The Yorkshire diarist, Robert Sharp, was born the son of a shepherd in the East Yorkshire
village of Barmston, just south of Bridlington, on 22 September 1773. From 1786 to
1804 he lived in Bridlington earning his living as a shoemaker. However in 1804 he
successfully applied for the job of schoolmaster at the village school in South Cave,
which is located a few miles to the west of the town of Beverley in East Yorkshire.
Here he lived and worked until his death in 1843.
Sharp was a compulsive letter-writer and diarist and we are fortunate that many of
his letters and diary pages have survived because they provide a rich and intimate
picture of life in a rural community in the period between the Napoleonic wars and
the Victorian age.
The letters, which date from 1812 to 1825 were sent to his son, William, who had
gone to London to work for the book sellers and publishers, Longmans. He also sent
the pages of his diary, which dates from 1826 to 1837, in regular instalments to
William in order to keep him abreast of affairs in his native village. These pages
were subsequently bound together with the letters in one volume, presumably by William
himself. This volume is now in the East Riding of Yorkshire Archives and Record Service
collection but has been transcribed and published as a volume in the British Academy’s
Records of Social and Economic History series (see below).
As a diarist Robert Sharp has many advantages. His position as village schoolmaster
and one of the few educated and literate persons in the village gave him a unique
insight into its affairs. Unlike the more common parson-diarist, Sharp mixed with
his fellow villagers on equal terms and was closely associated with all aspects of
village life. As well as helping them to write letters, draw up wills or legal agreements,
he was himself a parish officer (deputy constable and tax assessor) and assisted
the other parish officers in their work. In addition he acted as the land measurer
for local farmers, ran a village shop and library, and held the position of clerk
to the South Cave Friendly Society. What makes him particularly attractive as a diarist,
however, is his knack of vivid portrayal of both characters and scenes, often quoting
verbatim from conversations. His sense of humour and ironic dry asides make him a
delight to read, as readers of this page may judge for themselves from the brief
quotes given below. It is intended that these quotes will be changed at intervals
to give a flavour of the diary. The diary itself (The Diary of Robert Sharp of South
Cave: life in a Yorkshire village, 1812–1837/ edited by Janice E. Crowther and Peter
A. Crowther. Oxford University Press for the British Academy, was published in 1997
and reprinted in 1998.,has 726 pages. ISBN 0-19-726173-6) may be consulted in libraries
or purchased from OUP .
An excellent article on Robert Sharp and his diary has recently (2010) been published
in the periodical, ‘Slightly Foxed’: