There were some things I didn’t expect to be able to find out, whilst researching Wrestliana. For example, in the ‘Preliminary Observations’ at the beginning of his novel Henry and Mary, William Litt says –
I have observed real dates and facts, which prevented me from complying with the desire of several friends, who wished me to introduce in this story some anecdotes relative to the well known characters of Jemmy Dover and Johnny Rule.
Who were Jemmy and Johnny? Local characters in the Whitehaven area, still familiar enough to be spoken of in 1824 (although the novel is set 60 years earlier). That was all I knew.
It seemed unlikely anyone would have bothered to write about them. But then, in William Dickinson’s Reminiscences of West Cumberland, published 1882, I came across this –
A herd was employed to watch the cattle from the corn, and to drive them, young and old, home at milking time in the evening. The young cattle were turned to the common over night, and the milch cows to the enclosed lands… Horses were not allowed there, and sheep rarely, or as trespassers. The field is high and exposed to all weathers, and the keeper was often sorely annoyed by the cattle madly galloping about in hot weather… After the crops were cleared off, the herd was dismissed till his services were required in the spring ; and the cattle were turned on in winter according to the number each was entitled to put on in summer. The last herd, Jemmy Dover, whom I knew for some time during my schoolboy and youthful days, was an eccentric “daft body,” exceedingly irritable, but strictly honest and dutiful. His chief whim laid in collecting and wearing a number of chains, seals, and keys to his ponderous old watch ; and he was fond of exchanging them with the servant men and lads, who indulged his fancy by giving him a good number in exchange. He had been known to wear nearly a score of these at a time, of sundry patterns, worthless of course, from a shoemaker’s wax end and cord to the brightest of lacquered brass ; with coins, seals, and other nick-nacks in abundance, till the sheaf-like collection overbalanced the watch, and then was reduced and stored bye till wanted for trading with, or again appending. To fill up his time while herding, he used to knit coarse yarn stockings, &c., and in winter he assisted and handled the “dolly” with vigour at the washing days of his acquaintances, with little beyond his board for remuneration.
It’s hard to imagine more charming, or moving, discovery. Still, I couldn’t find space for it in Wrestliana.
Johnny Rule remains obscure.