Originally broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2005
Historian Richard Foster makes superb use of an old historian’s tool, the bill! By investigating bacl from accounts and receipts, Richard tells the stories of five people – a Tory MP, a harpsichord tuner, a churchwarden, a police constable and an Irish doctor.
Part 1: What do the Tory agents accounts in the constituency of Westminster tell us about the election of 1774? And how do they compare with the accounts for the same seat in the 2005 election?
Part 2: From the detailed accounts of Thomas Green, a harpsichord tuner in 18th century Hertford, we detect his instrument’s eclipse by the new-fangled piano as it percolates down from the aristocracy to his regular customers.
Part 3: The churchwardens’ accounts of Prescot in Lancashire, with their detailed costs of continually putting up and taking down the altar, reflect the turbulent changes from Henry VIII’s break with Rome to Cromwell’s Commonwealth.
Part 4: In the 17th century the parish constables of Manchester were volunteers, and it cost them 2d to keep someone in a cell overnight. Are there any parallels between their lives and the career-constable of today?
Part 5: Thomas Arthur, an Irish doctor, kept his fee books from 1619 to 1666 in a neat Latin hand, leaving to posterity an incomparable record of the state of his nation’s health.
Produced by Merilyn Harris & Ladbroke Productions (Radio) Ltd for BBC Radio 4
N.B. Some audio has been edited from the original broadcast version due to copyright restrictions