Chapter Five

Chapter Five
"Business as usual"

And that is the last of Anthony Knight — travelling salesman — or so it would appear, because the next letter is dated April 29th, 1830 and addressed to Mr T.S. Alston 97, Watling St, London, but is signed . . .

J. Alston.

Perhaps this is another brother, working in the London office, as in the letter written by the father, quoted in the previous chapter he says 'best wishes to you and John'.

The letter has a double-circle date stamp of Bath AP 29 1830, in black and a manuscript charge of 9 — the correct charge for a single sheet Bath to London — (which has also been written on the back), and a red morning-duty receiving stamp applied in London AP 30 1830.

There is no mention of Mr Knight, but as it is three months since the last letter, things must have been settled amicably, and it is back on the road for the Alston commercial traveller.


Dear Thos.

I got here yesterday safe and have done as you see on the other side — people will not order an article scarcely just now on acct of the illness of the King — except a few black gros, I expect to sell Stroud more flat collars tomorrow — rs Stroud is in town now, I don't know whether it will be worthwhile going to Bristol people are holding off to see how this is to turn out.

I want some low cuffs very much I don't know whether I shall require any more collars or not. I think Stroud will take some more tomorrow, so that you may let me have a sprinkling of Sqr collars and some low cuffs to the White Hart Bristol to meet me there. The general opinion seems to be that these sqr collars are nearly over now.

Yours. J. Alston

The orders he has managed to obtain were dated 28th:

Sandys & Leeming for scollops, insertions and collars, plus Book flounces to be forwarded per Co's coach :

Baker of Bath, sewn collars, and square collars.

Then on the 29th to

Shaw & Beal of Bath, collars and cuffs :

Mr Eyres of Bath, cuffs and square collars :

Thos Stroud of Bath flat, round, sewn and square collars.


So although he felt he had not been successful, his total sales were quite reasonable. The general problem was the imminent death of the King. Although this is not quite so pronounced nowadays, in the 19th century the death of the Monarch was acknowledged by wearing mourning clothes of black for a certain length of time, and then gradually it was permitted to wear grey or lilac, and then ease back into coloured clothing. As the King was known to be fatally ill, no shopkeeper was prepared to spend money on stock that would not be sold — which is good business sense.

( As an aside :- as late as 1952 when the death of King George VI was announced the whole of London came to a halt, and traffic stopped, drivers got out of their cabs and passengers stood up in buses in respect — a staggeringly moving response to the death of a modern Monarch.)

The next letter is dated the next day, and has similar postal markings, the Bath double-circle date stamp Ap 30, 1930, a poor strike of the London morning-duty receiving datestamp 1 May 1830 and two manuscript markings — 9, the correct charge mark and then on the back, 2/1, which is inexplicable. There is no mention in the letter of anything being enclosed, which would increase the weight or contents, and even if it had, it would not be that price, as it would have to be units of 9d — i.e. 1/6d, 2/3d — not 2/1d.

The letter begins ...

Dear Thos.

I have almost finished with Bath now and am just going off to Bristol — the accounts of the King's illness are so unfavourable this morning that people will neither buy nor order. If I find things in Bristolto be bad it will be of no use staying there spending money, I shall leave on Saturday afternoon, but I shall see when I go over.

I have yours this morning. The patterns are very pretty but they will not order till they see how things come round.

Yrs truly. J. Alston

He has listed the orders on the back — (see letter illustrated) showing that he went back to Mr Stroud on the 29th and the 30th, and also to Mr Baker and sold them some more collars and chemisettes. For Mr Baker he gives instructions to send some black grosgrain per Regents Coach. He then adds ...

Let these be very good gros, pick them, if we can do them well, he will order some more. I should rather get the Spitalfields silks instead of the Macclesfield ones. He gets them from Mr Hangers — you may enquire about him and see if he is good. I have heard he is good. I have seen some black gros, it was excellent goods, much cheaper then ours and wider. We must get the Spitalfields one and I think with them we may do some good just now owing to the illness of the King people are buying black gros just now.

Another interesting point is the evidence that the orders have been entered in the ledgers at the head office. Each of the orders has been annotated — "ENTD TSA" presumably signifying that Thomas is doing the book-keeping in the London Office at this time. I still do not know what the reference numbers mean, but assume they are identifying codes for patterns, or material or size or colour.

Note that he says he got his brother's letter with the samples — it is obvious that the mail and parcel service is reliable and trusted. Travelling salesmen such as these, could not have operated successfully, if they were unable to carry samples with them, and know that the orders they posted away would be received and despatched. The mail and parcel services expanded to meet these demands.

Chapter Six

Title page

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