Dixon, Dr. Henry, of Witham and Rivenhall, 1787 to 1876. Notes about work on the text of his diaries.

Dr Henry Dixon of Witham and Rivenhall, 1787 to 1876

Notes made in July 2018 by Janet Gyford about the work done so far on the text of Dr Dixon’s diaries.

One copy of these notes will be posted on https://www.janetgyford.com/wp and another will be given to the Essex Record Office.

Further enquiries should be directed to Brian Simpson, of whom details are given below.

Dr Dixon wrote a very remarkable and opinionated diary, covering the dates 1834-1840 and 1842-1876. It combines his own life as a Dissenter and a Doctor and a farmer, with the social life of Mid Essex (and elsewhere) and the politics of Westminster and Europe. At the beginning and end of each annual volume, he wrote further notes, copies of letters, etc.

The work would have been given far more attention by historians, were it not for its great length. Also, the handwriting is sometimes unclear. These problems have so far prevented a complete typed version from having been prepared, although a number of people have worked towards it over the years.

The original volumes are deposited in the Essex Record Office at Chelmsford. The Record Office catalogue entry is below.

A8826 Diaries of Dr Henry Dixon of Witham, 1834-1840, 1842-1876; continuation probably by James Taber of Little Braxted, 1879, 1882-3; extracts and notes (2 vols.) by Maurice Smith, 1987.


The following people are the most relevant to the enterprise.

The late Dr Jim Denholm of Witham was given the volumes, I think by Mr James Taber. Dr Denholm cared for them and wrote occasional articles, particularly about the medical aspects. He eventually deposited them in the Essex Record Office

The late Maurice Smith of Witham produced a typescript of extracts while the volumes were in the possession of Dr Denholm. This was an enormous task to carry out on his own, and at one time it was wrongly thought to be a complete copy of the diaries. In fact it is an abbreviated version. Because it was done some time ago, it was made on an ordinary typewriter. I believe that Maurice’s original typescript is the one in the Record Office, deposited at the same time as the diaries themselves. Any other versions are carbon copies or photocopies.

Mrs Seona Ford of Witham (chair@sayers.org.uk) is the daughter of the late Dr Jim Denholm, mentioned above. So she is now the depositor of the volumes in the Record Office, and is their owner. She keeps a concerned and helpful eye over progress.

Mrs Janet Gyford of Witham (janet@gyford.com) bought photocopies of the volumes (including the notes at the beginning and end) and paid or persuaded various people to make draft typescripts of some of the years in Microsoft Word, as well as typing some herself. These eventually covered the years 1834 to 1840 and 1842 to 1849 (there was no original for 1841). There are two main defects at the moment – they have not been checked for accuracy, and they still do not include the notes at the beginning and end of the volumes. On the other hand, they are at least in digital form, and could be passed to other people to make amendments and additions.

Brian Simpson of Witham (ipa.drinker@gmail.com) began by continuing the typing (after a discussion in the Witham Café with Janet Gyford). He now also has all the paperwork and digital material accumulated by her. This includes the photocopies of the original diaries, the transcripts made so far, and a copy of Maurice Smith’s extracts. Brian is continuing to make transcripts of the years that have not been typed hitherto. Enquiries may be addressed to him.

­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­There are also seven relevant articles in the Essex Review, as follows

They were taken by H N Dixon (no relation) from Dr Dixon’s writings begun in 1873. The articles are headed “Reminiscences of an Essex Country Practitioner a Century Ago”. Mainly they cover an earlier time in Dr Dixon’s life than his diary,

Essex Review, vol.xxiii, 1914, pages 189 to 202
Includes intro by H N Dixon. Also Dr D’s childhood, schooling, then medical training and qualification, and posts held before coming to Witham in 1809. Also poor economic condition of England.
Essex Review, vol.xxiv, 1915, pages 5 to 19
Includes people and politics. Beginning of time at Witham, as assistant. Thwarted romance with Miss Kemble, his master’s daughter. Time back home.
Essex Review, vol.xxiv, 1915, pages 92 to 97
He says Witham society tended to be divided between Church and Dissent, but he was acceptable to both (though see next article). Set up own practice which gradually grew. Treated landlady. Bought practice from a doctor who was leaving.
Essex Review, vol.xxiv, 1915, pages 119 to 126
Success. Good at shooting. Some restriction from his being a Dissenter. 1814 very very cold spell. Development of steam and gas. Fate of quill pens. Severe criminal laws. Visit of young Edwin Landseer – bad shot. Sale of EL pics later.
Essex Review, vol.xxv, 1916, pages 16 to 22
Mostly a discussion of European events late 18th and early 19th centuries, and oppression in Britain under George III. 19th century, Dixon’s success at his profession and as a radical. Farmers had good life after 1815 e.g. cock-fighting and prize-fighting.
Essex Review, vol.xxv, 1916, pages 70 to 78
Fighting and duelling. Fear during Napoleonic Wars. Long essay about ‘Misers and Hoarders’, especially Essex farmers etc.
Essex Review, vol.xxv, 1916, pages 108 to 116
Hardships of past compared to when he is writing (1870s). E.g. old taxes. Discussion of Prime Minister Pitt and his opponent Fox. Description of arson at Witham in 1828 and hanging of James Cook. Also Dixon’s suggestion that Edmund Potto, another suspect, was suffering from Monomania, and a description of the rest of Potto’s trial. Discussion of beer and drinking.



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