Picture of John Byng

John Byng

places mentioned

A Tour of Bedfordshire in 1794: June

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Sunday June 1

'A dripping June brings things in tune'. So should it be for the angler; so should it be for the rider—the driver, and the tourist; else the roads become hard, dusty and uncomfortable.—We are well stationed here, in a good house, with excellent stabling.—and good eating—only the wine to be complain'd of. At Biggleswade we grew tired because we wanted variety; and for a much better wade cause, the slow recovery of Mrs B there—a feel of a cold prevented my going to church (churches are such ice houses) but F went with the family. I did not stir out till one o'clock, and then only about the Castle Hill for we dined early and on excellent pigeon pye.—Received a long letter from John—; who writes good intentions, with cockney spelling.—In the evening I essay'd what is to me a fatiguing pursuit, a ride to no place, and to see nothing: Instead of being amused, my mind then preys upon itself, and upon its enclosure. The country around this place is not a country to elate the mind, or to rouse ideas. Being early at home, I urged Mrs B. to try a walk; but this by disuse, is become a toil, and a torture to her so it was not of long extent.

Gooseberry fool—and the cold pigeon pie soon made their appearance—; and to bed we retire to too soon—as we are not early risers—the news papers come in here at uncertain hours from St. Neots. My paper is left by some of the Biggleswade post boys.

If landlords would now as formerly attend only to their inns it were better for the sojourners; but they are ever abroad as farmers—or when at home—attending to the post horse traffick.

Every morning F and I hunt about the orchard and kitchen garden in quest of rabbets; where we have taken 3 or 4: The gardener—the civilest of mortals—aids our pursuit nor objects to all our dogs, and all our diggings!

Fancy's puppies are reduced to one, and that one, a mongrel, will not last long: About dogs I have acted in my hurrying way and only to encumber myself.—Fancy is the only one I shall retain at present, tho she is too small to follow a horse, and has got an asthmatick complaint.

Wednesday June 4

Long Live the King; and may his power, and good intentions long continue: But alas! I think I see the end of King by Government, and indeed of all rule, approaching!

Hastily and unthinkingly plunged into war—discontent will increase with taxes—and we shall double our stakes like ruin'd gamesters.

The weather is gloomy;—so you perceive are my thoughts—; nor would be mended in St. James's Street by the glare of a birth day.

Mrs B. does not improve in health—; she is feverish, and will not be free from alarms about her son here, her son there and all the others of her family—;—nor can I aid her by hopes, or fancy of comfort.

I took a solitary ride thro St. Neots, a dull place (endeavouring there at executing little errands—the common country work;) then kept the Cambridge road thro a vile, dreary country, with nothing to see, to hear or to amuse:

Surely it would be as beneficial to landlords as of utility to the State, to double the number of their farms—and to treble the number of their cottages—when their lands might be manured and crop'd instead of laying as they do now,—half drained,—half till'd—;—the few people, and the few cattle seem nearly starv'd; an old shepherd is sometimes to be seen: But will any man abide in this misery that can get 10 guineas from a recruiting Serjeant.

I now came to the village of Eltesley—a place so deplorable as I hope to be unmatched in Britain.—Are we to be fighting for the wrong of France? Are we to preserve Holland? Are we to think of nothing but trade—and to brag of our numerous ships? When our land is desolate, our poor oppress'd, and the interior of a country threadbare to furnish a tinsel fringe—an exterior of trade—;—that bane of comfort, that selfish, unfeeling monster;—

To two human male beings—whose nakedness was not concealed by rags, (who held my mare) I gave my loose halfpence—, and never had they possess'd before such treasure! Covering for head, and feet, they had never known! They seem'd to be about 12 or 14 years of age.—Meat, and fuel being unknown, but few children can be rear'd; and who would strive to rear them? The sooner they are starv'd the better? I should wish to lead the owner of this paradise thro his domains that he might exclaim

                                    O, I have ta'en
Too little care of this!
                                    Take physick pomp,
Expose thyself to feel what wretches feel,
That then may'st shake the superflux to them,
And shew the heavens more just.—

I walk'd around the wretched church-yard; near to which are many mounds and foundations—bespeaking that some great buildings had stood upon this ground;—part of one very antient now serves for a barn: of these Leland might speak,

I return'd by Croxton another scene of misery—where is a half built deserted house of a Mr Leeds;36 then thro the hamlet of Weale (Weale from Wood formerly); was glad to re-enter the turnpike road—and to get home by 2 o'clock. Dined at 3; no wine!

