Dolly Clayton’s Diary, 1777-1833 


Dolly Clayton was something of a diarist and through the kindness of Captain R.L.B. Cunliffe of Bury St. Edmunds her surviving diaries (for the years 1777, 1783, 1791, 1801-1811, 1812-1823, 1825-1829, 1831-1833) are now in the Lancashire Record Office [this is a slightly edited version of an article first published in the annual report of Lancashire Record Office for 1979]. They are all of the annual memorandum-book type and the entries related mainly to the writer’s social activities (including tea with the painter John Constable) and correspondence; they contain much of interest about Dolly’s life and her death.

Dorothy Gardner was born in 1752 and, in 1772, married Robert Barrie, an army surgeon in America. On 5 May, 1774, their son, Robert, was born at St Augustine, East Florida, the father dying at sea on their way back to England. It was this younger Robert Barrie who, as a naval captain, unsuccessfully contested Preston at the election of 1826. He lived at Swarthdale House, Bolton-le-Sands, and, when he died in 1841, was Sir Robert Barrie, Rear Admiral of the Blue.

Dorothy, known Dolly, went to live with her mother in Leyland after her husband’s death. It was there that she met George Clayton, a widower, a son of the Edward Clayton who founded the calico-printing works at Bamber Bridge and who lived at Lostock Hall. George’s first wife, Jennet Dewhurst, whom he married in 1773, was buried 4 Oct. 1782, leaving children Ann, born 1774, Elizabeth 1775 and Edward 1777. Only Edward survived childhood. George and Dolly were married at Walton-dale church 22 September, 1784, and had sons, George, born 1787, and William, born 1790, and daughters, Frances, born 1785, and Elizabeth, born 1792. George Clayton died 21 June, 1829, aged eighty-five.

The first entry in Dolly’s diary, 1 January, 1777 reads: “Mr & Mrs. Slater, Mrs Hind and Miss Baldwin called and my brother Wm. Gardner, dined & supt at Shaw Hall.” Shaw Hall was later re-named Worden Hall and was the residence of Dolly’s cousin, Sir William Farington. There are frequent references to the family of the Rev. Thomas Baldwin, vicar of Leyland. On 4th January “Sir Henry Hunlokes carriage came” and on the 7th Dolly set out for Wingersworth in Derbyshire to stay with Sir Henry Hunloke, bart. There she remained until 2 May when she left for Riddlesden near Keighley to visit her sister Sarah, who had married Nicholas Starkie of Riddlesden and Huntroyde, near Padiham. Dolly was a good card-player, for while with Hunlokes she won £5.6s and lost £2.8s. There was a round of visits to neighbours and places of interest. At an unnamed lead-mine she records her weight as 9 stone 7 lbs.

From Riddlesden she went, on 22 May, to Huntroyde where, on 29 May, she “began to prepare Robert (her son, aged 3) for inoculation” an event which took place five days later and on 11 June “Roberts smallbox began to appear.” As there is no further reference to this event we must presume that the operation was successful. There was the usual round of visits and visitors. When Dolly returned home we do not know, as she was still at Huntroyde at the end of 1777 and the diaries for 1778-82 are missing. One interesting entry is for 14 September; “a shock of an earthquake was felt here and in the neighbourhood.”

When the next surviving diary (1783) opens we again find Dolly staying with the Hunlokes at Wingersworth, where she remained until 10 February when she set off for Liverpool, breaking the journey for a couple of days at Stockport. Young Robert was at school at Neston in Wirral and was delivered there by his mother on 15 February. The visit to Liverpool lasted until 12 June when Dolly returned to Leyland. The evening before, she “went to the play; the Grecian Daughter, Mrs. Siddons great.” The stay at home was short, for on 21 June she went to Huntroyde where she remained until 10 August, her time having been fully occupied by visitors and visiting.

Poor Dolly arrived back in Leyland to find “my Mother very poorly” and on the following day “Doctor Stapleton came, has but poor hopes of her.” Day and night attention were unavailing and on 16 August “it pleased God to release my Moather about 10 o’clock in the morning. “Christmas this year was spent at Huntroyde”, but how long this visit lasted we do not know, as the next diary is for 1791. In the meantime Dolly Barrie was married to George Clayton and four of their five children born: Frances 1785, George 1787 and William 1790. Elizabeth came in 1792 and there was a son Edward whose birth-date is unknown. There are a few references to George Clayton in the 1783 diary: 19 September and 11 October “dined at Mr George Claytons,” and, on 22 October, one of Dolly’s few comments: “Mr. George Clayton called, Wonders never cease”

During 1791 there were two absences from home-at Dr. Campbell’s, Lancaster, from 26 February to 13 March and at Keighley from 9 to 17 December. On 21 April Dolly records that she “had a wonderful escape, being in danger of being killed by a fall from a double horse.” After being bled by Dr. Low, and a few days in bed, she was well again. Preston races were visited on 29 June and 19 July and on the former date she also “went to the play, She Stoops to Conquer.” Another pleasure was “Miss Biarstow’s Dancing Ball” on 19 December. Home comforts were provided for on 28 March by the “hogsheads of sherry bottled: 26 dozen but one.”

A further bottling took place in 1798, the year of the next diary, when a pipe of port provided “57 dozen and 2 bottles.” Dolly left home on 21 August for Newcastle upon-Tyne, by way of Lancaster and Brough. She stayed until 25 October, returning through Harrogate, Keighley, Langcliffe, and Hornby. During her stay she made a week’s excursion to North Berwick and Edinburgh and on 5 October enjoyed New-castle’s “grand illumination at night for Nelson’s victory near Rosetta.”

