Chapter Eleven

Chapter Eleven
The Scottish Connection

As mentioned in the opening chapter, Goodall and Alston were entered in the Post Office Directory as Scotch Warehousemen, it is natural therefore that there would be references to Scotland in the correspondence.

In the first letter written by Michael Goodall dated Doncaster July 17 1828

(See illustration of letter) he says

"I think to be home in 3 weeks but must not be later than 1st week in Septr to start again. I think your visit to Scotland will be essential, but it must be short."

So it would seem there was personal and written contact between the headquarters in London, and Scotland. There are eight other letters to and from London and Glasgow between December 1830 and January 1833, and they concern finances, the family and trade.

For instance this letter is from the manufacturing firm Wilson & Kelso of Glasgow, dated 22nd December, 1829 addressed to Goodall and Alston.

"We are favored with yours of 17th inst, and we are sorry we cannot just now send you any cuffs, we have done very few and they are to order, but when we have it completed will be glad to send you a parcel — perhaps a month after this — we have nothing new except square collars and we are also behind with them. Should you be here before that time will be glad if you will call on us.

We are, Gents,

Yrs respectfully,

Wilson & Kelso"

In February 1830, Thomas Alston was in Glasgow staying with his father, possibly to discuss the business situation after Mr Goodall's defection, as described in Chapter Four. He received this letter from J Carfax of London. It was addressed simply : — Mr Thomas Alston, at John Alstons Esqr, Glasgow. No street address. So presumably John Alston would have been well enough known to the Post Office for this to be delivered.

"Dear Sir,

I have recd an order Per the Eliza Jane (which arrived last Thursday) for a few handkerchiefs which I wish you to purchase while you are down there. The assortment is 18 dozen M.N. Cambric from 7/- to 9/1, 6 dozen with embroidered corner from 10/- to 12/- and 16 dozen with printed borders and crosses about the same quality as the white ones.

I should advise you when you are down there to go to Paisley and take a look through the shawl manufacturers. I see there has been a very great deal done in London this season in that way and I think to a very good account — at any rate it can do you no harm to make yourself as much acquainted as possible with the prices and quality of both of the fine and coarse descriptions and if you was even to get a pattern shawl of each description I think it might be advisable. If they were of no use to you I should take them from you.

I have recd your fathers cases safe at Holloway. We are all just as you left us. I learn John is quite well. Give my best respects to your Father, Mother and all your family."

(Note: throughout this correspondence, the reference to Scotland is always 'down there', or from Scotland to London is 'up there' — but I use the opposite terms, as I consider Scotland to be 'up north')

The letter which has been roughly opened and torn, has four postal markings :- a blue Maltese Cross type datestamp from Lombard Street 23 Feb 1830, a boxed 'additional ½' in black, the charge rate of one shilling and twopence (1/2d) in manuscript — only once, the correct rate for a single sheet London to Glasgow, all three applied in London, and finally a black circular Glasgow receiving stamp 25 Feb 1830.

Another letter sent in July 1830 from Andrew Hunter in Glasgow seems to show that the Scottish manufacturers were still in difficulties concerning supplies. The letter has the Glasgow circular datestamp of July 16th 1830, an unboxed 'additional ½' in black, charge marks 1/2d on the front and 1/2½d on the back, and finally a red circular morning duty receiving date stamp of London 19th July.

The letter says

"Dear Sir,

Upon receipt of yours of 12th we applied in the first instance at Mr Robertsons, next to Porter, Hutchinsons and Co, but in none could we get your quantity not even putting them all together. It rarely happens that any house have quantities of such goods in the finished state. The soonest we could have sent them off would be the steamer of Saturday week as yours of 7th said per FIRST steamer we could not venture on so much delay.

Your order of 9th we sent to bleach at Cochran's, they will be sent next week. Hoping soon to have the honour of hearing from you, we are Dr Sir,

Yours truly....."

