Lady Wray, Melksham

Two Melksham Letters from the past

1) Lady Wray in Melksham, to Mr Brett, Stationer in London 1812

2) Fredk Huth & Co London, 1830


Eunice Shanahan

We have these two items with Melksham postmarks, one a letter with the Melksham mileage mark, and a second which is just a wrapper, but has Melksham Penny Post mark with the office number on it. Melksham is a small but ancient place in Wiltshire, which was listed in the Domesday Book (initiated by William the Conquerer in 1086) as belonging to Earl Harold of Wessex, with the adjacent Melksham Forest.

The Kings Arms, Melksham, Wiltshire. This is a 16th century coaching inn on the Bath Road about 95 miles from London.

This photo was taken when we used to live in the town.

The first is a short and acerbic letter which was posted in Melksham. It is addressed to Mr Brett, Stationer Strand London.

It has 3 postal markings a straight-line town name stamp with boxed mileage mark of 99 The 9 for cost of posting the letter to London, and the London Morning Duty receiving stamp with a double rim in red 16 Sep 1812. Which is a very good service, considering the letter was dated the previous day. The addressee was Mr Peter Brett a Stationer who ran his business opposite St Clements church in the Strand, London.

So now to the letter
September 15 1812

Lady Wray finds it necessary to repeat her request of having her News paper now sent to Bath – she left Clifton the 7th inst & has had no paper yet forwarded to that place. Had her last directions been observed of sending to Clifton for a month only this trouble might have been spared.

And that is it. No salutations, no signature, certainly no politeness, so she, or her companion perhaps, felt so peevish she would just complain.

I have found out from the internet that this Lady appears to be the wife/widow of Sir Cecil Wray who was born on 3 September 1734, the eldest and only surviving son of Sir John Wray, ninth baronet who had died in 1752. Sir Cecil died at Fillingham or Summer Castle, Lincolnshire, on 10 January 1805, and was buried at Fillingham, a tablet being placed in the church to his memory. His wife was Esther Summers, but nothing is known as to her history or the date of their marriage. She died at Summer Castle on 1 February 1825, aged 89,(a long life for this time in history) and was buried at Fillingham, where a tablet preserves her memory. They had no issue, and Sir Cecil Wray's estates, which his widow enjoyed for her life, passed to his nephew,

So at the time this letter was written, Lady Wray who was then aged about 76, must have been spending time in the west country of England, and so needed her newspaper delivered to her there.

The second is just a wrapper, meaning that there was a letter enclosed. It was addressed to Messrs Fredk Huth & Co London, and was written by Cooper Bros in Bradford On Avon.

The postmarks are a boxed Melksham Py Post, and another boxed No.1 indicating at which office of the Penny Post the letter was lodged. The cost of posting the letter is shown by the 1/7 in the bottom left hand corner. In the period 1812 to 1839, to post a single sheet letter over a distance of between 80 and 120 miles cost 9d (nine pence). This was charged double as it had an enclosure, so that would have been 1/6, one shilling and six pence, plus the one penny for the local post making the total of one shilling and sevenpence, which would have been paid by Fredk Huth company to receive the letter. Finally there is the London morning duty receiving stamp double ring in red 21 Sep 1830

On the back of the letter there is a filing note

Cooper Bros & Co
Bradford Wilts 20 Sep
recd 21 ditto ans’d ditto

There is also an amount written 6/3½ and from our experience this seems to be the amount to be collected on that delivery by the postman for all the letters he had for that addressee on that day.

There is a lot of information about Frederick Huth on the internet, including an image of his mausoleum in Kensal Green Cemetery.

Baron John Frederick Huth Mausoleum.

This photograph by Robert Freidus,appears on the website of the Victorian web

We have many letters addressed to this company, and his life story was very interesting. On the Wikipedia page about his son Louis, there is this information:-

Frederick Huth (1774-1864), a merchant and merchant banker born in Germany, who came of very humble origins, the son of a soldier [without rank], with only his intelligence and appetite for hard work to single him out from other poor boys at the bottom of the social heap in the small village of Harsefeld in the Electorate of Hanover. After an apprenticeship to a Spanish merchant in Hamburg, Huth eventually established a business in Corunna, Spain, where he met his wife, an orphan believed to be the daughter of a prominent member of the Spanish Royal court. In 1809, following the invasion of Spain by France, Frederick and his wife and children emigrated to England from Spain and established the family merchant house in London.

By 1829 Huth had become the banker and financial adviser to the Spanish Queen, Maria Christiana, later Queen Regent, and in due course became financial agent for the Spanish government, for which Huth was rewarded with a knighthood by the Spanish crown. Gradually Huth and Co expanded its business in Europe, particularly Germany, and extended its operations to the Americas, becoming a major accepting house concerned with financing international trade and marketing securities; and by the end of the 1840s the Huths ranked immediately below such companies as Barings and Rothschilds.

It has been stated that Frederick Huth’s reputation was second to none. Notwithstanding his small, slight stature, he had great presence [and] had been known as Napoleon of the City. The firm, which operated from various premises, latterly 12 Tokenhouse Yard in the City of London (which in due course became the office of the famous stockbroking firm Cazenove & Co), was eventually wound up in 1936, with the partnership of Frederick Huth and Co being dissolved and the business absorbed into the British Overseas Bank Limited (which in turn was itself merged into the Royal Bank of Scotland).

The information about Cooper Brothers who wrote the letter is also a common story during the industrial revolution.The Wiltshire County Council website has an entry about their business. This particular mill was re –built in 1825 after a fire destroyed the previous one, and continued to prosper until 1847.

The main building was six stories high and had a stone phoenix rising from the flames on top of the building. The first inspection of the mill by factory inspectors, after the factory act of 1833, gave a good report saying that the workers were well clothed and the children fit and healthy. The first power looms were installed in 1839 marking the beginning of the end of weaving as a cottage industry and the mill was the biggest in the area with an estimated working capital of £200,000. Much of the cloth produced went to Ireland, and specialities included a Venetian cloth (a closely woven twilled cloth) and a black broadcloth. However a local bank, Hobhouse of Bradford on Avon, went bankrupt in 1842 and this affected the finances of the mill. The owners, the Cooper brothers went bankrupt also as they could not sustain the borrowing incurred for investment at the site and the mill stood empty until 1864. The West of England Manufacturing Company then bought the mill and attempted to make a type of felt cloth, which failed. They were followed by the Staverton Cloth Company who failed in 1870 due to lack of experience on the part of the investors. James Hargreaves took over from 1872 until the decline of the cloth industry and in 1891 his sons put the business up for sale. Purchased by George Eyre and run by him from 1890 to 1894, it was then used to develop a process for cleaning the natural wool as it arrived from the sheep. This also was unsuccessful, but it is interesting to note that much experimentation was being carried out at Staverton in attempts to keep the mill operational. Generally local firms were defeated by the economic conditions and the mill was then purchased by the Anglo Swiss Milk Company in 1897 for £6,000.

Although the industrial scene in Melksham has changed over the centuries from rope manufacture and feathers to the Avon racing car tyres, the Melksham Post Office kept going, and this photo was taken in the 1970s. It was new, but built of the local stone to fit in with the rest of the old buildings.

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