There is little indication in the diaries of any interest in her husband’s business though she does write that on 6 August 1798 she “walked through the works.” The note that on 16 April in the same year she “went to see the Volunteers at Preston” reminds us of the beginnings of the Napoleonic threat to this Country.

For the nineteenth century perhaps the reader’s interest will be met by certain selected entries:


Apr. 6. Heard of the engagement in the W(est) I(ndies) of the Bordclair and that my Barrie was wounded-a wound to me.

Apr. 8, Wrote to Ld. St. Vincent. Got the Gazette. I pray the Almighty spare And bless my son.

Apr. 12. Letter from LD. St. V.

Oct. 13. Preston illuminated on account of Peace.

Nov. 5. Barrie appointed to the command of the Shark sloop.


May 11. Letter from Ld. Gardner with an account of Barrie being appointed Port Captain.

Aug 20. All went to Preston (Guild) to see the gents walk and trades-home to Dinner-at Assembly at night.

Aug. 31. At the Town Hall. Walked in procession to church-dined at the ordinary-to the play.

Sep. 11. Letter from Barrie that he was arrived in England.

Sep. 19. Barrie came.

Sep. 30-Oct. 14 Kendal, Penrith, Keswick, Ambleside, Bowness, Newby Bridge, Ulverston, Kendal, Lancaster.

Oct. 23. Oh, dear! Barrie in bed all day, such the effects of wine

Dec. 11. Barrie went to London.


Jan. 1-4 Confined with rheumatism.

Mar. 22. Couchman Joseph came, ungrateful Wilson went.

May 30. As I was coming down stairs Barrie embraced me.

June. 1. Went to see the 1st boat load coals come under the tunnel at Whittle


Apr. 18. Factory burnt down. Barrie went at 12 at night and came back with the account at 2.

Jun. 3. Left for London via Uttoxeter and Steeple Aston.

Exhibition on 12 th. Westminster Abbey and Covent Garden 15th.

Opera  16th. Grosvenor Chapel and Hendon 17th. Vauxhall 18th.

Left via Dedham (18 days). Back via Thrapston, Wingersworth (5 days)

Via Manchester, arrived home 18 July.

Sep. 25. Duke of Gloster and Prince William at Preston

Sept. 26. Expected Ld. St. Vincent but he did not come.

Oct. 3. My Barrie got his appointment to the Brilliant frigate.


Jul. 3. Steam engine (in mill) worked for the 1st time.


May 12. Made 3 gallons cowslip wine.

May 20. Dreadful fire at the Copper-Plate Works.

July 15-17. After at that (Preston) Races.


Apr. 16. Whitewashers came for outside.

May 9. Took a drive with the new coach.

Dec. 23. Got a fall. Bled with leeches in the evening.


Nov. 16. Frances and William went to a ball at Mr. Horrocks.


Apr 14. William and myself at the play, Haunted Tower Miss Fearon good Singer.

Jul. 12. Went to the play, School for Reform, house full.

Sep. 9. Got to Dedham for tea.

Sep. 14. Mr Constable dined and tea.

Sep. 16, 18, 19, 20. Mr. Constable all day painting.


Nov. 13. Stormy all this week. Ships wrecked about the Ribble.


June 29. Heard Barrie had taken an American East Indianer.

Nov. 4. Letter from Miss Smyth with an account of the death of my last sister Agnes.

Nov. 7. Arrived at Dedham. Awful! Sad, but what the Almighty wills is right.


Apr. 11. Glorious News! Peace with France!


Jun. 25. My husband 71 years old.

Aug. 20. Frances taken ill about 12 at night.

Aug. 22. Frances nicely.

Dec. 21. Grand dinner given to Barrie by the Preston Gents. . To Barrie !!!


Jan.1. Our good old servant Mary Wilkinson dyed aged 77

Aug. 3. Barrie disclosed to me his intention respecting marriage.

Nov. 28. Heard Barrie being married to Miss Julia Ingleby on Thursday

Though there is much of interest in succeeding volumes we will move on to when, on 13th June, appeared the first entry indicating Dolly’s decline “spasm noon and in the night.” Subsequent entries include:

 Jun. 14. Felt relieved from painful spasm.

 Jul. 31. Had a slight touch of spasm in the afternoon.

 Aug. 22. Felt gums and teeth painful at night.

 Nov. 16.  Spasm for about an hour in the morning.


Mar. 17. I did not go to church, feeling very stout.

Apr. 8. Bad coughing night.

May. 24. My legs very much swelled.

June. 1. No decrease in swelling of my legs.

June. 4. Swelling the same.

Jun. 8. I continue much the same.

Jun. 22. I do not get reduced in size. Am an infirm poor creature.

Jun. 29. Mr Whallan called. Punctured my legs and thighs.

July. 2. Mr. Bradshaw and Mr. Wallan called. Punctured my legs.

July. 4. Mr Whallan called again. Punctured my swelled legs.

July. 6. Mr. Whallan called and seemed pleased to think me better which, be thanked’, I think I am a little.

Mr. Whallan called on July 10, 12, and 14th. On 15th July came Dolly’s final entry:

 “My William came in the evening.” She was staying with her son. Sir Robert Barrie, when She died on 27 July 1833 and the following obituary appeared in Preston Chronicle of 3 Aug. 1833:

At Swarthdale House, near Lancaster, in the 82nd year of her age, Dolly, relict of the late George Clayton, Esq., of Lostock-Hall in the county, and sister of the Admiral Lord Gardner. By her family and connections her loss is most deeply lamented, and her memory will long cherished with affectionate esteem by a very numerous acquaintance, to whom she was endeared by a most kind cheerful andfriendly disposition, which adorned the career of a long and well-spent Christian life.

Notes: the 38 volumes of diaries and accounts are at Lancashire Archives, reference DDX 510/1-38; more on Sir Robert Barrie

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