I have in my collection about 30 old English letters written during 1828-1830. At this time George IV was King, and astonishingly, England was at peace, as the wars with France had ended in 1815 with Wellington's victory over Napoleon at Waterloo.
The agricultural, transport and industrial revolutions were in full swing. England was prosperous, and known as the workshop of the world. The result of this progress was mobility — movement of people and goods, to more places and at greater speeds, and also the increased circulation of money.
The letters at the start of this correspondence are addressed to Messrs. Goodall and Alston, Scotch Warehousemen, and are mostly to the head office at 97,Watling Street London. This presumably is their warehouse, as the records show that their neighbours at this time were Richard Davies, Scotch Linen Warehouseman at No. 96 and John & Bulmer Scotch Warehousemen, at No. 95. The letters were written by Michael Goodall. He was evidently their travelling representative, and from his name, possibly one of the owners.
The contents of the letters give a fascinating insight into life in England during the early 19th century. They have also given me hours of frustrating research. I was only able to trace Goodall and Alston to find out what the business actually was, through following up a suggestion of a correspondent in Western Australia who had read my article published in Stamp News Australasia. He suggested I write to the Haberdashers' Company in London, and the Company's Archivist, H. Bradley, kindly supplied me with much useful information. I have included the full letter from the Archivist as an appendix.
The items Mr Goodall quotes as being sold or ordered, indicate haberdashery — and many of them were a mystery — what for instance, was a 'habit shirt'? The Archivist advised it was a kind of chemisette with a linen collar, worn by women under the outer bodice.
The letters themselves are in a very good condition. Many buildings are not in such a good state of preservation after 150 years! They were written before the invention of the adhesive postage stamp and before envelopes were generally used. In those days, a letter usually consisted of a plain sheet of paper. This was opened out and the message written on the inside using a quill pen and ink. The ink was usually black, but was made from natural substances which faded with time, often to a muddy green colour. When the letter was finished, it was folded twice and the ends tucked into each other. The address was then written on the outside. It was normal practice at that time for the receiver to pay the postage, so the sender's name and the date was also written on the outside.
The story begins with two letters written in 1828, which covered a journey made by Michael Goodall, driving a hired horse and carriage north from LONDON, heading for YORK, 195 miles (more than 300km) away, on the 17th November. It was a Sunday and he stopped at a hostelry and wrote to his head office. This first letter was postmarked that day and arrived in LONDON Tuesday 19th. It cost 10d (tenpence) which was the postage for a single sheet letter travelling a distance of between 120 and 170 miles, which was paid by the addressee. He writes as follows :-
" Dear Alston,
things get worse and worse. I will do Pontefract tomorrow and Wakefield if I can. The mare has an attack of Farcy and am obliged to leave her here. Impossible to get on with her."
(Note : Farcy is a disease of horses which is allied to glanders. This is contagious and communicable to humans, also very uncomfortable for the horse!)
"I have got another one here through Mr Barker's assistance at four shillings a day. Mr Barker recommends me to make what haste I can over the rest of my north journey so as to be back here in 10 days or so and then he thinks I may with safety drive Mr Butler's mare home gently.
I will now use all expedition to finish and get home for things are so bad people will not order, but will do all I can."
On the other side of the letter he lists all the orders he has managed to obtain with comments about the goods and suppliers. He quotes for instance :-
Maw & Barker of DONCASTER
3 ps ea 6/4 black Hard book at 8d — try and get
6 ps ea black and white spider nett at 7-1/2
6 ps white foundation — best at 4/6
2 ps ea black and white cotton buckram at 3/6
1 ps 6/4 Swiss mull 17.22 at 2/3
1 ps 6/4 Hair cord to be dyed buff
1 ps 6/4 Hair cord check ditto They are both to be one price about 22d buff
No.10 I think will do — a good mid shade.
½dozen printed hfs 16/6 685
1 dozen plain linen handkerchiefs with border — Deacon's Van — wait for the Buffs.
2 doz reels ingrain red marking cotton with the above — you will get them at
Carlisle's in Bow Lane or Caswells Gutter lane...."
(Note : It is interesting that he has told his partner to buy in these goods from another supplier)
He continues ...
" Wilton's will try us next time I think, they are very steady people but have just given their order to Chisolm's whose traveller left here only Friday last. I will be in Leeds, at the White Horse, Wednesday and Thursday, Friday Mr Atkins in South Parade York, till Monday."
