Katherine Bayly and her daughters: Dublin 1753-1772

Ciarán Wallace, Deputy Director, Beyond 2022.

A fascinating collection of domestic accounts books accidentally made their way onto the shelves of the Record Treasury (Fifth floor, Bay E, to be precise – overlooking the inner courtyard of the Four Courts). They were the work of Katherine Bayly (née Morley), widow of John Bayly, Deputy Clerk of the Pells who died in 1753, ‘after a tedious indisposition’, according to his death notice in the Dublin Gazette. As an official in the Irish Treasury we presume that John had some ability to record financial transactions, but we know for certain that Katherine had. In nine volumes she itemises her household spending between 1721 and 1775, but in the years after her husband’s death her entries become so descriptive that they paint a colourful picture of life the social, domestic and commercial lives of women in Dublin.

The diaries were all lost in the destruction of the Public Record Office in 1922, but through the efforts of Henry F. Berry (later Henry F. Twiss – but that’s another story), an official in the Public Record Office of Ireland, we have an engaging account of their contents. In 1898, he published ‘Notes from the Diary of a Dublin Lady in the Reign of George II’ in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland. His article concentrates on the period after John Bayly’s death, when Katherine was an independent woman of reasonable means with five daughters and a son to raise and a respectable household to manage. In this short piece I will look at women’s lives as reflected in the diaries, in a separate entry I will discuss what Katherine tells us about retail commerce in Dublin at the time.

An Exact Survey of the City and Suburbs of Dublin (1756), by John Rocque, showing Peter Street and environs.

An Exact Survey of the City and Suburbs of Dublin (1756), by John Rocque,
showing Peter Street and environs.

Ever the careful manager, Katherine recorded the operational costs of running the home on Peter Street. Along with her neighbours, she paid her share for paving the street outside her house. Paying her hearth money, a residential property tax based on the number of fireplaces in each house, she reduced the fee to seven hearths by closing off the back-kitchen chimney. Orders for wine and the storage arrangements in her cellar are all noted down, ‘the left hand bin, the oldest claret, 18 quarts; white wine in pints to the front, red, black, and green seals; bottled ale next; and Mr. Hartley’s clarets at the back, in pints and quarts. Middle bin : in the corner, Mr. Tew’s claret, 3 dozen quarts and 4 dozen pints; hock, white wine, meath [mead], currant wine, and on the floor cider, and four bottles of “my son’s champagne”.’

Hiring and firing household staff was a constant concern, Katherine dismissed maids for drinking too much or for having a ‘saucy tongue’. However, trusted servants became part of the permanent household. One long-standing servant was Phil Connolly, a faithful retainer who died in 1756. Arrangements for his funeral were handled with care and attention. Katherine records payments to the doctor, to Connolly’s wife for candles, sheets and other necessities for the wake, and to the coffin bearers.

The Bayly household got their news from a female news vendor, Katherine paying 2s. 2d. per quarter in advance for newspaper delivery. All the regular maintenance tasks, from chimney sweeping and roof repairs to gardening and new wainscoting, appear in her accounts. Frequently, she gives the name of the shopkeeper or tradesman or woman, but it is her habit of recording their shop-signs that really brings the streets of the city to life. In this way we learn that Mrs Beasly sold poplin at the ‘sign of the salmon’ on Francis Street, and the wonderfully named Mrs Swindle was the proprietor of ‘The Old Sot’s Hole’ just by the Custom House at the bridge (the junction of Capel Street Bridge and Wellington Quay today).

To educate her children Katherine subscribed to journals (The Parents’ Weekly Present to His Children for 2d per week) and purchased books such as Harvey’s Meditations and Contemplations and Bisse’s Beauty of Holiness in the Common Prayer. She hired Mr Haskins to teach her five girls to write, ‘I am to give a guinea a quarter for the three biggest girls, and what I please for the other two, say – a crown a quarter more for them’. Dancing classes, singing and lessons on the spinet were also part of the domestic curriculum. Of course a young woman had to know about accounts too, in May 1754 Miss Elizabeth Bayly’s mathematical skills were ‘perfect as far as the rule of subtraction’.

Margaret (Peg) Woffington, Jean-Baptiste van Loo (1738)

Margaret (Peg) Woffington, Jean-Baptiste van Loo (1738)

But life in Peter Street was not all lessons and religious tracts, Katherine and her daughters took full advantage Dublin’s social life. At the Smock Alley Theatre they saw Peg Woffington play Hermione in ‘The Distressed Mother’ and attended historical plays and farces at the ‘New Theatre’ on Crow Street. Mrs Bayly and her daughters were to be seen at fashionable assemblies and gatherings, occasionally involving losses at cards, all of which are carefully recorded. Mixing social obligation and entertainment they enjoyed a charity performance of ‘Messiah’ at the Round Church (on the site of the present Andrew Street church), and a benefit performance of Shakespeare’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’. The entrance fee to Mosse’s Pleasure Gardens helped support the Rotunda Lying-In Hospital, but it also allowed visitors to see the nobility at play. Katherine’s accounts record seeing the Marquis of Hartington, and the Duke and Duchess of Bedford here.

Other social obligations were more strategic, and thus involved greater expense.  Miss Nancy Bayly’s coming-out at Dublin Castle meant a visit from the hairdresser, he received 2s. 2d. for ‘cutting and dressing her hair the French way the day Mrs. Waite was to present her to the Duchess of Dorset’. Nancy had been trying out some styles of her own it seems, an earlier entry lists 8d. for ‘Curling tongs, bought by Nancy in Hell’ – referring to the small alley of that infernal name just by Christ Church Cathedral. But the younger Bayly women were familiar with the Castle, they went with their mother or other chaperones to balls and festivities there, the cost of each trip in a coach or sedan chair being put down in the account book. A family friend, Mrs Lucy Waite, was the house-keeper and wardrobe-keeper at the Castle. This well-paid role was held by ladies of good standing and presumably gave valuable social leverage to the woman concerned.

Katherine was careful to maintain such important relationships. After numerous social visits to the home of James Grattan, King’s Counsel and Chief Recorder of Dublin, she diplomatically sent a gift of silverware to his daughter, as Grattan himself would ‘never take anything, when applied to, on account of the children’s affairs’. Even after Nancy was married, Katherine supported her efforts at social networking. She gave her a guinea towards an entertainment she was hosting for members of the Earl of Milltown’s family.

As a widow of means, Katherine was part of the private world of female financing. In 1754 she advertised the sum of £2,500 ‘to be lent on good security’ (approximately €400,000 today) through the pages of Faulkner’s Dublin Journal. Elsewhere she records paying for the hire of a sedan chair to go to the Treasury in Dublin Castle with £200 cash to invest in 5% debentures, excusing the expense by noting ‘Walked home, but the money was so heavy I could not walk going’. While she may have opted not to carry the coin on foot to the Treasury, Katherine successfully carried all her responsibilities, familial, social and financial, until her death in May 1775.

Katherine Bayly’s story was initially hidden in the PROI under the archival description ‘A collection of papers connected with Mr. John Bayly, who was an agent for military purposes, c. 1724-52.’ Over a century after she died, through the care and attention of the archivist Henry Berry, Katherine’s identity, and the value of her diary as a source for social history, were revealed.

Further reading:

H.F. Berry, ‘Notes from the Diary of a Dublin Lady in the Reign of George II

The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Fifth Series, Vol. 8, No. 2
(Jun. 30, 1898), pp. 141-154

H. F. Berry, ‘Diary of a Dublin Lady in the Reign of George II’ The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Sixth Series, Vol. 5, No. 4 (Dec. 31, 1915), pp. 314-315