Chosen by Gillian Edom, former member of staff
When I was searching for material about the history of Tangmere parish for the Joining up our Heritage project I came across a brief entry in the WSRO catalogue. All it said was Memorandum Book of Thomas Osborn, 1797-1807, but I felt it was worth a look. When I took it out of the archive box I realised I’d struck gold.
Thomas Osborn was a young yeoman living and farming in Tangmere when he wrote his memorandum. He didn’t write a lot and he didn’t write every day, but what he did write reflected the things that were important to him, tell us something about his lifestyle, and also shed light on the social history of that time. Some of it is rather random and I love random!
Most of what Thomas wrote was about his daily farming activities; about his livestock, the crops he grew, the maintenance of his land, the weather, and even how much and often the fields were manured. Every year he recorded the first appearance of the cuckoo, swallow and nightingale. He was a man of few words, but the information contained therein sheds a fascinating light on the farming practices during an earlier era.
Woven through the entries about his farming day and practices were a range of other intriguing nuggets, including the various activities of people he knew, people who died and people who got married. He mentions his own wedding, though it almost seems to be an afterthought, along with the later birth of his daughter.
He seems to have been a man with a variety of things on his mind. For example, the pre-Goodwood racing on the Harroway and the very first Goodwood Races event itself in 1802. Thomas had a close association with the Goodwood Estate and appears to have been in one of the Duke of Richmond’s local militia units, inspected on one or two occasions by the Prince of Wales.
Thomas was an educated and upstanding member of the local community. He was involved in the church and helped with its maintenance, including planting a young yew tree in the churchyard. He paid his tithes and taxes, showed interest in local elections and court matters, was a constable of Lewes Assizes and had a penchant for reading books about explorers and seafarers. At the same time he was a young man with a taste for fashion – with his new silver knee buckles – and loved to party and celebrate. He even mentions a time when he and John Boniface got tipsy together and its rather unfortunate outcome.
It’s difficult to get a complete picture of what a person is like from such a small book, but after reading his memorandum I decided that I rather like Thomas. Could he possibly have guessed that more than two hundred years after he’d written his little book that anyone could be so fascinated by it? I doubt it very much.