Nathaniel Bryceson’s diary – The Life & Loves of a Victorian Clerk* – comes to an end today, 12 December 2010, with the last entry for the year. It is a sad day. Nathaniel’s adventures have struck a chord with readers all over the world, and none more so than an intrepid group of history-lovers on the Rootschat website. These international fans have indefatigably chased up the people, places and events that Nathaniel mentions in his daily updates.
Jim Garrod, a Westminster City Archives volunteer and Rootschat contributor, reports on the research challenges taken up by the Rootschat forum members, and shares some of their fascinating findings:
The announcement that Nathaniel Bryceson’s diary was to be published online was picked up by the press and broadcasters all over Britain and even abroad. A Rootschat board was opened by “Ruskie” in Australia and was soon joined by people in the USA, Canada, Ireland and several in Britain.
The Rootschat group soon tried to find the background to Nathaniel and the people he mentions, particularly his girlfriend, Ann Fox. There was great excitement when they found that their suspicions were correct and Ann was over twenty years older than Nathaniel. However Ann’s origins and fate remain a mystery, particularly as her marital state is not given in the 1851 census and her birthplace is unclear.
Achievements of the group include finding the true name of “Mrs Skirriker” whom Nathaniel, (not to put too fine a point on it), stalked. The name was actually Sanigear and she really was a descendant of John Bunyan. They also tracked down other people and incidents mentioned in the diary. While some efforts had been made to see if there were any living descendants of Nathaniel none had been successful until, one day, Steven Saxby walked into the Archives and revealed himself as a descendant of Nathaniel through his son Henry Bryceson.
Steven revealed that there was a family tradition that the family name should have been White not Bryceson. Although the diary gives no clue that Nathaniel knew that he was illegitimate, he or one of his descendants must have found out, perhaps on his mother’s death or perhaps he looked for his baptism in the St Marylebone Parish register. On his marriage in 1854 he gave his father’s name as Nathaniel Bryceson, a mythical combination of his father Nathaniel White and his mother’s first husband John Bryceson. The discovery of the grave of Nathaniel, his wife and son Nathaniel, in an overgrown part of Islington cemetery in Finchley led to a visit by Steven.
Nathaniel was a great walker, ranging far and wide to look at churches, carve his name and get up to mischief with Ann. A couple of these walks, freely modified to minimise main road walking, have been re-created by members of the Rootschat forum, leading us across London to Hendon and Harrow on the Hill.
Some mysteries remain. This was not Nathaniel’s first diary and he mentions buying another book for 1847. It is known that his 1848 diary survived into the early years of the 20th Century but whether it is still in existence is unknown.
The end of Nathaniel’s diary is indeed a sad event, but for some it will be just the beginning: there are plenty of mysteries still to be solved, clues to be followed up and questions to be answered. Nevertheless, there will undoubtedly be a large number of people around the world who will be able to spend more time doing the things they really should be doing after 12 December!