Thomas Turner’s rules of proper regimen

Thomas Turner was an 18th century shopkeeper and Overseer of the Poor who lived and worked in the Sussex village of East Hoathly. A multi-skilled pillar of the community, other roles at various moments included but were not limited to schoolmaster, undertaker, tax collector, accountant, and ironmonger. He fathered many children, only a few of whom made it to adulthood. He loved to read. He enjoyed cricket, horse-racing, and partying. He drank too much and argued with his first wife too often, and he wished dearly to do less of both. All of these things we know thanks to the fascinating diary he kept from 1754 until 1765, the final entry of which arrived soon after he married his second wife. This entry came in February of 1756: a long list of rules relating to sleep, food and drink that would hopefully, if followed, brighten his days.

The Diary Entry

Sun. 8 Feb.

As I by experience find how much more conducive it is to my health, as well as pleasantness and serenity to my mind, to live in a low, moderate rate of diet, and as I know I shall never be able to comply therewith in so strict a manner as I should choose (by the unstable and over easiness of my temper), I think it therefore right to draw up rules of proper regimen, which I do in manner and form following, and which, at all times when I am in health, I hope I shall always have the strictest regard to follow, as I think they are not inconsistent with either religion or morality:

First, be it either in the summer or winter, to rise as early as I possibly can; that is, always to allow myself between 7 and 8 hours’ sleep, or full 8, unless prevented on any particular or emergent occasion.

2ndly, to go to breakfast between the hours of 7 and 8 from Lady Day to St. Michael, and from St. Michael to Lady Day between the hours of 8 and 9.

3rdly, my breakfast to be always tea or coffee and never to exceed 4 dishes. If neither of those, half a pint of water or water gruel; and for eatables bread and cheese, bread and butter, light biscuit, buttered toast, or dry bread, and one morn in every week, dry bread only.

4thly, nothing more before dinner, and always to dine between the hours of 12 and 1 o’clock if at home.

5thly, my dinner to be meat, pudding, or any other thing of the like nature, but always to have regard, if there is nothing but salt provision, to eat sparingly; and to eat plenty of any sort of garden stuff there is at table, together with plenty of bread and acids, if any, at table; and always to have the greatest regard to give white or fresh meats and pudding the preference before any sort of highly seasoned, salt, or very strong meat; and always one day in every respective week to eat no meat.

6thly, my drink at dinner to be always boiled water with a toast in it, or small beer, but water if I can have it, and never to drink anything stronger until after dinner.

7thly, if I drink tea at home or abroad, to be small, green tea and not more than 4 dishes; and if I eat anything, not more than two ounces.

8thly, my supper never to be meat but weak broth, water gruel, milk pottage, bread and cheese, bread and butter, apple-pie or some other sort of fruit pie, or some such light diet; my drink, water or small beer, and one night at the least in every week to go to bed without any supper.

9thly, never to drink any sort of drams or spirituous liquors of what name or kind soever.

10thly, if I am at home, in company, or abroad, if there is nothing but strong beer, never to drink more than 4 glasses, one to toast the king’s health, the 2nd to the royal family, the 3rd to all friends and the 4th to the pleasure of the company; if there is either wine or punch etc., never, upon any terms or persuasions whatever, to drink more than 8 glasses, nor each glass to hold or contain more than half a quarter of a pint, nor even so much if possibly to be avoided.

11thly, if I am constrained by extreme drought to drink between meals, that to be toast and water, small beer, or very small wine and water; to wit, 1/4 pint of red or white wine to one pint of water.

12thly, never to drink any small or strong beer, winter or summer, without being warmed if possible.

And lastly always to go to bed at or before ten o’clock when it can be done.

Further Reading

Thomas Turner’s original diaries span an impressive 113 volumes and are held at Yale University Library. Only a third of those entries have been published over the years, in a few different editions. My suggestion would be to find a copy of the Oxford Scholarly Classics edition, edited by David Vaisey and titled The Diary of Thomas Turner, 1754-1765.

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