already been to London although whether he had been working or for treatment we cannot be sure.


Brompton Consumption Hospital

From Old and New London by Edward Walford (Cassell 1880)

With the kind permission of


Earlier in that same year of 1867, John Timbs, in Curiosities of London, tells us that Brompton Hospital,


. . . fronting the Fulham-road was commenced in 1844, June 11 when Prince Albert laid the first stone; the site was formerly a nursery garden and the genial moist air of Brompton has long been recommended for consumptive patients. 

The Hospital is in the Tudor style of red brick with stone finishings; Francis, architect; it was opened in 1846. In 1850 was attached an elegant memorial chapel and in 1852 was added the western wing of the Hospital. . . The Hospital is ventilated by machinery, worked by a steam engine and is warmed by water heated by two large Arnott stoves. In the kitchen steam is used for boiling caldrons of beef-tea, mutton-broth, arrow-root, coffee, chocolate etc; and the provisions are wound up a shaft to the respective wards. The patients take exercise in the well-ventilated passages: and the wards are tempered by warm fresh air which enters at the floor, and escapes by valves in the ceiling.


That Herbert was going to Brompton Hospital tells us that he was almost certainly suffering from Tuberculosis (TB), Phthisis pulmonalis or Consumption, one of the greatest killers of the Victorian age which could strike all classes. It was the equivalent of today’s Cocaine-chic with the loss of weight, pallid complexion and the slow death endowing it with a romantic, poetic aura that it did not deserve. Byron had said that it was his chosen way of death.

What we now see in the diary are visits to various chapels and churches, walks to the Elephant and Castle and Billingsgate but also visits to a show which was part of the great Victorian interest in the occult and the paranormal.


            October 1 Tuesday

Began to learn the harmonium, in the evening went to a Mesmeric entertainment, and saw a young lady in a clairvoyant state

Mesmerism had been particularly popular in the 1840s and was popularised by Franz Anton Mesmer who believed that an occult force, called ‘animal magnetism’, could be channelled to effect trance-like states and healing. It may be that Herbert was also hoping that it offered some relief for him and certainly it was used as a form of hypnotherapy to calm and ease the symptoms of patients. In this case it was probably more of a stage show but, as his cousin Samuel Abington reveals some years later the paranormal was taken very seriously even among some devout nonconformists. The scientists were producing a magical world of dinosaurs and electricity and suddenly everything seemed possible.

Herbert also reports that it is sometimes very cold and foggy which would not have helped his breathing. On October 10th he reports:

Leonard called early, had breakfast with us, then I went to the Elephant and Castle Station with him. In the evening I received my notice to go into hospital

On Monday October 14th he went into Brompton Hospital accompanied by his brother Joshua. Unusually he writes in detail both of the hospital and its routines and it is worth quoting his first few days there in full:

. . . I arrived there about 3 and found myself possessed of a comfortable little bed, a little cupboard called a locker, with a pink mug, a spittoon and butter dish. I ought to have taken a knife, fork and spoon, butter and sugar, but as my notice did not express that I went without and found to my grief when tea time came, there was no sugar in the coffee, or butter to the bread, so I did without. I could easily have borrowed what I wanted but being a stranger, I did not like to ask any of the patients, and none of them noticed me. After tea four of us had a game of dominoes and I got on better at supper time. I had half a pint of beef tea with what bread I liked, after supper we went to bed, but it was just beginning morning before I could get to sleep, hearing the strange noises so many people coughing and one young man in our ward sat propped up all night, he was too ill to sleep, but at length most of the noises were hushed, and I sank into the arms of Morpheus and slept until six in the morning.

There are four meals a day here, breakfast at half past eight, consisting of bacon or eggs and coffee or cocoa according to the doctor’s orders; Dinner at 1. Meat vegetables and pudding. Tea at 5, coffee or cocoa and bread and butter or marmalade. Supper at 8 beef tea or milk and after that barley water for those that like to drink in the night. Patients (that are able) have to rise at 8 in the morning in winter and half past seven in the summer, and be in bed by nine at night. There are [no] fires allowed in any of the wards, but the temperature is kept up to 65 degrees by pipes. Patients (that are able) have to take all their meals in the gallery, and each one has to take his own mug, knife, fork and spoon with him, and keep them clean. The hours for visiting are from 2 to 3 on Tuesdays and Fridays and from two to four on Sundays 

Cod liver oil is brought into the gallery on a tray, twice a day, and all have to go there

and take it together. Divine service is held in the chapel at 11 and half past six on Sundays and at 11 in the morning on Wednesday and Friday. 

Oct 15 Tuesday

I got up between six and seven, had a wash and went down in the grounds, to ask the gatekeeper to get me some butter and sugar, which he did. About 10 o’clock the clinical assistant (Mr Young) came to examine and sound me, and soon after that Mr Edwards the house doctor came to sound me again, and just as we were sitting down to tea Dr Thompson came and I had to strip again for another sounding. In the evening the nurse came and put me a blister on, which I kept on till morning. Slept pretty well.

Oct 16 Wednesday

After breakfast the nurse clipped my blister, and dressed it with ointment to keep it open. I saw Richard Adams for the first time. There was a service in the chapel at eleven this morning. It is Church of England doctrine and patients who are not members of the church are not obliged to go, if they are very old ill, they can have their own minister to see them. In the evening the chaplain gave a lecture on the ‘birth of Christ’

October 17 Thursday

Had my blister dressed again. It was our day for setting tables and clearing away. Bought some wool and began to make a mat.

The main breakthroughs, in the nineteenth century, in cutting TB deaths were the improvement in living conditions and the recognition in the 1890s that milk from infected cows was one of the major sources of infection. Nevertheless the new hospital at Brompton did help patients. As John Timbs reported in 1867:

The deaths in this new Hospital have never exceeded one in every five in-patients, whereas in the former Hospital they were one in four.

We know that statistics can be manipulated by clinical practice but Herbert was probably in the best hospital in England for treatment of tuberculosis. It had been founded by Philip Rose, a young solicitor, as many London hospitals, because of the long-lasting and frequently terminal nature of the disease, had rules specifically excluding consumption sufferers. Nevertheless, unlike Smallpox which had virtually disappeared by the end of the century, really effective treatment did not come until the middle of the twentieth century when certain antibiotics were discovered.

Even the best Victorian doctors could only use treatments that seemed to have some effect without really understanding the nature of the disease. The use of ‘blisters’ like those given to Herbert was really a left over from an earlier practice. From the early 1800s it was believed that the body could only contain one illness at a time: when a second illness entered the body, the first would be forced out. Hot plasters were put on the skin to burn it and form a blister which was then opened and drained. Any effectiveness seems to have stemmed from the pain of the blister focussing the mind away from the chest and so reduce coughing.

Herbert also ‘bought some wool and began to ‘make a mat’. My own brother was in hospitals and hospices much of his life and the making of plastic wicker trays and Readicut rugs were an important part of his keeping busy and passing of time. The mat is never mentioned again so perhaps Herbert quickly wearied of it.

On Monday October 21st he was weighed and was 8 stone 10½ pounds (we later discover that he was 5 feet 7½ inches which would have been an average height for a man). On the Friday of that week Jedidah, with her friend and landlady (and perhaps employer) Mrs. Elizabeth Spence had visited Herbert. Elizabeth Spence and Jedidah had been in service together with Carlos Chamberlin (or Chamberlain) in the wealthy Victoria Park area of Manchester (see separate biography of Jedidah). Elizabeth, a widow, opened a grocer’s shop in Rusholme in the 1860s and it seems that Jedidah may have worked for her (although in the Census she is not shown with a profession). Elizabeth and her daughter Mary Eleanor, usually put as M.E. in the diary, had become great friends Jedidah and, through her, of the Abington family.

Herbert was allowed to leave the hospital and stay with his brother Edwin and his family in Southwark for a few days. He went to Madam Tussauds with his two Manchester visitors and on the Sunday his brother Leonard, Aunt Edmonds and Margaret Edmonds all came to tea with him at Edwin’s house. On the Monday he bought a muffler for 2s 6d (12 and in the afternoon he returned to hospital. Away from his friends he dwells again on his illness.