Took a dull evening walk upon the London road; when Lo! to add to my gloom, the genl and his lady—in all pomp—approached—on their way to her seat in Lincolnshire! Nothing could disconcert me more; than seeing him—thus lifted up by matrimonial grandeur, just as I am staggering from the perch; and a business so seemingly impossible!

We held civilities upon the road; and again When I could overtake them at the inn—at tea with Mrs B.—:—much labour of fine breeding and a pressure of invitation—hereafter to their mansion.

They re-enter'd their post coach and we call'd for our early supper;—and happy we should be—were but my wife hearty and her husband rich;—her ills arise from too much sensibility—; and my bile springs from my purse. As soon as the happy pair was gone I let loose my opinions with some asperity. 'Why what a farce is hourly play'd? and what palavering civility? Here come our dear friends who so much wish for our society, and our visits into Lincolnshire—;—and then finding us here solitary, disengaged, not to take us with them!' I could not have refused then even if I had not wish'd it.

Of Mrs B[ertie] my lavaterisms,37 determines, that she is vain, weak, proud, cold, and quick temper'd. That she will have her own way, will seek shew, and grandeur, and will not be easily turn'd from her humour. In most points she will run well with her mate, for can they but figure a way, they will be gratified. A phaeton, a new piece of plate, or some new furniture, will occupy their thoughts at the time not dedicated to visitings and other pomps and vanities of this wicked world. But as for quiet, domestic enjoyment, rural felicity, and sober unadorn'd life oh dear heart!—They will think no more of such things than an Arabian of Greenland.—Hurry here, visit there! Now to the sea side; now to another public place;—subscribe to concerts—to Festinos, and the opera—most luckily for their sports, and tempers, they will never have children to thwart their humours or confine their time.—

Without choice of society, and careless of characters, they will maintain acquaintance, leave cards;—visit, and be visited; give dinners at home, and dine at other houses; go regularly to court, have one or two grand routs; and turn out a Genl and Mrs T—d. Commit no harm; transact no virtue; pass in company for good kind of people, enjoy no felicity at home, or in their own society; say little to each other, think less of each other: He never looking back over past years; and both of them in view of honours which may be distant or if arrived would turn their heads.—My old friend will never taste again such happy days as at Weston; such pleasant hours as with Faff and Bob and such cheerful weeks with Byng. He has long been climbing in hope to grandeur, to a post coach, and to pompous espousals: And now they are come!! To my surprise—and almost, I may think to his own.

Whilst I have been studying to get into quiet life and to

Sink to the Grave with unperceiv'd decay
Whilst resignation gently slopes the way,

he has been bustling forward into every importance (inconvenience I call it)—obliged to go there; must dine here; and never wishing to be master of his own time: So he was properly train'd for his matrimonial excursion.—Meeting us at the inn at Eaton—distress'd as I told him, and not taking us with him to his house in the country!—Of fie!!

Would not a man—suppose ye, of such old acquaintance, forced you along with him? Revell'd in his meeting with you? Made his wife sociable with you in an instant?—And not left you behind, (in this short uncertain world) to live in an alehouse, when they were going to their country seat: and where—surely (or my thoughts are wrong) society had been welcome—'To make society the sweeter welcome'—I think fool as I am, that I had wrung my friend's arm off—but he had gone with me: (only a servant girl in the coach)—'Come in Mrs B and F—, nay you shall go with us:—you and I, B, will ride sometimes together, or get into the carriage—if business calls me to town, you shall either go with me or stay with the ladies—but suit that to your Stamp Office in London;'—(I had no business in town, and if I had he had shot his civility; now I return to town from a want of invitation) 'Your first visit will be kind, you will instruct me in matrimony: Of you Mrs Be had heard much—she longs to know my earliest friends in you and Mrs B:—We shall, seemingly, begin the world again in my felicity;—come, Byng, come.'—

Accustom'd to him for 32 years, I certainly, part from him with regret: and tho he obstinately kept his inveterate way, yet there he was, sometimes, for a dinner, an evening lounge, and to talk over past histories.—But, now he is not naturally dead, but translated, like Enoch, never to be heard of more.