The next letter is from William in Glasgow, dated 28th Sept 1830 to Mr Thomas Alston 97 Watling St London. Postal markings :- Glasgow 28 SE 1830 Manuscript 3/6 and also 3/6½ (on the back) Additional ½d handstamp, and London Datestamp Morning Duty 1 OC 1830. This was the correct rate for a triple charge ( 1s 2d per sheet for that distance, plus the Additional ½ Scottish Mail tax).

Dear Thos

I am duly favord with yours of the 25th and now enclose you 13 notes value two hundred pounds which I hope will reach you safe and in time for your demands — agreeable to your wish I have not valued on you but when you get a little easy will be glad you remit us a little as I wrote you in my last letter I am rather short at present but expect very soon to have plenty for all our demands — I am sorry that there are such a number of notes but could scarcely get the amount, even in these small notes, English notes not to be had these few days past.

Captain McColl has not yet arrived, he is looked for every day. We have had very cold wet disagreeable weather this sometime past, which is much against the harvest, not two days dry at a time. We have had no direct word from the Doctor but Mrs Scott had a letter from Mrs Fyfe the other day in which she mentions that she had been informed of Doctor Thomas's friend that the Doctor had dined with him at Barnside and very well at that time which he requested Doctor T to mention the first time he wrote to Scotland. All are well at home and join in best wishes for you both,

I am Dear Thos,

Yrs Truly, William Alston.


It is interesting that on the inside fold a note has been added

"Remittance W.C.A. 28 Septr 1830." The way the letter was folded and sealed with the red sealing wax, this note would not have been visible until the letter was opened

NOTE : Sterling Currency

Pounds shillings & Pence £. s. d.

12 pence = one shilling = 20 shillings = £1

Scottish Currency :

1 Scottish Shilling = 1 English Penny

1 Scottish Pound = One English Shilling and 8 pence

The other way it took 12 Scottish Pounds = One English Pound

"Until 1711 Scottish postal rates were defined in Scots currency, but as the Scottish Shilling and the English Penny had the same value a simple numeral showing the charge was the same in either currency"

(quoted from 'The Port & Carriage of Letters" by David Robinson)

So that a letter marked '10' would be 10 Scottish shillings which would be 10 English Pence.

The next is a long family letter — crossed, which makes it hard to read. The writer of the letter began by writing the letter on one part of the paper, then when he reached the end of the page, he turned it 90 degrees and then wrote across the previously written words. This makes sense because of the cost of postage being based on the number of sheets of paper, on top of the weight, and the distance involved.

addressed to

Mr Thomas S Alston 52 Friday Street London

Postal markings Glasgow datestamp 17 Nov 1830 manuscript 3/6 Addtl ½d of Glasgow

London Morning duty stamp in red 20 Nov 1830

Dear Thomas,

I wrote to you on Monday evening with seven notes value £297.19.4d, say two hundred and ninetyseven pounds 19/4 which I hope reached you safe and in good time, and have now the pleasure of enclosing three notes value twohundred and sixty two pounds ten shillings (262.10/-) 6/- of which I had to pay for the paper. I have placed to your debit the sum of 262.16/- and have likewise passed to your credit the bill you sent on Mr Smith, which you will please note.

In reading over your letter you sent Father per Mr. Turner, I am exceedingly happy to notice you have got on so well. Instead of desponding as you are, I think you ought rather to be very glad you have got quit of Mr Goodall. You should rather be very glad because he might have gone on making you a great deal worse and might have ruined you ear long and you say you expect to be able to support yourselves and likewise pay off these debts this will then enable you to go on the next year free of that bad load. Take courage, then go on in your cautious way and altho you may have some difficulties for a little I hope you have now got the worst of them surmounted and that you will be able to get a trade settled to your satisfaction, but this you must not expect without much trouble and altho you had it settled today you must expect a great deal of trouble and labour and carry it on, as there is in all business, as you are quite aware of.

I am quite satisfied that if you do not get your Bills discounted that it will be very much against you, but I hope that you will be able to get this overcome, likewise what you say of giving some of your larger bills to these houses you do much with, is quite right, but if you happen to get an opportunity of getting your Bills regularly discounted your larger bills will enable you to get off a number of your smaller ones — but of this you will be the best judge.