            Oct 29 Tuesday

I read that it is computed that 78,000 persons are constantly suffering from consumption in England and that the deaths among those patients are as many as 39,000 within that year. In the last report of the Registrar general it is stated that in the metropolis the deaths annually from consumption are 7,500, the average number of sufferers from the disease being 15,000.

On most days he went to church in the Hospital (which may have been held, at the beginning of his stay, in the Committee Room during repairs), and had occasional visits from Jedidah, Leonard, Edwin, and Selina and Aunt Edmonds and Mr Kitchen. On Tuesday 5th November he wrote on the Gunpowder Plot. Did he know that an Abington had been involved?

The next day he reveals that he now weighs 8 st. (stone) 13 lbs (pounds) a gain of 2½ pounds. His thoughts, however, naturally still dwell on death. 

November 8th Friday

Milton died on Sunday 1674 in his 66th year and so tranquil was his departure that his attendants were unable to determine the hour of his death. 

November 9th Saturday

Patrick O’Shea the soldier that attempted to commit suicide by opening a vein in his arm about three months ago, died this morning.


The visitors are not quite so frequent now and when they do not come on a Sunday he admits to feeling, ‘rather dull’. We hear that the ward had a selection of books which were changed on a regular basis and that he enjoyed reading a volume of Sunday at Home. This was a weekly ‘Family Magazine for Sabbath Reading’ published by the Religious Tract Society which was often bound into annual volumes. It contained a miscellany of short stories, quizzes, coloured illustrations and short discussions of biblical texts. 

He reports that he has gained 1½ pounds and is now ‘8 St. 0 Then he has a relapse 

            Dec 6 Friday

Felt very poorly, had the headache very much. The assistant came to see me and gave me a draught of Mist Salic. Felt a little better in the evening. Dr Williams visited us.

Salicylic Acid was derived from willow bark and relieved headaches, although it could affect stomachs as a side effect. It was not until 1900 that it was further refined and patented as Aspirin by the German company Bayer. Herbert feels better the next day and begins to take an interest in the world again.

            Dec 13 Friday

Went to church. Jedidah came to see me. This afternoon about a quarter to four o’clock an attempt was made by the Fenians to rescue Burke and Casey who were confined in the House of Detention, Clerkenwell. By blowing down the outer wall with a barrel of gunpowder.

The late edition of the Globe newspaper that day had a headline ‘Twenty lives sacrificed’ and

reported that there had been:

 . . . great alarm in consequence of a terrible explosion taking place. Within a radius of half a mile all the windows were shattered into pieces and the greatest confusion prevailed at the time……Before the catastrophe, attention had been excited by the suspicious appearance of several Irish roughs – types of the class which represents Fenianism – loitering on the outskirts of the prison.

Soon, however the four walls around him take over

            Dec 14 Saturday

I was reading that the Hospital was founded in 1841 [on another site]; it accommodates 211 in-patients and constantly affords relief to some thousands of out-patients. There are besides 20 more patients in the experimental sanatorium at Madeira [I believe that this happened in 1864 and as the returning patients showed no improvement the experiment was discontinued] and 20 more are received at the ‘Home’ Manor House Chelsea.

 Dec 15 Sunday

        Went to church. Had no visitors. I had the hump

Then with sure knowledge of his own condition, he writes:

December 20 Friday

Jedidah came to see me. I was reading that Brompton is a neighbourhood where formerly more than now, consumptive invalids were wont to repair. Thither many a parent has conveyed his child as a last hope. Edmond Burke had a son he loved with his whole heart. Disease laid him low and the father took him to Crowell House at Brompton. Here he sunk and died. That blow nearly broke the great man’s heart. He never recovered from it.

Had Herbert’s father managed to get him into the hospital through his family connections? Was this at the back of his mind when he read this?

He had lost a little weight again but gets ‘leave of absence’ over Christmas

 December 25 Wednesday

This morning the yellow fog lay thick and dim o’er London city far and wide. Father, Jedidah, Edmund, Joshua, Edwin and Bessie [Edwin’s wife] and the children all came over to Aunts to spend a Merry Christmas


Dec 26 Thursday

Very thick fog all day. Father, Jedidah, Joshua, Edmond, and Edwin came to Aunt’s to tea.

Dec 27 Friday

Went over to Edwin’s in the morning, had dinner there and started back to the hospital. Father and Edmund [brother] accompanied me to the bus at London Bridge, arrived at the hospital a four p.m. My companions who spent their Christmas in the hospital told me they had Champagne with their dinner and some again in the evening, and Plum-cake, Biscuits and tea at the evening meal. The gallery was decorated with evergreens and artificial flowers. The Chapel adjoining the Hospital was opened on Christmas Day, it had been closed for some time undergoing repairs, so that service has been held in the committee room

Dec 29 Sunday

Went to Church twice. I entered the church (or Chapel as it is called) for the first time this morning. It is a comfortable place; the seats are all cushioned. The windows are very pretty, all of stained glass; there are two sun-lights hanging from the roof, each one has 29 jets of gas, so that the place is very light when the gas is lit up.

Father and Edmund came to see me in the afternoon


Chapel in Brompton Hospital (this is a special Confirmation by Bishop of London)

Illustrated London News January 3rd 1874


Dec 31 Tuesday

I weighed 9 stone lost 1 lb since last weighing. Heard the Chelsea Bells ringing the old year out and the New Year in.

1868    Wednesday Jan 1

We had quite a tragical commencement to the New Year here. A young man named Cavill committed suicide this morning about 8 o’clock. He went into the closet and cut his throat and was almost dead when one of the patients found him. The Doctor was immediately sent for, but it was too late. The poor fellow had done his work too well. We had noticed for about a week previous, how restless and fidgety he was, he appeared to have something on his mind, but he would not tell us what it was.

Jan 2 Thursday

Dr. Quain visited us. The Committee of the Hospital commenced to give us butter, each patient is to be allowed half a pound of butter weekly, from the hospital instead of having to buy it. And four daily newspapers to each Gallery

Jan 3 Friday

In the evening there was held in the Committee Room, the first of a series of Readings to be continued weekly throughout the season. The first gentleman read David Coombe, the Cobbler* and another piece of poetry. It was very interesting and amusing.

[*This may be a short moral tale in a booklet called Trapping Sunbeams by Floyd Foster Barnes].

There was also a lecture on electricity ‘with experiments which made it interesting and amusing’. Certainly we can see that it was a hospital where great attempts were made to make the patient’s stay as bearable as possible. On Wednesday 15th he left hospital for the last time. It is not said why he was discharged but it was the practice at Brompton to keep patients in for two months? It was presumably felt that they had done all that the hospital had done all it could, whether the patient was cured or not. To keep them longer would block the beds for new sufferers.

As always, he walked to places of interest and visited friends and relations He also sampled some of the entertainments of the capital city;

            Jan 23 Thursday

Had a walk in the morning. In the evening I went with Joshua and Emma to the Agricultural Hall to see the grand spectacle of “St. George and the Dragon” and the Egyptian State Procession etc. etc.

On the 26th he sees Aunt Winter, his father’s sister Letitia, who was the widow of shoemaker John Winter whose early death seems have put the family into very hard times. At about this time, his uncle, John Edmonds had become a beer retailer at the Red Lion, 41 Hoxton Street, Shoreditch (Herbert’s brother, Leonard, later marries  John’s daughter, Selina, and becomes a publican at the Mermaid Tavern, Mare Street, Hackney). Not far away, at 64 High Street, Hoxton, was McDonald’s Music Hall where comedians such as Arthur Lloyd, William Lingard and William Randall plied their trade. He writes:

            Jan 28 Tuesday

Went to Aunt Edmonds in the evening with Leonard, Selina and Emma to MacDonald’s Music hall

In some ways this is the most surprising visit of them all. The Tomahawk on September of the previous year had an article entitled, ‘An Opinion of Music Halls. It notes that the former operatic selections had largely disappeared and adds, acidly that they were anyway, ‘badly sung and vulgarly accompanied. It continues:

Nothing is listened to now-a-days but the so-called ‘comic songs’ and, in sober earnestness, we must express our astonishment that human beings, endowed with the ordinary gift of reason, should be found to go night after night in order to witness such humiliating exhibitions. It is quite impossible to name anything equal to the stupidity of these comic songs unless, indeed it is their vulgarity. A man appears on the platform, dressed in outlandish clothes, and ornamented with whiskers of ferocious length and hideous hue and proceeds to sing verse after verse of pointless twaddle interspersed with a blatant ‘chorus’ in which the audience is requested to join. The audience obligingly consents and each member of it contributes to the general harmony, a version of the tune which he happens to know best.

