"Kitty's blotted scrawl"
Salisbury to London, 1813
by
Eunice Shanahan

This letter is a family one, nearly 200 years old. It is addressed to G. J. Kneller Esqr, York Place, Portman Square, (which is situated between Oxford Street and Baker Street, and was built about 1800), London.

This is almost certainly Godfrey John Kneller (c.1792-1857) who also lived at Donhead Hall, Wiltshire. He was a descendant of the famous Court Painter Sir Godfrey Kneller (1646-1723), whose paintings can be found in many national collections - as well as Hampton Court, England. The paper is a good quality, strong cream colour, with a watermark R BARNARD 1809.
There are three postal markings, beginning with the front of the letter :
(Fig.1)


1) a manuscript charge mark of '9' , that is ninepence for a distance between 80 and 120 miles.
Then on the back of the letter :(Fig.2)

2) a large 40mm SALISBURY dated mileage stamp with the small circles either side of the mileage 84. This is quite different from that in use 20 years later (Fig.3);

3) (see Fig. 2) London double ring morning duty receiving stamp in red.

The 1830 Pigot's directory for Wiltshire shows that Salisbury Post Office was in the High Street, and letters from London arrived every morning except Monday at 4.45 a.m., and were despatched every evening except Saturday at 9.30. The office was open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m.

It was written from "Close, April 20 1813" which would have been Cathedral Close in Salisbury, Wiltshire. (Fig.4 - the beginning of the letter)

The letter is beautifully written, very easy to read and concerns a will, bankruptcy, death, bequests and the family finances.

"My dear John,
Although I have not time to reply so fully to your Letter (just received), as I wish to do, yet I will not lose a moment in answering the chief particulars of its contents, and in informing you that the Trust Account between Mr. Blackall & myself concerning the Bequest of your late good Grandmother, was put into the hands of Messrs Hoare & Co, immediately on the Bankruptcy & death of Lambert; they have had the management of it ever since, & have always sent me their Stock Receipt as a Voucher for the Investment every half year; The sum originally left has of course been increased & I will write to Messrs Hoare & Co about this business; I know you are entitled to your share as soon come of age - & your Sisters is to be paid when she attains the same period - being specified so by your Grandmother's Will, to which I was sole Executrix; and I design'd to have made the transfers when I settled the other Business, which I anxiously wish to do - as my mind will not be quite at ease 'till everything is adjusted between all parties".

Hoare's bank was founded in 1672 by Richard Hoare at the sign of the Golden Bottle in Cheapside, London. It has a fascinating history as a privately owned bank, and some famous customers of the 17th century were Samuel Pepys, Sir Godfrey Kneller (painter) and forebear of the writer of this letter - John Dryden (Poet) and "Beau" Nash. In the 19th century: Lord Byron (poet); Jane Austen (author); Lord Palmerston and the Earl of Liverpool (Prime Ministers) were all customers. After the Great War, most of the remaining private banks were absorbed by the larger banks. Hoares took a decision not to merge and today is the sole survivor as an independent bank, employing 220 staff in two branches in London, and having appointed its first female partner.

To return to the letter, and the next paragraph sounds as though John has been querying the legacies or bequests, and I think she puts her position very clearly - particularly the rather pathetic touch of not having anything very valuable.

"As to the Furniture, Plate, Trinkets &c, they were by Mother's Will left to my late Sister & myself jointly share and share alike, therefore the half of them is my own property, and I am entitled to the Moiety of her share also; you know we never had any thing very Elegant about us, & therefore it will be no very great sum, but it was oblig'd to be Valued, to ascertain the Duty thereon, for the Stamp Office."

(Note: Moiety definition - a formal or technical description for "each of two parts into which a thing is or can be divided".) But then she makes it clear that she knows there is no ill will towards her :

"I thank you for your kind expressions towards me & fully appreciate your goodness of heart.
I have not time at present to say more than best wishes & remembrances to you and yours & to assure you
I remain yours affectionately
K. Kneller."

The final comment is very appealing, but not really very accurate, as the letter looks perfectly alright.

"What a Blotted scrawl! But it must go!"

The writer was his aunt Charlotte Kitty Kneller, and I wonder why she was living in the Close, because it is the precinct of Salisbury's ecclesiastical community, and the largest Close in England. The Cathedral was founded in 1228 and many medieval buildings, including the Old Deanery and the Bishop's Palace, grew up around the new Cathedral to provide accommodation for members of the clergy, their servants, and craftsmen working on the Cathedral. During the 14th century tension between clergy and the city folk increased and in 1331 stone from the abandoned Cathedral at Old Sarum was used to build a wall around the Close. There are three gateways in the wall: High Street Gate, St. Ann's Gate, and Harnham Gate. The High Street Gate once had a portcullis that was lowered when the citizens became rebellious. The Gates are still locked every night at 11pm.

I have this postcard posted April 27 1907 (Fig.5) which shows the High St Gate and the Widow's College. There is no sign of a portcullis!


The second postcard (Fig.6) is of Salisbury Cathedral which has the tallest mediaeval spire in England - 404ft. The entry in the Post Office directory describing the Cathedral notes that it was built in 1258 and contains as many windows as there are days ; as many marble shafts as there are hours, and as many doors as there are months in the year.

This postcard was sent to me in the 1990s from an old school friend, and her message was this :- "Remember when we came here 40 years ago? There is massive restoration going on here on the spire and tower. It costs £2400 to maintain the Cathedral for one day let alone the restoration. We are sitting on the green in glorious sunshine looking at this view and scaffolding which is a work of art in itself."

The homes in the Close are still inhabited more than 700 years after the Cathedral was founded, which puts the postal markings in perspective.


NEWSFLASH !

In February 2010, we were contacted by a man who is a direct descendant of Sir Godfrey Kneller Bart. the court painter, and is compiling a family history of his own branch of the family, so was very interested in this letter. He wrote :
Quote
Fascinating to read a letter from Kitty to her nephew Godfrey John affectionately known as Jacky. She was named Katherine after her grandmother Katherine Huckle and was affectionately known as Kitty. Her sister Charlotte died 1811 in the same week as her brother John, Jackyís father. Kitty was the executrix of her mother Rebecca nee Fullagerís will who died in 1799 at Donhead Wiltshire.
I hope this clarifies that Charlotte and Kitty are sisters. Godfrey John (Jacky) was John's only son and Kitty's nepnew.

unquote

It is good to know that putting these letters up on our website gives others the chance to add bits of information to their research. Without the internet, no one else would know these letters exist.


Another NEWSFLASH !

In January 2016, another visitor to our website found this letter, and wanted to use some of the information on the opc website, which has different information about Kitty Kneller. Her information which concerns a high Court of Chancery Hearing 2 years after Kitty's death can be found on this website.

Acknowledgements: Wikipedia online, Pigot's 1830 Directory, Kneller family history list.

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

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