The Diary of Doctor Richard Kay of Baldingstone

Richard Kay was born at Baldingstone House on 20th March 1716 (new reckoning). Baldingstone House is in Walmersley, just to the north of Bury in Lancashire. The house is still standing; to find it, drive north out of Bury on the Edenfield road. At the traffic lights just before you get into Walmersley, turn right into Old Road. At the top of the hill is the Masons Arms; Baldingstone House is at the top of the unmade road on the left by the pub.

Baldingstone House now (photograph by Peter Cameron)

At that time, Baldingstone was a small community, not just the one house. It is now my belief that Baldingstone House itself was built in the early 1680s by Richard's grandfather, also called Richard. This older Richard, and his father John before him, were blacksmiths, operating the smithy at Baldingstone. The 1844 Ordnance Survey map shows that the smithy was located on the other side of Old Road, opposite the lane leading to Baldingstone House. It is no longer there, but in the hedge can be seen two large stones that I suspect originally marked the entrance to the smithy.

The older Richard and his father John seem to have come to prosperity in a remarkable short space of time, acquiring a number of properties. I'm still trying to identify how they got their hands on those properties, but a suspicious number of them originally had connections with men who had fought for the King in the Civil War, and my feeling is that, either directly or indirectly, they profited from those men's misfortunes.

The older Richard died in March 1697 (new reckoning), and was survived by three sons, Richard, Robert and John, and two daughters, Elizabeth and Mary. With the exception of Elizabeth, who was a child of Richard's first wife, also called Elizabeth, these children were all by his second wife Alice, who was herself born a Kay, from Sheephey in Shuttleworth. Her brother Robert was the father of John Kay, the inventor of the Flying Shuttle. Richard divided up his property among his sons, in particular leaving Baldingstone House to his second son Robert. Robert's older brother Richard lived with him at Baldingstone House until 1709, when Richard moved to a new house he had built for himself at Chesham (just to the north of Bury). To distinguish between these Richards, Robert's brother is always referred to as Richard of Chesham.

Robert married Elizabeth Taylor of Moston in 1713. They had eight children, two of whom died in infancy. The survivors were Mary (b 1713), Richard (b 1716), Elizabeth (b 1719), Alice (b 1722), Rachel (b 1724) and Robert (b 1729). Rachel married Joseph Baron of Bury, and had a large family. Of the others, only Robert married, in 1757. The young Richard Kay started his diary on 11th April 1737, and every day for the next thirteen years recorded his activities in it. Many of the entries are very brief. For example, on April 15th 1737 we read:

This Day I have been employed in the necessary Concerns about Home. Father and Mother, Sister Alice and Sister Rachel went this Afternoon to Uncle Samuel Taylors in Moston. Lord bless us and then we shall be blessed.

Many, however are much more detailed, and give us a fascinating insight into life as it was lived at the time. It is these that give Richard's diary its enormous value.

The family led an active social life, visiting and receiving visits from friends and their cousins at Chesham and Sheephey. However, life was not all social; Baldingstone House had twenty eight acres attached to it, and many days, particularly at harvest time, Richard was out in the fields. On 30th April 1737, he wrote

This Day I have been employed in Husbandry. Lord I see Persons employed, and therefore I think it is my Duty to be employed also; but yet give me leave to observe that tho' Husbandry be both an ancient and honourable employment, yet 'tis an employment wherein I cannot be so usefully employed as I would and ought to be, and an employment that Persons can carry on that are of weaker capacities and of meaner extract and education than myself

Richard's father Robert was a doctor with a large practice run from Baldingstone House. Medicine ran in the family, and his cousin Samuel, the second son of Richard of Chesham, was also a doctor. Samuel achieved considerable success and was one of the founding surgeons of the Manchester Infirmary. This tradition has continued in the family, with at least one doctor in nearly every generation since. My grandfather was a doctor, my sister and niece are doctors, and now my daughter says she was to be one too! In the early years, Richard helped his father treating patients, then in 1743, after much agonising about what he should do with his life (as we can see from the quote above) and encouragement from his father and cousin Samuel, he went to London for a year to train in medicine at Guys and St. Thomas's hospitals. For a year he attended lectures and observed operations. On 16th August, for example:

This Day I've attended the Hospitals there hath been two Legs took off and a Girl cut for a Hare Lip; I heard Mr. Westley the Field Preacher in Moor Fields this Evening from Lam.1.12. Lord, Give me a suitable Capacity for Improvment.