It all seems pretty harmless but it certainly would have been very raucous and probably not an entertainment that would have gone down well in Ringstead Baptist circles. He does not give his opinion of the evening and, two days later, he has returned home to Ringstead where he is met at the station by Edmund and Jedidah. Once home, it is not the Music Hall but the Temperance Hall which dominates his social round

Feb 11 Tuesday

A meeting of the Temperance Society was held consisting of singing and speaking and a collection was made on behalf of the poor in the East of London. £1. 1. 0.was collected

We also briefly meet, along with Herbert, some of his other aunts and uncles on his mother’s side. There are Uncle and Aunt Smith on February 9th, Uncle Andrew [Bull] on the 16th, Uncle William [Bull] on the 17th and Uncle Noah [Bull] on March 8th. He also is still interested in the world outside.

            March 3 Tuesday

Went to Thrapston to see a panorama of Captain Speke and Grant’s travels to the source of the Nile.

We have to remember that ‘darkest’ Africa was a source of excitement rather like the Moon in the 1960s and an altogether more interesting place. In 1859 John Hanning Speke had gone with Richard Burton to discover the source of the Nile. Burton had become ill and Speke had carried on to identify the source as Lake Victoria. Burton questioned Speke’s judgement and the two became bitter rivals. In 1862 Speke went with a new companion, Captain James Grant, where they discovered the outreach of the Nile from Victoria which they called Ripon Falls. In 1864 Speke was accidentally shot and killed. For Herbert, like many others the simple panorama in a village hall would have conjured up the mystery and danger of another world. There was little available to Ringstead villagers in 1868 to tell them of the great places and events of the world, No films or television, very few photographs and virtually nothing in colour. These travelling dioramas, panoramas and models were toured around the country and people would pay a small fee to see them. The panoramas would either be around the walls or more often on a large roll which slowly unrolled before the viewer. The dioramas tended to be semi-circular sets with a background and figures set in them.

On March 12th, his sister Jedidah returned to Manchester where she still lived, at least some of the time. On April 6th Herbert papered the parlour (a good Music Hall occupation). We hear nothing of his illness and when he weighs himself on April 18th he is 9st. 5 lbs. One wonders if his father Herbert had a set of scales in his Chemist shop as many did until late into the Twentieth Century.

On May 4th he went to Thrapstone (in the nineteenth century there was usually an ‘e’ on the end of the name) to the Petty Sessions. Joseph Ball, (son of the butcher John Ball who Jedidah was later to marry), was tried for shooting two tame ducks in mistake for wild ones. He was discharged. [We tells Joseph’s story in a separate biography].

The Baptist Sunday School Treat had been on April 15th and on Whit Monday, June 1st, the Annual Temperance Festival was held. Herbert describes the scene.

The Band played round the village at 5 o’clock in the morning. I beat the drum for them. I beat the drum for them. At 2pm the Band of Hope and Friends of the cause marched round the village in procession, stopping to sing at intervals, then the children went and had tea in Mr Ball’s orchard [John Ball]; after teas they went up to Mr Dearlove’s garden. A Public Tea was held in the Hall at 5o’clock. In the evening Thomas Whittaker delivered a lecture. He spoke from the direction a little girl gave him while seeking a Temperance meeting in S6t Giles. A little higher up on the right hand side through an iron gate, next door to the sweet shop. Cousin Samuel came to Miss Williamson’s

June 3 Wednesday

He [Cousin Samuel] gave a good lecture on tobacco and snuff and their effects on the human system


His ‘Cousin Samuel’ was a fascinating character who deserves a biography of his own. He was the son of Benjamin Abington and was born in about 1817 so he was a generation older than Herbert. In 1843 he worked in the Custom House in London but, perhaps as part of his duties, he went to live in Cape Town. It may be there that he met and married his wife, Catherine and certainly two of his children were born there. The family then went on to the United States in 1854 and in 1858 they are recorded as travelling from Venezuela to Philadelphia. Presumably he was a businessman and the 1858 Passenger List records him as a ‘planter’. He returned to England where his wife died and he quickly married again to Mary Ann Mills on 30th June 1859. She too died in 1865. He had become the ‘Secretary of a Philanthropic Institute’ according to the 1861 Census and judging from later censuses and Herbert’s diary, this was the British Anti-Tobacco Society which had been formed in 1853 by the Reverend Thomas Reynolds. This pressure group had originated in the United States where it had emerged from the Baptist Church and it is probable that, like the Temperance Movement, it was also closely linked to nonconformism. The Reverend George Trask, who founded the American Society in 1848, wrote, as his last publication, a tract to the Reverend Charles Spurgeon in which he said: 

The project of converting the world by the Gospel of Christ, by the power of the Holy Ghost, and by man’s free agency is not a humbug, but a natural, scriptural, glorious project eclipsing every other. The idea of converting the world whilst rum, opium, and tobacco are its masters, is a humbug

At the time that Herbert writes of Samuel he was some fifty-four years of age and Jane Williamson, the middle-aged daughter of a local farmer was soon to become his third wife.

On Thursday June 4th Herbert simply records: 

            Dear little Leonard was buried, he died on Friday night May 29th 

The death, at three years old, of the son of his brother Leonard and his wife Selina (daughter of Aunt Edmonds and also his cousin) would have hit him hard. Nevertheless he knew that he too probably had a short life to live and tried to stay active in spite of his illness.

            June 16 Tuesday

In the evening a small party of us went a boating 

June 22 Monday

Went to Warmington with the band; there were only eight of us; we marched through Oundle, arrived at Warmington half past eleven. It was very wet in the morning, but it cleared up after dinner, and was fine the remainder of the day. We arrived home at half past two the next morning 

July 9 Thursday

In the evening we went boating 

July 13 Monday

Edwin and I walked to Denford and Woodford in the morning. In the evening we went to Raunds

July 14 Tuesday

We had a fine pic-nic party; took tea at the bottom of Ham Lane 

July 21 Tuesday

Very hot. 92 deg at back of the house

July 22 Wednesday

I and Edmond went fishing from 4 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon; had a bath in the Scour

Then on the “8th July he notes

My 21st birthday. Received a present of Longfellow’s Poetical Works from M.E. Spence

Did he not receive other presents, was it just that it came from post or he had a particular affection for Mary Spence? Certainly on Friday July 31st he receives a letter from Jedidah informing him of a situation in Manchester. It seems a long way to go and Manchester would not have been a first choice for someone suffering from TB but perhaps it was just that his sister would be there.

August 3 Monday

Went to Manchester. Jedidah and M.E. Spence met me at the station and I went with them to Rusholme; stayed there the night

Aug 4 Tuesday

Entered J. Patterson’s service

 Unfortunately Herbert, as so often, does not give us enough detail. What was J Patterson’s first name? Where was the business? What did it do? Was he still a baker? There are two possible candidates with the surname Patterson or Paterson (Herbert uses both) in 1871. One is a letterpress printer living at 73 Marshall Street with a connecting shop at 34 Rochdale Road and there is also a J Paterson who is a linen draper at 37 Rochdale Road. Could it be father and son (or daughter or wife)?

He makes no mention of his work and during August, September and October 1868 he mainly gives his Sunday activities which comprise his attendance at various chapels including the Zion Chapel, Cavendish Street Chapel and Grosvenor Street Baptist Chapel and visit to Jedidah and the Spences. His cousin, Elizabeth Smith, who was in service locally visited them at Rusholme and they, ‘passed the afternoon very pleasantly singing together. Also Cousin Samuel, who was living in Manchester at the time, came to see him (CHECK).