Let me expire in the mock cordiality of an inn—left to the discourse—and the mercy of a waiter, and an hostler;—when such are the offsprings of old society, when such are the fruits of long spun intimacies.—.—

The next morning proving warm, and comfortable, urged me to an early rising—and to a pleasant walk beyond the mill by the river side.

I now stirr'd up my thoughts about fishing—and to seek an angling man. But first to the grand business of shoeing my mare: which was not finish'd, and seemingly well, till eleven o'clock—when a Mr D call'd on his way into Staffordshire—F. now urged me to ride,—as he had borrowed an active and safe poney of Mr Ws (Tom bestriding the old grey poney) and we turn'd ourselves towards our old country—to Northill—to Mr H's and to Mr S[mith]'s at Southill—to enquire after their healths—and my daughter B's well being.—The old grey poney fell with T. B. in Broome Field.—

Then to our old home at B, where the servants appear'd glad to see us—and where we dined comfortably.

We return'd early to Eaton; then incessantly does F. sally forth to, and about the Castle Hill, in hope of a rabbet hunt.

The pleasantest walk about this place is that which leads from the mill across the staunches—and some footbridges—over the meadows, to the village of Eynesbury, and some to the adjoining town of St. Neots ; where in the church-yard I took down with some difficulty, this epitaph, cut upon one of the buttresses of the church. It is most curiously engrav'd; and the rhyme is charmingly destroy'd.

Stay Mortal Stay
Depart not from this Tombe
until thou hast pondered
well thy Day of Doome
My Bow stands Bent
If T y Thou Canst
But Se Atmeneing to Shoot
And it May Light on Thee.
Prepare to Walk
In Dust take home this line
The Grave that is opened
next it may be thine.


I here got a larger cage for Mrs B's canary bird; then crawled home by two o'clock. Fancy's last puppy is drown'd. How difficult to get a pleasant and capable dog for travelling; such one as will carry you forward many additional miles in a day? and allways tempting you to a walk, which otherwise you would forego. And this is the grand use of dogs—separately, or collectively. A tarrier will not do—as allways following yours—or your horse's heels; a small spaniel wants strength and limb: A setter will not hunt woods or hedges,—and eats too much.—A dog tax, so much wished, and wanted and yet so improbable, would revive our good breeds.

There was a liver-colour'd, smooth hair'd—long back'd breed of spaniels and now nearly lost: One of these I should like to possess.—

Our dinner was very good; but Mrs B. was too unwell to come down-stairs, tho she was better in the evening. I rode, alone, thro the village of Wroxton, at a foots pace for 2 hours: In the mean time F. had caught alive two young rabbets—which with others that were quickly stolen from the place, he kept in the fine kennels; built for the D. of B's fox hounds, when his Grace should come to hunt this country.—

Now as some people may be so ignorant as not to know what a fox-hound kennel is,—I will explain to them that it consists of various well built buildings of brick, with strong good doors, and well tiled—; that there is a kitchen, boilers, and coppers;—with separate apartments for the female hounds during their accouchments—; that coals and straw are laid in, in great abundance for these hounds—nor is the most regular attendance or any kind of physick wanting for such hounds as are sick: Milk also is supplied in great abundance. This grand building is built close to the church yard; that they may be listened to during divine service.

The dog kennels for these noble animals proudly overtops those miserable mud hovels erected for the sons of Adam; who looking, askance, with eyes of envy at the habitation of these happier hounds, regret their humanity and that they are not born fox hounds.—It is from neglect, and despair that Democracy, that Anarchy, spring, would every landlord prove himself the guardian, the protector of his tenantry, who but would contribute to his sports, and preserve his game?

