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Noeleen Kennedy,

ELIA FIENNES 7/6/1662 – 10/4/1741
Celia Fiennes was born in Newton Toney, Wiltshire, England, the daughter of an English Civil War Roundhead Colonel named Nathaniel Feinnes who was the second son of the eighth Baron and first Viscount Saye and Sele, and a staunch Puritan. Both he and his brothers fought against the crown. This puritanical background no doubt gave Celia the inner strength required to face any adversities encountered throughout her life.

Celia Feinnes was famous in her time for travelling through all the counties in England on horseback between 1684 and 1703, riding sidesaddle, with only two servants at her side. She also ventured briefly into Scotland, but was not impressed. However this intrepid traveller also made a short visit into Wales to visit Holywell just over the border from Chester. St Winefride’s Well in Holywell was a famous spa since a miracle in the seventh century caused a spring to appear. Holywell was much visited by catholic pilgrims but as a staunch protestant, Celia would not bathe fully clothed as was the practice at the time. She felt the wet clothes would be too revealing, but did drink the water and felt refreshed after taking it. Many other spas throughout England were visited many times, particularly the famous spa at Bath. In the preface to her journal Celia wrote: ‘My journeys were begun to regain my health by variety and change of aire and exercise.’

England was a wilderness in those long ago days. No little stone bridges over streams, which instead had to be forded, and lanes were sometimes deep in mud. Celia nearly drowned on the causeway of Ely during a flood and was several times thrown from her mount, but never discouraged.

Celia took great interest in life around her as she passed through each county, noting in her diary details of how people lived and worked in each area. Detailing also interesting buildings and churches she saw, as well as the mines she passed during her journeys, giving detailed descriptions on the different methods of bringing forth the marble, stone, metal or iron and copper ore.

There are details in her diary of the big houses she visited, some of which were built by rich men who had made their fortune in trade or mining. Attitudes were changing in the 17th century and Celia appeared to be in favour of such changes that allowed wealthy businessmen to buy themselves a place in society despite not having a noble lineage.

Social historians, when endeavouring to get an idea of how people lived in Britain in the seventeenth century often refer to the writing of people such as Daniel Defoe and Samuel Pepys, but also invaluable are the detailed journals of Celia Fiennes. For instance, she was interested in modern innovations, noting in her journal her impressions of the water closet installed by Queen Mary at Hampton Court ‘it is a closet that leads to a little place with a seate of easement of marble with sluces of water to wash all down’.

In the Buckinghamshire town of Stoney Stratford the Cock Inn has a board on the wall noting the Cock’s connection to the nursery rhyme “Ride a Cock Horse to Banbury Cross”. As no coach service was available from Stoney Stratford to Banbury Cross, horses from the Cock’s livery stable were hired out to those wishing see the Fiennes lady pass by on her travels throughout England. She surely would have been wearing rings on her fingers and the fashion of the day was for wealthy ladies to wear a bell on the toe of their shoes.

Celia didn’t write her Will until the age of seventy-six and requested therein that she have an austere burial with no fuss. Just a hearse and one coach early in the morning.

Celia Fiennes died on the 10th April 1741 in Hackney, London and sadly there appears to be only one permanent monument to this intrepid traveller - a “waymark” standing in No Man’s Heath, Cheshire.


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Noni, 2009-09-25 19:23:52
-- I can only presume the information on Susannah Feinnes as mentioned in Celia's journal is correct. You may be able to find more info in The Journeys of Celia Feinnes by Christopher Morris 1947. I have not been able to get my hands on a copy of this book.

gaffa, 2009-09-22 16:09:27
-- Celia, Has mentioned a Susannah Feinnes who married a Dring and they lived in Whitby in her journal. Can you confirm this information.

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