Celia Fiennes (1662 – 1741)

Now thus much without vanity may be asserted of the subject, that if all persons, both Ladies, much more Gentlemen, would spend some of their tyme in Journeys to visit their native Land, and be curious to Inform themselves and make observations of the pleasant prospects, good buildings, different produces and manufactures of each place, with the variety of sports and recreations they are adapt to, would be a souveraign remedy to cure or preserve ffrom these Epidemick diseases of vapours, should I add Laziness? – it would also fform such an Idea of England, add much to its Glory and Esteem in our minds and cure the evil Itch of overvalueing fforeign parts..

Part of John Ogilby's road map of Britain c. 1670

Part of John Ogilby’s road map of Britain c. 1670

Thus the opening of Celia Fiennes’ collection of her travel journeys which, she says, she never meant to be read.  Celia is not an important historical personage; so far as we know she had little effect on her contemporaries, was not widely read until 150 years after her death and was not a ‘great’ writer.  She owned some land with a salt mine on it.  She left some baubles in her will.  She has only just found her way into the Dictionary of National Biography (2004).  For social historians, however, her journals are a gold mine.

Celia stands out for her brilliance of observation, her unaffected vocal style, her opinionated views and her sheer chutzpah in riding, over more than two decades, through every county in England when few men would have embarked on such a feat.  Maybe there is something in the Fiennes genes.

She was the daughter of one of Cromwell’s colonels: Whiggish, non-conformist, all for the new and down with the old.  She breezes through towns, villages, great houses; pours scorn on idlers and nature, loves neat, tidy streets and gardens – and good beer; no highwayman, rutted track, ill-mannered wifey or injury puts her much out of countenance.  Where her contemporary, Daniel Defoe, is on a mission to watch for signs of revolution, Celia travels for pleasure and for her constitution.  She and Egeria would have got on splendidly.

My Great Journey… 1698: Along the Border to Newcastle

Just at my Entrance into Northumberland I ascended a very steep hill of wch there are many, but one about 2 mile forward was Exceeding steep, full of great Rocks and stone -some of it along on a Row (the remainder of the Picts walls or ffortification) at ye bottom of wch was an old Castle the walls and towers of which was mostly Standing. Its a sort of Black moorish ground and so wet I observ’d as my Man Rode up that sort of precipice or steep his horses heeles Cast up water every step, and their feete Cut deepe in, Even quite up to ye top. Such up and down hills and sort of boggy ground it was and ye night Drawing fast on, ye miles so Long, that I tooke a guide to direct me to avoid those ill places. This Hartwhistle is a Little town, there was one Inn but they had noe hay nor would get none, and when my servants had got some Else where they were angry and would not Entertaine me, so I was forced to take up in a poor Cottage wch was open to ye Thatch and no partitions but hurdles plaistered. Indeed ye Loft as they Called it wch was over the other roomes was shelter’d but wth a hurdle; here I was fforced to take up my abode and ye Landlady brought me out her best sheetes wch serv’d to secure my own sheetes from her dirty blanckets, and Indeed I had her fine sheete to spread over ye top of the Clothes; but noe sleepe Could I get, they burning turff and their Chimneys are sort of fflews or open tunnills, yt ye smoake does annoy the roomes. This Country all about is full of this Coale, ye sulpher of it taints ye aire and it smells strongly to strangers,-upon a high hill 2 mile from NewCastle I could see all about the Country wch was full of Coale pitts.

New-Castle Lies in a bottom very Low, it appears from this hill a greate fflatt. I saw all by the river Tyne wch runns along to Tinmouth 5 or 6 miles off, wch Could see very plaine and ye Scheld wch is the key or ffort at the mouth of ye river wch disembogues itself into ye sea; all this was in view on this high hill wch I descended-5 mile more, in all nine from that place.  NewCastle is a town and County of itself standing part in Northumberland part in ye Bishoprick of Durham, the river Tyne being ye division. Its a noble town tho’ in a bottom, it most resembles London of any place in England, its buildings Lofty and Large, of brick mostly or stone. The streetes are very broad and handsome and very well pitch’d, and many of them wth very ffine Cunduits of water in Each allwayes running into a Large stone Cistern for Every bodyes use. There is one great streete where in ye Market Crosse, there was one great Cunduit with two spouts wch falls into a Large ffountaine paved wth stone which held at Least 2 or 3 hodsheads for the inhabitants. There are 4 gates wch are all Double gates with a sort of Bridge between Each. The west gate wch I entred I came by a Large building of bricke within bricke walls, which is the hall for the assizes and sessions for the shire of Northumberland. This is NewCastle on ye Tyne and is a town and County. There is a noble Building in the middle of the town all of stone for an Exchange on stone pillars severall rows. On the top is a building of a very Large hall for the judges to keep the assizes for the town; there is another roome for ye Major and Councill and another for the jury out of the Large roome wch is the hall, and opens into a Balcony wch Looks. out on ye River and ye Key. Its a Lofty good building of stone, very uniforme on all sides wth stone pillars in the ffronts both to the streete and market place and to the waterside. There is a ffine Clock on the top just as ye Royal Exchange has. The Key is a very ffine place and Lookes itself Like an Exchange being very broad and soe full of merchants walking to and againe, and it runs off a great Length wth a great many steps down to ye water for the Conveniency of Landing or boateing their goods, and is full of Cellars or ware houses. Ye harbour is full of shipps but none that is above 2 or 300 tun Can Come up quite to the Key: its a town of greate trade.

There was a Castle in this town but now there is noe remaines of it but some of ye walls wch are built up in houses and soe only appears as a great hill or ascent, wch in some places is 30 or 40 steps advance to the streetes that are built on ye higher ground where the Castle was.

Monument to Celia Fiennes on No Man's heath, Cheshire

Monument to Celia Fiennes on No Man’s heath, Cheshire


The journeys of Celia Fiennes

Before 1682-1696: Early journeys in the South
1697: The Northern Journey and the Tour of Kent
1698: My Great Journey to Newcastle and to Cornwall
1701-1712: London and the later Journeys


Chrsitopher Morris (Ed) 1982 The illustrated Journesys of Celia Fiennes
Online: http://www.visionofbritain.org.uk/text/contents_page.jsp?t_id=Fiennes