John Byng, 5th Viscount Torrington
5th Viscount Torrington
|Born||18 February 1743
|Died||8 January 1813
London, United Kingdom
|Occupation||Army officer and civil servant|
|Known for||Travel journals|
|Title||The Viscount Torrington|
|Political party||British Whig Party|
|Spouse(s)||Bridget Forrest (d. 1823)|
John Byng, 5th Viscount Torrington (18 February 1743 – 8 January 1813), styled for most of his lifetime The Hon. John Byng (before 1812), was one of the most notable of English eighteenth-century diarists. His fifteen extant diaries cover the years 1781–1794, describing his travels on horseback throughout England and Wales during the summers of twelve of those years.
The younger son of George Byng, 3rd Viscount Torrington, of Southill, Bedfordshire, he succeeded his brother, George, as 5th Viscount on 14 December 1812  but died before he had the opportunity of being introduced in the House of Lords. The family seat having been sold in his elder brother's lifetime for the repayment of debt, John Byng was thus a Viscount without an estate.
The 5th Viscount Torrington was buried in the Byng vault at the Church of All Saints in Southill, Bedfordshire. He was succeeded in the title by his eldest son, George, who took his seat in the House of Lords on 3 February 1813.
Byng was a great-uncle of the politician, Lord John Russell.
On 3 March 1767, he married Bridget Forrest, daughter of Commodore Arthur Forrest RN (d. 1770) and Juliana Frederica Marina Cecila Lynch (1722–1804). The marriage produced 14 children, 13 of whom survived infancy:
- George Byng (5 January 1768 – 18 June 1831). He married Elizabeth Langmead (d. 1810) on 8 February 1793 and Frances Harriet Barlow (d. 1868) on 5 October 1811. George succeeded his father as Viscount Torrington on 3 February 1813.
- Elizabeth Lucy Byng (11 July 1769 – 18 January 1846), married Rear-Admiral Percy Fraser RN (1767–1827) on 26 September 1797 and George Goodenough Lynn (1809–1889) on 10 August 1836.
- Cecilia Elizabeth Byng (15 August 1770 – July 1843), married Robert Gregge-Hopwood (1773–1854) on 31 October 1805. They lived at Hopwood Hall, Middleton, Lancashire; they were friends of Lord Byron and the poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage was partly written while he stayed with them in 1811.
- Anna Maria Bridget Byng (18 August 1771 – 30 October 1852), married Charles Henry Hall (1763–1827) on 29 August 1794. Hall was an ecclesiastic who served in several prominent positions in the Church of England.
- Frances Byng (11 May 1773 – November 1796).
- Edmund John Byng (11 September 1774 – 5 April 1854).
- John Byng (16 January 1777 – 23 November 1811), married Eliza Amelia Mayne on 5 November 1806.
- Bridget Augusta Forrest Byng (1779 – 4 March 1876), married Captain the Hon. Charles Herbert RN (1774–1808) in July 1806.
- Henry Dilkes Byng (22 September 1781 – 24 September 1860), married Maria Jane Clarke (d. 1874) on 2 October 1810.
- Frederick Gerald Finch Byng (4 December 1784 – 5 June 1871), known as 'Poodle Byng'. A Regency society dandy who served as a Page of Honour to George, Prince of Wales, held commissions in the Army, and worked in the Foreign Office. In his later life he became actively involved in the campaign to improve sanitation in London.
- Georgiana Byng (1786 – 23 July 1856), married the Rev. Geoffrey Hornby (1780–1850).
- Beatrice Charlotte Byng (15 January 1788 – 12 March 1848), married the Rev. Colin Alexander Campbell (1792–1860) on 30 November 1820.
- Lucy Juliana Byng (about 1790 – 27 November 1881), married Sir John Morris, Bt. (1775–1855), on 5 October 1809.
- A stillborn child, sex not recorded, born in 1794.
- Tour to the West, [31 May-14 July] 1781, Bodleian Library, Oxford (Travel Journals).
- A Ride into the West, [23 August-9 September] 1782, Hampshire Archives & Local Studies, Winchester (Diary of a Tour through Surrey, Hampshire and Dorset).
- A Tour to North Wales, [25 June-31 July] 1784, Cardiff Central Library.
