Chapter Nine

Chapter Nine

The West Country again

The Bristol coach ran from London through the night, so scenes like these would have been familiar to our travellers, Mr Goodall and Mr Alston. Waking up with the dawn, and all the noise and movement of changing the horses, are shown here on postcards from the Post Office Archives No. 159 and 160, from "Fore's Coaching Recollections".


'Waking up'


Travelling about the country at this time was apparently not unpleasant, but it was of course time-consuming. The mailcoaches had to be given right of way, but since their introduction the roads had improved immeasurably. It is quite possible that Mr Alston did not travel on the mailcoaches, but only used them for sending his samples and letters. From the itineraries he lists, it is likely that he would in fact have been driving his own carriage, as he would not then have been tied to the strict timetables laid down for the mailcoaches

In addition, if he wanted to go to towns that were not on the main roads, he would have had to take the coach to the nearest large town and hire a gig there, so this would probably not have been sensible or economical. It seems odd that apart from the first letter when Mr Goodall reports on his mare having gone sick with the disease Farcy, there is no mention of transport or the state of the roads — only the weather.


'Changing Horses'


The next letter is dated 22 Sep 1830 Bristol — about ten weeks since his return from Sheffield, and nearly four months since he was in Bristol before the death of King George IV.

The postal markings are Bristol 22 SE 1830, London 23 SE 1830 and a manuscript charge mark of 1/8, which is the cost of a double letter, and he says in the letter that there is an enclosure.

The letter is a long one with orders from Bath as well as Bristol, showing that he stopped off there, to try to make more sales and collect outstanding payments.

Dear Thos,

Annexed is what I have been able to do in this place, things are very flat, I find this is a bad time to come round, the most of them being in Town, or going to it, or have been there, that is always the excuse which is given just now. Mr Goff will be in Town tomorrow or next day and Mr Hughes, neither would buy on that account. Have yr parcel of trimgs and picked out an asst and sent them over to S & L and my stock being so poor, all that I had being coarse trimgs I requested them to return to me what was not kept, which they have done, keeping only 4 pcs insertions, which I have given on other side, they are just about taking stock or I daresay they would have kept a few more. My stock being so poor, I shall keep all that you sent, and having no opportunity of returning Penrices 4 ps I shall just keep them also, it will make my parcel look better — Green asked me as a favor to let his acct stand over and add this new parcel and draw a Bill for the whole at 2 mos — enclose in parcel for acceptance and he will return it.

Miss Phillips last order you have not executed the muslins well, they have been very bad I got a blow up about it, be particular with this one that the goods be nice, she will be in Town in Nov and will call.

(Note : when he refers to 'Town' he means London)

Try and get Mr Goff and Mr Hughes to make a parcel, there are a great many buyers in Town just now.

If it was not for the getting in of the money, I would be far better at home just now for 2 or 3 weeks, as they will not order an article just now scarcely, and it is the general complaint of the travellers.

You had better send me a few very nice habit shirts, to assort my stock as it is getting rather poor now, address to The Fleece, Cheltenham, to meet me on Friday. I shall leave this for Gloster tomorrow morng, say whether you think it will be better to come home for 2 weeks, I think myself it will be much better. Brown's traveller is here just now, and I understand from him that Corny is worse and not able to take his journey, and he is taking it for him — going down by the week.

Have you got any word about Purnell since I wrote you? If I go on the journey I shall go from Cheltenham to Warwick and Birmingham, Coventry and Lester, and so up to Sheffield, changing the route a little and by that means, will probably get before Goodall in these places. Shall be at Warwick on Saturday, address to The Woolpack, on Tuesday Birmg to The George. By my keeping all the trimmings you sent me I will be impoverishing you, but I require them to assort my stock quite well.

Yours truly J. Alston

Thwaites has given me the description and pattern of a kind of handkerchief he is wanting made, he can sell a good many of them and he says I might sell a great many to other people, I will describe it to you when I get home.

Put in some cards in the parcel you sent, I find you have forgot to give me flounced collars, send a small asst."

The orders are listed on the inside giving the dates he visited, the items, the cost and despatch instructions. At the end of the order for Miss Phillips of Bristol, which was for handkerchiefs of different kinds, he has added this item :

1 ps each Blk * Wt stiff Book 5½, stiffest you have, it must be very stiff, enclose to Mr Thwaites — and the orders for these two and Mr Green also of Bristol are to be sent

Pr Co's Coach.


