Doctors Commons

“Doctors Commons – 1829,
William Fox to Messrs Freer & Son, Leicester ”


Eunice Shanahan

This letter is from one legal eagle in London to another, in Leicester in February 1829.

The only postmarks are:–
1) the London Evening Duty date – a circular stamp with the month in two letters FE at the top, the day 18 in the centre and the year 1829 in a curve at the bottom. The letter P to the left of the date is the identifying mark of the handstamp. This particular type of postmark was in use for only the two years 1828 to 1830.

2) the manuscript charge mark 9 is the cost of sending a single page letter over a distance between 80–120 miles (1812–1839). Leicester was 97 miles from London. The address inside the letter is simply ‘Doctors Commons’ dated Feby 18 1829.

It is written on heavy, unwatermarked paper and the ink is so good it has survived more than 185 years and the writing is perfectly legible.
“Dear Sir,
Willson Deceased –
Your parcel with the Probate and documents for obtaining a return of Probate Duty was received on the 10th Instant and as you stated in your Letter which bears date the 9th, that the 3 years would expire on the following Day, I transmitted the papers to the Stamp Office immediately without perusing them, they are this morning returned stating the time to have been out a month before they were sent & on referring to the Probate I perceive it bears date the 10th January 1826 , so that the three years expired on the 10th Jany last.

The Stamp Office say they cannot give any relief without an order from the Treasury, that a memorial must be presented to the Lords of the Treasury stating the Cause of the Delay, (verified by affidavit) and praying further time to be allowed.

I am Dear Sirs,
Yours Truly
Wm. Fox
Messrs Freer & Son. ”

This must have been so frustrating, to have missed the date by a month, which was then going to involve a lot of unnecessary work if someone had just kept an eye on date, but such a mistake is easily made.
Doctors Commons has a long well–documented and fascinating history. There are recorded meetings from as early as 1496. It was a society of Doctors of Law who were ecclesiastical lawyers, dealing mainly with probate etc., who met in Common Rooms in Paternoster Row, London, for social and professional reasons. Members paid subscriptions of a Mark (13/4d) or a half Mark (6/8d) and this entitled them to the hospitality of the Society. A subscription book was opened in 1511, which included earlier records and this book continued in use until 1855.

When the Doctors of Law moved from Paternoster Row to Mountjoy House in Knightrider Street in London in 1568, the name was kept both for the building and the Society. However this building was destroyed in the Great Fire of London in 1666. It was subsequently rebuilt on the same site in 1670–72 with 19 sets of chambers for residential and professional occupation.

Owing to changes in the legal system over the ensuing centuries, the need for ecclesiastical lawyers was phased out and by 1867 a barrister was permitted to sign articles which previously had to be signed by an advocate practising in Doctors Commons. The property was finally sold to the Metropolitan Board of works in 1865, who demolished it two years later and sold off the materials as part of the Thames Embankment Scheme and an associated feeder road. The books in the library were sold off in 1861, some to the government and others at auction to private buyers.

However, it continued to exist in law until the last member Dr. Tristam, died on 8/3/1921. His son donated the original Royal Charter to All Souls College Oxford for preservation.

Reference "Sin, Sex and Probate Ecclesiastical Courts, Officials & Records" by Colin R Chapman

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