On December 3rd Mrs Spence opened her new shop but whether this was a move or an additional one is not said. All we know is that sometime between 1861 and 1871 she moved from service with Carlos Chamberlin to her grocer’s shop in 45 Wilmslow Road, Rusholme

On the 24th his father came to Manchester and for the second year running spent Christmas away from his wife. Cousin Samuel seems to have been the life and soul of the party and on the 27th he writes

            Dec 27 Sunday

Went to Rusholme in the morning; Cousin Samuel came in the evening, and after supper he told us some of his adventures and hair-break escapes. I stayed there all night with Father; went to the station with him in the morning, and returned home in time to open shop 

He had to work on New Year’s Day, but records:

1869    Jan 1 Friday

Closed the shop at one; went to the Royal Institution; in the evening to the Free Trade Hall to hear Butterworth’s Christy’s Minstrels

We may now wince at the idea of white people ‘blacking up’ to perform in a bizarre parody of black performers but in the Victorian era it was very popular entertainment (and continued in various forms until the last quarter of the Twentieth Century). The Christy Minstrels were formed by Edwin Pearce Christy in Buffalo in 1843 and the name became synonymous with any ‘blackface’ group. Rather like aging rock groups the name became a matter for dispute: 

Soon four new companies were formed each claiming to be the original ‘Christy Minstrels because each boasted one or two members of the old troupe.

Herbert would have watched one of these travelling companies and we would be wrong to impose a retrospective morality on him. On March 3rd he went to see Professor Pepper’s Entertainment of which he records, ‘It was very good’.

John Henry Pepper was an unlikely showman. He was a Chemistry professor at London Polytechnic Institute who built the first full-size version of the illusion. The magic lantern shows had become popular in the 1860s and new gimmicks were used to bring in the crowds into the theatres (motion pictures later started in this way). The illusion was produced by a large sheet of glass place at an angle to the audience which could reflect a person or object to the audience. By clever use of lighting it produced an effect similar to that when one looks out of the window of a dimly lit room at dusk. The audience saw through the glass but also saw the refection of an object or person carefully placed out of sight. By the use of cabinets and ghostly story lines an entertaining show was put together and taken round the country. 

It seems likely that Cousin Samuel was in Manchester as part of his role in the ‘philanthropic institute’’ because on Herbert records: 

            May 12 Wednesday

Went to hear Cousin Samuel deliver a lecture on “Tobacco and its Physiological effects” in the Hulme Working Men’s Institute, City Road. Heard him state that he was the Representative of the North of England Anti-Tobacco Society 

A week later he writes: 

May 19 Wednesday Whit Week

I had leave from business after tea, so I went to have my Portrait taken

Throughout the diary we see various family friends and family having their ‘portrait taken’ as the new photography came into the reach of ordinary people even in small towns like Raunds. 

The entries in Manchester often have long gaps between them and it may be with his work he was finding too much to keep up his diary. He does report some highlights: 

            May 21 Friday

Half-day holiday. Went to the Flower Show at the Botanical Gardens. Old Trafford; met Jedidah, Mrs and Miss Spence there 

July 21 Wednesday

The day of the visit of their R.H. the Prince and Princess of Wales to the Royal Agricultural Show, Manchester. I had a good view of them as they passed along Stretford Road

On August 4th he received his ‘fourth quarter salary’ and then a calendar month later he states baldly: 

            Sep 4 Saturday

Left J. Patterson’s at 5 pm. Went to Town, called for my box as I returned and went to Rusholme

It is only later that we realise that he has finished his employment there but we get no clue as to the reason for his leaving. 

On September 7th he and Jedidah go to Ringstead by Midland Railway. He writes with some bitterness: 

            Arrived at Thrapston at 3.10 in the afternoon. No one to meet us.

Was it an oversight or was he in the doghouse? Edmund was at home and Joshua also returned. There is one curious entry for the 15th September:

            Sep 15 Wednesday

Leonard came home. We met him at Ringstead Station a little after ten. In the afternoon he and Uncle Andrew, Joshua and I walked to Chelveston. Met father there, came back to Ringstead and Leonard returned to London the same evening. 

This seems somewhat mysterious. Why did Leonard come from London just for the day? What was Herbert doing in Chelveston? Perhaps it is just Herbert’s brevity that creates the mystery.

Herbert seems well and he walks, goes boating and gathers blackberries. On the 24th he also went to Raunds to see the schoolmaster so it may be that the Abington children attended the Wesleyan School there although there was also a church school and various small private schools. On October 6th he visits Edwin’s family and unusually his mother accompanies them:

            Oct 6 Wednesday

Mother, Jedidah and I went to Kimbolton; left Ringstead at 7 a.m. Walked to Raunds Station, from there by train, arrived at Kimbolton a little before 10. Found Edwin and Bessie there with the children. Joshua and the goods had not arrived, so we all went for a walk round by the castle and through the park, by the chestnut ridings; came back and all dined at “The Bell”. Left Kimbolton a quarter before three; got a ride to the station and were only just in time for the train. On our way from Raunds Station we stayed and I took tea with S.A. Roberts [he or she may have been ill]. Reached home a little after six. Went to meeting and then to bid our friends “good bye” 

It may be that it was at this time that Edwin and his family finally moved to Kimbolton. His grandson, William Abington, later wrote that Edwin’s and his wife’s health were suffering from the fogs and pollution of London and his doctor advised him to seek relief in the ‘pure air of the countryside’. He also says that he had already established a ‘good class tailoring trade.’ It may be that the suffering of Herbert also had some effect. 

The following day he was back in Manchester: 

            Oct 7 Thursday

Came back to Manchester. Father and W.K. [William Kitchen] accompanied us to Thrapston Station; left there at 9 a.m. had a pleasant journey; I arrived at London Road 2.45. M.E. Spence and J. Fisher met us there; had a cab to Rusholme

He was obviously looking for work but he was still taking advantage of the chances to learn that the large cities offered. He went to a lecture on Sirius at the Birch [Chapel] schoolroom, to the free library and to Readings in Rusholme Public Hall. On October 12th he reports:

Went to Binyons and Co. (received a little encouragement) to Red Bank and Deansgate. In the evening we went to see “A Winter's Tale” a play of Shakespeare’s. It was excellent

Binyons and Co may refer to Binyons, Robinson and Co. who were tea and coffee merchants. Herbert’s father had been a tea dealer originally on a village scale and Jedidah’s former employer had some connections with the tea trade. He was not offered a job and went to Oldfield Road after an unnamed post. In brackets he puts ‘not good enough’. Was it Herbert or the post? Suddenly his old employer offers him a post:

Oct 22 Friday

Received a note from Mr. Patterson asking me to go back again 

Oct 23 Saturday

Entered his service again

Still we hear nothing of his employment and it seems to have been a means of earning a living and something which he did not find, for whatever reason, congenial. Just a few weeks after starting work he is again taken very ill.

Nov 21 Sunday

Felt unwell in the night; very restless, pain in sides and difficulty of breathing

Nov 22 Monday

Very ill; No appetite; dullness in head. Had Must. Plast. On right side and feet in hot water for 30 minutes at bed time

Nov 24 Wednesday

Worse; breathing very difficult; pain in left side; kept on work until evening; obliged to give up, and go to Mrs. Spence; had Must. Plast. On left side and feet in hot water again.

Nov 25 Thursday

Worse. Sent for Dr. Gregory; he pronounced it a slight attack of Inflammation and Bronchitis; ordered hot bran in flannel to my back continually until better, and to keep in bed

Nov 28 Sunday

Better, but much reduced; came downstairs to tea

He stays inside and seems to improve slowly. On Sunday December 12th he enjoys reading Adam Graeme a novel by Mrs. Oliphant. She was one of the most popular writers of her time, churning out books in order to maintain her family after the early death of her husband.

He begins to go out for short walks and on Monday 20th December he notes, ‘Resumed my occupation. On Christmas Eve he is awakened:


. . . by hearing a band of musicians strike up the old tune of “Christians awake”.

It was very sweet in the stillness of the night as

“The midnight moon serenely smiles

O’er natures soft repose

No low’ring cloud obscures the sky

No ruffling tempest blows” and t’was such a night as this

“That while they watched the shepherd swains

Heard angels strike to angel strains

The song of heavenly love

Blest harmony that far excels

All music else on earth that dwells

As e’er was tuned above

T’was while they watched the sages traced

The star that every star effaced

With new and nobler shine

They followed and it led the way

To where the infant Saviour lay

And gave them light divine”


After the brass band had passed out of hearing another vocal and instrumental came and sang Christians Awake to another tune, that was very nice; when that had gone I went again to sleep and did not awaken again until 10 o’clock. When the bells were pealing out merrily as a reminder that it was Xmas Day morning.

