"Strasbourg to Hathersage in 1849
A Yorkshire man abroad"


Eunice Shanahan

This letter is the latest in the series of letters in the family correspondence of needle manufacturers in the Yorkshire dales. It is surprising that they are still appearing on the market. The letter was written on 12th August, 1849 by Joseph Cocker to his sister Hannah who was living in Hathersage with Joseph Robert in the family home, Broom Cottage. The seven postal markings on this letter show why postal history is becoming more popular. Most letters posted today do not give this kind of detail showing the transit journey.(Fig.1)

1) Strasbourg date stamp 13 August
2) Etranger (Foreign) date stamp — 15 Aug 1849 (also partly struck)
3) boxed P.P in red, signifying fully paid to the destination. The explanation for this is that during 1836 an agreement was reached with the French Post Office, by which certain foreign rates might be collected in Britain, and some British rates collected overseas. Letters could then be prepaid, unpaid, or partially prepaid, so a uniform method of showing what payment had actually been made on a letter was needed. There were three such marks :-
PD = full prepayment to destination;
P = prepayment of the charge of the originating country;
PF = payment to the frontier of egress of an intermediate country, involved in forwarding through letters.
They first appeared about 1838, applied by many different countries. 'PP' may also be found; these were used in France before 1836, to denote 'port payee' (postage paid), referring only to French rates; however, PP also appeared later (as on this letter) with apparently the same meaning as PD, but this was not part of the agreed scheme.
4) London PAID date stamp 16 Aug 1849
5) Bakewell date stamp AU 17 1849
6) Hathersage name stamp — 5 days for the whole journey
7) manuscript charge mark of '8' — I don't know where this would have been applied but probably Strasbourg to show the 8 francs paid there.
It is sealed with his signet ring showing his initials J R C.
The letter is showing signs of age on the outside, where it has been folded and stored, but it is perfectly legible. So now to the contents of the letter which is long and chatty, beginning with information about his journey.

(Fig.2 beginning of the letter)

"Strasbourg (Bas Rhin) 12 August 1849
My dear Sister
My last was addressed to you from Paris on Wednesday last since which I am about 500 miles further from home. I left Paris at 7 o'clock on Thursday Morning and had a very pleasant journey altho' long I enjoyed it much. I find from daily experience that the great secret of travelling well in a foreign land is always to treat everyone with the greatest courtesy and respect and as in England it is sure to be returned. In securing my place in the Diligence altho' two days before starting I was but just in time, one place only not being taken — and which I secured. The passengers were all very agreeable two of them could speak about as much English as I can French and so we managed moderately well — I took half a fowl and bread for the first days provision and passing through the Champayne country treated myself to a bottle of this wine which cost including the bottle 8d. It was however, so tart from want of sugar that it reminded me of a certain quality of Goosebery wine which I get sometimes — one bottle of yours is worth a dozen — and so I only drank half of my Champayne and gave the other away."

(Note: I like the idea of his taking half a fowl and bread to eat on the journey. It is interesting that he says the bottle was included in the price of the wine, as though that was something unusual. He then continues with the description of his journey)

"I slept well during the first night but at 3 o'clock, in crossing a range of mountains the Diligence stopped and we were requested to walk up a hill as steep again as the Dales and about the same length. It was so like our own dale that in going up I thought much of home, whilst gazing upon the bright moon and the same stars so often looked upon — after this (as before) the country is very flat until we came to the close of the second day about a town called Vesoul (where we dined) it became and continued as we approached near the Rhine, more mountainous and on Saturday morning we arrived at Mulhouse. After changing all my linen and having a good wash, with breakfast, I went out to business, and had seen and done all I could by 12 o'clock and from thence per Rail and Diligence to Guebwiller where I found your letter of the 6th current."

(Fig.3 map showing all these towns.)

(Note: I am surprised that this tradesman from Yorkshire should be able to travel around the Continent with such ease considering he hardly spoke the necessary languages. It does not seem to have hindered his travelling by coach and rail. I wonder what he would have found to trade in such a small place as Guebwiller. His descriptions of his travels must have pleased his sister, he was a good letter writer.)

"I found here that I could by travelling late arrive at Strasburgh and so I came leaving Guebwiller about six o'clock and arrived here in safety, and have thus a Sunday in this town. It is really beautifully situated on the banks of the Rhine, bounded on one hand by the high mountains of Germany and on the other by a range of mountains running along the Rhine in France. The Cathedral spire is much higher than St Pauls London, being the highest in Europe and within the Cathedral there is one of the most wonderful Clocks in the World. You will find an account of both in the Penny Magazine which if you will read it will give you all and more than I can say — it has certainly astonished me no little."

(Note: I have copies of the Penny Magazine on CD, produced by Archive CD Books. The title is "The Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge". They were published every Saturday. They are quite fascinating, and show how much and varied information was available to the British people at this time, however my two CDs which are the year's contents for 1832 and 1835 do not have the information about the clock or the cathedral. However, I found the details on the internet.