I rather think you will be cheapest to discount your bills in London if you can get it arranged there, because you have first to pay 4 percent of discount, next you have the exchange which is another 20 days and again you will have at least two double postages and besides the charge of stamps. Now by the time you add all these you will find that the expense is considerable. However, we have no objections to endeavouring to pass some of your bills whenever you are at a loss, which I hope you will soon get remedied.

You mention that you have an intention to increase your business and that you wish Father to prepare another one thousand for you by May next. This he says he cannot see how he can do, his money is completely locked up at present. When he gave you the money you have, it was taken out of our business as his money, we lent it in such a way that he cannot get it up for some time, indeed cannot, which I know — which was the cause of his getting that other money for you from Uncle James. He cannot therefore do it as far as he can see at present. He says they wish to assist you as far as possible, but it is quite out of his power to do once more. I can assure you that we are just pinched enough with what capital we have used as our trade requires more capital to carry it on and should answer by return.

Mr Turner was out with us last night and gave us his description of batcheloring, very well when away. He sends his regards to you both, in which all the family join.

I am dear Thomas, yours affectionately,

William Alston.

I have included the next letter here, although it is not in date sequence, nor is it part of the Scottish letters, but because of the reference to the address in the previous letter.

The letter is from Southampton 12 July 1832 and is addressed to

Mr Alston

34 Hatton Garden London


If you will call on me at Walkers Esq, 209, Piccadilly on Wednesday morning, I will pay your account, which would have been done before had you remained in Friday Street.

Yr Obedient Servant

H. Fricker"

This sounds as if he is a disgrunted creditor who had received a reminder of an outstanding debt.

However, when I found that letter from Mr. Fricker, it gave me a link to another letter which was also addressed to 34 Hatton Garden, London. By itself, it could not be linked to the Alston correspondence, because there was no other reference to Alston of 97 Watling Street, or at Friday Street London.

This letter was written four months previously, March 1832 and addressed

Mr Alston (Mr MacFarlanes) 34 Hatton Gardens.

It is quite different from the rest of the correspondence, because of the postal markings. It was posted and delivered within the boundary of the London Twopenny Post and so carries distinctive postal markings. It was handed in at the Tower Street Receiving Office, and was stamped with the type of 'unpaid' mark in use from 1819 to 1836. The datestamp which shows it was sent out on the 4oclock run can be identified as being applied at the Chief Office, as the month is before the date. The Chief Office would also have applied the large '2' charge stamp showing that twopence had to be collected on delivery of the letter.

The contents of the letter seem to bear no relation to the rest of the correspondence, and there are no other references to Mr Whitrong, or the West India Colonies.

9 New Suffolk St,

March 27 1832

My Dear Sir,

I am sure it is only necessary for me to acquaint you that every effort is making by my brother to discharge the obligation between you and him. This is a task of no ordinary importance at this unprecedented period of distress in the West India colonies. The very first bills he can procure he will present for the express purpose of meeting your demands, but I fear he must trust to produce which he will import in the 'Clarendon', as bills are received with so much doubt of their being good. Rely upon it, I will lose no time in forwarding any bill I may receive to your address.

If in turn you will give me a call as a friend, believe me I shall always be happy to return those civilities which I have experienced under your hospitable roof. And do believe me to be Dear Sir, Yrs Truly

A.W. Whitrong.

Evidently the warehousemen are not the only businesses in trouble, but it seems that this creditor at least understood the problems his brother was having, and was honestly trying to help. Presumably the difficulties in the West India colonies would have been associated with the abolition of slavery movement which was gaining momentum in the United States.

The next three letters are dated 1832-33 and are addressed to Glasgow from John Niven & Co London.

As previously mentioned, the Archivist of the Haberdashers Company advised me that there was no entry for Alston in 1832, and in 1833 the address 97 Watling Street was occupied by Joseph Scott, Shawl Manufacturer. These three letters seem to indicate that the business of Alston, Scotch Warehousemen, London is being wound up, and that their stock is being sold for them, working through the Scottish part of the family business, being run from Glasgow, as explained in the long letter of 17th November 1830.

