This letter also appears on the Victorian Web

A shot fired in anger, 1837

This letter conjures up an image of a man with a grievance, going to the local pub, and getting charged up with his grog and coming out determined to express his displeasure.

It is addressed to Alfred Bell Esqr, 35 Lincolns Inn Fields London. Solicitors can have their offices anywhere and have never been restricted to certain sites or areas, and Alfred Bell was a solicitor, having been entered on the roll of solicitors in 1837. Lincoln's Inn Fields is a square on one side of Lincoln's Inn and today it still contains several firms of solicitors. Bell's firm seems to have specialised in utilities as in 1837 it was the solicitors to Lambeth Water Works Co. Then later on they branched out, so to speak, to represent the Western Gas Light Co and the British Electric Telegraph Co. as well. Bell's last entry in the Law List (annual legal directories) was for the year 1884 which generally means that he either retired or died about that time.

The letter was written by Robert Thompson of Woodham Lodge, Rushyford, Durham County — which is about 5 miles away from Bishop Auckland. I have been unable to find out anything about this man, but Woodham Lodge was part of Woodham Manor, and a current map search shows the whole area has been built up into a residential housing estate.

The letter (which is on woven paper with a watermark of J SIMMONS 1836 and a crest or cipher with a seated Britannia.) has four postal markings.

  1. undated twin-arc town name stamp of Rushyford where it was posted. This type was issued to smaller post offices from 1829. Larger offices included the date in their stamp.
  2. receiving date stamp in London, double-ring morning duty, in red with date either side of the month, and the code letter B. This double-ring was an 'extra' stamp used only when the pressure of work made it necessary. The morning was always busy, as the mailcoaches travelled overnight, from all over the country, and were timed to arrive at the main General Post Office at about 8 am.
  3. manuscript charge mark 1/- (one shilling) which was the rate in force from 1812-1839 for a distance between 230 and 300 miles. Rushyford was 252 miles from London, and took two days by mailcoach.
  4. a manuscript amount of 4/7. This is not a charge mark, but is likely to be the total cost to be collected by the postman from Mr Bell. In this case, it is possible that there would have been more than one letter for the solicitor, and the cost of each would vary, so that the total was often written on one of the letters.

So after all that, now to the letter, which has no punctuation, and some most peculiar and inconsistent spelling, as it was some years before spelling became standardised. I have put the present-day spelling in brackets to clarify the meaning.

'Mr Bell, Sir,

The Committing Magistrate is Mr Geo Fielding and the Clark (Clerk) to the Magistrates is Mr Trotter both of Bishop Auckland having viewed Donkins window there is no shot marks on the shash (sash) but there is 11 shot dropes (drops) in the window fraim (frame) and 8 shot marks on the shutters but the shutters having been repeatedly painted that the shot after passing the glass made but a slight impression on the shutters and the shot droped (dropped) down between the window and shutters and there is 30 drops of the shot taken care of, the window shutters might be easily removed should it be required. Donkin had the window glaized (glazed) about ten days since —

One of the Wives came to Donkin on the Tuesday morning the 17th Jny (January) and both the wives came on the afternoon of the same day and wished to make it with him and each offered 10s if he would make no more about it and they both came back about 14 days after and made the same offer.

And Toward himself when aprehended (apprehended) was very wishful to make it up with Donkin and he would pay for the window and all other expenses rather than go before a Magistrate. This Mr Geo Thomas can assert and he (Toward) said when before the Magistrate that he was in Liquor or he would not have shot at the window.

I am sir
Yr very humble servt
Robt Thompson'

On the outside is a note 20th March 1837 'Toward v Donkin Mr Thompson.'

Obviously, the attempts of the two wives to prevent Mr Toward being brought before the magistrate were unavailing. I think it is odd that a solicitor from London was involved in such a minor case 250 miles away, perhaps he came from their area, and they knew him. It would be interesting to check if those Quarter Sessions records are still available, to see whether he was punished for shooting at the window. I wonder if he could have been transported to Australia for such a crime!

Notes: with thanks to Lincoln's Inn Library, for information on Alfred Bell.

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