The Diaries of Henry Fothergill

A long running volunteer project at Glamorgan Archives has finally come to an end, with the transcription of all 22 of the ‘Fothergill Diaries’. Part diary, part travelogue, the journals describe the life of Henry Fothergill, ironmaster, from 1860 – when the Fothergill family headed The Aberdare Iron Company – until his death in 1914.

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By the time the diaries were written, the Fothergills had long had interests in a number of Glamorgan ironworks including Plymouth, Penydarren, Taff Vale, Abernant and Llwydcoed. The third son of Richard Fothergill and nephew of Rowland Fothergill of Hensol Castle, Henry led the privileged life of a wealthy Victorian gentleman, attending lavish dinners with powerful people such as the Crawshays. Indeed, two of Henry’s bothers (George and Thomas) married two of William Crawshay’s daughters (Isabel and Laura respectively) on the same day – a double wedding which Henry recounts.

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Henry’s descriptions of his working life overseeing the ironworks are interspersed with tales of sumptuous dinner dances, holidays with friends (including Francis Crawshay and his family), shopping trips, sports and games, family celebrations and heartaches.

Henry, along with his two brothers George and Thomas, sold his interest in the ironworks to his older brother Richard in 1864, later using the money to travel the world in typical Victorian ‘Grand Tour’ style. Beginning in 1867, he recounts his adventures through Europe, Asia, the Middle East, the Americas, Russia, Australia and New Zealand in great detail, often commenting on the characters he meets. On his return, he joined the Essex Militia, rising to the rank of Major.

In 1877, he married Edith Horwood, a vicar’s daughter, and eventually settled in Copt Hall, Hawkhurst near Cranbrook. They had two sons – Gerald Rowland (1880-1970), who entered the priesthood, and Edward Gerald Neville (1882-1962), who is recorded as having poor mental health and is supported by attendants. Henry’s latter years were spent with his family, tending to his garden, exotic birds and livestock (including kangaroos!).

Filled with adventure, romance and intrigue, Henry’s detailed descriptions of people, places and activities make these diaries a rich social and local history resource.  Over the coming weeks, a number of the volunteers who worked on the project will be publishing their favourite extracts from the diaries on the blog. Well worth a look!  And if you would like to examine the diaries for yourself, and/or read the transcripts, please come along to Glamorgan Archives. We’d love to see you!

Corinne Evans, Glamorgan Archives Volunteer

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