Cassandra, daughter of the naturalist Francis Willoughby, was one of the last of the family to be born at Middleton Hall, Staffordshire. In 1695 at the age of 25, she began a series of journeys with her younger brother Thomas. In the eighteenth century keeping a journal, in which a traveller could record his or her impressions of the places they visited, was considered to be a fashionable occupation. Cassandra was no exception; the frontispiece of her journal reads as follows:
An Account of ye journeys
I have taken and where
I have been since March 1695
From March 1695 to May 1718 being in all 23 years
The original handwritten document can be found in the archives at the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust.[i]
Over the next fifteen years she travelled extensively through England visiting most of the south-east and central counties and as far north as Yorkshire. Whenever they visited a spa town, Cassandra sought relief for the headaches and fainting fits to which she was prone. In spite of her bouts of ill-health, she nevertheless made her journeys on horseback, and she is quite forthright in her opinions of the bad lodgings and poor diet which she encountered en route.
July ye 7th we went from York to Harrowgate, . . . .in Knaresborough Parish where is ye Sweet and Sulphur Spaw, ye Sweet Spaw is ye most pleasant of yt Sort of water, yt I ever tasted – our Lodgings there were bad but our diet worse, Linin & c so very dirty.[ii]
Cassandra married her wealthy cousin James Bridges (as his second wife) on 3rd August 1713 at Chelsea College Chapel, and became the first Duchess of Chandos on James's elevation to the peerage in 1719. The family lived mainly at Canons in Middlesex, but travelled frequently to their other homes in London and Bath.
During her life Cassandra not only catalogued her father’s natural history collection, but found time to write the history of the Willoughby family and to keep up a copious correspondence.[iii] Her travel journal and that of her contemporary Celia Fiennes appear to be the only eighteenth century journals written by women to have surfaced.[iv]
Cassandra died unexpectedly following an apoplectic fit on 14 July 1735 and was buried at St. Lawrence, Whitchurch near the ducal seat of Canons.
[ii] Willoughby, Cassandra, Journal [fol.8r -9r] 1697
[iii] GB2457 at North London Collegiate School, Letter book of Cassandra Brydges 1713-1735
Nottingham University, Manuscript Department, History of the Willoughby family.
[iv] Morris, Christopher, (Ed) The Illustrated Journeys of Celia Fiennes c 1682-1712, (London, 1982)