Dec 25

It was a nice morning, quite an unusual treat for us such an one as the poet described

“Sweet day, so calm, so bright”. As soon as I had dressed and breakfasted I bent my steps toward Rusholme. Had a very nice dinner, turkey etc. Spent the day very quietly, like a Sunday, no company there except Mr. Thornhill. I stayed there all night it being Sunday the day following.

Dec 31 Friday

Stayed up until New Year, listening to Holy Trinity Bells 

On New Year’s Day, however, he was back at work and on the 2nd Mrs Spence presented him with ‘a respirator’ On the Monday he writes: 

Jan 3 Monday

Kept open all day. Walked to St. Peter’s in the evening; met J. and M.E. coming from Royal Institute 

We see that, especially in progressive cities like Manchester, women were involved in (and being admitted!) to many educational opportunities which before had been largely denied to them. On February 20th he went to hear about something that was a trouble to all believers in the Bible as literal truth and one that his Uncle Leonard James had struggled with.

            Feb 20 Sunday

Went to chapel in morning. In the afternoon to hear a lecture on “The antiquity of the human race” by Dr. G. Sexton M.A. He stated in the course of his lecture, that there were records of the Chinese showing that they as a nation existed in a state of civilisation 300 years before the time of Abraham, and he also said there were Geological facts which led to the supposition that there were men living upon this earth 100,000 years ago. Went to Rusholme; arrived just in time for tea

The scientific discoveries in geology and archaeology were undermining the traditional view that all things were created at once and the Garden of Eden was in (FIND OUT). It is a debate that still divides the Christian community, especially in the United States. 

On March 9th he went to a diorama of the Holy Land. Such travelling exhibitions would often be visited by local schools. In Jude the Obscure, Thomas Hardy tells of schoolchildren being taken to see a model of the ancient city of Jerusalem and the showman pointing out the various places described in the Bible. Like this model of Jerusalem in the novel, we can guess that many owed a great deal to the imagination of the maker.

The model of the ancient city stood in the middle of the apartment, and the proprietor, with a fine religious philanthropy written on his features, walked round it with a pointer in his hand, showing the young people the various quarters and places known to them by name from reading their Bibles; Mount Moriah, the Valley of Jehoshaphat, the City of Zion, the walls and the gates outside one of which was a large mound like a tumulus, and on the mound a little white cross. The spot, he said, was Calvary.

‘I think,’ said Sue…..’that this model, elaborate as it is, is a very imaginary production.’

On Sunday March 3rd Cousin Samuel cam to tea and had been unwell with inflammation of the lungs for five or six weeks. The air of Manchester, thick with factory and house chimney smoke and often laced with other chemical and the fine fibres from the cotton industry was not good for anyone with respiratory problems. On Sunday May 8th he wrote 

Went to Rusholme in the morning (through the fields) as I was impatient to hear all the “good” news from home. Cousin S. came in the evening after chapel.

We do not learn what the ‘good news’ was but Herbert seems once more in good health and he writes one of his longest entries:

June 9 Whit-Thursday

Rose at 6 o’clock, opened shop, swept out and dusted, had my breakfast and went off for a day’s holiday. Strolled about town until 11. Met M.E. and Jed. (Jedidah) at London Road Station and went to Alderley Edge. We enjoyed it very much, scrambling up the hill, then pausing to view the delightful scenery on the grassy slopes at the bottom of the hill groups of children were at play, as happy as could be, and to make it still more enjoyable, a brass band was playing in the distance. We took tea in the cottage at the bottom of the hill, and returned to Manchester by the 7 train, when to finish the day, we went to see the Diorama of Ireland.

His employer’ wife died on June 11th and on July 18 Monday he writes:

We removed to the shop in Medlock Street

Presumably this refers to Patterson’s shop. There are no entries for August and on September 13th he writes

Jedidah and I came home by the L and M.W. Railway. Arrived at Ringstead Station at 12.40. Father was there to meet us with Austins van. Edwin and Jos. E, Smith and Benjamin took dinner with us. Ebe Smith returned to London the same evening

These early September seems to have been the time when the family got together for:

Sep 14 Wednesday

Went to Kimbolton, I and Josh, Jedidah and Margaret Edmonds. Leonard and uncle Edmonds came from London in the evening.

Sep 15 Thursday

We all returned to Ringstead by the first train in the morning; before we came home we went for an hour’s ride on the water at Denford. Leonard and uncle went back to London in the evening

On the 19th he returned to Manchester. From there he reports that his sister Mary Jane was married to Benjamin Lovell, a local .shoemaker. Perhaps this was the good news he referred to on May 8th. On October 21st he left Patterson’s for the second and final time and he had time to enjoy himself. On October 24 he went with Jedidah and Mrs Spence to see ‘the tragedy of Richard III’. On the morning of October 25th he went to the Assize Courts (as a spectator?) and saw the Aurora Borealis in the evening.

On November 8th 

I returned home again. Mrs. Spence accompanied me in a cab to London Road Station. Father met me at Ringstead Station

Soon afar, William Kitchen was taken ill with haemolysis and six days later he died. His uncle George Smith, the second husband of his mother’s sister Sarah preached at the funeral.

Nothing is said of Christmas and it appears that the New Year is spent at his brother’s house in Kimbolton:

            Dec 31 Saturday

Mr. G. Barritt called in at Edwin’s. At half past ten pm Jos and I went to the Moravian Chapel to the watch meeting. Had tea and bun. Commenced the New Year with singing. Stayed until half past twelve. Reverend C.H.Spurgeon farewell to the old year:

 He adds the rather sad and resigned verse: 

“Departed year what records dwell within thine hallowed scroll,

                        Of joyous hopes and golden dreams yet blighted at their goal

                        Of visions bright as morning dawn as vesper fragrance sweet

                        Fair idols shivered, shattered, all in fragments at thy feet.

                        So be it changeful year, farewell thy sunshine and thy shade,

                        Thy rainbow hues of loveliness, thy joys not doomed to fade

            Thine anguish and thy weariness bid all their deep woe fell

                        In saddened shrines of human heart departing year, farewell”.

On Tuesday February 28th

The Members of the Temperance Society gave an entertainment in the Hall consisting of singing a “piece” entitled the “Trials and Troubles of an aspiring publican” which was well represented and with respect to the singing, men of Harlech and The Red Cross Knight were heartily applauded. The Hall was crowded to excess and the amount taken for admission was £1.10s.1d After paying expenses, we had £1 left to give towards flooring for the hall with boards.

He also reports on the happiness and tragedy of village life:

March 2* Thursday

Bradley Weekly and Bessie Phillips were married

*Samuel Saddington{CHECK NAME} attempted suicide about 1 pm by cutting his throat in four places; he is expected to recover 

On March 28th there is another entertainment in the Temperance Hall and Herbert pasted a newspaper cutting into his diary: 

Ringstead – On Tuesday evening another entertainment was given in the Ringstead Hall, by members of the temperance Society. The programme was a follows: - Glee “Awake Æolian Lyre,” the company; song, “The Slave Ship,” Mr. J. Warren; song, “I’m lonely since my mother died”, Mr. W. Abbott; song, “You’ve been a friend to me”, Miss Knight; dialogue, “Troubles of a Publican”, duet, “The Minute Gun at Sea,” Messrs. Warren and Dyson; song, “Wrap the Flag around me, Boys,” Mr. T. Phillips: dialogue, “Buy your own Cherries;” song “The Death of Nelson,” Mr. J. Warren; reading, “Darby Doyle’s Voyage to Quebec,” Mr. Dyson; song, “Ring the Bell Watchman,” Miss E. Abbott; dialogue, “Breach of Promise;” song “One Faith, One Love,”, Miss Knight; song “Babylon is Falling,” Mr. Lockie; dialogue, “Next Morning,” song, “I am a Prussian,” Mr. W. Abbott; “God Save the Queen.” The attendance was very good, and the whole passed off very agreeably.

One gathers that it was a mixture of the patriotic, sentimental and the moralistic: our stereotype of the Victorian era. On Monday April 3rd 1871 he reports:   

            April 3 Monday

Census taken. Father, Mother and I at home. Will any of us three be living when it is taken next time?

