“Letters from the Past”
John Seton Karr in Melrose,
to John Spottiswoode, Lauder, 1801


Eunice Shanahan

This letter is dated 31st August, 1801 addressed John Spottiswoode Esqre of Spottiswoode Lauder. It was written by John Seton Karr of Kippilaw. The writer has an obvious sense of humour, which is great to read after more than 200 years. His handwriting is really easy to read, even the signature, which is unusual in our experience.

It has 3 postal markings
1)MELROSE faint town stamp on reverse

2) Edinburgh bishopmark SE 2 in bisected circle,

3) manuscript charge mark 8 which I could not understand as the distance from Melrose to Lauder is only about 11 miles and at this time the rate for that distance was 3d. I note that on the map, Lauder was a Footpost so did not know if that makes any difference. Further information was provided by Brinsley Barnes, who made this suggestion.

The is something of a puzzle. Despite the seeming closeness of Lauder to Melrose, it's pretty hilly country. I can only guess the route should have been on foot to the main road at Stow, then coach to Galashiels and then foot post to Melrose, or should I say the other way around. The Edinburgh mark provides a clue. I suggest after Melrose, the letter got into the Edinburgh bag and had to be sent southward again. Hence the high 8 rate though that should not be if it was a mistaken routing.



Monday 31st August 1801
Dear Colonel, General that hereafter may be,

I am happy to hear you are well and at Head Quarters – we may now sleep in sound skins and laugh at Bonaparte & his Myrmidons (* see below).

My Shearing began this morning and I have made a Vow not to leave this place till I see my crop in the Barn Yard, if anything would tempt me to break this, it would be to go to Spottiswoode House where mirth and hospitality reign.

Could not you and your Aide de Camp ride over here some day soon, bring your Chargers if you only stop to Dinner, but if you stay all night, which I hope you will, then bring only steeds who can sleep in the Fields while their Riders sleep in a Garrett. When I have better accommodation they shall have it. When you come we will fix the Time for beating up your Quarters when you are stationary for a day or two as I long to see and be on the Top of the Lammermuir Hills Mrs Karr joins me in every good wish to yourself & son,
Believe me
Dear Spot
Yours most sincerely
J Seton Karr”


Notes: (*) Myrmidon –: A hired ruffian, or unscrupulous subordinate. Myrmidon of the law is a policeman, bailiff etc derived from a warlike Thessalonian race who followed Achilles to Troy.

Napoleon Bonaparte was First Consul at this time and was leading the French to take over Portugal, to ensure that nation broke all ties with the ally, Great Britain. This letter was written just after the War of the Oranges. (For a previous letter on this subject, click on this link James Trail to William Adam Portugal and Napoleon.

Lauder village . The former Royal Burgh of Lauder is a town in the Scottish Borders in the historic county of Berwickshire. On the Southern Upland Way, the burgh lies 27 miles southeast of Edinburgh, on the western edge of the Lammermuir Hills.
(This explains the last sentence of the letter, it is obviously a popular beauty spot for locals and visitors.)

Surprisingly, I could find no information on the internet about either the addressee or the writer at this particular time, so perhaps the beginning of the letter referring to Colonel - and the reference to being at Headquarters is just a personal joke between friends. On the outside of the letter is a written note by the receiver
John Seton Karr Kippilaw, 31st Augt 1801 Answered 18 September 1801.

Reference: "Great Britain Post Roads Post Towns and Postal Rates" 1635 to 1839 Alan W Robertson
The map from Three Centuries of Scottish Posts A.R.B. Haldane
internet webpage for Lauder village

Copyright By E & R Shanahan
If you are a GB collector contact us

back to Old Letters

Return To our Home Page