Nathaniel Bryceson was born in St Marylebone on 5 June 1826. His mother Mary (born in 1797) had been married to John Bryceson, who died in 1824. From Nathaniel’s baptism entry on 4 July 1826 we can see that his father was Nathaniel White, a pauper in the St Marylebone Workhouse. Mary was married again in 1841 to Matthew Ward (‘Mattie’), a tailor 13 years her senior. Nathaniel seems to have been Mary’s only child.
In 1846 the Ward family were living at 9 Richmond Buildings, Soho, on the west side of Dean Street. The tenement itself is no longer there. John Shepard (otherwise spelt Sheppard or Shepherd), Nathaniel’s maternal uncle, shared the accommodation with them, and in May of that year ‘Granny’ Shepard also moved in.
Little is known of Nathaniel’s early years. At one time he served as an errand boy and was later employed by Nodes, the funeral undertakers of Chapel Street, Tottenham Court Road, a position from which he was dismissed. His experience at Nodes probably accounts for his excessive interest in deaths, funerals, interments, churchyards and monumental inscriptions.
When the diary opens, Nathaniel is employed as a clerk at Lea’s Coal Wharf (Eccleston Wharf) situated off Upper Belgrave Place (now Buckingham Palace Road), Pimlico. He was related to the proprietor, George Lea, through his grandmother. The coal business at Eccleston Wharf was established in 1844. The diary suggests that it was not a flourishing enterprise, partly due to George’s neglect of the wharf in pursuit of a good social life. In 1851 the business failed and George was declared bankrupt.
In 1852 Nathaniel moved from Richmond Buildings where he still lived with his uncle, John Shepard. His mother, step-father and grandmother had already moved out. He went to Islington where he continued in the same line of business as a coal merchant’s clerk. In 1854 he married Sarah Clark, and by the 1861 census was living at 10 Edward Cottages, Canonbury, with her and their three children. From parish registers we know that there were also three infant deaths, all female, in the 1850s and 1860s. By 1881 he was at 48 Essex Road, Islington Green North, describing himself as an accountant, aged 54, living with his wife Sarah (55), daughter Sarah (22) and three sons, Nathaniel, an undertaker (24), John, a compositor (21) and Henry, a builder’s labourer (17). He appears in the Kelly’s London Directories as an accountant at this address until 1895. His wife Sarah died in 1890, leaving him with only a housekeeper by time of the 1901 census. Nathaniel himself died in Mile End early in 1911.