"Henry Larratt - trainee surgeon of the 18th Century"
This article concerns two of four undated letters which have proved to be not only very interesting in themselves, but also for the puzzle they presented in narrowing down the date. They are all written by Henry Larratt in London to his father, a Surgeon, in Uppingham, Rutland. He has not given a complete date to any of the letters, only dates like, "London, Saturday evening".
When I have undated letters, I usually check the watermark, and the postal markings for clues. In this case only one of the letters has a watermark, and that is one which does not include a year. Both the letters have the same postal markings :- a Bishop Mark, and a manuscript charge mark. However, these did not prove very helpful, because Bishop marks of the type showing only the day and the month, were in use from 1713-1787, and the rate of 3d (three pence) was the charge for sending a single sheet letter a distance of under 80 miles between 1711 and 1785. So that only narrowed it down to about 70+ years, which was not very accurate!
My next thought was to check on the internet for Uppingham and found the address of the Rutland Shire Special Services Librarian/Archivist. An e-mail to them brought an incredible response from Emily Barwell, who was very interested in the letters, and she managed to find very useful information about the Larratt family in Uppingham. This showed that my guess of 1711 was not very likely, as records held in the Poll Tax, and other local records indicated that it was much more likely to be after 1770.
As in most letters of the 18th and early 19th centuries, all the letters have the 'long s' where the letter has been doubled, like 'business' 'Miss' etc., but I have left them in the modern format, as it makes it easier to read. So now to the first chatty letter which is addressed
For Mr Larratt Surgeon Uppingham, Rutland.
The Bishop mark is 18mm diameter and is 3 over AP which is 3rd April -The manuscript charge mark is '3', and Henry has written "Single" in the bottom left hand corner (this is for the Post Office to charge only for a single rate - i.e. 3 pence which his father would have to pay to receive the letter)
"London Saturday evening
(Note: this is a surprising comment about the food which had been sent from Rutlandshire down to London as it must have travelled by coach, maybe it was items like preserves or pickles. He then continues with home news and references to Mr F and Mr N, and I have found out that these are Mr Fox and Mr Nevison. Jno is the abbreviation for John, and his spelling is not always standard - cleaver for clever and Baskitt for basket.)
"I shall almost tire you with reading my long letters, you will receive one by Mr F. who left Town sometime on Friday last; should suppose they will nearly arrive together; but on recollection the letter by Mr F is for my Friend Mr. N. whom I am heartily glad will soon have finished his tedious Business: the letter I believe complains of him in particular being very much behind in point of Correspondence; but the Baskitt being some few days a coming, in some measure pleads an excuse; I am very glad to hear the colt is going to be broke by Jno Wright it is what I wished for; let me hear now & then, how he looks whether he is anything of a figure; for I believe you know when I was in the Country I used to say then I would ride a Cleaver Horse."
(Note: He then tells his father about what he is planning, and this is the first clue for me to be able to date the letters. He is in London working at St. Thomas's hospital.)
"I am still in the same way of thinking - we have plenty of business at the Hospital, operations in plenty, there is to be three on Monday all performed by Mr Martin who is beyond the shadow of a doubt the best Operator of the Six Surgeons at Thomas' and Guys' but has hurt himself by the heavy expences which attend keeping these great people Company, his Connections being chiefly with the first people in Town some few of us has been to see him & most Elegantly entertain'd Every think in taste &c"
(Note: George Martin was Surgeon from 1768-1784 - he died in 1784 and his post was taken over by John Birch, so the letters have to have been written during this period. He then continues with personal family news. The Fox family (John)were clockmakers and gunsmiths in Uppingham at the time. There were Larratts living in Liddington, so Henry would have known about Mrs Hill.)
P.S. The little Box had entirely buried itself in one of the Pges
P.S. The little Box had entirely buried itself in one of the Pges
(Note: I did not understand this paragraph, but presumed he was being sardonic about the package and his skills as a dresser to a surgeon, however I have since found out that "healed by the first intension" in medical terms means 'leave it alone and it will heal itself'.) Since I found the dates that the Surgeon George Martin was working at St Thomas hospital, (1768-1784), I was able to check on a perpetual calendar and found that April 3rd was a Sunday in 1780, so the 'Saturday Evening' date on the letter would have been the 2nd April in that year.
The second letter has a Bishop mark 18mm diameter 2 over DE (2nd December). The front is addressed :-
It has a watermark on one part of the paper with a crown over the initials GR
- and on the other part a seated Britannia on an oval shield, but no year of manufacture, unfortunately.
Unfortunately the letter has been torn, and the first part of the letter which has been written by someone else is partly missing, so the next part of the letter written by Henry Larratt is also missing. It begins with a different handwriting, and from the first complete line it reads :-
Note the fancy signature.
Henry then continues with information for his father about his experiences in London.
(Note: Emily suggested that I contact the Hunterian museum in London for advice about Henry as a student at the hospital and I was staggered to have this response from Caroline Lam at the Kings College Library archives.)
"I've checked our extant St Thomas's Hospital Medical School records for Henry and found that he first enrolled as a 'Surgeon's Pupil' for a period of 6 months on 13 November 1780. On 13th January 1781, Henry switched to become a [Surgeon's] dresser to Mr George Martin, still for a period of 6 months.
So that gives me the date for the two letters, it is 1780. I find it hard to believe that these records are still available. That is the end of these two letters - watch this space for Henry's London experiences in learning to be a doctor.
Acknowledgements : British County Catalogue London, Willcocks and Jay |
Rutland Shire Archivist - Extended Services Librarian
'St Thomas's Hospital Medical School, King's College Archives, King's College London'
"Great Britain Post Roads, Post Towns and Postal Rates 1635-1839" Alan W Robertson.
This article was first published in Stamp News the Australian monthly magazine.
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