We know that his father suffered from bad health and that his mother had dementia for the last years of her life but it was perhaps himself of whom he was most thinking. It is at this time that he starts using initials as a sort of code although the meaning of some are obvious.

March 20

Received P.K.’s P.OAT. X.L.N.T.

April 20

P.W.T.L.B.I.B: C.B. 

June 9

J.K. B.D. 18

On April 26th he went to another temperance lecture which, ‘abounded with humorous anecdotes and illustrations some of which were heartily cheered’. For the first time for a long time he writes that he has weighed himself. He is 8 st. 7 lbs. (On April 18th 1868 he was 9 st. 5 lbs.). No more is said and he seems to have struck up a greater friendship with J Knight and they visit his brothers in Kimbolton. The days and weeks pass with walks and visits to and from friends and relations:

May 16 Tuesday

Mrs. Spence came to Ringstead; arrived 12.30. Met her at Station with W. Bull’s horse and trap 

May 17 Wednesday

Had a walk down to the Mill in the morning; to Denford in the evening

May 19 Friday

Edwin came early; went home after dinner. Mrs Spence and I walked down Ham to the railway bridge in the evening 

May 20 Saturday

Went as far as Raunds turn in the morning. Joshua came in the evening

May 21 Sunday

Mr. Pates of Aldwinckle preached here all day. We all went to tea with Mary Jane. Joshua went home in the evening. J. Phillips and I accompanied him a little way

May 22 Monday

I went to Aldwinckle with Mr. Kitchen in the afternoon with pony and trap; enjoyed the ride very much; arrived in time for the sermon (by Mr. Islip of Brigstock). Public tea at half past four which was excellent. Address in the evening by Messrs Ackhurst, Kitchen, Islip, Smith and Bristow. Mr Pates in the chair. We went into Mr. Batson’s after meeting; they pressed us very much to take some refreshment so after a nice slice of leg of mutton and a cup of Iceland Moss cocoa, we went on our way rejoicing; got home soon after ten 

On June 15th, while out at J. Knight’s house he seems to have had a fainting fit (Syncope) but otherwise we hear nothing of his illness. A few days later he notes:         

            June 18 Sunday

Ebey’s wife, Uncle and Aunt Smith, Mary J and Benjamin came to tea with us. Our first acquaintance with Mrs. E. Smith. First impression very favourable.

His cousin Ebenezer Smith who he had seen often in London had recently married Sarah and I think the E in Mrs E Smith refers to ‘Ebey’ in a jokingly formal way. His mother had gone to Raunds with Mrs Spence to have her ‘portrait taken’ and on the 21st Herbert in true texting style pronounced it XLNT. We see sometimes the normal Ringsted life with glimpses off the outside world and sudden tragedy.

            June 27 Tuesday

Went down Ham for a stroll in the morning; met J. Knight down there with his gun and J. Groom the mole catcher; had a long chat with them. Patti came home. Baptist Missionary Service in the evening. Mr. Kitchen presided; after singing a hymn, Mr. Childs of Raunds offered up a short prayer. Mr. Bradfield (of Rushden) gave a short address, and Mr. Fuller a coloured man of the Cameroons, Western Africa gave some interesting facts in relation to his work in Africa, and to give us an idea of the native tongue, he repeated a text of scripture and sang several verses of well known hymns in their tongue with pleasing effect. Mr. Silverton concluded with prayer. 

Inquest held over the son of Alfred Mayes, aged one month, who died from the effects of an overdose of Syr. Poppies*. Verdict accidental death from overdosing 

[*Syrup of Poppies would have been a medicine containing opium and laudanum and similar opiates were used in many medicines including those for children. It is very likely that Herbert would have had such medicines to control his pain.] 

On Saturday July 1st he gives the statistics from the 1871 Census. Even in such dry figures one can sense his own mortality is in his mind. It is obvious that the family are worried about him. On the Sunday he tells of a simple enjoyable day:           

     July 9 Sunday

He [Joshua] went class with me in the morning and chapel. In the afternoon we went to tea with Patty Knight: S.A. Bull, J.Butt and Emma Edmonds were there. And with a few anecdotes we enjoyed our tea very much. Afterwards singing until chapel time.

The following Saturday, however, he goes to seek treatment:

July 15 Saturday

Father and I went to Peterborough y the 10.15 train from Ringstead Station, to see Dr. Pailey. He examined my chest with stethoscope. Pronounced right lung sound, but left diseased. Ordered cod-liver oil to be continued, Tinct. Quinine Co. to be taken twice a day and half glass of porter with dinner, plenty of milk and nourishing food, and to be in the air as much as possible without exertion. Fee for advice two shillings.

We went round and through the Cathedral, sitting to rest a few minutes, while we admired the beautiful stained windows. Returned home by the 5 train. It was a very hot day and I was very much fatigued with the journey


Immediately, the illness comes to the fore in the Diary: 

July 16 Sunday

Felt weak and low – did not go out until evening – (as it was very hot) and then sat in the vestry to hear the sermon. [Was this because of the heat or his coughing?]Uncle Smith preached. Text – “It is appointed unto all men once to die, but after death the judgement”. After meeting went up with Uncle Andrew; stayed supper with them. 

He again has to stay mainly in the house with little sorties for tea with people in the village. We hear that he takes a magazine which may be the source of the texts and poems that he starts to use.

July 18

Little better. Josh came unexpectedly with Mr. How; went Thrapston Market. Father with them and paid the half years magazine bill for me. Uncle Smith came home from market with them – stayed to tea with us. Father bought some shrimps which we enjoyed very much. Josh went home with Mr. How in the evening

July 21 Friday

S.A. Bull’s birthday. I took tea with them

July 27 Thursday

Received a small hamper from Mrs. Spence containing Bot. Carbon, Lobster, Bloaters etc.etc. Commenced antiseptic treatment 

On July 28th he celebrated his 24th birthday and on August 2nd, his sister, Mary Jane Lovell was safely delivered of a son named Herbert William. Was he named after Herbert or his father? Also Aunt Fairey (Emma Jane Abington who married a shoemaker, Samuel Fairey who had died in 1869), who was now a housekeeper in Irthlingborough, came to see him.

Suddenly Herbert became very ill again: 

Aug 8 Tuesday

Much worse. Pain in right side, difficulty of breathing – cough painful; very weak and low. Had two Must. Plasters on right side and feet in warm water at bedtime; breathing little easier; restless night

Aug 9 Wednesday

About the same; two Must. Plasters on back; rose about nine; felt little better. Received a letter from Mr. Feaver. Said he had no doubt if I continued Carbon treatment for six months, I should be alright. Time will show, if I live to prove it 

We see Herbert’s correct scepticism about his treatment. M E Spence (put names) came to visit and slowly through August he improved, although with some relapses. His father, who had been in Yarmouth on holiday, came home on September 2nd.

He knows, as he suspected, that the treatment is not working but still tries, weak as he is, to enjoy life:

            Sep 8 Friday

I wrote to Mr. Feaver. No better than when I commenced taking Carbon, if so well. Josh came in the evening; also Uncle Sam and Freddy and Louisa Knight

Sep 10 Sunday

Feast come. Went to meeting in the morning. Evening all gone to meeting but me. Feel a little better than I did last Sunday. Great many strangers parading the street

Sep 11 Monday

I walked down to the Feast with Benjamin in the evening. Called in at Mrs. Knight’s

Sep 12 Tuesday

Aunt Fairey came for the day. Leonard, Selina and Jedidah came by the 12.30 train. Had quite a large dinner party – eleven of us. All here but Edwin; he arrived in time for tea. Went up to Uncle Andrew’s in the evening; Mr. Abbott from Raunds, J. Patrick and uncle Sam there, besides several others. Had some singing, but made more noise than harmony

On October 1st

Cough and breathing very bad; could not get out to chapel at all. Jedidah stayed with me afternoon and evening

He is now mainly telling what others are doing while he stays at home.

            Oct 17 Tuesday

This evening, Mr. Kitchen gave a lecture in the Hall, on coal, coal mines, illustrated by a panorama of twenty coloured views of objects in nature and art. I was very sorry I could not be there; those who were, said it was exceedingly interesting

He still sometimes manages to get to the chapel but rarely moves from the house. When he tells us on October 31st that ‘Margaret and Selina took teas with us, and bade us goodbye’ there seems a greater emphasis on the ‘bade us goodbye’. It is not a phrase that he uses before this time. He still has retained his sense of humour, as he tells of his friends and brother’s attempts to help him.

