Caroline Powys and Henley
The diaries of Caroline Powys (1738-1817) are one of the most vibrant and entertaining sources for the social life of the gentry and aristocracy in and around Henley in the later 18th century, a time when the town was emerging as a fashionable social centre partly on the back of its coaching trade.
The daughter of a Berkshire surgeon, in 1762 Caroline Powys (née Girle) married Philip Lybbe Powys of Hardwick House in Whitchurch (Oxfordshire). In 1784, with their children grown, the couple moved to Fawley Rectory (just outside Henley) to live with Philip's brother the Revd Thomas Powys, who was a bachelor. Caroline began keeping a diary in 1756, describing amongst other things the coronation procession of George III. Her later diaries record in lively and gossipy detail the daily social round of her class, encompassing visits to neighbouring country houses, plays and concerts, grand balls, seasons in London and Bath, and winter balls and assemblies in Henley. Many of her descriptions evoke the world of Jane Austen, to whom she was distantly related through marriage (find out more). Extracts from the diaries were edited in 1899 by Emily Climenson (Passages from the Diaries of Mrs Philip Lybbe Powys of Hardwick House, Oxon, AD 1756 to 1808). A fuller account of her life is in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.