This letter also appears on the Victorian Web

Tenants for a 19th century Kentish farm

This letter is another of those windows into the past, which have a present-day link. It is undated with two postal markings
  1. the town namestamp of CRANBROOK (the office where the letter was handed in) and
  2. a manuscript charge ‘4’ which was fourpence, the cost for a letter carried a distance of less than 15 miles. Cranbrook is only about 5 miles from Biddenden, and I am surprised that the letter was put into the post at all, as I would have expected local servant or clerk to have been sent off to deliver it. The postmark of Cranbrook is uncommon, as it is a small village, and not much mail would have survived for a couple of centuries.

The letter is addressed to Richard Beale Esqr River Hall, Biddenden, and in the lower left hand corner there are the two letters ‘B.B’ within two straight lines but I have no idea of their significance. They were obviously put there by the writer of the letter and it must have been understood by the addressee. (Possibly another person in the household with those initials?) Could it be a postal direction an abbreviation for Biddenden Bag or Bye Bag ?

The writing is quite clear to read, with the exception of a couple of words, like – typically — the address at the top of the letter, which looks like Swifts Friday Mo (crossed out and replaced with ) Evng. There is no date anywhere on the letter, but the watermark on the paper is 1816 so the letter could not have been written before that, and not after 1839 or it would not have cost fourpence to post it ( that rate was in force from 1812-1839).

Beale letter

So now to the letter, which concerns the tenancy of a farm. I was unable to trace any information about the writer of the letter, Mr F. Austen, but it is likely that he was some kind of agent for the farms.

“My dear Sir,

This morning a man of the name of Avery came to me to request I would recommend him as Tenant for Mr Husseys farm in parish of Biddenden – now occupied by — Day. — Avery is grandson to old Pankhurst – who he says would advance money for him, — not a very eligible Connection — I told the man that I had a previous application made to me a long time ago to use my Interest for a person to become Tenant — and had made application to that purpose — he tells me he was at the farm a day or two ago and Day told him he could not use it longer than Lady Day next.

Note: Lady Day is the Feast of the Annunciation, which is observed on 25 March. It is one of the four ‘Quarter Days’ in England, on which some tenancies begin and end and quarterly payments fall due. The other three are

Midsummer Day — - 24 June
Michaelmas — -29 September and
Christmas — -25 December

I have by this post written to Mr Hussey the acting Attorney for the estate at Tunbridge Wells — - reminding him that Mr Toke had promised me he would write to him in favor of the man you recommended (whose name I said I believed was Witherden — but I almost forget if I am correct in this.)

I think you had some Correspondence with Mr Toke on this subject and probably would do right either to see him or write to him again on the subject –

If you wish me to do anything further let me know – as I shall be happy to oblige you.

Yours very truly
F. Austen .

He then added this postscript,

"P.S. To keep Avery quiet – I told him that should the person I had already written about decline the farm I would think of him.”

I made contact with the present-day Beale family, through the internet, and they have given me a great deal of information about the Beale family and their connection with this old house. The Parish records of Biddenden show that the Beale family was living there from 1558 when Elizabeth I was Queen, and they lived in River Hall from the time of King Charles II. It was passed from father to son (with one exception) from at least 1600 to 1900. During that time there were six owners named Richard Beale: the one to whom my letter is addressed was the fourth, and he was the exception. He was born in London in 1771 but returned to Biddenden and married Frances Witherden there in 1792. Note the reference in the letter to a prospective tenant of that name, presumably a relative). He took charge of River Hall in 1814 on the death of his uncle Richard, and lived there with Frances and their ten children. He died in 1836, and his widow left the house allowing their son Richard to take it over with his family whilst she moved into another Beale property in Biddenden, Elmstone House.

The present-day Beales also sent me this photo of River Hall, as it is today. They no longer live there; in fact two of the present generation have emigrated to America, and it was through them that I made the contact. They are quite amazed that a 200 year old letter concerning their forebears in a small English village in Kent should have ended up in Australia. The world certainly does seem to be shrinking.

N E W S F L A S H ! A visitor to the website found this letter and has kindly given me the following information
By sheer chance I came across your note on a letter written to Richard Beale at River Hall Biddenden by a Mr Austen of Swifts in Cranbrook. I recognized the place name as my Cooke ancestors lived there from the second half of the 17th century. There was a Cooke — Beale connection when Anne Cooke daughter of John Cooke & Ellen Gibbs, of Great Swifts married Richard Beale on 18 March 1741.
Ann, a daughter of John Cooke and Ellen, his wife, married on 18th March 1741/2, Richard Beale of Biddensden, Esq. which Richard was born 19 October 1717 and died 6 November 1786. Anne died 6 December 1761.
In 1789, Swifts was sold to Major John Austen, a local magistrate and of the same family as the novelist Jane Austen 1775 — 1817. Major Austen died in 1807 and the property passed to his son, also John.


I was really pleased to have this information as it confirmed that the name of the house from where the letter was written was Swifts, and that the Austen family was involved.

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