I came across Celia Fiennes about 20 years ago on a visit to Broughton Castle near Banbury.
She was an amazingly independent and curious woman who travelled around England from around 1682 to 1712 in a series of ´tours´. Her published journals are a fascinating read if, like me, you love real observational history.
Celia was born into an old and dispersed aristocratic family that included Viscounts and Barons. They were fortunate to have castles and homes throughout the country that partly mapped out the journeys. Her descendants still live in Broughton Castle.
The journals are descriptive and observational but not strictly diaries; there’s very little personal information and views. Even though she and her relatives where part of one of the most fascinating periods in English history.
It’s the descriptions of estates, towns and cities from 300 years ago that make this so absorbing. She is interested in the architecture (she liked neatness), occupations, folklore and particularly local minerals, as its seems she had some investments in mines. The waters (Spas) were fashionable at the time and these were a focus of many visits. She experienced the ´waters and rituals´ at Bath, something I experienced myself just a few weeks ago! In 1697 she travels through Warwick, a town I know well and describes the aftermath of a great fire that destroyed the church and much of the town. The ‘old buildings´ that I have walked past many times must have just been built or being built, like a modern day re-development.
I have been to many of the same towns and houses and can imagine Celia riding through, side saddle curiously taking in the same details as I do.
It seems she kept notes of her travels and at some later stage edited them into journals. There are lots of spelling errors and the occasional mix up of places and people which add to the authenticity.
Thank you to my friend and publisher Richard Webb (a distant relative of Celia) who kindly gave me a new ‘illustrated journeys of Celia Fiennes’ edited by Christopher Morris and inspired me to re-read the journals.