John Byng, 5th Viscount Torrington (18 February 1743 – 8 January 1813), styled Hon. John Byng until 1812, was one of the most notable of English eighteenth-century diarists. His fifteen extant diaries cover the years 1781–1794, describing his travels on horseback in England and Wales during the summers of twelve of those years.
Below is an extract from Byng’s diary, describing his visit to Lincolnshire in 1791.
“Vile and Shabby,” says Diarist
Skegness was, according to the then Lord Torrington in his diary, “nothing to write home about.”
Under date of July 6th, 1791, his lordship describes a visit to Boston, and from thence (in company with the “Colonel”), a ride on horseback to Sibsey, thence to Stickney, West Keal, East Keal, and on to Spilsby, where they stayed the night.
“The following morning (says the diarist). I was awakened by the barkings and fightings of dogs upon the Market Place, such nuisance and noise is intolerable: one dog can disturb a whole town. Oh, for a Dog Tax! And yet its first unpopularity will prevent what everyone wishes.”
Apparently the temper invoked by the barking and fighting of dogs at Spilsby soured his Lordship’s temper for the rest of the day, as he has very little good to say about anywhere or anything in the course of that day’s ride. The diary continues:
“We next came to Burgh, a small market town, with a Church upon an eminence above the marshes, which must be a sea mark. From situation this place resembles (in miniature) the town of Rye in Sussex. The flat is not disagreeable (at this season), being with cattle and besprinkled by cottages; many Churches in sight, to the left, upon the coast, that of Winthorpe, and to our right, in the marshes, the little low Church of Skegness, which the Colonel aptly compared to a cradle.
“Our ride was now over the sands (with a distant view of the Norfolk coast) to Skegness Inn, a vile, shabby bathing place. Here, when arrived, much was our trouble: and the Colonel, with much difficulty prevailed upon the old hostess to allow us to enter a mean parlour, below, and to have some foodtherein.
“A walk upon the sea-sand, and to sniff up the wholesome breeze till we thought we might return to our landlady’s bar room, where he had some miserable smelts and some raw, rank cold beef put before us. The wretched house was filled with strange company; but society is a pleasure; at least, the ladies, old and young, love company and absence from home. Here, indeed, the misses may ripen from the speaking of the maids, hauled about by the postillions.
“There is no garden, no walk, no billiards room nor anything, for comfort or temptation. If a good house were built here, with a clever landlord, it would draw much company and answer well.
“Our starvation was great. Close to us sat mother-notable, in all filth, shelling beans and making tarts. If we had intended a night stop here, we had been undone, for every bed was engaged, and no abode nearer than Spilsby; for no ale-house at Burgh was fit for a Bag Man. From all these miseries and a kitchen stinking of strong mutton and a roasting hog, we hurry’d away. I stopped in the marshes to take this sketch of the miserable little Church at Skegness, and then overtook Colonel B. at Burgh.
A MELANCHOLY PLACE
“My mare is so hot, when following, that G. is obliged to go first. The Colonel, anxious to see what any of his relatives have or do, and where they live desired that we might turn out of our road of return to Gunby Hall; an ancient, seat of the very old family of the Massingberds, but now rented by Sir P. Burrell for a shooting seat. This house, though well placed and with wood in view (of which much spoil has been made) is a most melancholy place. Suicide in every room.
“And if I did come to sport over my 21 Manors, I would add some neat rooms to a farmhouse of my own; or build a neat cottage – on some pleasant spot. Here we left our names.
“Hence Colonel B. wished to go to Willoughby village, the first title of his family. So first to Welton, and then by Willoughby Wood (swarming with game) to Willoughby, a large village and an excellent living; where the Rector D. has lately built a good parsonage.
SHELTER AT A FARM
“In the Church, much out of repair, which we entered, there is one old carved gravestone in the middle aisle (Adam de Bertie, perhaps), the sight of which delighted the Colonel more than an advancing storm did me. I advised stopping at the Six Bells ale-house, but was over-ruled. However a mile I said, ‘I would fly for shelter to a farmhouse; follow me’; and so they did. It proved my weather wisdom, for the storm fell, just as we reached the farmer’s stable. The farmer came to us in very civil fashion.
“Herein we stayed for three-quarters of an hour (discoursing about husbandry, oxen, etc.), till the sky cleared up, when we resumed our road to Claxby.”
Source: Skegness Standard 18th August 1943