Birmingham to London, 1817

Eunice Shanahan

These letters graciously have been shared with the Victorian Web by Eunice and Ron Shanahan; they have been taken from their website. The letters give an insight into the daily lives and concerns of 'ordinary' people without whom history would not exist. The letters are a wonderful example of how much history may be gleaned from such sources.

This "Letter from the past" is rather fragile, more than 180 years old and has seven different postal markings, three of the General Post and four of the London TwoPenny Post. Inside it is dated Birmingham 21st January 1817, marked on the outside ‘single’ and addressed to :

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G.T. Whitgreave Esq.
B. Hodges’
Hanwell, Middlesex.

The first post mark is a red circular dated mileage mark of Birmingham with the date both sides of month 22 JY 1817. The mileage from London was 109 and from 1812 the charge for 80-120 miles was 9 pence, which was put on in black ink. Next came a London General Post datestamp 23 JY 1817 in red. The year being in a straight line shows it was a morning duty stamp, and this type was in use from 1810-1840. Because the letter was to an address in the Country area of the London Twopenny Post, it was transferred to the Chief Office and received the red oval 10 O’clock F.Nn 23 JY 1817 datestamp. The Chief Office stamps can be identified by the month being before the date. Here the letter was handstamped with the ‘3’ charge mark, to be collected on delivery. Then it was transferred to the local office for delivery, where it was stamped with ‘TwoPy Poft Unpaid Hanwell’ stamp in black.

The Hanwell Receiving House was in the Country Lists of the London TwoPenny Post from 1794-1837, and the unpaid stamp was in use from 1803. The 3d rate for the Country area was introduced in 1805, and covered the areas between 3 miles and roughly 12 miles from the GPO. After all this, the addressee was not there and the letter was readdressed to Mill Bank Westminster, so it was returned the same day to the Westminster Office of the TwoPenny Post, where it was stamped with the red indented datestamp 7 ‘clock 23 JY 1817 Nt. The Westminster office stamps always had the day before the month.

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At some stage the 9d General Post charge mark was deleted, so this may have been paid at Hanwell, before the letter was readdressed. It seems odd that the 3d TwoPenny Post charge was not paid at the same time - perhaps it was only received on delivery to the actual addressee ?

The contents of the letter give a detailed description of the efforts of the writer to get some legal papers signed - and the troubles he had to do so.

"Dear George,

The wetness of the evening detains me in this town. I think my time cannot be better employed than in giving an explanation of the events of the day, which I had not time to do before nor should I think prudent from other motives to have been more explicit in my letter enclosed in the parcel.

I received yours on the Sunday evening but not in time to go to W’hampton, but waited on your Aunt at 8 oclock this morning. She expressed much difficulty to sign the assignment after reading it, her reason for objecting was that she never knew she was entitled to a share of the lapsed legacies of your two brothers and sister in right of her husband - the pencil mark shews the passage alluded to."

Note: I am in sympathy with the Aunt - he had probably not given her enough time to gather her wits - if some legal eagle had arrived on my doorstep at 8 a.m., I would probably have had difficulty in reading an assignment!

"After much cavilling in which I asserted that it could not, nor never was your intention to defraud her or her children of her just rights, she desired me to write the words on the first page, which was done, Miss Lane being present as the witness of her conditional signature, relying on your honor to do her full justice. She thought it was too harshly penned and feared to hurt your feelings by it, I thought proper to state her sentiments that no misrepresentation might arise to either party."

Note: His comments on the next visit show that this was not a simple task, as he tries to explain the situation, which was made more difficult by some know-all relative.

"But I have a different relation to make of the proceedings of Mr. F. Whitgreave. I got there at 10 past one and found him at his dinner. I found a relative of Mr Hows’ of the same name, and he, whether authorised or not I cannot say became counsellor to Mr F.W. and after reading it over, flatly advised him not to sign it unless I were prepared to pay down £500 . I explained, told him that I was NOT, as he (F.W.) well knew by his arrangements previously made with you."

Note: The writer Robert Hodges, then tries to make a verbatim report of the conversation.

"Then quote -'would he ever be paid?' I asserted he would; his friend said that the receipt ought not to be signed without the money down. He openly advised him not and finally to take his chance on the final issue of the suit and wait till its exit.

I put the question - 'will you or not execute' "NO" - then by way of apology he dictated the substance of the words dated Solihul. I withdrew amidst his apologies and hopes that it might be no check to the suit.

I should be sorry to sow the seeds of discord but I must say that if you fully understood and mutually agreed upon having the assignment drawn up, that his behaviour needs no comment on my part. It savours of weakness and duplicity."

Note: He then advises how the parcel has been despatched, and puts all the business aside to continue with his family information.

"I forwarded the parcel to Hadgate from the Hen and Chickens here, it was booked by coach, this evening 6 o’clock to town.

At Mosely, we are all as usual. The haymaking is proceeding but slowly, and the weather will impede us if it continues as at present. I had hopes before the rain to have stacked the clover by Wednesday next, but that is now defeated I fear.

I am happy to find the little ones are so far advanced towards convalescence.
Give my love to all friends, to your wife and
Believe me your sincere friend
Rt. Hodges"

He finally adds a postscript :-

"I had almost forgot to say that the library was not bequeathed to Lady Horsemorton but given to her eldest son, all the books with the Barton Arms on - as your Aunt supposed - for in the copy of the will (I saw it) there is no mention made."

How much easier it would have been for Mr Robert Hodges to explain all this over the telephone! But that was not invented until 1876.


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Last modified 3 December 2002