Henry Larratt,1780

"Henry Larratt - trainee surgeon of the 18th Century"


Eunice Shanahan

This article concerns two of four undated letters which have proved to be not only very interesting in themselves, but also for the puzzle they presented in narrowing down the date. They are all written by Henry Larratt in London to his father, a Surgeon, in Uppingham, Rutland. He has not given a complete date to any of the letters, only dates like, "London, Saturday evening".

When I have undated letters, I usually check the watermark, and the postal markings for clues. In this case only one of the letters has a watermark, and that is one which does not include a year. Both the letters have the same postal markings :- a Bishop Mark, and a manuscript charge mark. However, these did not prove very helpful, because Bishop marks of the type showing only the day and the month, were in use from 1713-1787, and the rate of 3d (three pence) was the charge for sending a single sheet letter a distance of under 80 miles between 1711 and 1785. So that only narrowed it down to about 70+ years, which was not very accurate!

My next thought was to check on the internet for Uppingham and found the address of the Rutland Shire Special Services Librarian/Archivist. An e-mail to them brought an incredible response from Emily Barwell, who was very interested in the letters, and she managed to find very useful information about the Larratt family in Uppingham. This showed that my guess of 1711 was not very likely, as records held in the Poll Tax, and other local records indicated that it was much more likely to be after 1770.

As in most letters of the 18th and early 19th centuries, all the letters have the 'long s' where the letter has been doubled, like 'business' 'Miss' etc., but I have left them in the modern format, as it makes it easier to read. So now to the first chatty letter which is addressed

For Mr Larratt Surgeon Uppingham, Rutland.

address panel

The Bishop mark is 18mm diameter and is 3 over AP which is 3rd April -The manuscript charge mark is '3', and Henry has written "Single" in the bottom left hand corner (this is for the Post Office to charge only for a single rate - i.e. 3 pence which his father would have to pay to receive the letter)

"London Saturday evening
Dear Father
I could not think of losing the first opportunity of writing a few lines to return you all my most sincere thanks for the presents this Day received. I shall suppose you will think I have been very expeditious for really I have tasted them all, & excellent good they are; It is very amazing but I eat them with a greater relish than others of a similar kind, knowing whose hands they have passed thro'; & it being a meal which I eat very seldom in London, I am not very fond of London Pork; tho' exceeding good it may be;"

(Note: this is a surprising comment about the food which had been sent from Rutlandshire down to London as it must have travelled by coach, maybe it was items like preserves or pickles. He then continues with home news and references to Mr F and Mr N, and I have found out that these are Mr Fox and Mr Nevison. Jno is the abbreviation for John, and his spelling is not always standard - cleaver for clever and Baskitt for basket.)

"I shall almost tire you with reading my long letters, you will receive one by Mr F. who left Town sometime on Friday last; should suppose they will nearly arrive together; but on recollection the letter by Mr F is for my Friend Mr. N. whom I am heartily glad will soon have finished his tedious Business: the letter I believe complains of him in particular being very much behind in point of Correspondence; but the Baskitt being some few days a coming, in some measure pleads an excuse; I am very glad to hear the colt is going to be broke by Jno Wright it is what I wished for; let me hear now & then, how he looks whether he is anything of a figure; for I believe you know when I was in the Country I used to say then I would ride a Cleaver Horse."

(Note: He then tells his father about what he is planning, and this is the first clue for me to be able to date the letters. He is in London working at St. Thomas's hospital.)

inside of letter

"I am still in the same way of thinking - we have plenty of business at the Hospital, operations in plenty, there is to be three on Monday all performed by Mr Martin who is beyond the shadow of a doubt the best Operator of the Six Surgeons at Thomas' and Guys' but has hurt himself by the heavy expences which attend keeping these great people Company, his Connections being chiefly with the first people in Town some few of us has been to see him & most Elegantly entertain'd Every think in taste &c"

(Note: George Martin was Surgeon from 1768-1784 - he died in 1784 and his post was taken over by John Birch, so the letters have to have been written during this period. He then continues with personal family news. The Fox family (John)were clockmakers and gunsmiths in Uppingham at the time. There were Larratts living in Liddington, so Henry would have known about Mrs Hill.)

"Mr N. writes me word Jemmy Hill's Mother was not expected to live; Liddington will miss her very much especially the poor people if she goes off:
We have no news in town worth notice so must conclude with best Respects to you all & much obliged to my Mother & Miss Fox in particular (for I doubt not but she had to do with preparing one of the Articles received)
I am Dear Father, Your Affectionate Son
Henry Larratt"

P.S. The little Box had entirely buried itself in one of the Pges but the Contents safe within it put me in mind; in fact it looked so as if the Trepan had been applied the little white Top appearing at the Brim of the Pge; but I immediately removed the whole fracture & healed it by the first intension. I suppose Mr Hands is gone from Upp: before this if not my best Respects await on him.
Shall be glad to hear from some of you when a convenient opportunity serves which I hope will not be a great length of Time."