There are two common factors running through this Alston correspondence — the accounting, and the use of the mail for the despatch and receipt of letters, money and samples. All of the letters contain lists of orders placed, and at what price; the money received for outstanding accounts, and the transfer of that money. The growth of the postal service played a vital part in the development of trade. It was particularly important in the textile trade, where samples were sent by the mail coaches, and the payment for goods was made possible by the transfer of funds using the paper money. It was obviously an accepted practice to send bank notes through the post to be redeemed in London. It is evident that the only way Mr. Goodall could have transferred the sums he mentions was by some form of promissory bank notes — the equivalent of our present day cheques. It is unlikely he would have enclosed loose coins in a folded letter.
There were two types of currency at this time, coins of copper, silver and gold (from the farthing, at four to a penny, to the five-pound piece), and paper money. For everyday life coins were the preferred unit. The population was largely illiterate and the coins were familiar and trusted, their value being based on their metallic weight.
(As an aside — I have managed to buy two coins dated 1828 to go with this collection of letters — a groat, which was worth fourpence, and a sixpenny piece).
However, paper money was becoming much more accepted as a way of dealing with the commercial aspect of life. The Bank of England had been founded in 1694 and by 1820 there were more than 700 country or provincial banks. It was no accident that the growth of banking matched the growth of industrialisation; the increased circulation of money accelerated the Industrial Revolution. The Country banks transferred surplus funds deposited with them from the land-owners, who were prospering as a result of the agricultural revolution — to the London banks, who then financed the industrialists who needed the capital to expand.
To meet the local needs for short-term cash, the country banks issued their own promissory notes, designed to be recognised locally. However, banking with paper notes only works if there is confidence in the bank. To protect the general public from unstable banks, the Government passed legislation to limit the number of these promissory notes that the provincial banks could issue. Forgery was a big problem with paper money, and people took a long time to trust it. This is understandable, as anyone who handled forged money — even unknowingly — was subject to hanging or transportation.
a specimen of a bank note of the North Wilts Bank, Melksham Branch — see bibliography "Good as Gold".
The country banks honoured their bank notes even if they proved to be forged, but in London, forgery was so widespread and the amount of money involved so large that the Bank of England was not able to do this. In BRISTOL in the 1820's it was reported that the market folk unanimously refused to take the small Bank of England bills, but that they would accept the Bristol paper money without hesitation. This would be because they recognised the design of their local Bristol paper money. It has to be remembered that as the population was largely illiterate, a forged note that actually said — for instance — FORTY PENCE, could be passed off as FORTY POUNDS to a person who was unable to read.
The second letter from Mr Goodall was dated 25th November 1828, posted from YORK, arrived in LONDON Wednesday 27th and cost his head office 11d (elevenpence) to receive it. (The cost for a distance of between 170 and 230 miles from London).
He gives details of the orders obtained :-
Jas. Threlfall, LEEDS
3 dbl tambr colls 17d
3 dbl tambr colls 18d
Paid 8/6 8/9
(he evidently gave a discount of 3d)
W.J. Kettlewell, LEEDS
6 dbl tambr colls 16d
Paid 8/- 8/-
Broadbent and Lowry LEEDS
1/2 doz Doncaster 651 15/-
1/2 doz Printed handkerchiefs 16/6 604 660 684 652 662.
"I have been to Malton and Scarborough, but am sick of being out now, things are really so bad, not a single order, tho' lots of promises for the Spring. Have done nothing here yet and don't expect much. Shall leave York for Tadcaster and Ferrybridge and be at Doncaster Saturday to meet the mare and hope to be home at latest Monday week, but the days are so very short that I can't get on so fast as in Summer time."
I sent you a remittance from Doncaster have not heard whether or no you received it.
a coarse linen or cloth, stiffened with paste or glue
| A Warehouseman:
||A wholesale merchant, especially a trader in textile materials who has a building to store his stock of goods for sale.
|A thin, patterned muslin
|Hair Cord :
A rough corded material
| Tambour :
Embroidered with a special needle on a stretched frame
So it seems that this traveller was not a happy one! He had travelled about 383 miles in nine days and had suffered setbacks such as a lame horse, short days, competition from other travellers and had not managed to secure many orders. But the next letter is two months later, January 1829, back on the road again for a journey to Bath and Bristol in the West of England.