Sir Robert Clayton

Robert Clayton, Scrivener of London, 1660

by

Eunice Shanahan

Oliver Cromwell, who ruled England as Lord Protector from 1653-1658, was a great organiser, and his Parliament passed an Act in 1657 which declared :-
"There shall be one General Post Office and one officer styled the Postmaster General of England…and that all other persons were forbidden 'to set up or employ any footposts, horseposts, or packet boats.'

This meant that no one else could carry the mails as a business. It also meant that it was easier to arrange a proper postal service. However, letters were exchanged privately, in particular within the City of London, which at that time was the business and financial centre. This month's letter is an example, written by Jo.Heath from his office in the Inner Temple, (one of the Inns of Court in London) which is dated 'Last of 10th 1660'. It is addressed to 'Mr. Robert Clayton, a Scrivener Neere the old Exchange House'. There are no postmarks as the Bishop Mark (showing the day and month the letter was posted) was not introduced until 1661, the year after this was written. (Fig.1)

address of letter

The contents of this letter show that it was privately delivered, and the reply returned to the sender. It is a very early letter concerning banking, and the transfer of money.

"Mr. Clayton,
I have been hitherto irresolute at least, if not improvidently negligent in disposing of my moneys, in yr hands to some better advantage, but within a day or two, when my brother & I are somewhat better (haveing both at present very troublesome colds) I will advise with you, resolve noth. myselfe about it. In the meanetime I pray deliver to bearer fifty pounds sterling, of wch I have present use, for which this shal bee yr discharge from Yr assured friend & servant
Jo. Heath
Inner Temple last of 10th 1660"

Josiah Heath then added the following note :- (Fig.2)

contents of letter

"Take a note under his hand for the fifty pound wch will testify you have delivered it on this letter."

Robert Clayton then added this note as a receipt in his own handwriting.
"January ye 3rd, 1660. Recd. then according to contents above of Mr. Robert. Clayton sum of fifty pounds I say…….(50)....."

This note was signed by the bearer of the note who received the money to be returned to Jo. Heath.

The dates are interesting, as the first part of the letter is dated the last of the 10th 1660, and the follow up is January ye 3rd also 1660, and that is because at this time the Julian calendar was in use, and the year began in March, so December was the 10th month, and 1660 would continue to be the year until the following February. The Gregorian calendar was not introduced in Britain until September 1752, (about 150 years after it was accepted on the Continent). There were riots in the streets in England as the date after the 2nd September was declared to be the 14th and the people thought they had been deprived of 11 days of their lives!

1660 was also important for London and Great Britain as this was the year the Monarchy was restored.

Charles the Second was proclaimed Monarch in May 1660, but his accession was formally backdated to 1649 when his father King Charles I had been tried and executed. After the restoration of the Monarchy in 1660, the new parliament did not recognise any of the laws passed by the Commonwealth or Protectorate parliaments. So in 1660 another Act of Parliament was passed, which confirmed most of the previous legislation, including the establishment of a General Post Office, under the control of one Postmaster General. This is considered to be the origin of the British Post Office as it is known today.

Now, for some information about the addressee of this letter, Sir Robert Clayton (1629–1707), British merchant banker, politician and Lord Mayor of London. (Fig.3 portrait).

Robert Clayton

He was an amazing man who rose from humble beginnings in a country area of Britain to be wealthy and powerful. He was born in Northamptonshire and became an apprentice to his uncle, a London scrivener, (that was a writer, drafter of documents, a notary, broker, money-lender or any or all of these). He met a fellow apprentice, Alderman John Morris and they became successful businessmen and established the bank, Clayton & Morris Co., where they developed deposit banking, the basis of our present-day system. The records of this bank have examples of the first cheques, first bankers' notes, first statements of account, the earliest banking cashier's book and the first banking ledgers and mortgage finance.

The list of his social commitments is astonishing. As Robert Clayton he entered politics and represented several wards as a Whig. He was knighted in 1671. He made a considerable fortune, and in 1697 he lent the king £30,000 to pay for the army. He was president of the St. Thomas' Hospital in London (next to the River Thames http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/River_Thames opposite the Houses of Parliament), and employed Thomas Cartwright to rebuild the hospital and St Thomas Church. He was a member of the Scriveners and Drapers company, and Alderman of Cheap Ward in the City of London (1670-1683), a Sheriff in 1671, Lord Mayor of London (1679–1680), a Member of Parliament for the City of London (1678-1681) Colonel of the Orange Regiment of militia (various times, 1680–1702), President of the Honourable Artillery Company (1690–1703), Commissioner of the Customs (1689–1697), an Assistant to the Royal African Company (1672–1681). In 1694 he was one of the first contributors to the capital of the Bank of England with a subscription of £2000 and served as a director of the Bank of England from 1702 until his death in 1707. John Evelyn a social diarist of the time wrote that Sir Robert Clayton lived more sumptuously than a prince, but his palatial mansion was also the office of the bank and the staff lived there.

I think it is surprising that a letter written to and by this man nearly 250 years ago is still in existence outside archival records. I have seen a reproduction of the portrait of Sir Robert Clayton in his mayoral robes painted by Lorenzo da Castro, but do not know where it is – possibly hanging in the Bank of England headquarters?

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

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