>William forbes


Letters from the Past

by Eunice Shanahan

Scottish colliery affairs. William Forbes to
Russell & Aitkin, Writers, Falkirk, 1836

We have two related letters written by Mr Forbes in August 1836, which explain the problems being experienced by the colliery and the housing. There is no mention in the letters of which colliery it is, but on the outside of the first one there is filing note, which is unfortunately very hard to decipher, which may be relevant. I could not find any information on the internet without knowing the actual name of the colliery.

The first is written from Edinburgh, dated inside 9th August 1836 and addressed to Msrs. Russell & Aitken, Writers, Falkirk. It has four postal markings:-

1) a poorly applied Edinburgh circular date stamp in red ink ,

2) an even worse date stamp for Falkirk which is superimposed on the Edinburgh mark,
both of these were on the back of the letter. The next two were clearly applied on the front of the letter

3) was the charge mark of 6 in manuscript, which covered the cost of a distance between 20 and 30 miles, and

4) the Additional halfpenny stamp for the Scottish mail tax. This was the type IIa which was recorded in use 10.1.1829 to 23.11.1839, and applied in black ink.

The letter is written on light cream paper with no watermark, the writing is easy to read, and the first two sentences sound very pompous.

Edinb. 9 Aug 1836
Gentlemen

I have received your letter of 8th Augt. which, so far as relates to the request on behalf of Mr Wilson, singular altho. the shape be in which it comes, shall have due consideration.
In regard to Mr Wilson who is always put forward might I ask the extent of his obligations or concern in relation to the Colliery &c for I am not aware of them.

He then goes on to answer the specific query and follows it up with a suggestion that things could be improved.

You ask, in consequence of Mr Williamsons inspection, if I am in a condition to acknowledge that the lease has been implemented and rent fully paid up to Candlemas last.

“The last is established by the discharge then granted – and as to the former, Mr Williamson reported that there was no proper plan made out of the mineral field to shew the extent and exact position of the workings in the several seams.” In future “a correct plan should be made of the excavations at the stated periods provided by the Lease”

In stating the account for Lordship you are requested to attend to the annexed memoranda.
Be so good as remit the rent due at Lammas, now past.

I am Gent.
your most obdt svt
William Forbes.

The letter then continues on the inside page with the memoranda mentioned.

Bring forward stock on hand at last settlement
Quantities of coal since worked by the Colliers.
Coal sold since last settlement.
Stock on hand at this settlement.

There are two filing notes the first is to remind the writer what is in the letter.

W Forbes Glenhosier(?) Plan Rent Statement
And the second is to note what their reply would be
Mr Wilson advised of what we said as to Plan & States &c &c.


We have found many such notes on commercial letters in our collection, and can see that it would be much easier to check on the notes on the outside of any filed letters than having to open each one to check on the contents.


The second is just 10 days later, and is a follow up from the previous one. It is dated from Edinburgh, August 19th 1836 and also has the four postmarks. Edinburgh, Falkirk, the 6d charge mark and the Additional halfpenny, but they are much better applied, the dates showing that it was posted and received on the same day.

Edinb. Aug 19th 1836
Gentlemen
I have received your letter of 10th Augt – and the result of enquiries made in consequence of the complaint on behalf of Mr Wilson of want of accommodation for Colliers, is that it is not well founded. The fact being that the finished part of the Grieves house, as I’m informed, has been, and is now let to neutral persons, who are not Colliers. At the entering into the Lease, there was an oversight (by those who knew the fact) in not reserving a room for a teacher, for the benefit of the Colliers children &c; others at a distance from the Parish school, as in Mr. Laudens time, had been the case. Mr Forbes expressed a wish that the same thing might be continued, (not from the slightest benefit that could result to him, as he then had & still has a teacher at Crayburn?) but this was denied. I merely mention this to shew how small a matter is refused to Mr Forbes.

However Mr. Forbes will make no objection to Mr Millar finishing the upper flat of the House as he proposes at his own expense & removing his furnishings when it suits him.

With regard to the plan I expressed in my letter of the 9 Augt what Mr Williamson stated, and no plan was delivered to Mr. Hamilton until subsequent to Mr Williamson furnishing his report, so until another opportunity he cannot see it and the works, together.

The next paragraph is such a typical comment and beautifully expressed, for almost 200 years ago.

Your claim for an abatement to the tenant (Mr Wilson, I presume) will require further consideration and enquiry – ex facie it does not appear very equitable, to urge such a thing, else what was the use of settling every thing of the lease as to amount of rent, if every other terms rent was to be again altered whenever it was a little against the tenant – and no corresponding alteration in favor of the Landlord, when it becomes again profitable to the tenant.

I hope you will see the propriety of paying the rent without a continuation of all this trouble (which I have not experienced from other Collieries ) or say, if the concern is an unprofitable one, and if you are inclined to give it up.

I remain Gentlemen
Your very obdt servt
William Forbes.

The letter also has a filing note, but just the one brief note, which is too difficult to read.

Wm Forbes 19 August 1836
Humbing (?) of Losier(?) Plan &c &c.

The interest in these old letters in addition to the postal markings, is always the social background, but it is often impossible to track down the people or places to which they refer. There is much information on the internet these days, and various records of collieries in Scotland, but without the name of the colliery it is not possible to trace these any further. The name looks like Glen Hosier or Losier or Lonier, but none of those produced any results. I was no more successful in tracking down the writer of the letters, William Forbes in Edinburgh 1836, nor could I find any reference to a Crayburn parish, which could perhaps have given the location for the colliery involved.

However, there is information about the addressee on these letters. Surprisingly, Russel & Aitken are still in existence and have a website and social presence. The “about us” section on their website has this paragraph :-

Our roots go back to the centre of Falkirk and the surrounding district in the 1800s. The vision of then is the same vision now – to provide all legal advice an individual or family might need throughout their lifetime.


Sources : Great Britain Post Road, Post Towns and Postal Rates 1635-1839 Alan Robertson;Hodgson & Sedgewick, The Scottish Additional Halfpenny Mail Tax

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