Letters from the Past

“Mrs Forster in London, to her son in Hastings, 1817

and in Bushey, Hertfordshire in 1820.”

This the first of two letters concerning Dr. Forster. It is addressed to
Thos. Forster Esqr, Post Office, Hastings, Sussex,
and has 4 postal markings, 2 from the Twopenny Post system, and two from the general post.  1) The oval date stamp is in red   7 oclock FE 20 1817 Nt,  and
2)the hand struck ‘2’  were applied at the Chief Office of the Two Penny Post (2PP).
3) the evening duty date stamp and
4) the charge mark of ‘10’ were applied by the General Post, (identified because the month is before the day).

So what is the thing everyone in Britain would know about Hastings?

Correct – William the Duke of Normandy made the last successful invasion of England in 1066, and his troops despatched King Harold with an arrow in his eye – or so the story goes. It is depicted here in the Bayeux tapestry.

The Battle of Hastings was the start of the Norman Conquest, fought on 14 October 1066; although the battle itself took place eight miles (13 km) to the north at Senlac Hill, and William had landed on the coast between Hastings and Eastbourne at a site now known as Norman’s Bay. It is thought that the Norman encampment was on the town’s outskirts, where there was open ground; a new town was already being built in the valley to the east. That “New Burgh” was founded in 1069, and is mentioned in the Domesday Book as such. William defeated and killed Harold Godwinson, the last Saxon King of England, and destroyed his army; thus opening England to the Norman conquest.

Now, back to the letter which is dated Wednesday night 12 oclock.  No month, or address in the heading, as obviously, her son would know where she was living. 

The letter is very messy, and to get her full value from the postage, Mrs Forster has written over every available space, including crossing the lines on the first page.

She begins straightaway, with no greeting of any kind. The language is so descriptive and colourful, it just brings the 19th century home to life for me.

“My letter will smell of the midnight lamp for I can find no time to write but that which most people take for sleep, 12 oclock it is now: Susanna writes me word she is so well at Bushey for she goes to bed early,  lays late; to lay late is certainly not good, the other most assuredly is; remember I never recommended late hours to any of you but I never could get you out of my room, but by force and Susanna as bad, tho she complains it makes her ill.  I am obliged to do it as the day is not long enough for what I have to do: Sue comes she says home Saturday or early in next week but I do not hear of Laura coming with her, I shall be so disappointed if she does not.”

Then it has a ‘crossed’ sentence, which seems to relate to this paragraph.

“Mind, I will not have a dance without you, both promise to be with us.  My dancing days are over, but still I go to dances, we shall have 2 Brides at class.”

(Note:  from the following paragraph it is easy to see what an acerbic woman she was, and how well she expressed her feelings about the visitors to her son.)

We sit and fancy we have no acquaintance in Hackney yet this morning I wish’d 12 of them at the bottom of the Red Sea for they were in my drawing room when your letter came not all exactly at the same time, I will just entertain you with who these dabs were.
Mrs Craven and her bright daughter, & Miss Lees, Mrs Beauman & her married daughter, Mrs Baden & 3 cubs;  yesterday I do think I had as many more, such lots of wedding – jobbers no end of them, I went to Town one morning thinking to get rid of them, but I unhappily returned too soon for they were in like so many hailstones through a broken window, only unlike them, the longer they stay’d the dryer they got.

One of my yesterday visitors I must say I do love, it was Mrs John Cazenove & her baby came, the more I see of her the more I love her, she said How could Julia Beaufoy bear to change her beautiful name for such an ugly one!! She has form’d such a charming idea of her, from her romantic name & place of abode, and longs to see her;  by what I can make out you had their lodgings at the Wells that they were in when they were married.  Tell my daughter she was very good to write to me & I thank her, but was in a sad puzzle to make out your cross lines you might have written it all one way by writing closer –

(This is a bit much as a comment in view of the mess she makes of her own letter to her son! )

I have been to the Berkhorns, the girls took me, the Bride was uncommonly happy and very gay  down at his mothers & fathers, sent their love to you  & wish’d you very happy – all our World  wish you both happy. If wishing would make you so you would be sure to be so  for I hardly pop my head out of doors but I meet some grinning face wishing me joy.

I am so sleepy but I dare not trust to tomorrow. I expect Kate for the last time I shall see her & the Snaiths with her I will tell her what you say but you had better not write for she is going to Ewell & she don’t like to have letters there I think –   have you been told T Williams has got into difficulties. I don’t know how or what in the money way what will my father do now? He’ll go wild I think: I am so glad Julia likes my dear Wells.

(Note:  this is a reference to Tunbridge Wells, a famous and well –supported spa town, where members of the ‘upper ten thousand’ went to drink the spa waters, which were thought to improve one’s health. 
The town came into being as a spa in Georgian times and had its heyday as a tourist resort under Richard (Beau) Nash when the Pantiles and its chalybeate spring attracted visitors who wished to take the waters. Though its popularity waned with the advent of sea bathing, the town remains popular and derives some 30% of its income from the tourist industry.

Tunbridge Wells has a population of around 56,500 and in the United Kingdom the town has a reputation as being the archetypal conservative “Middle England” town, a stereotype that is typified by the fictional letter–writer “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells”.

Oh! Hastings, when I think of that Horrid place it turns me sic, when I thought last time, I should die there, oh how ill I was. Take care of your shirts, I lost 6 of your fathers there they are all thieves  they would out face old scratch.

(Note : 'Old Scratch' was a common name for the Devil. ).

The next paragraphs are full of  typical mothers comments…. 

 “Oh! Tom, now you get to spend your own money you find things dear, they are indeed  but I hope you will always have enough with care: I am so glad you think so well of your new Servants that is realy a blessing for there are so many bad ones that to begin with good is a most thankful circumstance there are none perfect –   I will enquire about your coat – a Swallow!   Wonderful! I’ll try to Swallow it. 