(Note: I did not understand this paragraph, but presumed he was being sardonic about the package and his skills as a dresser to a surgeon, however I have since found out that "healed by the first intension" in medical terms means 'leave it alone and it will heal itself'.) Since I found the dates that the Surgeon George Martin was working at St Thomas hospital, (1768-1784), I was able to check on a perpetual calendar and found that April 3rd was a Sunday in 1780, so the 'Saturday Evening' date on the letter would have been the 2nd April in that year.

The second letter has a Bishop mark 18mm diameter 2 over DE (2nd December). The front is addressed :-
For Mr Larratt Surgeon Uppingham Rutland marked 'Single Sheet' and charged '3'.

address panel

It has a watermark on one part of the paper with a crown over the initials GR

part of watermark

- and on the other part a seated Britannia on an oval shield, but no year of manufacture, unfortunately.


Unfortunately the letter has been torn, and the first part of the letter which has been written by someone else is partly missing, so the next part of the letter written by Henry Larratt is also missing.

It begins with a different handwriting, and from the first complete line it reads :-

part of letter

Note the fancy signature.

"The Present Tenant of the House has desired to know what terms you will let it on. I have promised him answer in a few days, as soon as I receive yours I will call on him & acquaint him with your proposals. I would recommend you to let on as long a repairing Lease as you can, not less than 21 years & to a good tenant who will put it in substantial repair think you will not make more than 20 a year of it. However Please to favour me with your proposals & I will do the Best I can for you, I am your affectionate Nephew
H Gills
Please to make my Best respects to all friends."
The letter continues over the other side of the page with the partial lines written in Henry Larratt's handwriting concerns the house and gives his warning advice about the tenant.

"Gills informs me the best method he thinks is for to pay 1=10=6 down & it insures you for two hundred Pounds for Seven Years without any further trouble, but that you must do as you think right yourself. I would not Let the House upon any terms whatsoever to the present Tenant for depend upon it you will find a great deal of trouble in getting the rents for I am clear he is a very slippery Hand & a Man of no Character. Mr Gills thinks it a very likely House for a Creditable Builder on Account of the room backward. I further think this Man should have a discharge from somebody but that you will best know when you see Mr F. which I was informed in my Friend's Letter you had not then seen which rather surprised me for he has the writings with him. This is all the Account respecting the House I am at present able to give you."
The next paragraph is further information about his situation, and this was further evidence for the dating of the letter.

"In regard to myself I am settled in my own mind not to enter for the 12 months but be a dresser for the Last 3 or Months if I possibly can."

next part of letter

Henry then continues with information for his father about his experiences in London.

"Mr Casey and Myself spent a most agreeable day I assure you at Mr Smith's at Camberwell, he took us down from Thomas' with him in his Carriage & sent us home after the same conveyance at night which I thought very genteel. I had not an opportunity of asking him any questions respecting the Hospital as there was more company with us: The Parcel I received safe and am much obliged to you for them; I made a present of them to Mr Smith who is a very good plain sort of a Man but his house is Elegant indeed. You will please to acquaint My friend Mr Nevison he must excuse my writing long letters for really I am but in just time for the Post but don't forget to make use of my dogs which he promised me he would when he left town. I shall expect another Letter from him before I write again with the particulars of his days Diversion (Complmts to Mr Letts) I am with best Respects to Miss Fox, her Mamma & all the family, your Affecte Son at command
Henry Larratt"
Then he adds another few lines

"I am glad to hear the petticoat pleased & for further orders will execute to the Best of my power & taste, should be Happy in having an order from Miss F. May some of you be so good as to write soon to let me know how you all do & what is to be done in regard to the House."

(Note: Emily suggested that I contact the Hunterian museum in London for advice about Henry as a student at the hospital and I was staggered to have this response from Caroline Lam at the Kings College Library archives.)

"I've checked our extant St Thomas's Hospital Medical School records for Henry and found that he first enrolled as a 'Surgeon's Pupil' for a period of 6 months on 13 November 1780. On 13th January 1781, Henry switched to become a [Surgeon's] dresser to Mr George Martin, still for a period of 6 months.

Like many of the London Hospitals, pupils and dressers would sign up either for 6 or 12 months in order to 'walk the wards', learning the latest medical techniques to prepare for the exams of the College of Physicians, College of Surgeons or Apothecaries Hall. Students would have taken their College of Surgeons or College of Physician around June."

So that gives me the date for the two letters, it is 1780. I find it hard to believe that these records are still available. That is the end of these two letters - watch this space for Henry's London experiences in learning to be a doctor.

Acknowledgements : British County Catalogue London, Willcocks and Jay
Rutland Shire Archivist - Extended Services Librarian
'St Thomas's Hospital Medical School, King's College Archives, King's College London'
"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.

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