William Holland

William Holland was the vicar of Over Stowey from 1779 to 1819. Like many educated people of his time he wrote nearly every day in his diary. Luckily for us some of his diaries have been published so we can read all about his life and the daily goings on in Over Stowey. His son, also William, tells us about life in Over Stowey 200 years ago.

‘My Dad, the Parson’

Hallo, I am William Holland. I was born in 1797, and this is where I live, just by the church, with papa and mama and my big sister Margaret. My papa is also called William. He is the Rector so we live in the Rectory with two servants. It’s nice, with a big garden to play in. My best toys are my drum and my whipping top, but I’m not allowed to play with them on Sundays. I sometimes get lonely and wish my other four brothers and sisters were still alive. They died of scarlet fever before I was born. Margaret says I get lots of attention from papa to make up for it.

Do you know I’ve just been up inside the church tower with papa and Mr Morris to see a cuckoo! Mr Morris found a pair of wagtails looking after this great big baby cuckoo in their little nest. He put the cuckoo into a cage in the tower and goes up there to feed it! Papa says Mr Morris is a silly cuckoo for doing that!

Papa does the services at Over Stowey and Aisholt, and he runs the Sunday School and the choir and looks after the poorhouse. There is a man there who sometimes has fits of madness which is a bit scary but papa says he is one of God’s children and we must do our best for him. He’s trying to get a place for him at the asylum in Bristol.

When people are sick papa goes and visits them, and gets them food or medicine, if he can. But he fears there’s nothing we can do for the poor Davis girl who is ill of consumption and will surely die soon. Mama takes something nice for her every day.

I like helping in the garden. Papa is building new terraces in the garden and has just ordered lots of gravel for some new walks. We’re waiting for the thatcher to come and thatch our barn. We grow lots of vegetables, peas, carrots, beans, potatoes, cucumbers, celery and last year papa made 2 hogsheads of cider from our apples.

We have a cow, two pigs and our great horse. We use our great horse for long journeys, and people are always wanting to borrow him. For short journeys papa walks, with his greatcoat, umbrella and beaver hat against the weather.

Papa jokes he’s as much a farmer as a vicar – the villagers are supposed to give us a tenth part of their crops or animals every year, and, just like everyone else, we have hay to cut (one year our hay rick caught fire!), barley to be taken to the Maltsters, wheat to thresh and take to the mill, a pig or two to fatten and slaughter every year, bacon to smoke in the brewhouse chimney.

Papa doesn’t always collect his tithes as he knows that times are hard – there have been bad harvests, and it has rained on the barley, the price of corn has gone up and bread is scarce. He worries about the poor, sometimes there is no one else to help them. Last Christmas we gave a meal to 25 villagers.

Papa does like his food, and is growing rather stout. Mama says that is why he’s got gout and indigestion which sometimes makes him grumpy. His favourites are woodcock, goose, eels and snipe. When the fish woman calls round we buy eel, soles and shrimps and sometimes we get salmon from Bridgwater. He’s allowed to ride with the hunt on the common, but he doesn’t bother very often. He says there aren’t as many stags here on the Quantocks as there are on Exmoor.

I am doing very well with my lessons. There is a new school in Stowey that anyone at all can go to, but papa says ‘it is as a very improper thing to mix Gentlemen’s children with all kinds’ as they will pick up vulgar, common ways. So I go to Mr Jenkins’s school. When I’m older I will board at Charterhouse school and then I’ll go to Oxford. I expect I’ll be a vicar as well when I am grown up.

What I don’t like are my music lessons, neither does Margaret. She is supposed to practise on Mama’s harpsichord but she doesn’t.

Margaret went to a Grand Ball at Crowcombe for young Carew’s 21st birthday. The dancing went on till 6 in the morning! They roasted a whole ox! There was feasting, entertainment and races: The men had to run in flour sacks. The girls ran races to win ribbons and the old women raced for snuff and tobacco. I wish I could have gone.

Papa says it’s important to read as much as possible to find out what’s going on in the world, especially the war with Napoleon. He goes to Mr Tom Poole’s Book Society in Nether Stowey. Last time he spent a whole pound on books. Mr Poole spent £7! They discuss politics, religion and philosophy. Papa doesn’t agree with a lot of Tom Poole’s ideas, and he certainly doesn’t like his friend Mr Coleridge. I heard him tell mama that Mrs Coleridge was a frisky democratic hoyden married to a libertine. I don’t know what any of that means but mama was quite shocked!

One of our friends is Mr Crosse, of Fyne Court, Broomfield. Papa says he is ‘a mathematical genius’ and they talk about astronomy and all things new. He gets up at 6am goes to bed at 6 pm. Papa says he should go and live on the top of Dowsborough hill in a little hut with an observatory to see the stars.

It’s time for me to stop, but there’s lots more to tell you. So it’s a good job that my father writes everything down in his journal. It’s been published and is called ‘Paupers and Pig Killers’. Why don’t you read it? There’s even something in there about me!