The Trials and Tribulations of a Soap & Candle Maker

The following text is taken from the diary records of my great x3 grandfather, David Maynard, held at the Cambridge county record office and transcribed by my cousin, Guy Maynard, in 1959.

“I was born in a village called Kempston in Bedfordshire in August 1748. My father was a farmer who, at his first entering into business, was in low circumstances and experienced a variety of losses and disappointments from failure of crops and death of cattle etc. But after a few years of industry and application, providence smiled upon him, so that he was enabled to bring up a family of seven children and at his death left about two thousand pounds to be divided amongst us.

My mother died when I was about eighteen months old. I was taken into the care of my grandfather and grandmother at Hitchin in Hertfordshire. I continued with them until I was eleven years of age, about which time my grandfather and grandmother being both dead, I was taken back to Kempston and stayed with my father for three years, when I was bound apprentice to a soap and candle maker at an obscure village named Gransden in the county of Huntingdonshire, where I continued for seven years during which time my father died leaving me about two hundred pounds.

Soon after, I was out of my apprenticeship and married a maidservant in the family I lived in, to whom I had made a rash promise of marriage, but considered myself bound in honour and conscience to perform.

After being married, I was conscious to get a little business for myself. I accordingly opened a shop in the village of Gamlingay in Cambridgeshire in the year 1771 and in the twenty-third year of my age. I had little custom in my shop and consequently little profit from it. I then opened up a day school for teaching boys to read and write, but still found my income very small, upon which I turned my thoughts to the soap and candle trade, which from erroneous calculations while I was apprenticed, I had supposed to be a very profitable business. Here it will be observed that my youth, inexperience, want of parents and friends to advise me was very much against me. As I could not succeed in my present employment I resolved to stake what money I had left to get into the soap and candle business, hoping that trade would soon remunerate me for my expense and trouble and bring me a living profit.

Accordingly I fitted up an office for boiling soap and expended all I had in so doing. I began to work it and in two or three boilings became fully convinced that my hopes of gain were ill-founded.  For the first time I began it was improper, materials for making soap being at a high price, and soap low in proportion, it was at that time a very bad trade. Secondly, my situation was very improper for the sale of soap and more so to come to materials and what was worst of all I was not a thorough master of my trade. I could not make a good article to get anything by it, and a bad one I could not sell. I therefore employed a man and gave him a handsome premium to boil for me and to instruct me, but still I found I was losing money by every boil he made for me. I then discharged him and still very loath to give it up, fearing the reproaches of the world, I tried again, still hoping for success, but after a year’s fruitless endeavours I began to see the necessity there was to stop. Accordingly I set to examining how matters stood betwixt my creditors and myself and then I had the mortification to find that I had not only expended all I had of my own, but was in debt more than I could pay by above one hundred pounds.

Now I was completely miserable for besides the anxieties and disappointments I had experienced, my creditors began to be solicitous for remittance, the world and my wife reproached me for making the attempt, although not a wise one was however an honest design and merited indulgence accordingly. I now began to fear jail or, if I escaped it, I had no prospect how I was to get bread for myself and my family. In this dilemma after much deliberation I resolved to apply to my principle creditors and surrender myself and effects into their hands and empower them to dispose of both as they thought proper.

Accordingly I set off for London, a distance of about sixty miles, on foot to save expense; it was in the heat of summer and a terrible journey. I had been overtaken on Houndslow Heath with a terrible tempest of thunder and lightning and rain,  from which I got a little shelter in a stage wagon, but was sadly in body and dejected in mind. As it lay in my road I called at Islington upon my late master to whom I was apprenticed, who was at work with a Mr Brittain of that place as his journeyman, making him acquainted with my circumstances and design. He dissuaded me from it, saying it would be advisable to engage some friend in the country to make application to my creditors on my behalf and either offer them a composition or persuade them to wait till I could dispose of my effects to the first advantage. To this I, in the end reluctantly, consented and returned home with a heavy heart almost despairing to find anyone to interest himself in my behalf.

