This letter also appears on the Victorian Web

'Bookseller, to the Marquess of Bute, ': London 1838

This letter was written by Mr B Nichol a printer and bookseller, to The Marquess of Bute at his address in Bedfordshire. It has four postal markings:

letter front1) the London evening duty circular date stamp for November 14th 1836 in black

2) double ring Crowned FREE in red dated 14 No 1836. This was an evening duty stamp the type in use from 1807-1839. This has been struck through with 2 lines

3) the postage charge manuscript mark of 7 for seven pence the rate in force 1812-1840 for a single sheet letter, carried a distance of between 30 and 50 miles. Luton is 31 miles from London, so it just got into the next charging scale.

4) a manuscript Inspectors mark "Above Number". This explains why the FREE stamp was cancelled and the postage charge had to be paid on delivery. The Franking Privilege was regulated and at the time this letter was written the addressee was allowed 15 incoming letters a day free of charge, and 10 letters out. On this particular day therefore, he must have received more, so the postage on this letter and any further letters received on the day was charged. These FREE postmarks were in use for almost 200 years, and they are a fascinating study, because of the variety — for more information, go to this web page on our website

The letter has a filing note on the outside in a different handwriting :

"14 Novr 1836 Mr B. Nichol Mr Fisher's Topography of Bedfordshire".

Now to the contents of the letter which is addressed

The Most Noble
The Marquess of Bute
Luton Park

"My lord,
I am requested to solicit the Favor of your Lordship to patronize a Work undertaken to illustrate the County of Bedford, a County in which your Lordship has so great an interest.

The work I allude to is "Collections for the History of Bedfordshire by the late Thomas Fisher Esq F.S.A."

It consists of 115 Plates drawn engraved & published by the Author who lived just to complete his Work. It embraces views of many of the most remarkable places in the County, such as unions, old Churches, Castles, Mansions, monuments etc. It was published in 7 Numbers at £1.10.0d & the work may be had complete at £8.8.0. Mr Fisher has left an only sister without support & his affairs in a deranged state. It is desirable therefore to make the most of the Property. My object in writing therefore is to say there is a copy of the Work which may be considered very curious being nearly if not quite unique. It contains engraved etchings of the Plates, before they were completed :- besides a complete set of the Proofs of the Plates & also at the end of the same Work, another series of Lithographic Drawings consisting of 37 other subjects of Monuments, Brasses &c of Bedfordshire, all drawn by Mr Fisher, none of which are included in the first series of 115 — Total 152 Plates.

For this rare if not unique copy the Executors ask £16.16.0. & they beg thro' me to express their hope it may find a resting place in your magnificent Library at Luton Park.

If your Lordship should prefer a plain large Paper Copy at £8.8.0. I shall be happy to send one that would contain 115 Plates — the 37 Lithographs sell separately at £3.3.0.

End of letterHoping for your Lordship's pardon for this Intrusion in your Time,
I am my Lord,
Your Lordship's very dutiful & humble Servant
B. Nichol
Printer & Bookseller
25 Parliament Street
Nov 14 1836

He then adds a postscript
The book should be sent on view, & might be returned if not approved of.
The Most Noble the Marquess of Bath."

In my experience, it is unusual to have the name and address of the sender and the date at the end of the letter like this. The tone of the letter is very obsequious, but that was the way the members of the nobility were handled by tradesmen, such as this bookseller. The following biographical information shows why!

John Crichton-Stuart, second Marquess of Bute and sixth or seventh Earl of Dumfries was born 1793 and he inherited the titles and the estates of both his maternal and paternal grandfathers so that by the time he was 21 he was a wealthy young man. Between 1809 and 1814 he travelled extensively, making the acquaintance of Napoleon, and was also a friend of the Duke of Wellington.

A passionate improver, his vast correspondence chronicles his attempts to develop his estates and to improve the lot of their inhabitants. Bute's fame rests upon his achievements as a landowner. He owned over 100,000 acres; most of his property was situated in the counties of Bute, Ayr, and Wigtown, but he was also a major proprietor in Glamorgan, where the Cardiff Castle estate included almost all the land of the ancient borough together with manorial rights over the valleys of the central part of the south Wales coalfield. He showed that the steam coal of the valley lay at exploitable depths, an act which led to the astounding growth of the Rhondda.

(Note: I was interested in this as my father and all his brothers worked in the Rhondda collieries.)

He was the landlord of the Dowlais ironworks, in the 1840s the largest ironworks in the world. His main contribution to the development of the south Wales coalfield was his construction of a masonry dock at Cardiff; opened in 1839, it was the first of the five Bute docks, docks which would in the late nineteenth century be handling more coal than any other port in the world. Cardiff, expanded rapidly in the wake of the dock development, and the marquess checked on the layout of new streets and the design of frontages. He died at Cardiff Castle 18 March 1848.

The author mentioned in the letter, Thomas Fisher, antiquary, also has an entry in the DNB, which confirms the statements about the book. He was born at Rochester in or about 1771, the younger of the two sons of Thomas Fisher, printer, bookseller, and alderman of that city. In 1786 Fisher entered the India House as an extra clerk, but in April 1816 was appointed searcher of records. From this situation he retired on a pension in June 1834, after having spent 46 years in different offices under the company.

mosaicIn 1806 and 1807 Fisher was responsible for preserving two beautiful specimens of Roman mosaic discovered in the city of London; the one before the East India House in Leadenhall Street, and the other, which was presented to the British Museum, in digging foundations for the enlargement of the Bank of England. This is one of the mosaics, which shows the God Bacchus riding a tiger (Fig.3) Between 1812 and 1816 Fisher published ninety-five plates from his drawings of monumental and other remains in Bedfordshire, under the title of 'Collections Historical, Genealogical, and Topographical for Bedfordshire,' London, 1812-16. A second part, consisting of 114 folio plates, appeared only a few weeks before his death in 1836. (Note that this letter says that there were 115 folio plates not 114, and this is not exactly the same wording of the title of the book.) In 1838 John Gough Nichols added descriptions to a new edition. (John Gough Nichols was the son of the writer of this letter} Meanwhile Fisher had printed at the lithographic press of D. J. Redman 37 drawings of 'Monumental Remains and Antiquities in the county of Bedford,' of which fifty copies were issued in 1828. Fisher was one of the first to welcome lithography in England. As early as 1808 he published an account of it, under the title of 'Polyantography'. In 1821 he was elected F.S.A. of Perth, and on 5 May 1836 F.S.A. of London, an honour from which he had been hitherto debarred, as being both artist and dissenter. He died unmarried on 20 July 1836, in his sixty-fifth year, at his lodgings in Church Street, Stoke Newington, and was buried on the 26th in Bunhill Fields. Less than 10 months later his collections of topographical drawings and prints, portraits and miscellaneous prints, books, and manuscripts, were all sold.

I hope his unsupported sister was the beneficiary of the sale.

I contacted the archivist of the estate of the Marquess of Bute regarding the book referred to in this letter, and he advised me that the Bute family sold Luton in 1844, one year after a fire devastated the house. A new house was built on the site later in the 19th century and this still stands. After the fire the contents of the library — approx 25,000 volumes — were dispersed to various Bute family properties and many works were sold in the 1950s and 60s. The remnants of the Luton Collection — approx 9,000 volumes — are now housed at Mount Stuart in our new library space — see this website http://www.mountstuart.com. There is no record of whether the 2nd Marquess purchased Fisher's book (or replied to this letter) and it is not amongst the surviving Luton books now here.

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