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Treasure trove found ‘by accident’ throws light on the life of a York woman

A diary, published, nearly 30 years after it was ‘accidentally’ discovered, has been turned into a map for a family-friendly walking tour.

The diary, recorded between 1803 and 1805, includes details of Jane Ewbank’s life in York, charting her interests in science, theatre, concerts, and the natural world.

It was discovered accidentally in the National Library of Scotland by Dr Jane Rendall, a former member of the Department of History at the University of York, now associated with the Centre for Eighteenth Century Studies.

The Northern Echo: The diary was ‘accidentally’ discovered by Dr Jane Rendall in the National Library of Scotland in the 1990sThe diary was ‘accidentally’ discovered by Dr Jane Rendall in the National Library of Scotland in the 1990s (Image: UNIVERSITY OF YORK)

Jane, born in 1778, was the daughter of George Ewbank, a well-known druggist and banker in York, who lived and had his shop on Castlegate in the City Centre. She died at the young age of 46 in 1824.

The diary, now published in digital form, consists of about 34,000 words, and includes details of her life in York and her travels in the Lake District and North Yorkshire. It stands as a unique illustration of what life was like in York for a woman during the 1800s.

The diary demonstrates that Jane had an active social life, frequently attending plays at York Theatre Royal, concerts in the Assembly Rooms and many lectures on science.

Dr Rendall said: “I found the diary of Jane Ewbank in the 1990s totally by chance when I was working on women writers in 18th century Scotland. When I read it, I was totally fascinated, because I realised how much light it threw on the life of a York woman from this time in history.

The Northern Echo: An extract from Jane Ewbank's diary, which includes details of her life in York and her travels in the Lake District and North YorkshireAn extract from Jane Ewbank’s diary, which includes details of her life in York and her travels in the Lake District and North Yorkshire (Image: UNIVERSITY OF YORK)

“Over the years, I have passed it to several students writing theses on York women’s history. I had always hoped to publish the diary, so I am thrilled that it is now widely available for others to read and enjoy.”

A map of Jane’s York, based on her diary, has been created by PhD student Rachel Feldberg, a PhD student at the University of York’s Department of History – in partnership with the York Georgian Society.

The Northern Echo: Jane Eubank's house today, part of a walking tour of the city based on her diary devised by Rachel FeldbergJane Eubank’s house today, part of a walking tour of the city based on her diary devised by Rachel Feldberg (Image: UNIVERSITY OF YORK)

She will lead visitors to the York Georgian Festival on a walking tour tomorrow (Sunday, August 6) of the city to track down some of the shops Jane and her niece, Elizabeth, knew – dropping in on the site of the all-night ball, uncovering clues to the buildings Jane’s family owned and discover easy ways to identify York’s Georgian houses.

Rachel said: “It’s so exciting to be able to bring history to life in a way that’s fun for children and gets them inspired. I wanted to make sure parents can be involved too, so it’s a family-friendly activity, it is a self-guided walk and it will continue to be available for residents and visitors to York.

Read about more objects of the week here:

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“I loved treasure hunts when I was at primary school, this is like a treasure hunt across Georgian York, but based on two real people, Jane Ewbank and her ten-year-old niece Elizabeth, and their real lives 220 years ago.”

The map is available free from:  Visit York – the York Tourist Information Centre – 21 Parliament Street, York, North Yorkshire, YO1 8SG; Fairfax House Castlegate, York YO1 9RN; Mansion House St Helen’s Square, York YO1 9QL. It can also be downloaded from the York Georgian Society website: www.georgianyork.org.uk

It was created as a Knowledge Exchange Project, funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (AHRC) through the White Rose College of Arts & Humanities (WRoCAH) as part of Rachel Feldberg’s WRoCAH fellowship.



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