The next letter is from a customer, and he sounds rather 'scratchy' — possibly John Alston called on him on his way to Cheltenham that day, as it is dated Thornbury 23 September 1830, the day after the previous letter. The two datestamps are Bristol 23 SE 1830 and London 24 SE 1830, with a manuscript charge mark of 10d.

"Sir,

This to call your attention to my letter of the 11th inst, which I believe I stated for you to call on this day fortnight, which will be the 30th and I doubt not but you will receive the sum stated previous to your letter yesterday. I have given my agents orders to pay it into the bankers in London which I before stated.

I am yours respectfully

W. Grove."

Thornbury is a market town on the left bank of the river Severn, but a little way off the main road.

There is an interesting incident concerning Thornbury reported in 'The Mail-Coach Men of the Eighteenth Century' by Edmund Vale. In 1796, the Superintendent, Thomas Hasker had replied to a letter from the Hon. Charles Francis Greville (who was busy at that time building the new town of Milford) — concerning his proposal to take the Bristol-Birmingham mailcoach through Thornbury. Hasker says that 'years ago the road was reported as incomplete, but Wilkins will go and report on it. At present the mail is taken there by a runner at £10 per annum. The decision must be left to the contractors for all the Innkeepers and Coachmasters from Bristol to Birmingham are in a Company, thirtyfour in number, and if they should say they will not, a new Connection cannot be formed. For this slight diversion from the present route, to pass through Thornbury, Mr Weeks would be allowed an additional five minutes.'

However, it seems that this was not granted, because nearly 30 years later, in 1825, (five years before this letter was written), a "Fifth Clause" post was established at Thornbury to link the town with the Bristol Penny Post system.

The Bristol Penny Post was opened in the 1790's and by the 1830's had nearly 60 sub offices. However, Thornbury was not one of these, and successfully petitioned to become a Fifth Clause Post connected to Bristol. This was a horse-post which replaced the foot-post, and the charge was one penny for each letter delivered to Thornbury. The "Fifth Clause" referred to was part of the 1801 Act enabling the inhabitants of a town which was not connected to a Penny Post office to petition for a service. If the petition was granted the community had to pay for the service connecting it to the nearest post town. There were not many of these so-called Fifth Clause Posts, because the facts presented in the petitions usually resulted in the Post Office extending the existing service. (Illustration of letter — no penny post markings)


The third letter was postmarked Cheltenham, a popular town with a Spa of health-giving waters. It was visited regularly by members of the Royal family during the 18th and 19th centuries.

The postmarks are Cheltenham 24 SE 1830, London 25 SE 1830 , manuscript charge mark 2/3

The postage charged is three times the rate for the distance, and the reason is given in the first sentence of the letter. From the writing it seems he must have been in a hurry, as it is an absolute scrawl and there are many abbreviations of the towns etc.

"Dear Thos.

Enclosed is £15, all I have. Have yours this morng and what you have sent will do very well, it was just a sprinkling I wanted to assort my stock — shall tend to what you say in your letter, am just going off to Warwick, shall go to Leamg tomorrow, spend Sunday there and go from there to Byefield about Bonham's money. If anything, address to The Crown Inn Leamg — shall be in Birmg on Tuesday, if anything to The George Inn

Yrs Truly,

Wrote you yesterday by Mr Green, Hope you have got it.

There is only one order, for S. Maggs & Co of Cheltenham and it could as well be in a foreign language, as it uses their 'in-house' product codes

1 ps Todds R & W 10/- 6. P
1 " Brown and Blues 8/9 751
1 " Azure Blues 5/6 1011
1 " 9/8 Azure Blues 10/- 1089
1 " Slate haircord 12½
1 " green haircord 12½
Must be a very bright green or it will not do, and as close as you can get it. Get it from Penrice, we sold it at 62d I think.

Per Paul Pry"

Paul Pry was a Carrier.


In this letter, the itinerary he gives to the London Office is quite explicit, showing that they knew they could keep in contact with mail and samples using the coaching houses or inns.

Chapter Ten

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