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What is a diary as a rule?

A document useful to the person who keeps it.

Dull to the contemporary who reads it…

…and invaluable to the student, centuries afterwards, who treasures it.

Walter Scott

I keep a diary

I like to store memories on paper, for later. Mundane daily life or exciting events.


My motivation?

Everything can be interesting when viewed later, from the future, even my own humdrum life.

I'm inspired by Mass-Observation, the diaries of Alan Bennet, the writings of Simon Garfield, the passionate call-to arms in Irving Finkel's video (see below).


I recently (December 2023) decided that I need a way of finding old entries/events/facts etc. and I'm starting an Index…. more later…

Alan Bennet

  • Writing Home
  • Keeping on Keeping on
  • House Arrest

Simon Garfield

  • Wartime Mass-Observation diary collections
  • The diary of Jean Lucey Pratt A Notable Woman. She was one of the Mass Observation diarists in the Wartime collections above (anonymised as “Maggie Joy Blunt”), but she also kept a separate diary covering her whole life, starting in 1925 aged 15 until she died in 1986.

The Great Diary Project

The wonderful Irving Finkel mini lecture on You Tube Rescuing unwanted diaries! gives a feel of why I think capturing everyday life, in ordinary peoples' diaries, is important.

The result of Irving's discovery of the importance of diaries is the Great Diary Project


The American Diary Project

There is a similar project in the USA The American Diary Project.

Anne Lister

Now well known after the BBC dramatization as “Gentleman Jack” - Anne Lister lived in the 18th Century, was a land-owning woman (unusual) and most famously, gay.

Her diaries were written partly in a “secret” code, to hide the more personal aspects.

They were researched and sections published in 2 volumes by Helena Whitbread.


I've read the first volume, and it's a fascinating insight into life in the 1820s - leaving aside the sexual aspects - just the practicalities of life, the leeches and quack medical treatments. The amount of walking needed to get anywhere, the poor diets (even for the wealthy). The physical discomfort tolerated (even by the wealthy).

John Gadd

I recently discovered John Gadd and his diary.

He seems to have kept a very similar style of journal to mine - writing daily in one book storing EVERYTHING, writing, photos, tickets, labels…. and a record of his day, his thoughts and only touching on “world news” if it particularly meant something to him.

He called it his “Omnium Gatherum”.

He died aged 90 on 2020, after keeping his diary consistently since 1947, really settling on its eventual format in the early 1970s. His diary was a memory-aid, as is mine, but of course it also captures lots of other things, mundane at the time but over a lifetime the mundane becomes the historical, and illustrate how life changes.

I'd love to see the books and look through the pages, and see how he indexed everything to make it searchable and to find anything within a few minutes.

My Diaries

Some pics:

Further Reading

On Indexing


public/musings/diaries.txt · Last modified: 02/07/24 15:42 BST by john