The end? It’s just the beginning…

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.

How it all began - the first diary entry, 1 January 1846

How it all began – the first diary entry, 1 January 1846

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.

Dean Street - home of Granny Shepherd and one of Nathaniel's favourite haunts

Dean Street – home of Granny Shepherd and one of Nathaniel’s favourite haunts

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 Saxby's visit to the Archives CentreSteven 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 Bryceson Memorial Walk - 5 October 2010

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!

[Jim]


* Editor’s note, January 2016:
The diary is being republished throughout 2016 as a blog and weekly podcast. You can also view updates on Twitter and on Westminster City Archives’ Facebook page.

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12 responses to “The end? It’s just the beginning…

  1. I am so sad its finished. I really looked forward to reading it everyday. Fancy Ann being 20 years older than him !! RIP Nathaniel!

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  2. I have followed this daily and especially looked forward to his Sunday activities when he never seemed to have a lay in and walked miles.
    Thankyou Westminster . Very educational.

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  3. i am so sad this has come to an end, have loved reading it and would love someone to publish it – would love a copy to dip in and out of. Does anyone know if this is going to happen

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  4. Brilliant.
    A delight to read everyday and a great disappointment on those missing days. Sundays’ a real treat.

    He was quite a lad.

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  5. I am so sorry this series has come to an end. Following Nathaniels was something that I looked forward to every time I logged onto the internet. It was always a dissapointment when there nothing recorded but his Sunday exploits more than made up for these missing entries. I shall miss Nathaniel and hope that one day another of his diaries surfaces and is serialised. Well done Westminster City Council.

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  6. I read with great interest every diary entry via the web feed to my mobile phone. Fantastic, as mentioned, the lengthy Sunday entries brightened many a Monday morning.

    I’d love a hard copy of the diary too should one become available!

    Many thanks Westminster City Council, much appreciated.

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  7. This was a fascinating journey and like those above I feel impoverished by it’s abrupt conclusion. I hope there are some accolades for the staff who gave this to the world. Too often it’s theses services that feel the recession before others.

    So farewell, Nathaniel. Strange that we leave him so young and yet so old. His life ahead of him but so far behind ours. I hope Ann made out ok; a cougar named Fox! Ironic.

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  8. Great report Jim. I am lucky to have seen the diary just over a week ago, and am amazed at the work that must have gone into ‘translating’ it, as much of it is in poor condition and much Nathaniel’s writing is none too clear – well done to everyone involved in this mammoth task. I too am hoping that this diary will eventually be published in book form. Any fans may be interested in reading the Rootschat discussions – though be aware that there are 9 parts to this with an average of 20 pages per part. Just google “rootschat” “Nathaniel Bryceson”. As Jim says, we have found out a lot about Nathaniel’s family, in particular the Leas were an interesting bunch. There are also lots of discussions about Nathaniel and his unusual interests and personality and his father Nathaniel White – frustratingly he is still at large. I am hopeful that more of Nathaniel’s diaries may one day come to light.

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  9. Thanks everyone involved with this project – it’s been a fascinating insight into a more varied ‘Victorian’ world than is often presented. Nathaniel’s work and relationships suggest a rather fluid social environment which is quite surprising given the image of Victorian society. I hope it will be published – it could also be dramatised – this was an exciting period in London’s development as well.

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  10. Dear all,
    Just wanted to let you know that we are still in negotiation with a few publishers but as yet no agreement has been reached. We’re hopeful though!

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  11. Pingback: Into the next millennium | Books & the City

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