- A Ride taken in July, [2 July-12 July] 1785, Shakespeare Centre Library & Archive, Stratford-upon-Avon (Diary of a Tour through Oxfordshire and Warwickshire).
- Of a Tour into South Wales, [21 July-18 August] 1787, Cardiff Central Library.
- Fragment of a diary of a Tour in Hertfordshire, (circa 11-circa 21) June 1788, Cambridge University Library (Torrington Diary, June 1788).
- A Tour into Sussex, [15 August-25 August] 1788, Brighton & Hove Library Service (Diary of a Tour through Sussex).
- A Tour in the Midlands, [9 June-4 July] 1789, Bodleian Library, Oxford (Travel Journals).
- Tour in the Midlands, [7 June-22 June, 29 June-20 July] 1790, Manchester Archives & Local Studies (Diary of Tours from Leicester to Manchester & through the East Midlands).
- A Tour into Bedfordshire, [21 August-5 September] 1790, Luton Central Library.
- A Tour into Kent, [17 September-26 September] 1790, in private hands.
- A Tour into Lincolnshire, [13 June-27 July] 1791, Lincoln Central Library (Diary of a Tour of Lincolnshire).
- A Tour to the North, [27 May-17 July] 1792, Bodleian Library, Oxford (Travel Journals).
- Tour into North Wales, [9 July-20 August] 1793, Cardiff Central Library.
- A Tour in Bedfordshire, [1 May-13 June, 6 September-28 September] 1794, Luton Central Library.
Scope of his work
Byng’s journeys encompass England and Wales in the summer months of 1781-1794. After this time he gave up his journeyings, feeling he was too old to cover so many miles on horseback with only his “man” – Thomas Bush, Garwood, young Thomas Bush or an unlikeable unnamed valet – to accompany him and sometimes to ride on ahead to book the inn for the next night’s stay. It was also the valet's responsibility to carry his master's bedclothes on his own horse, make his master's bed, attend to both horses, call his master in the morning  – and give him consequence. Viewed in a literary light, Bush or Garwood resembles Don Quixote’s Sancho Panza.
Byng has written no travel journal for Scotland though he may have been acquainted with that country. He travelled the Midlands in 1774 without leaving any record of his impressions.
On his travels Byng displays the training and attitude of a retired Army officer (subsequently, from 1782 to 1799, a Commissioner of Stamps) together with the intellectual outlook of an antiquary steeped from his schooldays in Shakespeare and in the Classics of Greek and Roman antiquity. He delights in ruins, such as those of Tintern Abbey, Crowland Abbey  and Fountains Abbey, studies gravestones in many or most of the churchyards he visits, and records the inscriptions on some of them. He makes detours in order to view historic mansions whilst taking care not to stay at any of them even when they are inhabited by his aristocratic relations. He does not, for example, enter Woburn Abbey although it is the home of his niece’s brother-in-law, the future 6th Duke of Bedford. He does not stay with his brother the 4th Viscount Torrington but at the Sun Inn at Biggleswade, which he calls his “country seat”.
In keeping with his military training Byng is gifted with his pencil. Like Turner in the Lake District, he uses his paintbrushes to sketch charming but somewhat naïve watercolour scenes, as of Barfreston church, Greta Bridge  or the “tortur'd tree” at Bell Bar.
Like Horace Walpole or William Thomas Beckford, he loves Gothic architecture, thus foreshadowing the Romantic movement. (It is the attitude satirized by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey.) He deplores any “ugly, staring, red-brick house”, such as Dunham Massey, Adlington Hall, Etruria Hall  or Attingham Park. And yet, as befits a former Army officer, he admires orderliness and the well-kept economy of a flourishing country estate.
There is a vividness and an immediacy about Byng’s documentary record which is seldom if ever to be found in the work of any other British diarist.
Byng's picture of 18th-century society
Byng is a laudator temporis acti, or praiser of times past. As a Whig he looked favourably on the Hanoverian settlement and expressed a strong dislike for Scotland. He lamented that Scotland seemed to be taking over England: “like their native thistles, they never can be weeded out”. He was a countryman at heart, far happier fishing and shooting than endeavouring to adapt himself to the airs and graces of polite London society, for which he had little affection. He fondly recollects his visits to Yotes Court, Maidstone in about 1755. Yet emotionally he was rooted in Bedfordshire, the county of his childhood.