Richard managed to entertain himself in London. On August 25th:

This Day in the Morning I attended the Hospitals; I saw the Execution to Day at Kennington Common a little out of Town, there were 5 Men and a Woman hang'd. Lord, Let others Woes be our Warnings.

and on October 19th

This Day I attended the Hospitals; heard the Play call'd the Funeral, and the Mock Doctor in the Evening at Covent Garden Playhouse; seeing little in these Hospitals but Affliction and Death, I find it necessary for me now and then to seek out some Diversion; return'd with Mr. Jno. Rigby and a Friend of his who treated us with Part of a Bottle of Wine. Lord, Let no Affliction or Heaviness whatever damp the Vigour and Improvment of my Mind.

On his return to Bury in 1744, Richard shared the medical practice with his father. They had many patients and were often long hours in the saddle. On September 3rd 1745 he wrote:

This Day I attended upon Domestick Affairs till towards Evening that I visited a Patient a few Miles from Home. It is now betwixt ten and eleven o'th' Clock this Evening, they call me down Stairs to Prayer, Father is returned from visiting a Patient who is now we hope near well, he took his Bill of Charge along with him this Afternoon according to Order, we computed to Day that his Journey he has had one Time with another in visiting her wou'd amount to upwards of fifteen or sixteen Hundred Miles; a very remarkeable Patient, her Disorder was first begun by a slight Hurt that she received upon her Shin, I want to hear how he has got on, and to have before or after Prayer our usual Evening Chat. Lord, Always make thou One with us, bless us, O bless us abundantly, Amen and Amen

The diary contains details of many of his cases and their treatment. Amputation was commonplace (at this time without anaesthetics), but the worst case he treated was that of Mrs Driver. On December 22nd 1748:

This Day after attending upon some Domestick Affairs in the Morning Father and I went to Mr. Jeffery Driver's at Croshaw-Booth according to Appointment, and with the Assistance of my Father I took off Mrs. Driver's right Breast that was Cancerous, the Cancer weighed near 3 Pound Weight; the Revnd. Mr. Pickup of Bacop and the Revnd. Mr. Thos. Ashworth of Cloughfold were present, Mr. Pickup went to Prayer before and after the Operation, all Friends seemed to behave in a Christian Manner, and to be in a serious good Frame, I lodge at Mr. Driver's for fear of any Blood-Vessel bleeding in Company with Mr. Ashworth. Lord, Prevent ruinous and inconsiderate Undertakings, and succeed all our Labours.

Mrs Driver underwent several more operations to prevent the cancer spreading, but eventually died in January 1750.

Religion played a very important part in the lives of the Baldingstone Kays and their cousins At that time, they were staunch Presbyterians, and worshipped at the Silver Street chapel in Bury, attending services twice every Sunday. The diary shows Richard to have who often agonised over his faith and his imperfections. The following entry, dated 25th November 1747, to my mind perfectly demonstrates the thinking of Non-Conformists at the time:

