"Sickness and Concern in pre-Victorian England"
Bristol to Sutton, Surrey, 1837
This letter was written just a few months before the death of King William IV, who was succeeded by his niece Victoria. It is addressed simply to Mr Harrison, Sutton, Surrey with a side note "For Mrs Harrison". The Post Office Directory shows that at this time, Sutton had a population of about 1800, and Mr Harrison was entered under "gentry". It was the first Post town from London, and there were two Post Houses, the Cock Inn and the Greyhound Inn. There was a frequent mail service ; letters arrived from London at half past 8, half past 9 and 12 noon and again at 7 pm. They were despatched for London at half past 8 in the morning, and then at half past 3 and at 6 pm.
There are five postal markings, showing the progress of journey, starting with the ones on the back (Fig.1)
1) a rather poorly struck circular BRISTOL date stamp, apparently 14 FE 1837.
2) then the London General Post receiving date stamp 16 FE 1837 in red. This is a morning duty stamp identifiable, because the year is in a straight line,
Then on the front of the letter (Fig2.)
4) a boxed TP rate 2 stamp. Sutton was in the Country area of the Twopenny Post at that time. In Alan Robertson's book he has a map which shows that it is almost at the extreme edge of the 12-mile radius south of the GPO. General Post letters which were to be delivered in the Country area of the London Post were subject to a charge of 2d, in addition to whatever other rate was charged, and the stamp to show this was introduced in January 1830. This boxed example was replaced in 1836 with an unboxed type. It was applied in the Twopenny Post office. So Mr Harrison in Sutton would have had to pay 1/- to receive this letter.
5) the cost of the letter, the manuscript '10'. Postage rate Bristol to Sutton, which was 122 miles to London, then about 11 miles from the GPO to Sutton, so a total of about 133 miles. Between 1812 and 1839 the cost was 10 pence for a single page letter over a distance between 120 and 170 miles. The journey took about 15 hours by mailcoach, which is not borne out by the postmarks. The mail was scheduled to leave Bristol at 4 pm each day, (in this case on the 14th, which was a Tuesday) and travelled overnight to reach London 15 hours later arriving at 7 in the morning. So the London postmarks should have been the 15th February and not the 16th. I wonder if the mail had been caught in a snowdrift, or an accident as it was winter.
Now to the letter which is sealed with a blob of orange-coloured wax with a patterned seal of circular dots, probably made by the use of a silver thimble. The letter was opened very carefully, having been slit across this wax seal. In many cases the letters were ripped open and lumps of paper torn off with the seal! It is written by a caring friend to relieve the worries of someone too far away to visit her own sister. (Fig. 3)
click here for larger image.
"Bristol February 13th
Although the ink is not very black, the writing is clearly legible, yet as in so many cases in these old letters, the signature is harder to read than the rest of the letter, and I may not have read it correctly. The epidemic mentioned in the last paragraph is likely to have been cholera.
The paper is good quality, and has aged so well it looks as though it has not long been delivered. It has a watermark S E & Co 1834 (Fig.4) identifying the maker.
I asked for information from an internet mailing list for people interested in paper makers, but unfortunately no one has any information about this particular watermark.
The letter gives a glimpse into the life of ordinary people of nearly 170 years ago.
References: The Local Posts of London 1680-1840 — George Brumell; Great Britain Post Roads, Post Towns and Postal Rates 1635-1839 Alan W. Robertson.
This article was first published in Stamp News the Australian monthly magazine.
Copyright By EARS Leisurewrite
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