Letters from the Past

"Anger and villainy in Litcham, Norfolk, 1824"

This letter was posted in London and addressed to Miss Carmichael. Litcham, near Rougham Norfolk. It has only two postal markings (Fig 1) :

address panel 

1) London double ring evening duty date stamp JY 21 1824 with C letter stamp at side. A distinctive evening duty stamp was first used in 1795. It was usually applied in black, but occasionally in blue. This stamp was a double rimmed circle with the day in a smaller circle in the centre, the month at the top and the year, in two figures at the bottom. (Fig.2)


The double rim was usually an 'extra' stamp used at busy times. A variation of this evening duty stamp was in use in January and February only, during 1798. This example is a 19mm single rim circle, with the day in a small circle, and the year in two figures, but it had in addition a code letter outside the circle, not inside. This example is the letter G, and the letters from A to H are known. (Fig.3)


From 1800 the year was shown in 3 figures instead of 2. This was a double rimmed circle, with the day in a smaller circle, the month above the day, and the identifying letter at the left inside the large circle. This type of evening duty stamp was in use in the General Post until 1822. (Fig.4)


The next change was in 1823, when the stamp showed the year in full — four figures, as on this letter dated 1824. (See Fig.1) The evening duty stamps of this period can always be recognised by the fact that the year was shown in a curve, even when they were shown only in two figures. The morning duty stamps in contrast, always showed the year in a straight line. This 4-figure type was in use until 1828.

The evening duty period was always one of high speed, and the stamps were worn out every day and recut out of boxwood.

The second postal marking is the manuscript charge mark of ‘9’ — ninepence being the charge for a single sheet letter being carried a distance of between 80 and120 miles. At that time according to Alan Robertson’s listing, Rougham was 71 miles from London, so Litcham would have made the extra 9 miles to make it up to the 80 – it must have been pretty close, but it looks to be off the beaten track. The post office obviously did not miss a trick with the charging. See the map (Fig. 5)

map of area

The letter is a bit of a puzzle, as the date stamp is July, yet the letter inside is clearly

London June 20 1824. It seems to have been written by two different people, beginning with about 1½ pages with the 20th June date, and then starts again, in a different hand.

It is written on both sides of a single sheet of paper 9 x 14½ inches (approx 22 x 38cms) which has gold edges – a luxury nowadays with that metal being more than $900 an ounce! It also has a watermark of G & R TURNER — another sideline of our hobby ; the watermarks of the paper makers. It is sealed with red sealing wax and an imprint of a signet ring bearing the letter “B” presumably for Sarah Barnes who wrote the first part of the letter.

“My dear Madam

I received your kind present on the 20 of June last for which I am greatly obliged, but sorry that you should give yourself such unnecessary trouble on our account, also your letter which I should have answered before had I not vainly hoped by this time to have had your company in town but your Brothers delay, at which I am both surprised and disappointed, I suppose will procrastinate your journey but I hope you will make your stay the longer when you do come.

I am glad your Brother is safe out of those hands you so much dreaded, but I think he ought not to retard his journey into Scotland no longer than possible for could anything be done to injure him he is giving his enemies time to do it.

Smyth called the other day but we was not at home, and he sent a message to Mr B yesterday by Mr Rutherford to say that he was very sorry that there should have been any variance between them but hoped he would look it over and admit him on the same terms as before and Mr B sent word back that if Mr Smyth wanted to see him he would meet him anywhere he should appoint but never under his roof again.

Give my sincere love to your Mother, Sister and also your Brother with our best wishes for his success and safe return and hope you will accept the same for yourself

Believe me Dear Madam

Your affectionate friend
Sarah Barnes.
London June 20 1824”

The last three lines of this part runs across the next page of writing. (Fig.6)

letter contents

click here for larger image

Then the letter starts again in a very similar handwriting, but obviously not by the same person. This looks like an early form of re-cycling, as Miss Carmichael has apparently used the same piece of paper to reply. As it has no postmarks coming back to London, it must either have been kept as a copy of her reply, or it might have been carried back privately to Sarah Barnes.

“My dear Madam,

I hasten to answer your very kind letter & to express my thanks for the kind concern you evince in our welfare. You may rest assured that John will not lose a day upon the termination of the Assizes, which have alone prevented the departure of our voyagers. It was utterly impossible that Mr King should leave before; he has one case in hand for a lady – who very recently lost her cause thro’ the neglect of her solicitor, and as she has put her case in the fullest confidence into Mr King’s hands he was apprehensive that had he left his home before (which her opponent prevented by deferring to put in his plea) he might not have been able to do my brother justice in Scotland.”

Note: The next paragraph shows how angry she is with this man Smyth – he must have upset the whole family)

For the rest, my dear Mrs Barnes, we will trust to them who saved my brother from the venomous shaft of that complicated villain Smyth. Nothing would surprise me that he might do, but that his hypocrisy should induce him to make such a concession as to request being admitted again a visitor at your home I confess astonishes me, but you may be assured has some deep motive in it. Not that I give him credit for a plot for I think him a most stupid ass myself, an ignorant fellow to whom you have all been too kind, and some people have puffed the fellow up by persuading him he is clever. I believe him equal to any rogue’s trick, but as to any other talent he has not a single grain or he would not request Mr Barnes to bury his former conduct in oblivion after vilifying him as he has done, and which John had most assuredly acquainted you with, but he felt that you had both done with him, and he was averse to wounding you, for even in repeating a tale of slander we should be careful of our friends feelings. I just give you an idea of him and how he must have felt towards you.

He continued for some time to bore me with his scrawls of which I took no notice, he then began to pester my sister, and you may remember receiving a very neatly folded letter for my brother, from us which he sent here. Mr King says I am a most iron hearted creature as I would not forgive this precious scoundrel.

We shall apprise you when these good people are about to depart. Meantime I am charged with abundance of kind remembrances from Mr Mrs B & Sister to you and the bairns and the young ladies, and I must request that master John be not exempted and believe me to remain most gratefully and truly your obliged and sincere friend.”

That is how the letter ends, with no signature or date or address. It is the kind of letter which makes me itch to find out more of the circumstances in which it was written — who was this villain ‘Smyth’ – and what had he done to stir up such enmity, and were matters ever resolved?

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

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