Letters from the Past
With Eunice Shanahan
"London to Edinburgh 1846 – from Road  to Rail"

This is going to be a different type of article   using 3 letters as examples. To begin with it is later than my usual letters, being after 1840.  It is addressed to J. Campbell, 2 Albyn Place, Edinburgh  and has  2 imperforate  Penny Red stamps on it.(Fig.1) 

address panel

The cancellation on the stamps is the 1 in a diamond with 16 lines forming the oval. This was an obliterator, used to ensure the stamp could not be cleaned and re-used – and it certainly did the job – as you can see the right hand stamp is virtually invisible under the cancellation.   The 1 was for the Inland office, the headquarters of the General post and the initial issue in May 1844  was of numbers 1 to 20 which were in use until 2nd March 1847 when a new series was issued …(Postal cancellations of London 1840-1890 H.C. Westley).

The stamps were printed in sheets of 240  and the alphabets in the bottom corners of the stamps were printed as the first row with  A on the left side,  and A on the right, the next stamp would show  A  and B,  the third one  A  C  etc.  The next row began with the first stamp having the letters,   B and  A, the second stamp B and  B, third one B and C  etc.  The reason I have explained this is because as can be seen from the illustration,  these two stamps have the initials  Q J  and R  J,  so they would not have been adjacent stamps, but one below the other.   The second illustration is taken from the Robson Lowe book and shows a block of these penny reds with their alphabets. (Fig.2)

block of penny reds

The early stamps were not perforated – the clerks had to cut the stamps from the sheets —   until the 1850s when a successful machine was designed and produced.

On the back of the letter it has two date stamps – the first in black an  evening duty  London JA 6 1846 of the type in use from 1845 to 1857 when two code letters were included at the top of the stamp,(in this case the letters BB above the date  JA-6 1846.) (Fig.3)

London postmark

The size of the circle, and the lettering varied but the year being in a curve at the bottom of the stamp identifies it as an evening duty postmark. This type of stamp was the last of the distinctive evening duty stamps of the General Post Inland Section, London office. New postmarks were introduced as a result of the reorganisation of the post office, after prepayment of postage became compulsory. The other stamp is a reddish black Edinburgh receiving date stamp JA 7 1846  with G and N either side of the day – I think this could be NOON)

The contents of the letter are not all that interesting, but still it is a letter, not just a front or cover. It was addressed to J.A. Campbell  Esqre2 Albyn Place, Edinburgh and was a query on an insurance policy written from : Royal Farmers & General Fire, & Life & Hail Insurance Company.

Solicitors Office
50 Lincolns Inn Fields
6th January, 1846
Dr. Sir
            Re Walker, deceased – Life Policy No. 509
            I beg leave to refer you particularly to my letter of the 9th Octr last, to the Company, wherein I pointed out, the variation of Mr Walker’s Christian name in the Registered disposition —   you will please to see that this discrepancy is satisfactorily explained.
I am Dr Sir
Yours truly
John Rogerson
And for Charles Boydell
Joint solicitors to the Company

My immediate question was how could the letter get to Edinburgh in one day? The other two letters show why I was puzzled by this.  Firstly the 1815 India letter showing the time taken from London to Edinburgh  being 3 days. (Fig 4) 

The letter left India in August 1815, reached London via Deal on March 21st 1816  and arrived in Edinburgh  March 24th 1816.   Amongst the 9 postal markings,  the only two that are of  concern for this article are the London morning duty mark and the Edinburgh arrival stamps  indicated by the arrows. This letter will be the subject of a later article as it is so interesting.
Then the third letter, dated about 15 years later shows that the journey time  was reduced to 2 days  (Fig.5) 

maidstone marks

This letter was handed in at Maidstone in Kent – the postmark showing no year. It arrived in London the next morning where it received the morning duty date stamp of 16 Mr 1836,  and arrived in Edinburgh two days later,  shown by the date stamp MAR 18 1836.

This letter of 1845 – a mere 9 years later, shows that the journey only took one day…. and a roll of drums for the answer, which is….. the development and progress of the Railways. By 1845 there was a staggering 2440 miles (3927 kms approx!)  of railway tracks opened and 30 million passengers in Britain alone. The incredible increase in the amount of  mail carried by the Post Office made changes inevitable. From 50 million letters annually in 1838, to 169 million as soon as the Penny Post was introduced in 1840,  to  917 million by 1871.

I don’t know how much of the mail would have been sent by rail, but the first mail was carried on the Liverpool and Manchester Railway in November of 1830. The idea of sorting the mail in transit had been suggested by Rowland Hill in 1826 but the mail coaches did not have the space, and any space taken up by sorting mail would mean fewer passengers, so this would affect the income of the mail coach contractors.  But once the railways got going, it was a feasible option, and a trial using an adapted cattle truck in 1838 proved that it would work, so the Post Office ordered four special carriages to be run from Euston, and by 1842  the carriages ran directly to Preston.

I have not been able to figure out why the letter cost 2d – it should only have cost 1d,  because of the introduction of the Penny Postage in 1840. It is only a single sheet of paper, which would not have weighed more than the minimum weight.  Inside there is a note at the top “Papers”, so if there had been an enclosure it would have increased the postage, but there is no mention of it in the letter.

I wonder if a letter posted in London nowadays would get to Edinburgh the next day.

This article was first published in Stamp News the Australian monthly magazine.

Copyright By EARS Leisurewrite

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