Whilst clearing out my parents attic recently, I had been fighting amongst the cobwebs to find items of importance when I stumbled across a most incredible book. Perfectly innocuous upon first sight, it nestled amongst the old dictionaries, Mills and Boon Novels and Enid Blyton collections stacked on the rafters. It’s dark red cover encrusted with years of dust had no particular interest at first glance. But when I brushed back the aged debris I discovered the book was a Diary from nearly 100 years ago.
The front cover read ‘Home Diary 1914’ in remarkably well preserved, white- painted print. Beautifully bound, the diary opened to display pages , yellowed with age, but still in wonderful reading condition. The first page read:
” Boots Cash Chemists Home Diary ~ And Ladies Note Book”.
This was followed by an extensive table of contents ranging from advice on ‘The ABC of Health” to ” Foreign Telegraphic Charges” to ” How To Make Your Own Poultices ” and ” How To Treat Your Servant”.
Turning the pages carefully, I was temporarily transported back to a snap shot vision of what life in 1914 could be like.
Within the diary pages themselves, a great Uncle of mine (a military musician) made beautifully enscribed notes on his performances , sometimes peppered with discreet updates on the final year of World War 1;
June 4th 1914:
” Wet weather. Performed Belgian Refugee Concert. Good audience. News seems to be things are looking up”
September 6th 1914:
” Germans Retreat. Looks like Cyril will be coming home”.
Meanwhile, other areas provided an unexpected snapshot of home values and etiquette ( occasionally with amusing overtones);
February 24th 1914:
” Had pancakes tonight…. and a cheeky proposition..”
March 19th 1914:
” Fine day. Byron in bed, lazy. Needs a kicking”
The conclusion of the diary reaches a happy ending with a home coming at the end of WW 1.
December 12th 1914:
Got up early to collect Cyril from High St station. 5 a.m. Gave him 10/- on arrival.
Despite the incredible insight to a long passed relative’s life, perhaps my favourite part of the diary lays within ” The ABC of Health”. It is informative, written in rhyme and tantalizingly evocative of the age from which it comes; the grammar and turn of phrase being so particular.
The ABC of Health
As soon as you are up, shake blanket and sheet,
Better be without shoes than sit with damp feet,
Children if healthy are active, not still,
Damp beds and damp clothes will both make you ill,
Eat slowly , and always chew food well,
Freshen the air in the house where you dwell,
Garments must never be worn too tight,
Homes, should be cheerful, airy and light,
If you wish to keep well , as you do, of no doubt,
Just ope’ all the windows before you go out,
Keep all the dark corners most carefully clean,
Let dust on the furniture never be seen,
Much illness is caused by the lack of fresh air,
Now to ventilate properly must be your care,
Old rubbish and rags must be burnt and not kept,
People should see that their floors are well swept,
Quick Movements in children are healthy and right,
Remember the young cannot thrive without light.
See that the cistern is clean to the brim,
Take care that your dress in the morning is trim,
Use your nose to find out if there be a bad drain,
Very sad are the fevers that come in its train.
Walk as you can without over-fatigue,
Xerxes could walk full many a league.
Your Health is your wealth which your wisdom must ,
Zeal helps a good cause and the good you will reap.
©Tess Egerton 2012