George Parker, Double Ephemeris (1700)

Paul Salzman

In 2015 The State Library of Victoria acquired a spectacular collection of early modern books and manuscripts, bequeathed by the physicist and barrister John Emmerson.[1] The collection has a focus on the Civil War but ranges well beyond it and amounts to over five and a half thousand items. There are a considerable number of books with female signatures, but here I want to concentrate on a somewhat unusual book, which may be seen as her/their book via reference, rather than ownership.

Emmerson collected a significant number of almanacs, mostly concentrated in the second half of the seventeenth century and into the eighteenth century. His copy of George Parker’s 1700 Double Ephemeris, as was often the case with almanacs, is interleaved with recipes, medical formulae, and astrological calculations.[2]

It is important to recognize that, while many almanacs were ephemeral publications, designed to last for no longer than the year they were created for, many were interleaved with so-called blanks and were intended to be a more permanent record of the year. Or, as in this case, they could serve, in the same way that family receipt books did: as a compendium of information that lasted far longer than a year. In the example I discuss here, this is indeed the case. The almanac as a whole has been annotated more than once in a few different hands and inks, although the majority of these are in a single hand. The interleaves contain recipes, medical formulae, and accounts, while the printed monthly calendars have mostly appointments and reminders written into the spaces. The recipes, mostly for medicines, are written in a clear hand and contain so few corrections that it is clear they are fair copies of what were presumably preceding rough notes. And the volume has been bound to last, in plain, blind-ruled calf.

There is throughout the entries by the main hand a sense that this is someone like an apothecary, or a doctor, with recipes for various medicines, including one for the enticing “Merry Pill.”

Formulae are often written using scientific symbols. The bulk of the almanac is almost certainly his, not her, book, especially given the momentarily unscientific note, “Azoons I’m as sick as a Dog I vowd I would make him look like a Cuckold as he is.” However, there are some fascinating moments when I think we can at least speculate that this is also her/their book.

On a leaf opposite the June calendar, underneath a recipe beginning with a formula to “stiffen or purefie [symbol for lead] or pewter,” in a quite different hand and ink someone has written: “Ann Burgess Nat ye 15th of June about 5 in ye morning – 1683.”

There is a line drawn to separate this entry from the recipes/formulae above. While it is difficult to be certain, this entry looks to be later than the interleaved material. There are a number of possibilities, all of them equally plausible. Ann Burgess may have been recording her own date and time of birth in response to the astrological material contained in the book. It is possible that she is a later writer than the person who wrote the interleaved material. While many almanacs were treated as being ephemeral, as Adam Smyth and Louise Curth have shown, almanacs could become repositories of knowledge and autobiographical material, and might well be handed down in families as receipt books were.[3] That would seem to be the case in this instance, though again I can only speculate as to where Ann Burgess might have been placed in the chain of transmission: her hand, if it is hers, points to the early eighteenth century. (It is of course also possible that the interleaved material and the reference to Ann’s birth were written at around the same time, but just by different members of the family.)

There are three other women mentioned in sone detail in the almanac, all of them appearing on the final pages of the first ephemeris, in what seem to be a series of appointments. The appointments (if that is what they are) are written in the same hand in the spaces under the “remarkable days” column for December. Under Advent Sunday we have “mrs ludwell at a Chandlers shop in Beech lane.” Under 2 in Advent, we have “mrs Shakemaple, next door to ye [3 tun] in Rosemary lane.”[4]

Rosemary Lane, located in the City, was renamed Mint Street in the nineteenth century; it had a famous rag fair and a reputation for being disorderly.[5] There are a number of Shakemaples listed as being in the area around 1700, with an Ann Shakemaple listed in the Parish Register as having died in 1726 at St Botolph, Bishopsgate, though there is no certainty that this is our Mrs Shakemaple.[6] .(While perhaps raising a smile from modern readers, Shakemaple was not such an unusual name in the late seventeenth century.)

On the back flyleaf at the top we have “mrs Bromley,” “Mrs Shakemaple for ye 30 spilln [?],” and I think the alchemical symbol for calx (oxide) and tincture Regalis, described in The Complete English Dispensatory (1719) as “a universal medicine” – which implies that Mrs Shakemaple, and perhaps also Mrs Bromley, were involved in the supply of some materials that were either for alchemical or medicinal purposes. I have not thus far been able to track these women down, but it does seem at least likely that Mrs Shakemaple for one ran an apothecary shop in Rosemary Lane. Another supplier of material necessary for the work of an apothecary (or alchemist) is noted in September: “Mrs Russell. Crucibles.” There are also appointments with “Ann Rutler Quaker at Cold harbour in dowgate Mortgagee” (Coldharbour was in the City of London, Dowgate is a ward), and a note referring to “Mrs Knightingale defunct” and “Katherine Tooke executor.”

So I would maintain, for the purposes of this blog, that this is indeed a suitable book to be seen as her/theirs as well as his.

Source: The State Library of Victoria (Australia), Shelfmark RAREMM 325/24. Images reproduced with the permission.


[1] For a brief account of the collection, see Paul Salzman, “The John Emmerson Collection in the State Library of Victoria,” forthcoming in The Library, June, 2021. Together with Rosalind Smith, Sarah C. E. Ross, Patricia Pender, Mitchell Whitelaw, and Anna Welch, I am currently involved in a major research project in conjunction with the library: “Transforming the Early Modern Archive: The Emmerson Collection at the State Library of Victoria”: https://cems.anu.edu.au/transforming-the-early-modern-archive/

[2] RAREMM 325/24.

[3] Louise Hill Curth, English Almanacs, Astrology and Popular Medicine, 1550-1700 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2007); Adam Smyth, Autobiography in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010), chap. 1; and see Barnard Capp’s pioneering and essential English Almanacs 1500-1800: Astrology and the Popular Press (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1979).

[4] I have had various helpful suggestions for the difficult to decipher words that might be “7 htn” (short for inhabitants) from Laurie Johnson; “the Gun/3 Guns,” Richard Hawtree, Tom Charlton; “3 Tuns,” Matthew Steggle and Benny Goldberg, who also provided alchemical assistance.

[5] See Janice Turner, “An Anatomy of a ‘Disorderly’ Neighbourhood: Rosemary Lane and rag Fair c. 1690-1765,” PhD Dissertation, University of Hertfordshire, 2014.

[6] Thanks to Susan Wiseman for this information.

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