Christopher Middlemass,1814

Letters from the Past

Two letters to Christopher Middlemass of Dunbar in 1811/14


Eunice Shanahan

The first dated Edinburgh 28 February 1811, from John Craw, and the second from Alexander Park in Selkirk in 1814.

Christopher Middlemass Esqr Dunbar, 5 postage charge to be collected from the addressee, and a good clear strike in red of the circular date stamp FE at the top, the day 28 in the center and the year 1811 in an arc at the bottom, and the initials W at the left to identify the hand canceller and A on the right to show it was the afternoon. The filing note on the back is
John Craw
Edin 28th Feby
Ans 11 Mar.

I have found a great deal of information on the internet about Christopher Middlemass, and Dunbar, which has a website called Welcome to Dunbar, East Lothian. This has an interesting article quoted from Swords, Loaves and Fishes: A History of Dunbar by Roy Pugh which notes that Christopher Middlemass was a local merchant and Provost of Dunbar, and in 1803, in response to the fears of a French invasion he commanded the newly formed Dunbar Volunteers.

So now to the letter

Dear Sir
There was a Note of mine discounted by Sir Wm Johnston at your Branch at Haddington, Per £100, which fell due on Saturday last, and which we expected to have had duly retired, but having been disappointed in our expectations and finding that Sir William’s arrangements at present do not assure any probable means of enabling us to meet this engagement exactly as we could wish, and yet being provided with the most undoubted guarantee for the ultimate payment at no great distance in time, in the document inclosed the particulars of which are noted below, I beg leave to say that it will be esteemed as a singular favour the giving discount of the inclosed for the Settlement in the first instance of the above mentioned note.

With regard to the onerosity of the inclosed Bill and the sufficiency of the Acceptors, you may please be assured that to the best of my knowledge and belief, they are beyond all exceptions and as an evidence of the latter it may be sufficient to maintain that the Bank of Scotland upon the report of their agent at Aberdeen, had no hesitation in exchanging a Note of Sir William’s at their office, for a similar acceptance by those parties with Sir William’s own indorsation alone, at an equally long date and for fully a larger amount I am respectfully.

Dear Sir
Your most Obt Srvn
Mr Craw

There is an added sentence

Sir Wm Johnston on Messrs Winchester and Daredon at 8 mos / after 15 January per £150

I have found out that John Craw was a Writer to the Signet in Haddington, Edinburgh, and that Sir William Johnston was the 7th Baronet of Caskibien, Scotland.
Now to the second letter.

This is a really messy address panel, because it was re – addressed so the original address to the now illegible office of a Writer to the Signet in Edinburgh was crossed through, and replaced with Dunbar, then the original postmark crossed through as well and the new one for the afternoon delivery applied. The Additional Halfpenny Scottish Mail tax stamp was applied in Edinburgh. The 6 on the left indicates the charge of the letter from Selkirk to Dunbar, but there may well have been another charge which has now been obliterated.

The content of the letter shows that Alexander Park is well aware that confidence is of prime consideration in the successful running of a bank.

East Lothian Bank Office
Selkirk 24th May 1814

Dear Sir
I am this moment favoured with yours of yesterdays date Containing the Distressing account of the Stoppage of Messrs Thomsons & Coy which must certainly be very unexpected as I never heard a Surmise of their Credit. I am Glad to observe the Interest of the Bank so perfectly secure and shall let that fact be known as much as possible as the failure must Create a very Considerable Sensation in the Publick mind both here and elsewhere. I shall limit my Discounts very much untill matters are better understood, indeed I would have Discontinued them altogether for a week or Ten days, were it not that my doing so might give a Sort of Sanction to the idea that the Bank was necessitated to Stand Still a little & might bring all our Promissory orders against us at once.
If I am wrong in this Idea I shall be Glad to be Corrected & in the meantime I shall wach Continously in the Discounts. I shall hope to hear from you or P Benchurch before you leave Town, I am
Dear Sir
Yours Sincerely
Alexr. Park.

Mr Hendersen has a Letter of Credit of yesterdays Date on Thomsons & Co for £1000 and Mr Campbell for £40 of date 21st Due.

This letter interested us particularly, as we have a few letters addressed to William Borthwick of the East Lothian Bank, and when I checked for Christopher Middlemass, I found a webpage on the British banking history website,, and this explains what we have heard from a postal history dealer when we bought these letters.

This is an extract from the item on that website.


The East Lothian Banking Company was founded in Dunbar in 1810. The partners were mainly tenant farmers who were aware of the “singular utility and advantage of having a banking company in the County of East Lothian for promoting trade, manufacture, agriculture and industry and facilitating every branch of commerce.”

By far the most important industry in East Lothian was agriculture.... war conditions had acted as an incentive to even greater efforts. Large numbers of troops had been stationed in the County and that influx of population had acted as a spur to the economy. “The cattle and victual consumed by the troops was the means of farmers, traders and merchants attaining to moderate wealth, and no wonder they sang with zest: Bonapartes a friend o’mine, I sell my wheat at ninety nine”

The prime mover of this bank was Christopher Middlemass. He had been agent for the British Linen Bank in Dunbar until 1808, when he had been dismissed for negligence following a robbery.

In 1822 the East Lothian Banking Company closed its doors because the directors had failed to give that degree of attention to the business required of them. The failure was caused by the disappearance of the cashier, William Borthwick, with the company’s funds.

The Cashier, William Borthwick, escaped to America. He had been appointed cashier to the newly formed bank at the age of 20 or 22, and was placed in charge of the daily running of the company.

The East Lothian Banking Company had branches in Dunbar, Selkirk and Haddington.

Donald Swift

It seems astonishing that they would have appointed a relatively young man to this important position and then not kept an eye on him!

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