Capturing Cambridge
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Josiah Chater Digitalisation Project

The Josiah Chater Digitalisation project involves transcribing a series of diaries written in the 1840s by a young Josiah Chater. At the time of writing his first diary, Josiah was a 15-year-old drapers apprentice who lived in the centre of town on Market Street. He kept a diary for nearly forty years, from 1844-1884. Altogether, there are 18 diaries spanning thousands of pages, each providing a window into the lived experience of Victorian Cambridge.

Extract of the handwriting from Josiah Chater’s diary (c.1844)

Josiah’s diaries tell us all about the day-to-day activities of being an apprentice in Victorian Cambridge. Despite his class, Josiah enjoyed lots of food and fashion. Sections of the diary describe the food he eats (hateful towards turnips but loved apple turnovers and penny twists from the bakery on Petty Cury).  The diary includes remarks on Josiah’s latest coat from the local tailors and trips with friends to the shoemakers. However, far from spending all his time shopping, Josiah diligently completed his tasks whilst working at Eden Lilley’s drapery. He was a very bright young man and keen on self-improvement. He borrowed books from the local Mechanic’s Institute and attended lectures at the Guildhall. It is this sense of improvement that possibly explains why Josiah decided to note down his daily experiences.

Returning to these diaries allows us the opportunity to recover these interactions and share them through Capturing Cambridge. Following the hard work of our team of Research Volunteers, we have completed a whole year of diary transcriptions in just five months of setting up the project. To put that into perspective, that is over 43,000 words of mid-nineteenth-century handwriting typed up onto Microsoft Word. These writings provide interesting insights into the happenings around the town, including

‘Cambridge Terminus’ – The Pictorial Times (2 Aug 1845), 73.

You can find out more on Josiah Chater and his experiences in Victorian Cambridge by following the Museum of Cambridge on our social media channels. Join us for our weekly #ChaterTuesdays where a snippet from Josiah’s diary will be published online.

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