As lockdown projects go, Liz White’s exploration of a Lexden lady’s life using a 136-year-old diary must be as interesting and fulfilling as any.

During the Covid lockdown in January, many of us struggled with the lack of social interaction, the dark winter evenings, and the daily news briefings that gave us the ever-increasing death toll from the virus.

Throughout these winter months, however, Liz was hard at work, burying herself in the faint cursive handwriting of a Victorian lady called Clarice Ord, whose diary from 1885 was found in Lexden Manor.

How the diary found its way to Liz, an avid historian who lives on Lexden Road, was simple enough.

The first person to come across the diary was Victoria Morley, who found it sitting on the mantelpiece at Lexden Manor having moved into the property in December last year.

Mrs Morley handed the diary to her mother, who in turn gave it to former Colchester mayor and member of Lexden History Group, Sonia Lewis.

Sonia contacted Liz who has published three history books of her own: two volumes of Lexden in Wartime and The Avenue of Remembrance.

With lockdown restrictions reimposed earlier this year, Liz had herself a project to get her teeth into.

Gazette: Lexden History Group meeting at Lexden Church Hall on Wednesday September 8

But the first question was: Whose diary was it?

As it was likely part of a series of diaries, there was no introduction, no obvious indication that it was Clarice Ord – an upper-class daughter of landed gentry – who had written the diary.

Neither her name nor her initials feature anywhere in the book.

But what Clarice Ord did include was some 220 mentions of friends, relatives, contacts, guests, and callers, which provided Liz with the necessary clues to piece together who it actually was who had kept this diary throughout 1885.

She said: “It took quite a bit of research to ascertain who actually wrote the diary – I narrowed it down to three families.”

“I then had to go back through each of the families to confirm that the people she mentioned were members of the family, so I needed a lot of confirmations before I could actually do any research.”

Not only did Liz use census data to confirm whose diary it actually was, she also perused old newspaper copies of the Essex County Standard from the late 1800s, and made use of the website

Liz would spend hours on end at her desk squinting at Mrs Ord’s faded writing and transcribing it word for word.

“The housework went to pot – did it matter? No. The second lockdown came in useful,” she said.

“Everyone was relaxed over lockdown because there were no time limits – you didn’t have to meet people, you didn’t have to go shopping because it was all delivered. My time was my own.”

Gazette: Lexden History Group meeting at Lexden Church Hall on Wednesday September 8

It took her about a month to transcribe the diary.

She said: “I worked in the dining room with the sunlight coming in – because the diary was written in pencil, I needed good light.”

But what did Clarice Ord’s diary reveal? In 1885, Queen Victoria was on the throne and Lord Salisbury occupied Downing Street. But Clarice Ord’s diary also gave an idea of what it was like to live as an upper-class lady in Victorian Colchester.

Each entry is only a brief explanation of what she did each day, but once Liz knitted together all the threads of Clarice Ord’s life, a rich tapestry started to form.

“The diary itself is actually quite boring,” said Liz, although she soon qualified her statement.

“It’s when you look into what she mentions in passing, it’s then that a whole story develops. She used to perform, she was a great singer, she could play the piano, she was in amateur dramatics.”

What also stands out about Clarice Ord from her diary entries is just how generous she was – she would regularly pay for her servants’ travel costs and buy expensive gifts for friends.

Money was certainly no object for her, given that she was the daughter of a baronet, and once Liz had scratched the surface of what Mrs Ord’s life was like day to day, she couldn’t stop.

“I just kept digging and digging and digging,” she said.

Her extensive efforts culminated when Lexden History Group met to buy copies of the diary and hear Liz present her findings. With each diary priced at £7.50, the total money raised will cover the cost of printing and binding – nothing more.

Although Liz has not made a penny from her work, she has certainly taken a lot of satisfaction from it.

“I don’t get paid, but the pleasure is all mine, because I get to do what I love doing – I’m just nosey, basically,” she joked.

“I lived Clarice,” Liz said. “I would have loved to have met her.”

Given everything she found out about this Victorian lady, she could hardly have got much closer.