Published by Wigan Archives – 20th October 2016
“When I first discovered Miss Weeton’s writings in Edward Hall’s two volume tome Miss Weeton’s Journal of a Governess (reprinted by David and Charles) some 40 years ago, never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined that I would be the person responsible for bringing new knowledge of Miss Weeton’s fascinating life to the public 80 years after it was first published by Oxford University Press. Books by men about men abound, as do books about women by women. But a book about a woman by a man is more unusual. The truth is that it would have made no difference to me whether the person was a man or a woman, the driving force would have been the same: I could not resist the captivating early 19th century prose of someone who was largely self-taught and who was never part of society’s privileged class.
“Miss Weeton was an ordinary woman who was highly gifted. She learned the complete alphabet in three hours at little more than the age of two and her favourite toys were chalk, slate and quill. She was a voracious reader who seemed to have access to a bottomless pit of appropriate adjectives to describe people and events. Every word she used meant just what she wanted it to mean, nothing more and nothing less.
“As I trawled through her writings, I became increasingly uneasy and even shocked by the scale of injustice against women in Georgian England, especially so in the event of a failed marriage. The law of the land ensured that in such cases a woman had no more access to justice than a dog. As a devout Christian Miss Weeton’s life was affected by church teaching which itself was far from immune from prejudice and injustice towards women. She lived at a time of much Protestant denominational conflict and schism and had much to say about the foibles of certain clergymen. She was especially disdainful of self-righteous local politicians and clergymen, who she considered haughty, pompous, or arrogant. As far back as 1810 Miss Weeton wrote an essay, in which she believed a time would come when ‘as men rise in knowledge’ and become ‘truly enlightened’ then respect for the female mind will bring with it equality of opportunity.
“Miss Weeton had a penchant for excitement and adventure, and rivetingly describes her high-risk ‘outside’ stagecoach journey to and from London, and her walking and climbing excursions around the Isle-of-Man and North Wales. Her lone ascents of both Snaefell and Snowdon, supported only by slippery-soled leather shoes remain amazing feats of endurance.
“As I walked where she walked in Dean Wood, Up Holland, where she spent many hours of her childhood, and listened to the ‘rustling leaves’ she heard, and as I stood at the foot of her mother’s grave in Up Holland Churchyard, where she stood, and at the top of Tower Hill, Up Holland, to view the very same ‘prospect’ towards the sea and the mountains of Wales, it all made the two centuries between us seem like only yesterday.”