"A Bullock family letter —
London to Pyle Cottage, Colnbrook, 1824 "


Eunice Shanahan

After all these years of collecting I still get excited when I find one from my ‘neck of the woods’. I have never discovered any from my direct forebears, but this letter is one to an area I know well. It is a short letter that still has interest for anyone collecting postal markings, particularly from the London area, as it started in the Twopenny Post area and was transferred out to the General post. (Fig.1)

It was addressed to Mrs Bullock, Pyle Cottage, Colnbrook, Bucks and although there is no address inside the letter, the postal markings tell the story.

It was put in to the Receiving house in Fulham, which was in the Twopenny Post country area as it was outside the 3 mile radius of the Town area. Here it received the boxed FULHAM office name stamp and the handstruck ‘2’ stamp showing the postage which had to be paid, plus the manuscript ‘8’ which was the overall cost to the receiver of the letter. At this time all letters in the country area of the had to be lodged at the Twopenny post Receiving houses, as there were no General Post receiving houses in the country area. Fulham, which was also a sorting office, came under the control of the Westminster Office of the Twopenny Post, so the letter would have been transferred there where it received the Transfer stamp 7 SP night 7. (Fig.2)


This was applied on unpaid letters transferred to the General Post. It can be identified as being applied at the Westminster office because the day is before the month , whereas the Chief Office had the month before the day, and this particular size and shape was in use only from 1823 to 1825.

At the General post office the London double ring evening duty stamp was applied. (Fig.3)


It has the date in the centre circle, the month at the top SE the year at the bottom, and the identifying letter of the hand stamp at the left – in this case ‘X’. This type of evening duty stamp was in use from 1823 until 1828. It is interesting to note that the evening duty stamps of this period can always be recognised by the fact that the year was shown in a curve, even when they were shown only in two figures. The morning duty stamps in contrast, always showed the year in a straight line. The double ring showed that it was an ‘extra’ stamp used when warranted by the amount of mail to be processed. The cost of 8pence seems a lot as Colnbrook is only 17 miles from London and was the second stop after Hounslow for the changing of the horses.

The letter is on good quality cream paper, with a distinct watermark GATER 1822. (Fig.4)

Now to the contents, (Fig.5 )which are very easy to read, and is a chatty letter to her aunt.


click here for larger image

"Tuesday Septr the 7th 1824
My dearest Aunt
After a very pleasant excursion we are at length returned home & I have had the delight of finding Papa quite well.

I will not at present enter into any particulars of our travels hoping that Saturday next may find you disengaged & that my dear Uncle will have the kindness to give me a line by return of post to say if we may be welcome on that day.

I am obliged to return to Fulham on Monday, and hope therefore we shall be fortunate in finding you at liberty.

Ever my dearest Aunt
Your affectionate Niece
Frances Barnard".

The letter then ends with a postscript :

“Should Saturday be inconvenient I will endeavour to fix Friday or Sunday."

It is obvious that the post was sufficiently reliable for them to make arrangements at short notice. The service at the time was frequent. Brumell's book reports that letter carriers would have taken the letters from the local receiving offices to the sorting office, (in this case Fulham) twice a day. These letters were then made up into sealed bags to be taken to London. The system worked in reverse too, the General post letters and letters from other Town areas would be sent in sealed bags to the sorting offices where the local letter carriers met to collect the letters for delivery on their respective walks. It was all highly organised and dependable.

I checked and found that the Bullock family of Colnbrook were in trade as leather dressers. This brings to my mind images of the 1960s when it was definitely ‘cool' to be dressed in leather, but that is not what it meant in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Reference: George Brumell's “The Local posts of London 1680-1840"

This article was first published in Stamp News the Australian monthly magazine.

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