The next day I went to a person my master had recommended me to apply to, but did not succeed. A few days after this a neighbour called to acquaint me that a person of Fenstanton who had some slight knowledge of me and to whom he had stated my case, had told him (my neighbour) that if I would go to Fenstanton he would endeavour to serve me.

After I had stated all the particulars of my case to him, he advised me to sell all I could and then come to him with the produce. This I did without any interruption from my creditors and Mr Eaton, for that was his name, like a humane good man took charge of my affairs and being about to go to London he applied in person to my creditors there and afterwards to them in Cambridge and using all his address in my behalf, he at length brought them all to sign full discharge for me, having paid then ten shillings in the pound and promising them in my name that if ever I became able then I would pay them more.

Then I was eased of all apprehensions of a prison but quite at a loss as to how to support myself and my family in the future being of a weak and sickly constitution and without capital, save for about thirty pounds that I borrowed off my relations. With that sum I opened a little shop for grocery goods at Fenstanton and whenever I could meet with employment I went out to work leaving my wife to attend the shop. By this means having only two children and living very sparingly we got forward until, my business in my shop increasing, I applied myself solely to it and in the end succeeded to my wishes. For in about three years after I began, a shopkeeper in the village left off business, when I entered upon her shop and adding her trade to mine, I soon found myself gaining money.

I therefore, in 1782, paid my former creditors two shillings and six pence in the pound in addition to the former ten shillings which was paid in the years 1773 and in the following year I paid them two shillings and sixpence more, but there was still five shillings in the pound remaining. I therefore in 1785 paid the remaining five shillings and thereby eased my mind of a burden that had hung upon it for nearly twelve years, for this was my constant desire and design and the chief object I had in view in all my undertakings and was a constant spur to industry and frugality and the happiness and pleasure I felt in paying it made an ample compensation for the labour and care I took to obtain it. These payments in all amounted to £74.4.3 (the whole of the debt owing being £142.8.6) and after paying this I found myself possessed of £150 clear property besides my household goods.

I continued in the grocery and tallow-chandling business at Fenstanton until 1787 during which time I had lost my two children and in so doing had lost the only remaining motive that could induce me to continue my business. I laboured for want of health and body and under great depression of spirit which the confining nature tended daily to increase.

I had been for some years, that is from the commencement of the war with America, prejudiced against the politics of the country and in favour of those of the American Government. I at length determined to give up my business and to embark for that continent hoping that by means of a voyage, by engaging in fresh pursuits and by employments more at large and in the open air, I might get relief from nervous and other disorders under which I laboured and had endured for many years and which made me almost miserable.

With this determination I left off business and found myself possessed of about £300. With this sum I hoped to be able to occupy a little land in America and to which I thought I might be able to add a little shop or storehouse for employment of my wife. My wife, however, was always averse to the project and at length refused to go. I had also lent part of my money to serve a relation in an emergency which I could not suddenly get back and these two things embarrassed me.

About this time I saw a little farm to be let by auction in the village of Whittlesford in Cambridgeshire. I therefore gave up my design of emigrating and went to bid for the farm and became tenant for twenty one years. Thus ended my American project”.

David Maynard Sept 6th 1807

I was very pleased to read that David Maynard’s first wife had dissuaded him from leaving for America, as, had he done so, I wouldn’t be here!

Following his failure in the soap and candle trade, David went on to make a living as a farmer and shopkeeper in Whittlesford, Cambridgeshire. His wife died in March 1803 and in October he married her niece, Rebecca Moule, at a ceremony at Bloomsbury in London. David and Rebecca already had a child together before the death of David’s first wife, and he was soon followed by another two sons, the first of whom was my great x2 grandfather, Nathan Maynard. David Maynard died at Whittlesford in 1821, aged 72.

Merry Monty Montgomery

© Merry Monty Montgomery 2008