Give thanks for repositories who SHARE the wealth by offering digital images and/or transcriptions of their holdings.
The University of Sheffield Library has a PDF transcription of the diaries of Elizabeth Firth, who is a young schoolgirl when the first diary begins in 1812.
Elizabeth was born in 1797 (she lived until 1837).
On Archives Hub is the following description: “Diaries recording the day-to-day events in the life of a young girl in the Yorkshire village of Thornton in the 1810s and 1820s.” It goes on to categorize the diaries as being “of the simplest kind: brief day-to-day records of social and church occasions…. Their principal interest lies in the references to members of the Brontë family with whom Elizabeth was acquainted, and the collection includes a letter from Charlotte Brontë to Elizabeth Firth” (also known under her married name, Elizabeth Franks).
As you might guess, _I_ do not think the principal interest is due to her connection to the Brontës, but in the descriptions of the lifeof diarist Elizabeth Firth herself. And she tells some wonderful stories.
To give a bit of background: Elizabeth Firth lived at Kipping House, Thornton (near Bradford), Yorkshire. Her father John Scholefield Firth was a doctor – and, by the time the Brontës moved to Bradford (1815), Dr. Firth had become a widower.
- Read: The History of Bradford and its Parish
- Elizabeth’s monumental inscription is noted in Continuation of the History of Bradford and its Parish
- the Firths also appear in a 1905 edition of The Bradford Antiquary
The connection to the Brontës, though, IS quite an interesting one: Elizabeth Firth befriended Maria (Branwell) Brontë; in 1821 Patrick Brontë proposed to Elizabeth! I’ve already told you that her married name was “Franks”, thereby letting the cat out of the bag regarding Patrick’s proposal. It is “thought to have led to a rupture in her relations with the Brontë family” that lasted at least a couple of years. Elizabeth married the Rev. James Clarke Franks in September 1824.
The Bronte Sisters blog has two interesting posts (from 2013) you’ll want to read:
A blog dedicated to Anne Brontë has an additional story (from 2017):
Both blogs have this image of Elizabeth Firth; I’ve been unable to find it anywhere else – but hope it truly is her. Don’t we all like to SEE the writer we’re reading?!
The diaries of Elizabeth Firth have been culled for such books as The Letters of Charlotte Brontë: 1829-1847. But in discussing Elizabeth’s importance to the family, readers learn about Elizabeth’s life. Including, that the Franks had five children.
Other books Elizabeth shows up in: A Brontë Family Chronology and the Brontës: Wild Genius on the Moors (by Juliet Barker).
Elizabeth Franks’ grandson, G.C. Moore Smith, published some extracts in The Modern Language Quarterly, entitling his 1901 article “The Diary of a Schoolgirl of Eighty Years Ago.” This covers the earliest years, which in detailing some “odd” (to us) school practices, is quite fascinating. A 1904 article in The Bookman also discusses aspects of “My grandmother,” in an illustrated article entitled “The Brontës at Thornton.”
The diaries not only include daily entries, there are also accounts. Of use, if you wish to know the cost of “3 caps” in 1829 (1 pound) or an apron (14s 10d). On the last page (page 252) I spot recipes for “Cheescakes”, “stuffin”, and “punch”.
The editing includes footnotes and explanations, even of archaic or dialect words. Some give indications of places, and also note special markings in the diary itself. Entries are short, as befits such pocket diaries of the time, and are gathered in daily remarks for the month, which makes the look of the transcription very easy to read. In short, Highly Recommended.
[NB: REALLY tough searching for Miss Firth – keep coming up with images of Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy!}