           Nov 2

Received a letter from Manchester saying they had sent me a rocking chair. And one from Leonard in the afternoon to say he had sent me and easy chair. 

Nov 3

Received the one from London

Nov 4

Received the one from Manchester

On November 15th Joshua went to Thrapston and became, ‘a member of the Odd Fellows Society’ in which his father was locally a leading light. We also hear that Mr Meckley and a man started building a new room adjoining the back of the shop. On November 16th he simply puts J.K. Syn. Which seems to imply that it was J Knight who had the fainting fit although it maybe code for something else. A few days later he receives the sad news that so many Victorian households had to endure as urbanisation and increased mobility produced annual epidemics which ran ahead of the scientists and doctors’ advances

Nov 20 Monday

Edwin’s babe named Leonard James died. Aged nearly six months

“Sweet babe, why should we weep for thee?

 From sin and suffering, thou art free”

On November 22nd he states. ‘Went to a situation in Bradford, Yorkshire.’ This seems very unlikely that we must wonder if he referring to somebody else in the family; or should it read ‘Sent’ or ‘Went for’?

On November 25th Herbert’s father went to Philadelphus Jeyes [who invented Jeyes Fluid] in Northampton perhaps to get pharmaceutical supplies for his shop. Mr Spurgin called on Herbert and we discover what medicines he is taking:

Nov 25 Saturday

Father went to Northampton to Philadelphus Jeyes and Co. Mr. Spurgin called; sat down and took a glass of wine; asked me several questions respecting myself and what I was taking. Told him Oil., Tinct. Quinine, and Chloric ether. Said he did not know that I could take anything better

Nevertheless Herbert knows that the drugs are not working. He sometimes has a better day but he knows that worse ones are to follow: 

Dec 3 Sunday

Evening. I have had a comfortable day – not much cough. Joshua, Benjamin, George Bull and Robert Knight stayed with me this afternoon. I am quite alone this evening excepting Charlie, who is sleeping before the fire, which is blazing brightly, and as I sit writing, I can hear the bells chiming sweetly

Dec 12 Tuesday

Finished Feaver’s Carbon. I have been taking it for nearly 20 weeks, and as I am not any better, I shall now discontinue the use of that, and take Bragg’s for a time. 

He also puts in a piece to show that all were susceptible to the great killers of the age, Typhoid Fever, Cholera and TB

Dec 14 Thursday

It is ten years today since Prince Albert died of typhoid fever. And at this time the Prince of Wales is lying in a precarious state suffering from the same disease

On Christmas day we see the mix of Christianity and spiritualism that gripped many Victorian minds and once again Cousin Samuel held centre stage:

About 3 o’clock this morning the band played a tune called “Prince of Light” very harmoniously underneath my window; and another (“Sovereignty”) a short distance off. 

At 10 o’clock am Jabez Abbott and Anne Maria Bull were married; after the ceremony the Band preceded the bridal pair up the street.

Benjamin and Mary Jane came to spend the day with us, and Elizabeth and Eliza Abbott, Herbert Dodson and Eliza Smith to tea with us; whilst taking tea Cousin Samuel came in and entertained us for about an hour by talking of spiritualism, what he had seen, heard and felt at séances. His opinion of spiritualism is that it is the work of evil spirits. In answer to a question of mine as to whether these spirits could influence anyone who did not wish to be influenced by them, he said he would relate a fact of his own experience, which I will give as near as I can in his own words. “At a certain place where I used to attend the meetings regularly for the purposes of investigation, there was usually a spirit present known to us by the name of Estelle, who made communications through a medium named Miss Hart. So one evening I said to her, “Why do you always play upon Miss Hart? Why not influence someone else? Influence me”. She replied –“I will next time”. The next week I went to the meeting as usual, having forgotten the circumstance just mentioned. At the time and seating myself in an easy chair, waited patiently for the commencement. I had not been sitting many minutes before I felt a very strange sensation creeping over me, as though sensibility were being withdrawn. I endeavoured to rouse myself by opening and shutting my eyes, clenching my fists and sticking my nails into the palms of my hands. A person sitting near noticed me and asked if I felt ill. I replied that I felt very queer, at the same time rising from my chair and walking a few steps to and fro in the room. I then began to feel better and directly after Miss Hart began to communicate, then the thought of Estelle flashed into my mind, so drawing near, I said, “I thought you were going to influence me tonight”. She said, “Well, I did try. But you resisted me, and one cannot make a clock go with a watch spring”

On December 31st this year there are no parties or celebrations. His brother, Edwin stayed with him in the afternoon and his sister, Mary Jane in the evening. He then writes ‘End of 1871’.

He starts the New Year with a text as motto for the year:

 “Fear not” for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee by thy name, thou art mine. When thou passest through the waters I will be with thee, and through the rivers, they shall not overflow thee: when thou walkest through the fire, thou shalt not be burned, neither shall the flame kindle upon thee. For I am the Lord thy God, the Holy One of Israel, thy Saviour. I will not fail thee, nor forsake thee.

On January he has obviously been looking through his diary and sees his failings:

            Jan 20 Saturday

I have often thought I should like to be able to write something in my diary every day, but I appear to be so deficient of the faculty of language, that I cannot write of every day occurrences in an interesting manner: nevertheless from this time I will try to write something, though it be but a sentence, a thought or a text of scripture

This he tries to do so 1872 has many entries but most are texts rather than personal observations or thoughts. On January 23rd, however he does reveal himself and the thoughts that he has kept away from the diary for so long.

Dum spiro, spero. This is my Motto – “While I breathe, I hope”. I have been asked once or twice by friends whether I think I shall recover my health and strength. Now this is a question I scarcely like to ask myself, much less being asked by others, for if I reply, “I hope so” – I fancy they think to themselves, if they do not speak out, just these words – Ah poor fellow that is one of the symptoms of his disease, to flatter the poor victim to the last: although I am aware of all this, still I would wish to hope against hope, for ‘tis this that buoys the sprits up. “Though hope for me had smiled but to deceive; and disappointment still pursues her blandishments”

Evening. Mr Eady has just been in to see me and asked me the question I have been alluding to.

In his heart he knows that it is just a matter of time and, with good reason, he allows himself a little self-pity:

            Jan 26

Restless through the night, face much swollen this morning [he was suffering with a gumboil]. Joshua came to bid us goodbye. Going to Bristol in the morning: How I envy him, and then it makes me feel wretched. Oh that I were blessed with health and strength as my brothers are.

“Why am I so weak and weary?

Why to me is life so dreary?

While to others, all is fair”


Jan 27

Face a little better. Received Edmund’s indenture to be signed, binding him for 4½ years from this time, dated Jan 26/72

Of course, he was not to know that his brother (Samuel Edmund) would not live to complete his apprenticeship and would die on 8th April 1875, also of TB, aged just eighteen.

He is true to his word and most days puts in some text which look to the next world and his own salvation as a sinner.

            Jan 31

            ‘Sinning and suffering’.

            Feb 3

‘Hope on, tired heart, hope on

On the same day he received ‘Dr. Niblett’s treatise’ which was obviously was about a cure for TB for he wrote back to him and, on February 7th, he received, with faint hope a case of medicine. The good doctor sent a note with the medicine:

. . . “I have given your case my earnest consideration, and am satisfied that this balsam will be of great benefit to you, and if persevered with will I hope soon restore you to health and strength”. I hope so too. May the Divine blessing accompany it.

We know something of what the treatise that was first sent to Herbert by Dr. Niblett because of an editorial in the British Medical Journal on April 6 1878, following a spate of letters about the ‘cure’. It quotes from the pamphlet:

Treatment of Consumption. – In recommending the following treatment, I trust that I am actuated by an earnest desire to benefit those who cases it may serve to illustrate. My aim is to lessen human suffering and to prolong human life.

                        “Blessed art of healing, once again divine.”