The Swallow coat she refers to  is one of the changing fashions,  actually the swallowtail coat. These are still available for hire from theatrical costumiers, and I found an image on the website

It is not Mrs Fenner or Mrs Nye you mean – did Julia like the Bakers? Have you introduced her to the Water dippers? Does she like the water? Has she seen our Land? Tell me all these things in your next. “I’m sorry to be troublesome, & ask questions but how do you do
I cannot read this over, don’t shew it to Julia mind, you are used to my vile writing so it don’t signify.  If you live at the Wells you can get to Hastings if you are fond of it easy enough sometimes. Your Books & any thing shall be in your room as long as you like, I have been dusting them & putting them all nicely up, I could not get on with the job for reading them.
How glad I shall be to see you both here snug & safe tho Hackney has no charms but us! It will do for a London house for you – Miss Greyham is coming 2 hours a day to little Hall & Molly, I like her so much she is very cleaver so few that go out in that way that I can <bear>
With love to wifey; I am Dr Son your Aff Mother.”

The first page has been turned upside down, and her final statement refers to the fact that the letters were usually paid for by the receiver, but postage COULD by paid by the writer.
“I must still do what I always did, pay you for all my letters, you must never be too proud for that”


That ends the first of the two letters we bought written by this London–based lady to her son. For the next instalment of the story of their life in the early 19th century … read on.
The second letter  is from the same lady,  Dr. Forster’s mother,  but is addressed to her son Dr. Forster at Col. Beaufoy’s  Bushey Near Stanmore.and has 5 postal markings, some better than others!

address panel

It is a Twopenny Post letter  and has a partially struck receiving house stamp in red, which looks like  Unpaid  Boston   I could find no Receiving House with that name in any of my reference books – but, as we are members of the GBPS, we asked the members if they had any suggestions, and Mike Jackson, the Editor of the journal found it for me, and it is Bishopsgate Within.
The  hand struck ‘2’ is the Two Penny Post charge before it was transferred to the General post for onward transmission out of London.  It is interesting that Bushey is in the county of Hertfordshire,  but Stanmore is in Middlesex. The administrative boundaries were always being changed, but the post offices were not linked to the Counties for delivery etc.
Then the transfer stamp in black 7 oclock MR 20 1820 Nt. Octagonal applied at the Chief office of the twopenny post  as it has the month before the day
London evening duty stamp of the general post for Mar 20
‘6’ indicating the charge for sending the letter.

Both Col. Beaufoy and Dr. Thomas Forster were well-known scientists of their time, and were famous enough to have entries in the Dictionary of National Biography.

The addressee   Dr. Thomas Forster M.D   was married to Col. Beaufoy’s daughter Julia…his DNB entry notes that he moved to Hastings.

The letter is written by a very distressed and peevish mother– many words are underlined and she has a good time with the exclamation marks.

first part of letter

There is no address inside the letter, just the day

“Sunday night 19

My dear Tom
What is this horror!! that I hear upon my coming home, is it true ? Can it be possible!? any body so wicked as to report that your poor Father is out of his mind? They may say so of me too for I think they will all drive me so soon: do tell me who is it that dare say so to you? Could you bear it? Did Julia’s Father hear it?or did he dare say it? Or is it altogether a lie of Edwards? For he this evening has behaved like a mad man to me, I was quietly telling him that my Father had been so kind to me about every body, thought it might do him good to hear that tho he had been so violent against Susanna & her affair he was now tam’d & said we did our duty to make the best of it, & was glad we intended to have her up among us soon.

He sent his love to you all I left him very ill & he said he should die but he is in no danger only a violent cold bowel complaint & very feverish : he always says he shall die, but I never saw him so comfortable & kind as he was at the time I was there: he ask’d me if “Little Sippy” (as he calls Ned) was quiet now, yes Sir, says I the bustle over he has nothing to be unquiet about.

But had he treated me as he has done this evening  I would have told him; he flew at me like a Tyger damn’d me, cursed & swore like a mad man got up & stamped the Room with such Violence  the Servants were frightened. I am sure they may truly say he is mad he swears vengeance tho he may go to Hell, next moment he makes me shudder & wish myself dead to think I am the mother of such a monster I’ll tell you more when I see you. I have no redress.

 I call’d up your Father, but he had got his Sunday quantity of wine

(Note: ) her next comment shows how important it was at the time that appearances should be kept up.

I shall say soon, as poor Susanna did to her father, that His House is not safe place   for me, Oh! But for those poor dear Girls of mine I’d fly directly to some quiet place, for my heart is nearly broke. Do not shew this pray remember family secrets must now be kept if we wish still a character in the world.

second part of letter

click here for larger image.

Now I beg to know what this story was got from & what enemy so innocent  a Man can have  as your father with all his faults, his drinking  is now I fear to drown his misery horrid way that it is.
Yours ever affectionately
Then there is a continuation on the outside
If Ned goes on so I’ll write to his Uncle Ned see if we can any how bind this mad witch to some quiet behaviour he must be lodged from home some where, it shall not go on.  Nobody would believe what I take from him”

At the top of the letter, in different coloured ink and handwriting (see the first image) is this sentence :-
“This letter irritated me & led to a quarrel with Col. Beaufoy but it was now made up”.

The comment about madness would have been very ‘touchy’ because of the madness of the King for the last 10 years of his life -  now known not to be madness at all, but a medical condition called porphyria   which can be treated nowadays.

There is an excellent water mark on the paper  J GREEN  1818. I have not as yet managed to find out any details of this paper manufacturer, but with so much more information becoming available on the internet, I am sure I will be able to in the future.


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Last modified 5th June 2014