[In our series ‘A Page in the Life’, each post briefly introduces a new writer and a single page from their manuscript. In this post, Brodie Waddell introduces us to another ‘chronicler’ who appears his new article on ‘Writing History from Below’ in early modern England.]
Jacob Bee was a glover and skinner who lived out his whole life in the city of Durham. Over the course of about twenty-five years, beginning in 1681, he filled a notebook with records of the births, deaths and marriages of his fellow townspeople. Bee also kept a patchy chronicle of notable local and national events, including a prize fight in the town’s marketplace and the execution of the Rye House Plot conspirators in 1683.
Intermixed with his historical register were a few pages of rather scrappy financial accounts. The most detailed and consistent fit on a single page and ran from January to March 1689:
Henry Rutlidge was made Clarke of St Margarets the 18th day of January being friday day this yeare 1688/9
And upon the 28th had got sence chosen
- January 27th – £0 5s 4d
- Williamsons wife – £0 0s 4d
- A Countrey man 29 January – £0 0s 8d
- Dic Hutchn wife Brore & another – £0 1s 0d
- Richard Brown – £0 0s 8d
- february 6th Stelling daughter – £0 0s 0d
- Dick Hutchinson lad – £0 1s 4d
- a wife Churching – £0 0s 4d
- two Kirkings last 14th february – £0 0s 8d
- february 17 1688/9 Margaret Harison Girl – £0 0s 8s
- Nann Preson Churching – £0 0s 4d
- Robert Stelling Richardson wife – £0 1s 4d
- Mr Thomas Martn lass March 7th 1688/9 – £0 0s 8d
- March 25 1689 Wheatley Belley dyed – £0 1s 4d
- March 25 1689 Thomas Parkinsons weding – £0 2s 0d
January 29 1690 Capt Halbman gott a pare Cut & his boy a pare which made 7 pare for himself & 2 pare for the lad more pares for the Boy
Ambiguity pervades this particular page, but here Bee seems to be trying to keep a record of his sales of gloves. The account includes at least one casual sale to an unnamed ‘Countrey man’, but most of the entries appear to be linked to specific ‘occasions’, presumably because of the seventeenth-century custom of hosts giving away gloves to celebrate important life events.
It begins with Henry Rudlidge’s appointment to a parish clerkship, seemingly inspiring him to buy 5s 4d worth of gloves from Bee to celebrate his new office. We also find at least one ‘weding’ and many baptisms or funerals, though the latter two are difficult to distinguish thanks to the high rates of child mortality in the period. Bee similarly benefited from sales to supply four churchings or ‘kirkings’, when women ceremonially re-joined the congregation forty days after giving birth.
To me, what seems to emerge from this page is the close interrelationship between his occupation and his writing practices. In one sense that is obvious: he wrote this page in order to track his sales, thus directly supporting his trade. However, I think there is also a more interesting link. Thanks to his trade as a glover, Bee’s financial accounts mirrored his pseudo-parish register of births, deaths and marriages. Indeed, it may even have inspired it. Perhaps he decided to start recording such life events because they brought customers to his shop. The craft of glove-making may have an unexpected affinity with the duty of parish clerk.
His ultimate success as a glover is doubtful. He was a freeman of the city and wealthy enough to vote in parliamentary elections, but in his later life he survived on charity as an ‘out-brother’ of Sherburn Hospital. To judge from his scrappy accounts, he may not have been particularly adept at monitoring his finances either.
But as a chronicler he offered a gift to posterity that few other poor provincial tradesmen could match.
Source: Durham University Library, SRA 21 (‘Jacob Bee His Booke’), p. 241. I have silently expanded contractions and added punctuation where necessary. Corrections to my transcriptions are welcome – some of these words were rather tricky.