But when the farmer is over rented, and the pauper finds himself without the habitation,—or assistance given to dogs,—flesh and blood will rebel: No situation can be worse than what they endure; change must be for the best, come uproar, come confusion. 'What is a King or a Parliament to me? Neither gentlemen nor justices, live amongst us. We are all at the mercy of the tythe gatherer, and the overseers'.

Being born, being bred a gentleman I feel I allways was and that I ought to be an aristocrat: but, in good faith, they wont let me continue one.

Those that should protect us, do not; those that should set the examples—expose themselves by mean, and miserable actions!—There are swindlers, high, and low;—and when the low ones are caught—they are punished!—

I will not be alarmed into my homage—; but it shall flow from my observation.—I respect Government;—but let that Government protect, and cherish me; let me not be terrified into submission; but let it arise from conviction; and let me glory in their rectitude.

Let the beams of Royalty shine with warmth, and comfort, let our princes prove bright examples—; may our bishops prove holy and their clergy considerate, and residentiary; let our peers be the preservers of the constitution; and let our commons judge for themselves.—

This may sound like a sermon.—Springing from the subject of a dog-kennell; but the truth is that this would make the best cottage in the village: But whilst the unaided paupers of the country will look at a dog-kennell with envy;—and the starvers of the town are to peep down, without hope upon the blazing displays of cookery—I will say 'Something is rotten in the State of Denmark'.

The middle man is annihilated;—and quickly there will be no step betwixt the Nabob—, and the beggar; vice will not ruin the one; nor can honesty advance the other:—Plunder therefore must be the order of the day. Hope is lost in despair—; and honesty is ingulph'd in misery. A former topic was the honesty and virtue of peasantry; now ask their character—they are all W's and rogues; all without shame, and support.

Hence the few grave men, the many ruin'd men,—and the multitudinous poor—cry out—Reform, Reform.

We treated old Mrs W. to another drive; and what she call'd a day of pleasure: Mrs B. took her in the chaise to Huntingdon.—It was a gay looking day; and the road thither is gay looking. F and I with dogs by their side.

In my way I met Mr B[rown]38 the retreating member from the county, near his house, and held a talk with him:—I will not be brought into Parliament as a locum-tenens, to be turn'd out at the instant.

I next met Ld S[andwich]39 near his old seat at Hinchinbrook, who is now obligated to reside here for a few days under civility to the county for his son's nominate as their member.

Elections are certainly of some use, as giving hope and confidence to the electors, and affording lessons of humility, and civility to a proud lord, and a steeped lordling.

We drove to the Fountain Inn where I survey'd the preparation making for the morrows election of plum pudding, by the bushel—ducks and fowls inumerable, with hams—and pies in great abundance: but no venison! tho we live in Windsor Forest.—From this preparation it was easy to order dinner!

Mrs W. went to see her friends; and I took my walk about the old Castle grounds and over the bridge. Huntingdon is a town I like, as being upon a good river, with good roads on every side; besides it is clean, and well paved, with a constant, chearful thoroughfare; and above all it is devoid of manufactories: for who can reside where upstart arrogance prevails. This passed as a pleasant day of variety; and our ride home was agreeable: Then F. and I take our evening sporting walk; and stay out as long as we can see.

We have now try'd this inn—and change of scenery much to our comfort—and I hope to the advantage of Mrs B's health; the landlord, landlady—waiter, and chambermaid all vye with each other in civility;—but we have stayed long enough—and it becomes time to depart. This day is to be our finishing day; and before I depart I will attempt some angling—which hitherto the cold winds have prevented.

So I procured a rod and line—and try'd long long, near the mill, without a single nibble. What a sweet spot might the Castle ground be made by planting—and making walks—; and then the island with such fine trees thereon beyond the mill pool!

