Letters from the Past

Viscount Downe Ampney Park,Cirencester
to Richard Gurney, Esq., Thickthorn, Norwich
Horse business,1839

This is a small envelope enclosing a letter. In our experience, this is an early example of an actual envelope, (rather than a letter folded and sealed) as prior to the introduction of the Penny Post in 1840 this would constitute an enclosure and as such it would cost double the postage. This example has on the reverse a partial impression of a seal but the motto on the seal is too incomplete to decipher, (insert gurneyseal.jpg) but looks like it ends with RRANDO.

The postmark on the back of the envelope is a dated single circle 26 NO 26 1839 with a broken arc at the bottom of the circle with a letter A, in black ink.


On the front address panel of the envelope there is a crown FREE circular datestamp for 27 NO 27 1839 in red ink, of the type in use from 19.10.1839 to 4.1.1840. Because this is a Free Frank the writer had to put on the date and the place of lodging the letter and then sign the bottom left corner as the person who had this franking privilege. This signature although quite clearly written is not easy to read and even inside on the letter itself it is the same.

The letter enclosed is written on a small single sheet of heavy unwatermarked paper. The writer gives a clue to his identity as it was written at Ampney Park Cirencester, which at the time was a large country estate. This estate was advertised on the internet in 2021 as being for sale at 9.5 million pounds.

The writing is quite legible, and I have transcribed it as it was written. At that time the writers would often put a capital letter on some words, abbreviate words and put in an apostrophe, in this case using it instead of the letter e in words like thank’d instead of thanked.


Dear Gurney,
’I ought to have thank’d you sooner for your letter, but I did not get it for somedays having follow’d me about. As soon as I returned here I started a person to look at the Horse you mentioned, he only returned last night. Headmired the animal much but on riding it he did not think it went in the way he thought I should like and did not buy him, but I am equally oblig’d to you for thinking of me. I am afraid the sort of Horse I want is very difficult to meet with, but should you happen see such an animal pray think of me.

I hope the gout has gone, I have been very lucky as yet. I am just returned from Hunting. I never remember the County in such a state before
Respectfully yours
(Signed illegible)

I searched on the internet for information about the owner of Ampney Court, and it showed that it belonged to Viscount Downe which explains why he was entitled to Free postage, under specific conditions, and restrictions. For information about the franking privilege, follow this link to a section on our website. http://www.earsathome.com/webgil/free.html

Now for the addressee Richard Gurney, who was living at Thickthorn Hall. This information was obtained from this site Thickthorn Hall A Norfolk Village On The Web.html.

Thickthorn, or Thickham, is an ancient hamlet to the Town of Hethersett and takes its name from Alan de Thickelthorn who settled it on Roger de Thickelthorn in 1240. The 1799 map shows what appears to be a moat and buildings to the south of the present hall, and may indicate a possible site of the medieval house.

The Georgian Thickthorn Hall was built by a William Clarke of Kettering, the finance being arranged by way of a mortgage of £3000 advanced by William Creasey Owen of Cringleford. Owen advanced Clarke a further £3000 in April of 1821 but sold both mortgages to Richard Hanbury Gurney, the Norwich banker, in April 1822, who eventually obtained them from Clarke, on 11 October 1822, on the surrender of the property.

Richard Hanbury Gurney, 1783-1854, was regarded as a bit of black sheep as he had an illegitimate son by Susan Wainford, but he did acknowledge this boy in his will. He bequeathed an annuity to Susan Wainford, her eldest daughter and her eldest son

The hall remained in the possession of the Gurneys until c.1930.

Sources : "Herewith my Frank by J.M. Lovegrove"

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