This letter also appears on the Victorian Web

London to Scotland, with connections to India: London 1832

Dunlop letter coverThis letter is addressed to James Dunlop, Kilmarnock, from Robert Parker Adam in London. There are three postmarks,

  1. Lombard Street Maltese Cross date stamp 29 May 1832,
  2. Additional ½d Type IIIB in black 18.5 x 11.5mm in use from 10/7/1828 to 9/1/1833, and
  3. the charge mark of 2/4½, representing the normal cost of 1/2 to cover the distance of between 400 and 500 miles, (but double because it had an enclosure), plus the Additional halfpenny for the Scottish mail coach tax. So James Dunlop would have had to pay two shillings and fourpence ha'penny to receive it. There are no receipt or transit stamps.

General Post, London Branch Offices

In 1829 the Post Office Headquarters in London was moved from Lombard Street to a new building in St. Martin's Le Grand. Reorganisation of General Post arrangements took place at that time and part of this was the opening of four Branch Offices. At these offices General Post letters posted in London could be date stamped before being sent on to the Chief Office for despatch. At that time the majority of General Post letters leaving London were carried by mail coaches that left the Post Office Headquarters at 8 p.m. each evening. The hour or so before the coaches left was a scene of bedlam whilst the bags were being made up for despatch all over the country and with the posting windows clogged with people making last minute postings. The Branch Offices, Lombard Street, Charing Cross, Vere Street (later Old Cavendish Street) and Borough were designed to relieve the load on the Chief Office and help speed the mails out of London.

The Office at Lombard Street was on the ground floor of the building that had housed the Head Office before it was moved to St. Martin's Le Grand. With its central location, the Lombard Street Office served the General Post in the centre of the city.

The stamps used in these offices were, with one exception, all more or less in the shape of a Maltese Cross, all contained initials identifying the office — "LS" "CHX" "B" or "VS", with the date and, in the stamps for letters pre-paid in cash, the word "Paid". The one exception was a circular stamp of Charing Cross. The early stamps were blue, but this soon gave way to red, except at Lombard Street, where black was generally used. The paid stamps were always struck in red. The date stamp was of the Type 1 standard series, in use from Oct. 1829 to Dec 1832, but this Type 1b variant was in use only from January 1832 to May 1832. It has a slightly different frame and characters with a round topped figure 3.

So now to the letter, the first sentence of which explains the double postage charge.

Dunlop text"London 29th May 1832
My Dear Sir
Your favour of the 24th inst reached me yesterday & I now return you the Bill on Fairlie & Co enclosed, accepted by the new Firm".

He then goes on to mention the India connection.

"Captain Grote has today paid over to me, as you desired £78.15/- amount of money found in the desk of our lamented friend Ker — proceeds of part of his Effects sold at Madras. There is a Trunk or chest still in the India Warehouse, which with his desk, I will take every care of & bring them with me to Scotland. These mournful relics of one we held so dear will make our meeting a very sad one, but it affords me much satisfaction to learn that Mrs Dunlop & Henrietta are supporting their severe loss with resignation. I wrote Margaret yesterday as soon as I learnt that you had communicated the distressing tidings to her"

He continues with information about his own situation:

"The delay I have met with here & in Liverpool has amazed me much & I have given up my intention of visiting Cheltenham at present. I expect to be able to leave this on my way North by way of Liverpool tomorrow week, meantime I am drinking the Waters at the Beulah Spa at Norwood 8 miles from town where I have lodgings, which I hope will relieve me from the effects of a tropical climate.

I take very kind & friendly the allusion you make to a certain topic, upon which it is now likely we shall have too much time to confer when we meet.

With affectionate regards to Mrs Dunlop & Henrietta believe me always
my Dear Sir
Yours very truly
Rob. Parker Adam

Can you let my mother know that I will write tomorrow."

The reference to Beaulah Spa interested me, and a search on the internet brought up a couple of sites from which I learned that it was opened at Upper Norwood on 1st August 1831, the architect of the buildings being Decimus Burton. It was a 12-foot deep pure saline well whose water was analysed by Michael Faraday, the famous British physicist. The main active constituent was magnesium sulphate, better known as Epsom Salts. The water had a local reputation in the late 17th century, and the inhabitants used it to cure their lesser ailments. Legend has it that an old horse due to be sent to the knacker's yard was left in the field where the water bubbled up. It drank from the pool and became sleek and fit.

The Spa was a pleasure resort typical of the time including a maze, a camera obscura and an archery ground. It had 30 acres with undulating lawns, carriage drives and many winding footpaths with magnificent views over the Surrey Hills. Despite all these attractions, it closed in 1855, falling victim to the competition of the Crystal Palace. So it had not been open long before the writer of this letter tried it out. I wonder if he became as sleek and fit as the legendary horse.


Date stamps of the General Post Branch Offices in London, 1829-1858 by R Hawkins.
http://dspace.dial.pipex.com/town/drive/yac63/chapter17.htm (the web site subsequently has been removed)

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