We dined early that the package might be finish'd in due time; the jocke;—the dog; the bird; &c, &c, &c.—

That heavy business finish'd they departed in hopes to get a snatch at our Biggleswade fair. Leaving the gentleman—as usual—to the heavier business of settling the bill: which was much dearer than at our old shop as every cake and custard was charged. I had finish'd all this and was off by past 4 o'clock: Rode thro Northill and to Southill (there held a long conference with Mrs S.) and Return'd to B—at past—o'clock: Meeting many returning from the fair.

Then walk'd with Mrs B and Mr Gale up to the fair; but nothing worth seeing: Tho Mr R[epto]n40 who soon after arrived, found a puppet shew. There was a crowd in our inn, of the Grocers Company, We had an early supper and our old beds.—

Our long sejour here now draws towards a conclusion for after my old ride about Wardon: and Southill and a dinner at Mrs S's (where Mrs B. and Mrs S. held long discourse, urged by me to assuage Mrs B's instability) I at length after our return home—thought upon a scheme of removal—that accorded with Mrs B's wishes; and may tend more then any other project, to strengthen her frame.

This to state to Mrs S. I rode the following morning; and then escorted Miss S. back to our inn, tho a sport I do not admire.— —

At our dinner hour arrived the account of Ld H[owe]'s glorious victory;41 and I also received letters from my two elder sons;42 —a striking contrast, the one all insolence, and ignorance, the other of civility with an account of his being appointed aide du camp to Ld D. This was news, private, and public; that gladden'd my heart; so I sent for the ringers—and order'd them to tear down their steeple—which sounds I listen'd to, in pomp, in pleasure in my evening walk.—Returning by moon-light on the rivers bank; over which the coke furnaces throw a surprising heat and glare and whose flaming chimnies appear with wonderful effect, thro trees. Miss S. rode home with our Jocke T. B.

From a water-colour by the Diarist

We still delay'd another day at B ('a longing lingering look behind') mine was a morning of walking. Mrs B. went to dine at Southill—an evening ride to Potton; and then a calm walk by the river side—till an extraordinary clamour commenced from the church steeple—which was crowded with people who when the bell ringing ceased sang 'God Save the King'—with violent shouting—; and at the end of every song vollies of small arms were discharged from the battlements: All this was arranged by an old serjeant who gave the words of command to fire—to sing: etc.

Mrs B. returned at 9 o'clock; just as the town began to be convulsed by bonfires, crackers, and drunkenness; (F in the midst to be sure) the mob continued shouting 'God Save the King' thro the night; assembling at the inn, and other doors, to collect money to keep up their loyalty.

Any number of people allways harden each other to debauchery—and mischief; and in every well order'd Government should be dispersed: What folly, and unlawful arrogance thus rise abroad, equally spring up in great societies, where the daring—, the ruin'd men—instill poison into the submissive multitude,—that by hurrying on the many to misbelief, mischief, and anarchy, they may steer safely their fire ship of sedition; and as they are become as low in fortune and fame as can be—no upshot but must befit them.—Even their proselytes from pity will support them and the bewilderation of the law protects them. Foolish weak generous land stretching out thy hand to protect others will sink thyself! Thy victories are ruinous—a defeat fatal! To me my country appears just like one of its ruin'd individuals, who deaf to advice—and in debt beyond belief—will not pull up; but plunged in folly doubles its stake—raises money that it cannot pay and will—

Nay it must rouse itself—the whole land were a King's bench else nothing but the guard and the guarded—the mulcted and the mulctor one universal bankruptcy!!

Friday June 13

Our baggage prepared, and piled, and much sent off to London, we took our departure from Biggleswade, after a stay of two months, here and at Eaton.—

First to Southill Parsonage to take up our daughter B. who has so long sojourn'd there; here were to be employ'd a profusion of thanks and compliments:

Then to Well's to return old poney: a like business. (Poney I am glad thou art gone and that F. is safe).

We next crawled on to Hitchin by 2 o'clock; where we dawdled about, and dined; and in a very warm evening came at our leisure to Wellwyn.—


Dinner 6 0
Cyder 1 0
Brandy 1 6
Wine 1 3
Servt. Dinner & Beer 0 10
Horse 0 7
  11 2

Here we were warn'd by the bell man that a general illumination was ordered in honour of Ld Howes glorious victory over the common enemy of Europe.