The first is addressed to T.S. Alston, Glasford St Glasgow. The postal markings, London evening duty datestamp Nov 29th 1832 , Glasgow 1 Dec 1832 manuscript 2/2½d additional ½ handstamp of Glasgow.

" To, T.S. Alston, Glasford St, Glasgow — in acct with John Niven & Co.

Dear Sir,

On the other side we hand you notes of a few sales made for you and above is a statement of account for sales sent you, the balance 10. 8/- we enclose in this. Bank and account bill no. 6675. We are still selling a few pieces but of no consequence.

I hope you continue in good health.


The rest of the letter is a ledger account of sales etc. Which is headed

Sales on acct and risk of Mr T.S. Alston Glasgow , 20th November, 1832

The next letter is also addressed to Mr T S Alston Glasford St Glasgow, from London, and is dated 19th January 1833. The postal markings show an excellent evening duty datestamp of London JA 19 1833 manuscript 1/1 plus the additional ½d handstamp.

Dear Sir,

On the other side we have your statement of account which we hope you will find correct, the balance £14. 2/- I have lodged to your acct in Glyn and Co. I am in receipt of your letter yesterday but I cannot at present particularly reply to it, my brother having it out with him, but your requirements will be attended to. We have a parcel of ribbon patterns lying here for you which will be sent you the first opportunity.

I am much obliged to you for your kind offer of sending consignments but as I am winding up my business here I cannot accept of them. Trade is very poor here, it is not known what may be wanted in the way of ginghams for this season — I have had several offers for your scallops but all under 6d nett, if I can get 6½d or even 6d I think it would be well to take it. I have just sold your buckrams all overhead at 1/-, this I daresay is very low but I could get no person to look at them in the state they were in.

I am dear sir, Yrs truly,

John Niven.


The rest of the letter is a ledger account of sales and receipts etc. (See illustration), the lines were hand drawn not printed.

The final letter of this correspondence is also addressed to Mr T S Alston Glasford St Glasgow and has four postal markings : London evening duty datestamp JA 26 1833 Manuscript 1/1, additional ½ d handstamp of London, and a receiving datestamp Glasgow JA 28 1833.

It is dated 26th January, 1833 and gives details of sales he has made and the remaining stock.

Dear Sir,

I am in receipt of yours of the 21st inst., previous to which I had sold your scallops with the lace insertions and also all the gingham flounces the price 3d nett for the low corded trimmings and scallops 6d and 7d for the scallops and insertions nett cash, which I consider fair, they were all sold to Smith and Dervie Wodd St, who are very good. What now remains are the book trimmings and flounces which I will endavour to get off.

Hugh has wrote today with a person who goes down, I understand from Leafs, including the patterns of ribbons which I hope you will find of use, there seems to be no stripes in ribbons or almost any other thing — all self coloureds. Among the patterns sent, there are some very pretty shades.

Mr Neaton has not yet sent his money, my brother will have written about the others.

You ask in your letter of the 21st what are my intentions across the water — as far as my views are matured at present they extent to going out to New York and if possible to carry on a business similar to what I have at present, and what progress I have yet made towards it seems favourable. I expect to get 2 or 3 good consignments from London in the lace way — and should that market suit any of your goods I shall feel most happy to do business with you. The prospects in that market, probably never were better. A new tariff Bill is announced to be brought in to Congress and to be carried through speedily which will open a great field for British manufacturing.

I am dear Sir, Yrs most truly

John Niven.

P.S. I expect to have my business cleared up here by the latter end of Feby and will if possible leave this about the beginning of March.


With this letter we come to the end of the Alston correspondence. It certainly seems as though the London end of the business is finished but that the Glasgow part is still in business.

"Go West, young man" seems to be the cry, and thousands of Scots emigrated during the 19th century, many of them to America, and prospered. The belief that the growing American nation must be in need of clothing and haberdashery items was sufficient fuel for their optimism.

Unfortunately, I have no letters from New York which would continue this story of the life of a travelling salesman in the mid-nineteenth century in Britain. The period covered was very short, 1828 to 1833, but the letters and contents make this a living history.

End notes and bibliography.

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