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Two absorbing manuscript accounts of a young man’s travels which give a fascinating taste of 18th century life sold at West Sussex saleroom Bellmans (22% buyer’s premium) on December 5.

An account of James Bonnell’s (1697-1774) youthful excursion from London to Oxford, Gloucester, Bath and around to Chichester, made in 1717, sold for £3000, while an account of his 1718-20 ‘Grand Tour’ around Europe made £2800.

The earlier journal, calf bound and interspersed with 18 pages of accounts of the expenses he had incurred, offers detailed descriptions of some of the great buildings he visited, along with revealing, occasionally rather blunt observations, as well as comments on the young ladies encountered along the way.

Of Bristol he writes: “This City is the most dirty, noisy, drunken, ill-natured, homely place I ever met … I think Wopin [Wapping] in London to most like it, tho’ to its advantage.”

In Bath Bonnell and some companions sampled “ye Pump room”, said prayers, took walks and saw the sights, but on other occasions went to balls and as the cataloguer noted, hit the town: “…went to ye Billiard table, Hazard Table & Harrisons rooms, very full.”

Rabbits, mutton, tarts and wine

Some meals are described in exhaustive detail.

At The Angel in Oxford “… 2 Rabbits fricasied, with a Loin of Mutton, 2 fowls and half dozen tarts, and a handsome desart, 2 flasks of french wine, 1 of port, and a pint of Mountain with Lemons, etc.”

Bound in contemporary vellum, the later journal provides details (and once again in-depth notes on expenses) of his travels, principally in France and Italy, but also to Belgium and Holland. His observations on the cultural attractions of the countries and cities he visited are nixed with social comment.

In Paris, for example, “… went to ye opera … very indifferent singing, good dancing, bad musick … The dress of the French women is a head of hair, much powder, a great pleated tail, no hoopes, a deal of furbelows, and altogether considered ugly.”

Of Florence Bonnell notes “The Streets pav’d wth large … stones all flat but large Separations … The Cathedrall outside, all inlaid Marble, of various colours, excepting ye fronts, being painted plasture – the dome only brick – ye inside not very fine”, while at Milan “…they’ve excellent Fish from ye Lakes – I found there no Gnats.”

Bonnell’s sister, Sarah, left money in her will to found a school for poor girls in 1769 (one of the older girls schools in England and still flourishing in Stratford, London) but of James’ later life, said the saleroom, not a great deal is known beyond a few official records.

Top lots

The top lots at Bellmans were a 15th century Dutch Book of Hours that made £8000 and a letter in Darwin’s hand, addressed to Hugh Falconer, a Scottish geologist, botanist and palaeontologist, that was bid to £5500.