Faithful to the established Church of England (although conscious of its imperfections), he had only limited sympathy with Methodism – whilst recognizing its potential to rejuvenate traditional churchgoing.
He was aware that great social changes were afoot and did not totally disapprove of them. He was full of admiration for Cromford Mill  in Derbyshire, and for the pioneering technology of Richard Arkwright. He admired the silk-mills at Overton near Basingstoke, the mining and the navigation tunnel at Sapperton in Gloucestershire, and Josiah Wedgwood’s potteries at Etruria, Staffordshire. But this was the picturesque side. Of the Derbyshire mills he writes: “These cotton mills, seven storeys high and fill'd with inhabitants, remind me of a first-rate man of war and, when they are lighted up on a dark night, look most luminously beautiful”. Politically, however, he dreaded revolution or even reform.
In the course of his journeyings Byng provides much information about the inns and alehouses of that time. Often included in his diaries are the bills he has paid at his various stopping-places. Partly because they were so often on his routes, there were four inns he especially liked: the Sun at Biggleswade, the Haycock at Wansford, the Ram’s Head at Disley, and the Wheatsheaf at Alconbury (Hill). People travelled with their own sheets, merely renting a bed at an inn in preference to sleeping in “damp house sheets”. At Leicester the diarist's bed was “sheeted, contrary to [his] orders”. A rushlight would faintly illuminate his bedroom during the hours of darkness.
Byng rose early in the morning and sometimes breakfasted as late as nine. Broadly speaking, dinner was at two o’clock. However, it could be called for as late as four. Supper could be at any time between seven o'clock  and nine. At both meals there was sometimes a fairly wide range of dishes, all of which could be chosen, or just some. The breakfast drink was usually coffee. The food was standard fare, with recipes that were fairly identical in whichever part of the country Byng happened to be. Breakfast would cost 10d, the price of dinner would be 1/6d or 2/-, and supper 1/- : at Boston, Lincolnshire it is called a “gentleman's supper”, at 1/9d. Wine, the cost varying with the quantity consumed, would be an additional charge. Also additional were the horses' hay and corn, which generally cost 3/6d to 4/-.
The quality of inn fare varied enormously. At Bedford Byng lifted the lid of a damson tart and decided not to have any of it – plastering it down “for the next comer”, and adding caustically that “it was not the first time of the lids being removed”. A good “pigeon-pie, with a pint of good port wine” was one of his favourite collations. James Burnett, Lord Monboddo had for “supper ... a provincial dish, cook'd from his directions”.
At the Sun Inn at Biggleswade Byng had not only his own parlour, where he could eat privately, but was also provided with his own lockable chest of drawers (complete with “nightcap, shirts, fishing-tackle” ) and with grazing for his horse whilst he was in London. Though at Broadway, Worcestershire he enjoyed the luxury of a “spacious and clean parlour”, he was often in the “public parlours”; and this was all the more remarkable because of the great disparity which then existed between the grand bedrooms and dining-rooms of historic houses and the cold, draughty, ill-lit “gallery chamber[s]”  where he so frequently had to spend the night. In the era of inns and alehouses hotels had scarcely come into existence (though there was one at Buxton  and in Manchester there was the Bridgewater Arms Hotel. The bedrooms in these inns and alehouses could be very primitive indeed. There might be “dirty blankets” (25 August 1782). At Settle his “windows, door and chimney board kept an incessant clatter”. A traveller, or Tourist, might even be made to share a servants' bedroom. At Lewes Byng and Isaac Dalby had to share a double bed. On the more positive side, it was sometimes possible to have supper served in one's bedroom.
On his travels Byng met up with, or glimpsed, many of the prominent people of his age. In August 1788 he undertook a tour into Sussex with the mathematician Isaac Dalby. At Biggleswade, in 1792, he met Humphry Repton. At Birmingham, in the same year, he encountered Sarah Siddons. Two years later, at Ampthill, he glimpsed Lord Monboddo travelling post-haste from London to Edinburgh. Byng leaves unforgettable memories of Blenheim Palace (its grounds, gardens and gardeners  but not of the Duke of Marlborough himself). His meeting with Colonel Johnson, told with economy, lingers in the imagination.