The specific medicine which I have so successfully prepared for every form and variety of consumption, and all diseases of the lungs and air-passages, is called The Restorative Balsam. There is not a single symptom this balsam will not take hold of and eradicate. Its action is immediate; it will also remove chronic bronchitis, asthma, sharp pains in the chest, difficult expectoration, sore throats, coughs and colds, also general debility. It will nourish and strengthen the vital organs by purifying the blood and removing all nervousness; it will greatly assist the digestive organs and increase the appetite; it will itself nourish patients for weeks at a time.

The article finishes:

The profession will be interested to know whether the licensing bodies in question are disposed to allow this to pass unnoticed much longer.

We tend to laugh at the Victorian quack and patent medicines but the sellers were often preying on the weak and vulnerable and slowly the medical profession was beginning to demand the prosecution of the charlatans

Before this he wrote on Tuesday February 6th:

Eliza Abbott’s A of B.D. [Anniversary of Birth Day] 21. Mother went to her party. Mary Jane could not go as her little boy was poorly. I remember going 19 years ago to her birthday party, the day after Uncle Andrew’s wedding

Many days there is just a short text but he still sometimes tells of his problems amid the trivia of everyday life:

            Feb 13

“Bright days are often followed by dark ones”. Not quite so well; cough very bad. Headache and weariness. Father paid the Magazine bill. 

He does manage to write a long piece on a relative’s death

         Feb 18 Sunday

Uncle Eneas died suddenly. We learned from letters we received afterwards that Uncle S. Bull and his wife were with Uncle E. at his house, on Sunday evening from seven to quarter to nine. They then left him apparently well in health and cheerful in mind. He wished them to stay until his boys got home, but they wanted to get home to their family. When Uncle E’s two boys went home between nine to then, they found their father lying against the door unconscious. They immediately ran off to Uncle Edmund’s and he and Leonard went back with them. They at once procured a doctor and he pronounced life quite extinct. 

Uncle Eneas (Enos in Census) Bull was Kezia’s brother and the only one in the family who seems to have followed the parent’s trade of paper-making. He is at Ringstead Mill in 1841; a porter in 1851, lodging with his brother Samuel Bull in Southwark (who is a Police Constable like Herbert’s brother, Edwin, a little later): he married Sarah Ann Petty in 1854 and is a packer in a paper works in 1861 and living at 5 North Street, Spitalfields with his wife and three children.

Herbert struggles through March and even ventures out briefly:

            Mar 4

A beautiful day, mild and bright; I ventured out, after being a prisoner in the house for over three months; walked to the top of the garden; the sun was shining, trees budding, birds singing and violets coming into bloom, but I felt too weak to enjoy the pleasant prospect. 

March 5

“The darkest hour precedes the dawn

And the longest night must end in morn”

March 6 Wednesday

Wrote to Dr. Niblett for another case of medicine although I cannot say that it does me any good.

Mar 7

Went up the garden again, but did not feel any better for it; very weary after it; cough troublesome and head ached. Edwin came in evening

His cousin Samuel, who is about to depart for Nebraska and Vancouver, comes to see them and attend the wedding of’ J Phillips and E Roberts’. And as usual, ‘we enjoyed his company very much’. His father is also ill and on Sunday he ‘stayed with me all day, suffering together’. On the previous day when Mr Spurgeon came to see his father he had asked to go ‘on the club’ which seems to show that Herbert Joseph’s finances were not good.           

His friends and relations still came to see him. First Jedidah and then Elizabeth Spence come down from Manchester to visit. Herbert is in increasing pain and his cough, throws him, ‘into an indescribable agony of suffocation. On April 11 Mrs Spence took, in a telling phrase, ‘a last farewell’ of him. He does tell of the death of Mr Williamson, father of Jane who becomes (check date) Cousin Samuel’s third wife, at the great age of 93. On April 21st he writes:

            Apl 21 Sunday

I got down into the parlour after tea, after staying upstairs for ten days. Mr. J. Green and Uncle Noah came in to see me and at my request they with Father and Edward sang two or three hymns; whilst they were singing I thought “if with our own discordant voices we are able to make such harmony here on earth”,

“What must it be like to be there

Where angels strike to angel strains

The song of heavenly love” 

Edwin carried me upstairs in his arms

Through May he receives visitors and writes texts into his diary.

May 10

“The path of sorrow and that path alone

leads to the land where sorrow is unknown”

May 11

A home in heaven, as the sufferer lies

On his bed of pain and uplifts his eyes

To that bright world, what a joy is given

By the blessed thought of a home in heaven” 

On May 15th he records:

Services were held at Staughton for the ordination of Mr. C. Warren. Several friends went from Ringstead

By a strange twist, on the death of Charles Warren, his second wife, Ada, became Herbert’s brother Joshua’s second wife.

On May 27th he writes one of his last longer pieces:


 May 27 Monday

Father brought Mr. Farrer home with him to see me, and I enjoyed his company for nearly two hours. We sang with Father’s assistance.           

“When I can read my title clear

To mansions in the skies

I’ll bid farewell to every fear

And wipe my weeping eyes” 

And I think we all felt what we sang; then Mr. F. read and prayed, and they sang again. Mr. F. saying he could continue ‘till midnight his soul was so full of the love of God and joy unspeakable, that he could say with the psalmist “Bless the Lord, Oh my soul and all that is within me, bless his holy name”


On June 6th he writes his last daily piece: 

Anniversary services held. Mr. Anderson of Deptford preached two sermons. Very wet day. Edwin came and went home same evening. I felt very sad and dejected; breathing difficult all day.

“My flesh and my heart faileth” but O God, do thou be the strength of my heart, and my portion for ever. In Thee, O Lord do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in thy righteousness. Forsake me not O Lord, O my God be not far from me.

There is just one last entry which may have been written earlier and then, later, signed: 

Here endeth this miscellaneous collection of facts and scraps, and although it may not interest anyone else to read it, yet it hath well repaid me for the trouble of writing, by the pleasure it hath afforded at many times in looking over

It is my wish to leave this diary for the use of the family (as a small memento of myself) in Father’s possession, and at his death to pass to my brother Edwin if he is living. 

Herbert Abington

July 30th 1872

Herbert died, less than one week later, on 3rd August 1872. He was buried in the small Particular Baptist churchyard where the stone, now moved to the edge of the garden, records the deaths of his parents and of Herbert, and his brother Samuel Edmund, who was soon to follow him. We see also a family which is close-knit with many friends and sustained by its Baptist faith. We also soon realise that this faith is not a narrow one and Herbert attends churches and chapels of various denominations and faces up to the challenges to his faith that the new scientific discoveries were producing. It is very sad to see a young man interested in the great issues of the day and in the future, a future which he knows he will not share. 

I have omitted much of the coming and going of family and friends but, even so, we can see that there is a constant interaction between brothers and sisters, cousins, uncle and aunts and we see relatives being taken into family businesses.

He rarely gives the details of life and people in his diary that we would now want, partly because he was writing it for his family. There is much that is left undescribed, unmentioned and unsaid but for that reason the times when we do get a glimpse of Herbert are the more affecting.





I would like to give my grateful thanks to John and Ian Abington and Muriel Pack for allowing me to use the transcription of Herbert’s Diary and the three illustrations from it. My special thanks to John (who did the transcription), for sending me the copies of the pages from the diary and for carefully correcting my text: also for the detailed booklet of the Abington family history researched and written by Ian and John. Any errors remaining are, of course, my responsibility.


Herbert Abington's Diary 1867 – 1872 (transcription by John Abington; original owned by Muriel Pack)

The History of Our Ancestors 1668 – 1923. Ian and John Abington (May 2011)

Memoir of Leonard James Abington: Extract from Personal Recollections 1868. (Thomas M. Parker. Kimbolton. Printer). With thanks to Vivienne Marshall.

Memoir of Leonard Joseph Abington. Published by H.J. Abington Ibbs Typ Thrapston) (Northampton Central Library)

Ringstead BMD ( )

England & Wales Non-Conformist Record Indexes (

!841, 1851, 1861, 1871, 1881, 1891, 1901 Censuses (

Victorian Era Health & Medicine- Early Methods of Treatment (

An Opinion of Music Halls 1867 ( 

 ‘Many killed as fenians try to blow up prison’. (Cambridgeshire Libraries online).

Adventures in Cybersound John Henry Pepper, ‘Professor’; 1821-1900 (

Jude the Obscure. Thomas Hardy (First pub. 1896 p. 126 Macmillan 1974)


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