Yester-Evening I went with several of my Friends to hear the new Organ at Manchester old Church play'd upon the first Time of it's Opening before it's Dons (or Worshippers); Musick in Divine Service at Churches seems to be coming much into Fashion; I was asked last Week to subscribe to an Instrument called a Bazoon to be played upon in Bury Church, they told me that Musick in Divine Service was the purest Way of Worship, it was serving God in the Beauty of Holiness, &c; it seems to me to be a merry Way of getting to Heaven, to be a Rejoycing as though they had already attained or were already perfect; Church Bigotry it's to be feared is one great Sin in these Times; that they belong to the Church as by Law established seems to be Religion enough for Thousands; the serious devout Prayers of good Persons to God Almighty if delivered Extempore as they call it or without a Form, are of little Account with a great many; they shou'd seem to think with regard to Religion that as Christ has suffered and done a Deal for us, and as the Church is endowed with a many Forms of Prayer, so they have nothing more to do, need to take no more Pains, than now and then give Attendance to them at the Church, and these, they being so well acquainted with, and no Improvment further in Devotion can or is necessary to be made, therefore it seems high Time with some of them to set their Musick to work either to digest some Part of their Devotion which we often hear cloys with them and is not agreable to their Faith; or, in Imitation of glorified Saints and Angels in Heaven above who we believe are praising God Day and Night in his Temple. I doubt not there being great Numbers of serious good Persons in the Worship of the Church of England, but too many now a Days in that Profession run Matters into an Extream, place Religion in that wherein it really is not, say too much about their Church Priviledges, and tho' Christians yet discover several Errours and Weaknesses. Lord, Direct our Faith, our Worship and all our Actions so as will be most agreable to the Purposes of Religion, thy Glory and the Welfare of our Pretious and our immortal Souls.

The diary has many references to stirring events in the outside world, particularly to the rebellion led by the Young Pretender, Prince Charles Edward Stuart. It was first mentioned on September 24th 1745:

This Day I've been attending upon Domestick Affairs. About 6 Weeks or 2 Months past we have been often hearing of a Rebellion in Scotland in favour of a Popish Pretender; our Government have sent a Body of Men to disperse them and we hear this Evening that our Forces have engaged them and are defeated by them, at or near Edinburgh in Scotland. Lord, We hope thou wilt still be favourable to these Lands, notwithstanding the Sins that are committed amongst us; we hope thou wilt still espouse the Protestant Cause whereby thy Name is known and worshipped amongst us; we hope thou wilt preserve us from Popish Slavery and vain Idolatry; God be mercifull unto us, we know we are in the Hands of that God who governs all Things for the Purposes of his own Glory.

It is fairly obvious where Richard's sympathies lay, but the diary shows just how much support there was locally for the Stuarts, and how much ill-feeling there was after the rebellion was finally defeated. The rebels marched as far south as Derby, then retreated through Manchester. Richard and some of his friends walked out to watch them go by “Having never seen the Rebells, or any in a Highland Dress”. Richard and his cousins, at the time of the Young Pretender's advance into England, raised a force of militia against the insurgents, although in the end they very prudently took no action. Here's an extract from January 15th 1746:

This Day after visiting a Patient in the Afternoon I spent the Evening at Coz. Neddy Kay's of Brookbottom with some other Company and lodge there. By all Accounts 'tis expected about this Time our Forces are engaging the Rebells in Scotland; Times at present run high amongst us; Some shewing themselves much in favour for the present Government, and but too many for the Pretender; and Instance whereof I shall give in the following Lines being a Copy of what was sent to our Family to Day from Bury upon Account of the Mobb we raised to oppose the Rebells, and mentioned December 8 and 9, which is as follows.

Notice is hereby given that his Rumpish Highness the Second Pretender, and Prince of the Presbyterian Territories has given an Order for the raising a new Regiment of Rossendale Plunderers under the most Emphatical Denomination of Oliverian Murderers: And That such as are willing are ordered to repair to the Colonel Quarters at the Sign of the Bloody Surgeon, .... the Ensigns Inn at the Sign of the three Marshal Handkerchiefs, where for their Advance they shall receive full Power to kill and plunder all Loyall Subjects to the true born King, and for their further Encouragement when they come to join their respective Regiment, now lying squander'd and confounded in the bewilder'd Forrest of Rossendale, they shall receive no Pay nor Cloathing but every Man a rusty Sword, an old Stick, and a long Pike and roasting Spits, and all Things fitting to compleat a Gentleman Plunderer and an Oliverian Murder, out of whose Hands, God gave the true born King.