The Cathedral of our Lady of Strasbourg is widely considered to be among the finest examples of high, or late, Gothic architecture. At 142 metres, it was the world's tallest building from 1625 to 1847. It remained the tallest church in the world until 1880, when it was surpassed by Cologne Cathedral.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cologne_Cathedral Described by Victor Hugo, the French writer, as a "gigantic and delicate marvel", the cathedral's splendour is visible far across the plains of Alsace and can be seen from as far off as the Vosges Mountains, or the Black Forest, on the other side of the Rhine.
The clock is famous for the animated characters which launch into movement at different hours of the day. One angel sounds the bell while a second turns over a sandglass. Different characters, representing the ages of life (from a child to an old man) parade in front of Death. On the last level are the Apostles, passing in front of Christ. The clock shows much more than the official time; it also indicates solar time, the day of the week (each represented by a god of mythology), the month, the year, the sign of the zodiac the phase of the moon and the position of several planets. All these automatons are put into operation at 12:30 PM.

There are several models of the Strasbourg clock, usually with simplified functions. (One is in the Sydney Powerhouse Museum.)

The Cocker family were deeply religious and so he continues with the letter to tell Hannah about the Sunday services)

"It still continues very hot, so much so as to soften the asphalt pavements on which we walk. There is no Protestant service in this city, except a small French Chapel from which I could derive no benefit and so I have had service in my own room without any congregation by reading a hymn, prayer, lesson, an excellent sermon by Baptist Noel, a hymn and prayer again and though alone I have felt that it is no vain thing to wait upon God — none know the priviledges of the Sanctuary so well as those who are deprived of them."

(Note : Baptist Noel has a long entry in the Dictionary of National Biography, as he was a noted figure in evangelical circles in the 19th century. He was a Church of England clergyman and Baptist Minister who was born at Leightmount, Scotland, in 1799, the tenth son among the sixteen children of Sir Gerard Noel Noel, second baronet and his first wife, Diana Noel. Although he was a powerful and respected preacher, Noel's reputation as a giant of the Victorian era is due largely to his prolific religious writings, whose publications put forward strong views on contemporary religious and political issues. A vigorous reformist, the principal concern of his writings was the evangelization of the urban poor and the perceived inability of the Church of England fully to meet the rapidly changing spiritual needs of the nation. Obviously the writer of this letter carried a copy of Noel's sermons with him on his journeys, for comfort and knowledge.)

He then continues to his sister answering her letter, with a biblical quote:

"In yours of the 6th you give me Conference news. I hope all things will work together for good but they must be 'wise as serpents and harmless as doves'."

(Note: this is a quote from the King James version of the bible, Matthew chapter 10 verse 6 : "Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves".)

"The letter of Thos Fildes is very impertinent and impudent — I wonder what he thinks of himself — If my Brother's own Sons won't take care of him I will do my best — and so you have had Mrs Ibbotson! I think Brother wont be done again with that family — I hate their "soft sodas"
I thank you for an interest in your prayers at the throne of Grace I need them much. Next Sunday I shall spend at Lille where I hope to arrive on Saturday — a letter posted on Friday care of Mr Harding Cocker, will meet me there. On the 26th I am planned at Bamford and Bradwell — I am not sure".

He has then written this sentence and crossed it out

"(altho' I expect to be at home on the 25th) and you will please place these appointments in John Darvils hands and say that if he will get me a good supply I shall be obliged and will do as much for him sometime.
I expect to arrive at Brussels on Friday next when I hope to hear from you — take good care of yourself, present my kindest love to Brother and sister, Mr & Mrs Jones if with you, and do not forget to believe me
Your affectionate Brother, Jos. Robt. Cocker"

He then adds a note :
"(I shall not be able to write to Brother for several days)"

There were some interesting things happening in 1849, the date of this letter. In America Amelia Bloomer began her campaign for women's dress reform. In India, Britain annexed the Punjab by treaty with the Maharajah of Lahore. In Europe the Hungarian Diet proclaimed independence, but later capitulated to Austria; Venice submitted to Austria, the French entered Rome and restored Pope Pius IX. In England, Charles Dickens book David Copperfield was published, and Disraeli became the leader of the Conservative Party. In France physicist Armand Fizeau measured the speed of light. In Italy Rome was proclaimed a republic under Giuseppe Mazzini.

In Russia Dostoevsky was sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to penal servitude in Siberia, where he died 9 years later. In Germany the National Assembly passed the constitution, elected King Frederick William IV of Prussia "Emperor of the Germans" but he refused to accept. There were revolts in Baden and in Dresden, in which Richard Wagner the composer took part and was forced to flee to Zurich.

This sounds as though Germany was in a state of turmoil, but nothing like that is mentioned in Joseph's letter. He obviously had had a satisfactory business trip and was looking forward to being back home in the Yorkshire Dales.

References "For the Port & Carriage of Letters" by David Robinson "Timetables of History"
This article was first published in Stamp News the Australian monthly magazine.

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