200-year-old advice from a Norfolk yeoman

I have a ‘motto’ stuck to the divider around my desk.

When I was about ten I diligently learnt it off by heart and have tried to live by the sentiments ever since. The motto came from a family letter written by my Great Great Great Grandfather’s brother and I first became aware of it when the letter was transcribed by my Dad in the mid 90s. On the more difficult days since (bad hair, bad boss, bad bank – to mention the more minor trials!) I have tried to focus on his advice to his son. I must say that it has been particularly useful, repeated as a mantra, to psych myself up before job interviews and difficult meetings! 

Reading it, I never fail to marvel at how relevant the advice still is today. Rather than write out a whole lot of thoughts, this week I am simply going to copy out the letter my ‘motto’ is extracted from, containing wonderful advice as well as an insight into the life of a country yeoman in Norfolk in the early 1800s. It is but one of several letters I am lucky enough to have access to and part of a series of letters between Augustine, his father and brothers, during a tour for the former’s health. 

I hope you find it as enjoyable (and useful!) as I have over the years…

Brockdish 28th October 1820 

My dear Augustine 

I thank you for your letter, which relieved my mind very much, as I was fearful you might have sailed to encounter the late horrendous Gales. I now hope you will have much more favourable weather, and that you will encounter no material difficulties in your destined voyage to Madeira – where I trust you will arrive safe and meet with a very satisfactory reception – your introductions appear to be very flattering and respectable, and likely I should hope to be very useful – but be prepared for some disappointments, for we must not expect to pass this life without some difficulties – suffer them not to depress your spirits, but bear up against anything of the kind manfully and with a becoming spirit. Tell G I will accommodate him as soon as in my power and that I regard his request as reasonable, Henry is also in my thoughts, but it cannot be convenient to assist him until my Bullocks are sold. Corn fetches but little money and the calls upon me here are frequent and not small – so that I find considerable difficulty. I have no reason to doubt with the blessing of God, being in town at the time mentioned in my former letter, when I will assist your brother as far as I may be able. Pray take care you run no hazard of your health etc. during your voyage, for which I hope you are provided with some fruit and refreshments – tell Henry I am much gratified by Mr Rogerson’s remembrance of such insignificant being as myself, and that when he writes to Mr R. he will not forget to make my respectful compliments to him, and inform him I cannot forget his kind attentions to you and your Brother, of which I had such strong proof during your illness. Accept my best regards for you and your Brothers, with kind remembrances to the Hunter Street Family – and believe me to be most sincerely your affectionate Father –           


PS The apples will be forwarded as soon as I can possibly send – perhaps it may be a fortnight. I wish you a prosperous voyage and God bless you and your undertakings.

Your uncle has hired a farm for your cousin Daniel of upward three hundred acres, in the parish of Bracon Ash and has taken possession I believe of about 130 acres, the remainder will be taken at Michelmas next, the whole under Mr Benney

I don’t believe for a second that Thomas would have written the letter thinking that 200 years later it would be read and digested by his brother’s descendants. Letters and diaries are a truly magnificent resource because they can add so much colour to a family tree. Through letters you can get to know people who are long gone; share a joke, feel an emotion and get a greater understanding of the social graces and economies of times past.

Today, another line of my family still raises bullocks and grows corn – this year they are facing issues with the lack of rain, an age old problem for farmers. Thomas’ home is still lived in (though not by any relation), and the village is still a small one on the Norfolk/Suffolk border. We live in a fast changing world, but not everything is so very different – sons are still funded by their fathers (to varying extents, anyway), and many of those dads are still giving sensible advice to their offspring (although perhaps not always so eloquently!)

With any luck, if I eventually have children of my own, Thomas’ thoughts can be passed down for many generations to come…..I can’t see his advice becoming irrelevant any time soon.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Reclaim Jane (February 2022)

What happens if you cast aside the carefully referenced report and try and fill the gaps left by the records? Reclaim Jane is an attempt to find the woman behind the snippets of archival evidence.

Read More »