A diary recording the experiences of a York woman during the Napoleonic Wars has been published, nearly 30 years after it was ‘accidentally’ discovered.

Jane Ewbank, who was born in 1778, was the daughter of George Ewbank, a well-known druggist and banker in York, who lived and had his shop on Castlegate in the City Centre. She died at the young age of 46 in 1824.

Her diary, originally written in Jane's spidery italic handwriting and now published in digital form, covers the years 1803 - 1805 (when Britain was at war with Napoleon's France) and records daily details of Jane's active social life as a well-to-do York woman of the day.

She travels in the Lake District and North Yorkshire, makes regular visits to plays at York Theatre Royal and concerts in the Assembly Rooms, attends lectures on science, and even undertakes charitable activities - not always with great success.

York Press: A page from Jane Ewbank's diaryA page from Jane Ewbank's diary (Image: University of York)

The diary - discovered accidentally in the National Library of Scotland in the 1990s by Dr Jane Rendall, a former member of the Department of History at the University of York who is now associated with the university's Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies - stands as a 'unique illustration of what life was like in York for a woman during the 1800s'.

It is the focus of a three-day conference - Science, Gender and Sociability in a Northern City c. 1775-1820 - starting at the university today and running until Saturday.

Dr Rendall said: “I found the diary of Jane Ewbank in the 1990s totally by chance when I was working on women writers in eighteenth-century Scotland.

"When I read it, I was totally fascinated, because I realised how much light it threw on the life of a York woman from this time in history.

York Press: View of the York Mansion House looking down Coney Street in Georgian times. Image: York Architectural and York Archaeological Society (YAYAs) Evelyn CollectionView of the York Mansion House looking down Coney Street in Georgian times. Image: York Architectural and York Archaeological Society (YAYAs) Evelyn Collection (Image: York Architectural and York Archaeological Society (YAYAs) Evelyn Collection)

“Over the years, I have passed it to several students writing theses on York women's history.

"I had always hoped to publish the diary, so I am thrilled that it is now widely available for others to read and enjoy and for the diary to be the focus of a conference.”

The conference - also open to members of the public - brings together scholars in women’s history, the history of science, literature, theatrical performance, music and historical archaeology from across the UK and the US, to contextualise and analyse the diary.

Co-organised by Dr Rendall, on behalf of the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies, which is based at King’s Manor in the centre of York, speakers will include a historical archaeologist of York, historians of science, literary specialists, and historians of eighteenth-century theatre and music.

The conference, ‘Science, Gender and Sociability in a Northern City c. 1775-1820’, runs from June 8-10, and is also supported by the Modern Humanities Research Association, the British Society for the History of Science, the Yorkshire Philosophical Society and the York Georgian Society.

Jane's digital diary can be downloaded at york.ac.uk/media/eighteenth-century/Diary-of-Jane-Ewbank.pdf


September 9th, 1803, Lake District:  "Rose early in the morning and set off in company with Mr & Mrs Carus Wilson and my mother for Ambleside. Was much delighted with the road from Casterton to Kendal, the distant mountains very grand... We breakfasted at Kendal with Mrs Scales, found my old acquaintance Agnes Scales looking very well and blooming. At twelve o'clock we again set forward on our journey and soon came to one of the wildest scenes imaginable, moors and rocks of the most fantastic forms (and)  scenes so wild, that save the turn pike road, no vestige appeared that man had ever been there."

January 3, 1804, York: "It was proposed by Mrs Cappe that we should by an advertisement or hand bill call upon the Volunteer privates (soldiers) themselves to come to the Merchant Taylor's Hall & give in their names as many as would accept of flannel clothing, it being thought that many of the men would gladly avail themselves of the Ladies' offer had it been fairly explained to them and had they not been misled by their officers. This proposal was overruled by Mrs Dalton, who thought that after having written to the Officers we could not take the affair out of their hands and refer it to their men, without seeming to encourage insubordination, and that should any riotous conduct ensue (of which she appear'd very apprehensive) it would be entirely laid to the Ladies."

January 7, 1804, York: "Another meeting. I wrote letters to the three Captains, Ellin, Tweedy and Shaw informing them that shirts and caps for the number of men mentioned in their respective letters, were set apart for their use, which was accordingly done, and deposited at the Mansion House.

February 13 1804, Minster Yard: "We went to see a collection of curiosities of sundry kinds at the Sycamore Tree Minster Yard, the only thing much worth notice is a young Crocodile brought alive from Egypt; it appeared very vigorous and lively, tho' the man told us that in a morning it was generally (from want of warmth during the night) so stiff and benumbed that you would almost suppose it dead. The rest of the exhibition consisted of some stuffed birds and animals, among the latter was the Armadillo, some of birds were very pretty."

March 16, York: "Went to the Concert and was enchanted with the singing of Mrs Ashe; I have heard her in London, but was I think more delighted with her here. Here she shone as a single and brilliant star."