McGowan, 1837

‘John Nicol of Langholm to
William McGowan of Dumfries,1837 ’


Eunice Shanahan

The letter is written on heavy paper with no watermark. It has 4 postal markings : Langholm straight-line town stamp in black ink, a partially struck datestamp which looks like DUMFRIES 27 JUN 1837, an unidentified Additional Halfpenny mark (although it appears to be the type in use in Edinburgh at that time) and the charge in black ink of ‘8’.

This is quite a mystery, as on the present day maps Langholm is about 24 miles from Dumfries on a direct road, but there was not a direct road when this letter was written . The 8d charge is for 50 to 80 miles. The map in Robertson’s book does not have Langholm on it, and his reference shows that mail to Dumfries from London went via Carlisle, so it is possible that this letter started at Langholm, went down to Carlisle and then back to Dumfries. That would account for the distance between 50 and 80 miles, but does not explain the additional halfpenny mark as neither of those places have such an unboxed Addl Halfpenny postmark.

The letter has a filing note of

June 27th 1837 Mr Nicol Nr Langholm at Thorburn & Nicol Ansd.

So now to a transcription of the letter, which is legible and in reasonable condition for its age. The contents are an interesting view of how ‘legal eagles’ consulted one another.

Dear Sir
I am favoured with yours regarding Thorburn’s case. I should like to have the day for my appearance changed from Tuesday to Friday or Saturday as our weekly returns to the Bank are made up on Monday and Tuesday and I cannot well be absent on these days, and as our accountant has applied for leave of absence and cannot be both absent together I should like to have as long a time as you can obtain.

I wish to have your opinion on the following mode of proceeding. Instead of adhering to the plea of prescription, deposing I have some thoughts of making extracts from my Letter Book, showing that Mr Thorburn did not attend to my instructions regarding the processes and laying the same before Sir Thomas as my deposition and referring the case to him on the import of these letters without word or comment on either side. This I think would be more respectful to the Sheriff and proper on our part as Members of his Court.
I have not made up my mind on the subject but would like to hear your ideas on the subject. I can clearly say that Mr Thorburn did not attend to my cases but only to some few of them.
I am very anxious as to Warwicks case.
Yours truly John Nicol
William McGowan Esq

We put queries about this onto the GBPS and the
Stamp Community board and received some useful and helpful suggestions and maps from two of the members. The first was this


As to the journey, I’d like to suggest that it was picked up by the 4.45pm Edinburgh mail coach on its way south and it did not go via Dumfries but did call at Langholm on the way to Carlisle and onwards. This could have been on the 26th of June as written on the letter. That would be a rough distance of 22 miles so far. Dropped off at Carlisle it would have been on the next day mail coach leaving 3pm from Carlisle (London) as postmarked (27th) and arriving in Dumfries at 10pm. Distance from Carlisle to Dumfries is approx 35 miles making a total mileage taking the letter into the 50 - 80 miles category.

And this even more detailed response


The Carlisle Mail Coach left Edinburgh every afternoon at 4.45pm and the stops at that time were (in order) : Fushie Bridge, Torsonce Inn, Selkirk, Hawick, Langholm, Longtown then Carlisle.

You can see that Dumfries would be a diversion and that area was covered by two Dumfries Mail Coach routes.
1. Edinburgh, Penicuick, Noblehouse, Crook Inn, Moffat on Sunday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.

2. Slight variation on Monday, Wednesday and Friday going via Biggar, Elvanfoot and Thornhill. All coaches on that route left at 6am.

It would be logical to assume your letter went to Carlisle and put on the Dumfries Mail Coach which...“ sets out every day from the Coffee House, Carlisle, by Longtown and Annan, at three o’clock in the afternoon, and arrives at The George, Mrs McVitie, Dumfries, at ten o'clock the same night ”


But this does not explain why it would have an Edinburgh Additional halfpenny hand stamp. We have been shown this cover of about 20 years later, 1857, which seems to indicate that the route may have been Langholm, Edinburgh,Carlisle, but with no backstamp for Dumfries to show the arrival date. This does not seem to make any sense at all, as the map shows that this would have had to go from Langhom to Edinburgh to get the Addl halfpenny stamp, then back again to Langholm, down to Carlisle and then up to Dumfries.

A reference was given to a book ”Langholm as it was’ and in Chapter XXXIV it has this interesting first paragraph.


Her Majesty’s Mails

It is doubtful whether during my lifetime there has been a greater advance in anything than in our postal arrangements. This applies to the whole country of course, but the post office in Langholm 70 or 80 years ago was an especially primitive concern. The post office itself was originally in New-Town, at the corner of Charles Street and Elizabeth Street, at the end of Langholm Bridge. At the time of which I write it was under the charge of Mrs Little. In 1839 it was removed to where the National Bank now stands. The postmaster was then John Nichol, who had married the daughter of Mrs. Little…..

Postal Rates

The postage rates in those early days were a very serious charge. They were not prepaid, but were payable on delivery. A letter from Edinburgh cost 8½d. From Dumfries 8½.


There are two points in this quote which relate to our letter, the first of course is that the rate of 8½ is the charge on our letter, and secondly the comment that the postmaster was then John Nichol.So it is POSSIBLE that the John Nicol who wrote this letter, was, or had been the post master at Langholm.

NEWSFLASH In October 2018 we had another suggestion from a member of the GBPS with a totally different suggestion.

My English is not good. I think the letter will be with private carriage to Glasgow. The addl is from Glasgow.From Glasgow he goes with mail coach to Ayr and then ( with foot) to Dumfries (60 miles).

It rates 8d.

I hope it helps
all the best

This would explain the Additional halfpenny mark, which could as well be Glasgow or Edinburgh, and certainly explains the charge of 8d. This is one of the real pleasures of postal history, there is always room for speculation, and more research.

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