But what first engaged F's thoughts was hearing of the Players (from this bill) and to this, he and T. B. went, whilst Mrs B and I walk'd in the meadows, till the darkness of the night came on and the illumination of the village was to commence.

When I mark down these performances it may be for here-after recurrence to see if any of them start into higher life. This Mr Crisp Junr. I saw play at Biggleswade with a very promising boyish splash.

I am not averse from the clergy43 enjoying rational pleasures; but I like not to see their names stand foremost in encouraging idle debaucherie, which come not to comfort their parishioners, but only to pick their pockets, and to lead their minds astray44 .—

Than this illumination nothing could be more picturesque, as every window was lighted up; and the glitter from dispersed cottages thro the trees has a pleasing effect; more productive of joy to the stranger than to the poor cottager who being thus mulcted for our glorious success will be left more in the dark than ever. But this illumination terrestrial had not long begun, when the heavens began to dash forth their lightnings; and to bring forward a night of excessive tempest, with an heavy rain (a rain much wanted) that will render travelling delightful.


Tea 0 2 6
Roast Chicken 0 2 6
Peas 0 1 0
Beef Stakes 0 1 0
Bread, Cheese & Beer 0 0 10
Wine 0 1 0
Negus & Brandy 0 1 9
Cakes 0 0 3
Letter 0 0 4
Rushlite 0 0 2
Paper 0 0 6
Servants, Liquor 0 0 6

On the morrow Mrs B with her son, daughter, and equipage pursued their journey into Berkshire whilst I work'd my way to London to encounter, to circumvent many most disagreeable circumstances and to study how to quit town as quickly as possible by striving at a ride into Berkshire.


36 Edward Leeds (1728-1803), master in chancery and sometime Sheriff of Cambridgeshire, M.P. 1784-1787, 'a most impatient, pragmatical mortal'. (D.N.B. )

37 'Lavaterisms', i.e. 'reading of character by the features', from the name of Johann Kasper Lavater (1741-1 801), physiognymist and poet.

38 Launcelot Brown applied for the Chiltern Hundreds in May 1794, and was succeeded as member by George, Viscount Hinchingbrooke (Beaston's Parliamentary Register ). He had only held the seat for four months.

39 Lord Sandwich. The Earl of Sandwich here referred to is John Montagu, fifth Earl, son of the fourth Earl who so strenuously supported the Duke of Bedford in his political campaign and who died in 1792, and was succeeded by his son John. Hinchingbrook House was in the parishes of St. Mary and St. John, Huntingdon. The mansion is a very fine building of stone in the Elizabethan style. The courtyard is entered by a very fine and ancient arched gateway.

40 Humphry Repton, see 'Tour to the North, 1792,' Vol. III. page 1 75 note 6.

41 Lord Howe's famous Naval victory of 1st June, 1794.

42 His eldest son, George (1768-1831), later sixth Viscount. His pranks as a midshipman will be found in The Memoirs of William Hickey . Edmund, the second son (1774-1854), later obtained an appointment in the Colonial Audit Office.

43 Rouse was not the resident clergyman at Welwyn, but there is a record of his having conducted two weddings at Welwyn—December-January 1791-1792. The Rector till 1797 was the Rev. Thomas Bathurst.

44 Edward Young 17301765 the Poet who was also a Playwright, built an Assembly Room which was, no doubt, in existence in Mr. Bathurst's time and it is there where the Play would have been produced. Everyone has his Fault is recorded by Allardyce Nicoll, but with no comment, in his History of Late Eighteenth Century Drama . 1927. p. 217. The Romp is also recorded by Allardyce Nicoll, but with no comment, in his History of Late Eighteenth Century Drama . 1927. pp. 145, 146-148, 151-165.

John Byng, The Torrington Diaries: Containing the tours through England And Wales of the Hon. John Byng (Later Fifth Viscount Torrington) between the years 1781 and 1794 (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1938)

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