A diary revealing what life was like for a York woman in the early 1800s has been published - nearly 30 years after it was ‘accidentally’ discovered.

Jane Ewbank, 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 aged just 46 in 1824.

The diary, published in digital form, consists of around 34,000 words recorded between 1803 and 1805, including details of Jane's life in York and her travels in the Lake District and North Yorkshire. It details a keen interest in science, theatre, concerts, and the natural world of the time.

The diary has been compared to the writings of Jane Austen, which were also set against the background of daily life during the Georgian era, albeit focusing on the gentry.

The York diary was discovered accidentally in the National Library of Scotland by Dr Jane Rendall, a former member of the Department of History at the University of York, now associated with the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies.

The diary, which has also been the focus of an academic conference, demonstrates that Jane had an active social life, frequently attending plays at York Theatre Royal, concerts in the Assembly Rooms and many lectures on science.

It stands as a unique illustration of what life was like in York for a woman during the Napoleonic Wars.

York Press: The home of Jane Ewbank, born in 1778, in Castlegate, YorkThe home of Jane Ewbank, born in 1778, in Castlegate, York

Whimsical entries, published as they were written, include: "Before breakfast, I sauntered out with Mr Wilson, we went thro' the village & turn'd up by some little bye paths, every step we took seem'd to present us with new and charming prospects."

While, elsewhere, Jane is not impressed by a visit to an opera: "Went to the Play. It was the Wife of two Husbands. This is a species of Play somewhat new, at least to me; being a serious English Opera. The plot is really interesting, & on that account one is but the more shocked at the monstrous absurdity of the singing..."


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.

“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.”

A conference brought 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.

York Press: A diary has shed light on the life of York woman Jane Ewbank, born in 1778. Picture: SWNSA diary has shed light on the life of York woman Jane Ewbank, born in 1778. Picture: SWNS

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 included 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’, supported by the University of York, ended on June 10, and was 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 Austen was an English novelist known primarily for her six major novels, which interpret, critique, and comment upon the British landed gentry at the end of the 18th century.