Lurgan letter

‘Lurgan, Northern Ireland, to Edinburgh, Scotland, 1838’


Eunice Shanahan

This letter was addressed to the Royal Bank of Scotland, St. Andrews Square, Edinburgh from W. J Hancock in Lurgan, Ireland and has three postal markings. First the LURGAN Circular date stamp in black FE 27 1838, on the back of the letter,

then on the front address panel as illustrated,

an Edinburgh PAID date stamp in red MAR 1 1838 and the manuscript in red ink of the postage charge “Pd. 2/6 ½ ”. There is also a manuscript Post Paid,initialled by the writer W.J.H.
There is a filing note on the outside : “1838 W.J Hancock, Lurgan 26 Feb, Ansd 3 & 13 Mar.”

It is a letter concerning money being transferred. The writing is quite easy to read, except for the one name, which looks like ‘Whytosh’. However, I have been unable to trace that name at all around 1838.

The letter is not of exceptional interest, being a commercial, rather than a personal one, but the amount of money involved is quite large.


The Right Honble Charles Brownlow accepted a draft of Messrs Richard Whytosh & Co for the sum of seven hundred and fifty seven pounds 17/-. I beg to enclose you a Bill drawn by the Provincial Bank of Ireland at Lurgan upon Messrs Spooner Attwoods & Co for the sum of £757.17/- to pay said acceptance.

Will you be good enough to acknowledge the receipt of this Bill and forward to me Mr Brownlows acceptance.

I am, Gentlemen,
Yours very truly
Wm John Hancock, Lurgan 26 Feb 1838.

To the Directors of
The Royal Bank of Scotland.

The interest for me came when I started to research the letter online. The first thing I looked for was where the letter was posted, Lurgan. I found it is in Northern Ireland S.W of Belfast near Lake Meagh, so this was across the water from Ireland to Scotland, which does not explain the postage charge of 2/6 ½d. The mail service at this time was developing and changing. Alan Robertson’s book describes the routes for the mail from Ireland to Scotland using the Donaghadee to Port Patrick packets, and the Paddle steamers introduced from 1825 alleviated the problems of poor weather delaying the sailing ships, but the coastal limitations meant that the ports had to be changed from Larne to Stranraer. As no postmarks were used at either port there is no record of how this letter was transported.

As the likely route would seem to be from Northern Ireland straight across to Scotland, a sea distance of about 20 miles, the postal charge of 2/6 seemed very high. Fortunately, I was able to contact Michael Sanig, who kindly confirmed that it is correct. (Michael is one of the four collaborators who have been working on updating the information about the Scottish and Welsh Additional halfpenny mail taxes, and their new reference book/catalogue is due to be published in April 2017.)

This image cropped from one of the maps in Alan Robertson's book shows the route.

Lurgan to Donaghadee is 40 miles; Donaghadee to Edinburgh via Dumfries – 159 miles. Total mileage 199 miles therefore within 170–230 mileage rate. This was a double letter, as it had an enclosure, so the rate would be 11d x 2 = 1s10d.

Port Patrick to Donaghadee double letter rate = 8d

Add ½d = ½d.
(The additional half penny was included as this was the mail coach tax introduced in 1813 and in force until 1840).

Therefore total cost = 1s10d + 8d +½d = 2s6½d

The letter was prepaid by Mr Hancock in Lurgan, so he must have known that this was correct at the time.

Other results of the research showed that when this letter was written it was a turbulent time because of the fight for Catholic emancipation.

The next thing I checked was the first person mentioned, The Right Honourable Charles Brownlow. The result was very interesting, and there is a lot of information about him as he was a member of parliament. The entry in Wikipedia shows Charles Brownlow, 1st Baron Lurgan PC (17 April 1795 – 30 April 1847) was an Irish politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1818 to 1832 and was raised to the peerage in 1839.

