Lord Blantyre,1824

Letters from the Past

Gilbert Burns from Grants Brae to
Lord Blantyre, Erskine House, Glasgow 1824

This is a letter dated 10th June 1824 with manuscript note on the side by the secretary of the addressee probably,
“ 10 June 1824 1st communication from Mr Dod about Airedales for a new lease”

It is addressed to
The Right Honble Lord Blantyre
Erskine House

It is signed by Gilbert Burns who gives so much information to his Lordship, that I felt sure this man must have been either his solicitor or his Agent, or Factor. I checked on the internet, and found out that this is exactly what he was, Factor to Lady Blantyre! The letter has five postal markings

The postal markings are : Edinburgh 10th June and Glasgow 11th June 1824 date stamps; Additional half-penny, Edinburgh, Figure 13, type IIa, size 16.5 x 14, recorded in use 20.11.1822 to 27.6.1826; Charge mark changed from 1/2d to 1/3½.

The Additional halfpenny mail tax stamps can be divided into four GROUPS, and are an interesting sideline collection of British postal history. This example is a Group 2, which is unframed, and has the ‘Addl.’ above ½. These groups are further divided into TYPES, taking into account the size and design of the frame, and whether the fraction line is a horizontal or a sloping one.
There are many varieties and differences in design in these types, and distinct shape differences in the figures and letters. There are also colour differences with some marks being known in black, blue and red ink.

Either the sender or the receiver could pay the additional halfpenny charge. If the sender paid, the letter was endorsed with a manuscript ½ next to the postage rate, both in red and prefixed by paid or by the letter ‘P’. The charge could also be made by a manuscript ½ in the case of unpaid letters, but it would be in black ink. It seems likely that the amended charge mark could represent the first charge from Edinburgh to Glasgow, then the one penny extra for the local delivery to Erskine House, plus the additional halfpenny.

So now to the letter.The ink has begun to fade but it is still quite legible and beautifully written, the first sentence refers to something that is not enclosed. This would increase the postage cost which was based on a single sheet letter weighing not more than ¼ of an ounce. This illustration shows the beginning paragraphs.

He begins with information about the tenants leasing the farms in the area.

Grant’s Braes, 10th June, 1824
My Lord, The inclosed letter from Mr Dods, Nursery & Seedsman in Haddington I send for your Lordship’s consideration. He possesses 24.386 acres of your Airedales lying between the fields let to Mr Dunlop and Tyne Water, under the existing lease, (ending with crop, 1825,) at the rent of £133 being a fraction more than £5-9-1d per acre.
If Mr Dods will offer a fair rent I should think it a good thing to give him a lease for 14 years after the expiration of the existing one, by which it will be worth more rent to him and of course he ought to pay more rent to your Lordship than for two succeeding leases of the same length and I think he will be willing to do so. The Carters in Haddington (who were the principal competitors at the Airedale) have not been thriving since the demolition of the Barracks here. There are several of them at present tenants who, if they make out their present lease, I scarcely expect to take again and no new competitors which may appear from that class are much to be depended on so that it a prudent thing to encourage and treat with every substantial tenant willing to give an Airedale rent. If you think of letting a lease to Mr Dods I think it will be best to let him offer both in money and in grain leaving the option to your Lordship.

The next paragraph is really interesting explaining about fencing the land to confine the sheep but still having the look of a gentleman’s park. The measurement, rood, quoted for the estimate is a quarter of an acre, usually used for a small piece of land on an estate.

I had been preferring to get the sunk fence built with a rough coping similar to the part already built with a light coping of smaller and very pointed stones above to prevent sheep from finding footing on the top of it but Mr Charles thinks the rough coping unbecoming a gentleman’s park, and thinks a triangular coping, similar to that on the formerly repaired part of the Park wall better. As the blocks of the abbey stone, as they come out of the quarry will not form such a coping without dressing I got an estimate from A. Knox of the expence of raising stones and dressing them (with the hammer only) for such a coping. Knox agreed to build and cope the wall in the way I proposed for 33/- per rood but if finished with the hammer, dressed triangular coping finishing the quarrying of the coping stones it will cost £3.16.8d per rood the same quantity of lime will be required in either way. As the wall is not seen except when one comes close to it, I should think such additional expence unnecessary and I daresay Mr. Charles would not approve of its being incurred, but the estimate was not got before he went to London, for it would serve very little purpose finishing the part to be built this season with the expensive coping, if not put on the part formerly built, which is more apt to be seen.

He then ends the letter with information about the crops and weather.

It will be near the end of this month, before we be ready to begin building and I shall be glad to hear before that time how you would have it done. We have still very dry weather, with sometimes cold east winds. The crops on soils of any depth continue to thrive and look very promising, but on thin and particularly thirsty soils, rain and heat is much wanted. There is an appearance of a great wheat crop in Park end Park.

I have the honor to remain
Your Lordship’s obt sevt
Gilbert Burns.

Peripheral information about the addressee, the writer and the houses relating to this letter

Notes: 1) Where did the name Grants Braes come from?
By Les Carrick, Patron, Grants Braes AFC

The biography of Dr Thomas Burns (“A Great Coloniser” by Dr Merrington), tells how Gilbert Burns, his father was appointed factor to Lady Blantyre of Lennoxlove in East Lothian, and took up residence in 1804 in the house called “Grants Braes” on her estate.

“Grants Braes” stood about a mile to the west of Haddington and about 7 miles east of Edinburgh, on the side of the road which follows the south bank of the River Tyne.

The house no longer stands; it was completely rebuilt for a succeeding factor, and this second house burnt down on Christmas Day 1891.

In December 1848 Dr Thomas Burns bought land at “The Glen” Andersons Bay (that is Waverley Bay) and built there a stone house called Grants Braes. He cleared his own section of 130 acres and did a great deal of cultivation growing wheat. The stone house was close the beach, built against the bank. In later years the house was pulled down when the house stone disintegrated, and Waverley Hotel was built on the site.

Notes: 2 Lord Blantyre and Erskine House.

Information gleaned from Wikipedia

During the early 18th century the Mar estate and old Erskine House came into the ownership of the Lords Blantyre. In 1828 Major General Robert W Stuart, the 11th Lord Blantyre and a distinguished veteran of the Wellington’s Peninsular campaigns during the Napoleonic Wars, commissioned the present house. His architect, Sir Robert Smirke (1781-1867) was still engaged in designing the British Museum. That, however, is a very classical design whereas Erskine House is more Gothic with touches of Tudor, in the small turrets and pointed arches in the principal windows and entrance porch.

The overall design is similar to that of Lowther Castle in Cumbria which was Smirke’s first country house design. The stone was quarried locally. Sir Charles Barry produced designs for the gardens. Sadly Lord Blantyre never saw his house as he was killed in Brussels during the 1830 uprising that led to the birth of Belgium. The house was completed only in 1845. The final cost was £50,000, about £2.5m today.

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