Bishop of Exeter

“fom the Revd. Henry Houlditch,
to the Lord Bishop of Exeter, 1837,”


Eunice Shanahan

When we were searching for something to help an internet contact with a query about paper for letter writing in the 1850s, we came across this part letter, written on mourning paper. Although it has had the first part of the letter torn away, the rest of it is so interesting to us, as it relates to Queen Anne's Bounty. Over the years we have only acquired material with good postmarks for our own collection, but this part letter would have been in an auction lot, and the marks are not good enough to be with either the Provincial town postmarks, or the FREE hand stamps, but the content of the letter has saved it from being tossed aside.

The letter was written in 1837 and the postal markings are a very smudged and poorly applied post town of Exeter, and a much clearer FREE postmark,( a single circle with unidentifiable crown, dated 31 June 1837, of the type in use in London from 1805-1839) which explains why the charge mark has been crossed through. The bishop would have been entitled to a certain number of incoming letters free of postage. The charge for a letter going from Exeter the 171 miles to London at this time would have been 10 pence, so the FREE franking privilege was worth having. We have a section on our website about the Franking privilege, click on this link for more information

Free Franks

The letter was sealed with black sealing wax, and there is a filing note on the outside :-

Revd H. Houlditch 29 May 1837 ans’d 31.

The letter is addressed to

To the Lord Bishop of Exeter 2 Hanover Square London.

So now to the letter which is in the middle of a sentence, as the first page has been removed.

much time therefore is likely to elapse, before any thing is done, my proposal now is to borrow 2 years income to add to & fit up the present dwelling, & this sum will I presume be sufficient for the same. In so doing it cannot be stated that I am availing myself of the opportunity to repair any dilapidations which may have accrued during my incumbency, for the expense of 40L would restore the original appearance of the cottage.
The next sentence refers to the Queen Anne’s Bounty. Note also the black edges to the paper, signifying mourning.

The printed circular from the Bounty Office states that “the Governors do not allow the application of money appropriated to the augmentation of a Living to building purposes, if one years income of the Living be sufficient to pay the same, & that they cannot lay out monies in repairs”. Now my proposal is to borrow 2 years income under the Gilbert Act, not to take any of the money already appropriated to augmentation of my Living.

May I request your Lordship to take into consideration the following particulars which appear to make mine a special case. First, the original cost of parsonage £135, proof that it never was a sufficiently decent residence for the Incumbent.
2dly in reconstructing & adding to it the benefice will only be burthened with the 2 yrs income to be borrowed.
3rdly that in building a new parsonage, not only must 2 yrs income be borrowed & paid off with interest thereon, but the Living will also lose for ever the interest of such sums as shall be taken from the money now appropriated to its augmentation as may be necessary to complete the building.

At this point the page is turned, and the letter is continued on the ‘wings’ of the paper, either side of the address panel, as can be seen in the first image. There is only one word, which I cannot be sure of and that is because he has cramped the writing to insert the words between two lines, and the only word which seems to fit is service.


If your Lordship should be of opinion that a representation of my case to the archbishop of Canterbury who I believe is the President of the Bounty Office, would be of any (service?) I shall be happy to make it.

I cannot conclude without regretting the trouble I have occasioned you, but circumstanced as I am I feel assured of your kind consideration.
I have the honour to be
My Lord
Your Lordships
Most obedient humble Servt
Henry Houlditch.

Notes on the persons and place with relevance to this letter, firstly the writer.

This information is from the record of Oxford graduates from Wikipedia.

Henry Houlditch was admitted pensioner under Mr Shaw on 28 April 1828, he received his BA in 1832 and was ordained as a deacon in Exeter 1832, for Ottery St Mary. He became a priest in 1833, Curate of Chollacombe 1832-4, then Sheldon 1834/5, and became vicar of Holcombe Burnell in Devon on 19 January 1835 and served there until 1879. He lived afterwards at Alphinton near Exeter and was still alive in 1883.

The village where he was the vicar for so many years.

Holcombe Burnell where he was the vicar from 1835 to 1879 is just a small place in Devon : The vicarage, valued in K.B. at £8. 9s. 2d., and in 1831 at £20, is endowed with all the tithes, which were commuted in 1842 for £45 per annum. The glebe comprises 100 acres of poor land, and the Vicarage House is a neat and pleasant mansion, built in 1838, at the cost of £1000, on a commanding eminence. The Rev. H. L. Houlditch, B.A., is the incumbent, and the Prebendary of Holcombe, in Wells Cathedral, has long held the patronage, but after the death of the present prebendary the advowson will pass to the Bishop of Exeter. Here is a small school, and the poor parishioners have the interest of £5, left by the late Jas. Pitman, Esq.
The list of residents is very small, so no wonder the tithes would not be enough to live on and also make repairs to the house.

The Bishop of Exeter to whom the letter is addressed.

Henry Phillpotts (6 May 1778 to 18 September 1869), often called “Henry of Exeter”, was the Anglican Bishop of Exeter from 1830 to 1869. One of England’s longest serving bishops since the 14th century, Phillpotts was a striking figure of the 19th century Church.

When I read the comments made of the Bishop’s character, I doubted if the Reverend Houlditch had any luck at all with his proposal of borrowing 2 years income. However, the notes about the village record that the Vicarage House was built in 1838 (the year after this letter was written) at a cost of £1000, so perhaps his plea was heard by the Lord Bishop of Exeter and they solved his problem.

Henry of Exeter was an undoubted character. He married in 1804 and he and his wife had 18 children. She lived from 1782 to 1863 ( 81 years), which I find astonishing, after all that child-bearing, they certainly bred them tough in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Finally The Queen Anne’s Bounty was a Benevolent Fund set up by Queen Anne, who reigned from 1702 to 1714. She was a very pious woman, most concerned about the Church of England. At this time, the Vicars income was made up of ‘Tithes’, which was a tenth of one’s annual income, and charged as a kind of tax on the parishioners.

In small parishes, where there were few wealthy people, the vicar may have been unable to exist on the small income. In this case, he was allowed to make a request for assistance to the Governors of Queen Anne’s Bounty. There are many examples of such letters still in existence, proving such a fund was needed. We have another on our website addressed to Edmund Chalmers Solicitor to the Governor dated 1780. coffee houses

Sources : wikipedia, and other internet links.

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