Brownlow was the son of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Brownlow and his wife Caroline Ashe. In 1818 he was elected Member of Parliament for Armagh and held the seat until 1832. In 1829, the year of the Catholic Emancipation Act, Brownlow gave the Rev. W.O. O'Brien land for a church in the townland of Derry. In 1833 he had built Brownlow House designed by the Edinburgh architect William Henry Playfair in the Elizabethan style and constructed of Scottish sandstone. He was High Sheriff of Armagh in 1834 and was raised to the peerage by Queen Victoria, as Baron Lurgan, of Lurgan in the County of Armagh on 14 May 1839.

Brownlow was keen to improve his estate and was actively concerned with the welfare of the people of Lurgan. During the Great Famine he was chairman of the Lurgan Board of Guardians and was constantly at his post. While alleviating distress and attending the wants of the Union, he contracted typhus fever which led to his death at the age of 52.

When this letter was written, he was still the Right Honourable Charles Brownlow, MP, as he was not created a Baron until the year after.

I could find no information at all about Messrs Richard Whytosh & Co in 1838, but this is possibly because I may not have read the name correctly from this handwriting. The illustration shows that it is clear, and not smudged or faded, but illegible!
The next reference was for Spooner Attwoods & Co, and the entry in Slater’s Directory of Lurgan of 1842 Page 2 has the following details.

PROVINCIAL BANK OF IRELAND (Branch) Main street (draws on Spooner, Attwoods & Co. London) Mr Thomas Hall, manager. So that matches the sentence in the letter.

The final line to follow was that of the writer of the letter, William John Hancock, whose entry in WikiTree is very informative.
Born September 15, 1791 in Lambeg House, Lisburn, Ireland, Died August 29, 1848 in Ireland.

He was an Irish Poor Law Commissioner, Lord Lurgan’s land agent and later stipendiary magistrate. He made a strong impression on those who knew him. Two differing comments quoted on the site were :-

“He was a man of fine person, and commanding presence. He struck me as possessing great practical energy and resolution, though without the speculative talent of his wife; and as feeling a lively sympathy with the poor, the suffering, and the oppressed.”

“... William John Hancock had serious radical credentials. This lapsed Quaker and one-time Lisburn vitriol manufacturer was married to the United Irishman Samuel Neilson's daughter and actively supported O'Connell's Catholic Association. Hancock's arrival in Lurgan produced a vitriolic reaction..

The magistrate was popularly dubbed ‘Papist’ Hancock, burned in effigy at Tandragee later in 1833, and soon became the subject of the popular Orange song, ‘Lurgan Town’...:

Lurgan town’s an awful town
Since Papist Hancock he came to it
And if you walk out on the Twelfth
You can be sure he'll make you rue it
And if you sing an Orange song
You’ll be jailed for eight and forty hours.”

The events at Tandragee received a lot of media coverage and there is even a report in the Parliamentary Committee of the time. Richard Morrison’s own full and descriptive oath and deposition sworn before William John Hancock, J.P., Armagh and Down, (the man whose effigy was being burned), is online and can be read using this reference “76267 Tandragee”.
As a matter of interest, the following from Slaters Directory, gives a really good idea of how busy the town of Lurgan must have been in 1842 only 4 years after this letter was written.


BRIDEWELL, William street
CONSTABULARY STATION, Pond river Edward Guthrie, head constable
COURT HOUSE, Church square. Jane Ferquison, keeper
DISPENSARY, Main street.Robert S. Hannay, surgeon
EXCISE OFFICE, Church square Robert Skinner Harrison, supervisor
LOAN FUND OFFICE, Main street. Henry Greer, clerk
PUBLIC SUBSCRIPTION LIBRARY, Main street. William Brennian, librarian
RAILWAY STATION, William street.Thomas Steel, agent
READING ROOM, Main street. John Shaw, secretary
STAMP OFFICE, Main street. William B. Morris, sub-distributor
UNION WORKHOUSE. William Thompson, master and Sarah Thompson, matron.

Copyright By EARS Leisurewrite
Reference: Great Britain Post Roads, Post Towns and Postal rates 1635-1839. Alan W. Robertson
If you are a GB collector contact us

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