These letters graciously have been shared with the Victorian Web by Eunice and Ron Shanahan; they have been taken from their website, Letters from the Past.

Click on the thumbnails for larger images.

Bristol letter

This letter from the past was posted in a Bristol Penny Post Receiving office. It was written by William Miles of Manilla Hall, in Bristol on 26th November 1836, was addressed to Mr Hubert Edy of Ledbury, Herefordshire, and had three postal markings.

  1. unboxed three-line dated stamp of Bristol Penny Post 26 NO 1836 in black ink in use from 1833 to 1840
  2. a No.1 Receiving House stamp in an oval allocated to Hot Wells. Originally the Receiving Office was at the New Inn, Dowry Square, Hot Wells, a village which had grown up around mineral health springs.
  1. a charge mark of '9'. Before the introduction of uniform penny postage, the cost of posting the letter was based on the distance, weight and contents of the letter. The amount of 9 pence was for a single sheet weighing less than a quarter of an ounce over a distance of between 80 and 120 miles.

Although an 1765 Act of Parliament allowed Penny Posts to be established anywhere within the realms of the administration of the General Post Office, it was not until July 1793 that such a system was established in Bristol, the second provincial city in England (after Manchester) to have a Penny Post. The system opened with seven Receiving Offices, but over the next 40-odd years it expanded and eventually covered a large area with 57 sub offices.

The writer Mr William Miles does not waste time with any fancy phrases or civilities — he has a straightforward manner stating what he wants to know, and making his opinion known.

Manilla Hall, 26th Novr 1836

Sir,

I received a letter from your Father on my return from Bath, which I will give an answer to, as soon as I hear from you, how my accepting £545 — levied under the warrant of Attorney, will affect the security of the remaining ½ year's rent. Does the same warrant hold good, for the remainder of the £700. — for which it was granted? Can you levy again, upon its authority? Or does a sale having once taken place for a part of the sum, release Mr White from his engagement for the remainder?

You will perceive that I have not the slightest reliance on him, unless he is compelled by a superior power, to do what is just and right.

Do you know any one, who would be likely to make a competent, honest, tenant to undertake the Estate — Will you also ask your Father, whether he has received any thing on the promissory Note, either as Interest, or towards liquidating the principal —

An early answer will oblige —

I remain, Sir, Yours Truly, William Miles.

Note: a promissory note was a signed document containing a written promise to pay a stated sum to a specified person or bearer at a specified date or on demand. It was the fore-runner of paper currency: I can remember in England we used to have a really good-looking Five Pound note, which was white with fancy black printing which included the words "I promise to pay the bearer on demand the sum of Five Pounds", and it carried the signature of the Governor of the Bank of England. To my parents and many of their generation, it was a rare item, representing in many cases a week's wages, so they did not come in a wage packet.

But to return to the letter — it is intriguing because on the inside of the letter it has a few lines which appear to be the reply dictated to the clerk who has written it in what seems to be shorthand.

As the illustration shows, three of the lines have been boxed out, as though the person dictating the reply had said "no, scratch that out, and make it....."

Shorthand and shorthand Systems

Some form of shorthand has been in use since the system of John Willis was published in 1603. There have been others, Samuel Pepys used the Thomas Shelton system based on the alphabet published in 1630. Charles Dickens when he was a reporter, used Thomas Gurney's system, which was introduced in 1750 [see below].

Some of the outlines in this example look like the Pitman system, devised by Sir Isaac Pitman (1813 — 1897) who was born in Trowbridge Wiltshire, not far from Bristol. His shorthand writing system based on phonetics was published as "Stenographic Sound Hand" in 1837, which is before this letter was written. However, Pitman had opened his own private school in Bath, in the 1820's, so it is possible that use of his system had spread locally. Bristol is only about 25 miles from Bath.

For the background to this article, I sorted through my various reference books, and am also indebted to M. Sanig of New South Wales for information on the Penny Posts Receiving Offices in Bristol. Unfortunately, I was not able to work out the shorthand outlines in the letter, despite referring to manuals. I do not know anyone who uses shorthand nowadays, because of the change of office procedures, to the use of dictaphones and computers. I would be most interested if any reader is able to make out the outlines to confirm this for me.

According to E. H. Butler in The Story of British Shorthand (London, 1951), pp. 56-62, Thomas Gurney was born 1705 and published Gurney's Brachygraphy on 16 October 1750. Also, in William J. Carlton's Charles Dickens, Shorthand Writer: The 'Prentice Days of A Master Craftsman, there are numerous mentions of him and an illustration of the title page of the publication of Gurney's system, as revised by his son Joseph in 1825.

I have two other letters with quite different Bristol Penny Post markings, on another page in this website, click here to see the previous letters, dated 1824


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3 December 2002