The overall impression is that of a man keenly aware of social change: that is Byng’s head; but in his heart he clings to the old ways.
Purpose of his work
In England and Wales Byng set out, year after year, on his own sort of Grand Tour. The Grand Tour, a leisurely exploration of outstanding cultural features of the European Continent, was undertaken by many young men—though not by Byng himself—before and during the 1780s. Byng, intensely patriotic, believed that there was just as much of interest in Britain as in France or Italy, particularly as England and Wales contained so much that was picturesque.
He writes in his Fragment of a diary of a Tour in Hertfordshire, June 1788:-
Now I should be glad to ask of our Travellers, who brag of every country but their own, where they will find a cheaper charge than this [18/3d for 2½ days]; which was on a high road, [at South Mimms,] near the metropolis of Europe!
Talk not, therefore, gentlemen, of foreign parts, till you have seen and learnt something of your own country: – ye, who drive by Canterbury Cathedral, without deigning a look, and return boasting of rialtos, eclipsed by the work of the most ordinary Welsh masons.
“If my journals should remain legible, or be perused at the end of 200 years”, he writes elsewhere, “there will, even then, be little curious in them relative to travel, or the people; because our island is now so explored; our roads, in general, are so fine; and our speed has reach'd the summit”.
But it is impossible to agree with his assessment that The Torrington Diaries or Rides Round Britain have no enduring historical value. Like Samuel Pepys, Byng conveys a most vivid impression of what it was like for the diarist to live from day to day in the society of his own period.
- The Complete Peerage, 1982, vol. 5, p. 793.
- "Byng vault". The Mausolea and Monuments Trust. Retrieved 16 May 2015.
- HL Journal 53 Geo. III XLIX 47a.
- 1 July 1792.
- 19 June 1791.
- 13 July 1793.
- 26 August 1782.
- 7 July 1790.
- 1 July 1790.
- 28 July 1787.
- 2 July 1790.
- 7 June 1792.
- 27 May 1792.
- 22 September 1790.
- 12 June 1792.
- 9 July 1793.
- 27 June 1792.
- 21 June 1790.
- 28 June 1792.
- 20 July 1793.
- 15 July 1793.
- 18 September 1790.
- 14 June 1789.
- 7 September 1782.
- 25 July 1787.
- 28 June 1792.
- 18 June 1790.
- 4 June 1792.
- 11 August 1787.
- 4 August 1787.
- 8 June 1790.
- 2 July 1792.
- 29 August 1782.
- 9 July 1790.
- 19 July 1790.
- 10 June 1792.
- 3 July 1790.
- 16 August 1788.
- 13 July 1793.
- 25 August 1782.
- 26 May 1794.
- 27 May 1792.
- 20 July 1790.
- 12 August 1787.
- 4 August 1787.
- 2 July 1792.
- 16 June 1790.
- 21 June 1790.
- 20 June 1792.
- 24 August 1782.
- 21 August 1788.
- 11 June 1790.
- 28 May 1792.
- 2 July 1792.
- 10 July 1785, 13–16 August 1787, 5 July 1792.
- 2 July 1790.
- 20 June 1791.
- John Byng, 5th Viscount Torrington, The Torrington Diaries, ed. C.B. Andrews, 4 vols, 1934-1938.
- John Byng, 5th Viscount Torrington, The Torrington Diaries, ed. C.B. & Fanny Andrews, 1954.
- John Byng, 5th Viscount Torrington, The Torrington Diaries. A Literary Account of English Life and Thought in the 18th Century, ed. Bothaina Abd-El-Hamid Mohamed, 1958.
- John Byng, 5th Viscount Torrington, Byng’s Tours: The Journals of the Hon. John Byng, 1781-1792, ed. David Souden, 1991.
- John Byng, 5th Viscount Torrington, Rides Round Britain, ed. Donald Adamson, 1996.
- "Following John Byng", Folio, Donald Adamson, summer 1996, pp. 3–9.
- Current research being undertaken on Byng and the Torrington Diaries
- Full text of Volume 4 of the Torrington Diaries on The Internet Archive, as page images.
- Full text of Volume 4 of the Torrington Diaries on A Vision of Britain through Time, as proofread text with links to the places named.
|Peerage of Great Britain|