His Rumpish Highness is Coz. Jon. Kay. Prince of the Presbyterian Territories is his Brother Coz. Doctor Kay. The Colonell's Quarters at the Sign of the Bloody Surgeon, is here at Baldingstone; I am the Colonel, and the Bloody Surgeon is represented as my Sign. The Ensign's Inn is Brother Joseph Baron's in Bury; the 3 Marshall Handkerchiefs are represented as his Sign on Account of his Shop. Lord, Suffer us not to be a Reproach; and let us hope in thy Salvation.

Times were indeed running high. That even a hundred years after the Civil War, the term Oliverian Murderer should be used shows just how divided the country still was.

Death was ever-present at that time. On several occasions, we read of the deaths of friends who had featured regularly in the diary, and it often comes as much of a shock to the reader as it did to Richard. Several of his sister Mary's children died of smallpox. His cousin Richard Kay of Chesham died in 1749, and his brother-in-law Joseph Baron in 1750. Both of these deaths affected Richard heavily, and one can feel an increasing sense of despair in the later entries.

The diary ends abruptly on July 19th 1750, with the entry:

This Day in the Morning I returned from Manchester, in the Afternoon .....

We don't know what happened to cause Richard to leave his diary in this way, but it must have been something momentous. For the previous few months the area had been ravaged by an epidemic that sounds, from Richard's description, to have been related to typhus. Many, including Richard's friends and relatives, had died. What we do know is that three months after this entry, Richard's father Robert died, in October 1750. Sister Rachel died in January 1751, while in October 1751, Richard, his mother and his sister Elizabeth died. Of the family, only Robert and Alice survived.

After Richard's death, the diary must have passed to his cousins at Chesham, as it remained with the descendants of Richard of Chesham's third son John. At the end of the nineteenth century, it was in the possession of Robert Henry Kay, my great great uncle, and John's great grandson. He anonymously published excerpts from it, entitled “A Lancashire Doctor's Diary 1737-1750”. Rather charmingly, he dedicated “This slight sketch of the life of one of her ancestors I dedicate to my sister Louisa [Potter], whose memory and intellect in her ninetieth year are the wonder and delight of her family and friends”. This publication brought the diary's existence to the attention of William Hewitson, editor of the Bury Times, and a noted local historian. He borrowed the diary from Robert and made extensive extracts from it. In 1908, Kenneth Kay quoted extensively from it in his “Kay Chronicles”. Some years later Dr E Bosdin Leach of Manchester Universtiry had Hewitson's notes typed and bound, and put in the Manchester Central Library. However, Kenneth's widow Dolly refused to let him borrow the diary to make further extracts. By the 1950s, it was in the possession of Kenneth's sister, Marjorie Kay, my father's first cousin. After her death, it passed to my father, Maj. Gen. Patrick Kay. Over the recent years, my father and I felt concern that such a valuable document, which was of necessity stored in the bank, was at risk of deteriorating or being lost, and in 2003 my father gave it, as a permanent loan, to the Chetham Library in Manchester, where it is now available for research.

Previously, in 1958, Doctor Brockbank, also of Manchester University, had realised from Hewitson's extracts the enormous value of the diary as an item of medical history, contacted Marjorie Kay with a view to seeing the diary, and validating those extracts. Marjorie, who was as wary of letting the diary out of her hands as her sister in law, eventually agreed to meet Doctor Brockbank in a park in Birmingham where the two of them sat on a bench for the afternoon while he examined the diary. The result of this meeting was that a full transcription was made of the diary by my mother Mrs Muriel Kay. This mammoth undertaking took her three years, and ran to a total of 686 pages of typescript. This full transcription is now lodged at the Manchester Central Library.

In 1968, the Chetham Society published excerpts from the diary under the title “The Diary of Richard Kay of Lancashire, Doctor, 1716-1751”. They have recently reprinted these excerpts. As I have said, the diary offers a fascinating insight into life in the middle of the eighteenth century, the way people lived, the attitudes of non-conformists, and above all the practice of medicine at the time. If you get a chance, read it.