Major E. L. Thornton’s 19th century night out



This idea of this blog is to explore the fragmentary stories of people’s lives told to us by the chance survival of objects.  I’ve had to start somewhere so I’ve decided to go with as fragile a survivor as can be  – a small piece of paper.

This invoice was issued by the King’s Arms, Lancaster sometime between 1856 and 1877. (Although no date is given on the invoice itself, we can be sure of the period because local historical records confirm those years for the tenure of Joseph Sly, named on the receipt as the proprietor).

So why is the invoice interesting?  Well, just read the contents.  It was issued to a Major L. E. Thornton and these are the services for which he was billed (I’ve missed out the prices but I’ll come back to those later):

To one bed and damp clothes

3 soda and brandy before b’fast                                                              

Just another to keep him straight

Breakfast: gin and tea, kidneys, sweetbread

A nip before dinner

Thorleys food for cattle

Dinner  [next two words illegible, unfortunately]

For not saying what he had to drink for dinner and for taking him quietly away

The number of liquors after too numerous to mention also including bobbies, waiters.

Four brandy and sodas before breakfast (followed by gin and tea with breakfast) gives us the first clue that Major Thornton liked a drink.  After such a start it was probably inevitable that his behaviour  would get a little more colourful as the day went by.   The major must have overdone the boisterousness enentually though if it needed the intervention of bobbies (the local constabulary) as well as the assistance of the waiters to bring his evening to a peaceful conclusion. 

Major Thornton would surely have felt a bit the worse for wear when he got up to go on his way the following morning.  But what was left of his brain must have positively rattled in his skull when he saw the total on the bill.  £45 is around £2000 at today’s values, with almost two thirds of that on dinner!  Let’s hope had a few pals with him otherwise his drink problem must have been even more out of control that it sounds.

It’s easy to picture Major Thornton as a jolly roisterer, slapping the bum of the saucy serving girl (“ooh! sir, you really mustn’t”) before standing drinks all round for the wryly amused, ruddy-faced locals at the bar.  In reality he was just as likely to be a tedious, belligerent bore, slapping the bum of the very displeased serving girl (“please stop doing that sir”) before setting light to the tablecloth and throwing up on the carpet.  Either way, the sardonic phrasing of the invoice conveys a nicely British sense of restrained tolerance.  We thank an unknown innkeeper’s clerk for the few minutes he spent putting that together for our entertainment a century and a half later.

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