Diary of a working man, 1886

How do you go about identifying the author of an anonymous diary?

A few tears ago a member of staff from Culture Warrington found an unidentified Victorian diary among a collection of unrelated papers in the archives. A quick examination showed that it was written by an anonymous man from the Warrington area in 1886 and covered a period of seven months.

The Heritage & Archives Team passed the diary to the University of the Third Age Transcription Group which had assisted Culture Warrington on other projects. In researching the diary the group were able to identify the author and uncover details of the life story of a working man of Warrington from 100 years earlier.

While the diary is anonymous the group found an important clue in the entry for Thursday 25th March 1886 in which the author records:

“I learn from mother that brother James’s child Charlotte Ann died this morning about 7 o’clock.”

Three days later on Sunday 29th March 1886 the author records:

“Brother James’s child buried.”

Armed with a name, date of death and a burial date the group searched ‘FindMyPast’ for a Charlotte Ann who died in Warrington in 1886. The search revealed the following information:

Charlotte Ann Charnock, born 1880, died Quarter 1 (Jan-Feb-Mar) 1886 in Warrington.

So now the Transcription Group had a surname – Charnock – with which to search the 1881 census.

The search returned four possible candidates but only one matched the other details given in the diary. We know from several entries that the author was married to a woman called “Lizzie” and had two sons called William and Harry. This indicated that the author was a Mr William Charnock who lived at 23 Ellesmere Street with his wife Lizzie and two sons William and Harry.

Consulting  the 1891 census it appeared that William Charnock and his family, including his youngest daughter Ellen, were now living at No.6 Wellington Street. This matched a diary entry from 27th  February 1886  in which the author mentions his front door in Wellington Street.

The U3A Transcription Group had found the author of the diary!

Further research showed that William Charnock worked at a chemical factory and from the entries in the diary the Transcription Group were able to identify his workplace as the Mersey Bank Chemical Works in Latchford.

Outside of work William’s main hobby seems to have been playing the double bass in the orchestra at the Gaiety Theatre in Warrington, although the diary entries indicate he also frequented many pubs in the town!

It is obvious from reading the diary that William had an interest in politics, both local and national. He was a  supporter of the Liberal party at the 1886 local elections and often comments on newspaper reports about goings on in Parliament.  However, William was a also a practical man who was able to repair a watch, make a birdcage or re-string the bow of a double bass.

William’s diary gives an insight into life in Warrington in the late 19th century. He describes the kindness of Mrs Quekett, the wife of the Warrington parish rector, and lists numerous events held in the Warrington Public Hall – his favourite venue – during 1886 .  He even describes his trip to Liverpool for Queen Victoria’s visit in 1886 and a day out with the family at the now vanished Manchester Botanic Gardens.

The final step for the group was to uncover the end of William’s story and for this they consulted the burial records for Warrington Cemeteries.

The Warrington Crematorium records indicate that grave CG L 777 in Warrington Cemetery was purchased by William Charnock in 1874 following the death of his first child Richard at the age of 3. William’s daughter Annie was also buried here on 28th august 1890 and, a few years later, William’s wife Elizabeth was interred here on 26th May 1895.

The records show that William Charnock himself died aged 66 in 1917. He was buried in the family grave on 8th August, although it appears that his name was never added to the headstone. Perhaps by 1917 there were no other family members able to arrange it?

It seems appropriate to end this article with William’s own words: “I only try to do unto others as I would like to be done by.  I should not like at any time to make enemies.  I strive to do my best.”

The William Charnock diary along with other selected artefacts is now on show in Warrington Central Library, just outside the Archives Searchroom.