Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for September, 2009

royal lion innDorset Public Inns With a Literary Connection showcases a number of inns with connections to John Cowper Powys, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen,  Robert Louis Stevenson, and John Fowles. Constance Hill, author of Jane Austen: Her Homes and Her Friends, identifies the lodging in Persuasion as the Royal Lion Inn:

Now the inn to which they were bound we fully believe to have been the “Royal Lion,” which stands on the right-hand side about half way up the main street. The circumstances of the story all suggest it rather than the old “Three Cups,” the only other inn of importance in Miss Austen’s day. From the quaint projecting windows of the “Royal Lion” the ladies would be able to see Mr. Elliot’s “curricle coming round from the stable yard to the front door,” and could “all kindly watch” its owner as he drove up the steep hill. This would have been impossible from the windows of the “Three Cups,” which stood at the bottom of the main street and turned slightly away from it. The “Three Cups” was burnt down in 1844, but we have seen its site and have looked at an old print showing the building and its surroundings.

Update: Natalie Manifold, who runs the Jane Austen tours in Lyme Regis, wrote to say that Constance Hill’s information is wrong. The Royal Lion Inn is not the inn described in Persuasion. She has done extensive research on this topic, examining all the town’s old maps and records, and found that the front section of the hotel was a “privately owned cottage up until 1844 when it was scorched in a fire. Subsequently, it was sold and bought by the owner of the inn, which up until that point had been situated right at the back of the hotel’s car park near the river. The bay window is also Victorian as it was added when the front structure was included as part of the hotel.” Natalie concludes: “There is no way that the party would have been able to see up the hill from the hotel’s situation during the Regency period, leaving the old Three Cups as the most likely place of their stay.”

Agreeing with Natalie’s assessment are: John Fowles – the town’s most noted historian and author, Diana Shervington – relation of Austen, and Francis Turner Palgrave – Anthologist. (Thank you for the update, Natalie, which I very much appreciate.)

Royal Lion Inn Lyme Regis
Chances are that Jane Austen was familiar with the  Inn. In 1804 Jane Austen and her family traveled to Lyme and stayed there in the summer. The Royal Lion Inn, or the Lion as it was known, was built as a coaching inn in 1601. More information about the inn can be found in Dorset Public Inns With a Literary Connection. Over a century later, author and traveler, F. J. Harvey Darton wrote about the two inns:

Nothing could be better than the confrontation of the two chief hotels, the Royal Lion and the Three Cups. The Cups is the older house, and seems to go back to at least Stuart times in name and site. But they are both models of what a country inn of the better sort should appear to be. – The Soul of Dorset, F. J. Harvey Darton , 1922

More Links to Lyme Regis

Read Full Post »

When horses drew every imaginable wagon in London, crossing sweepers were a common sight. In some areas of town they were regarded a nuisance, for often young boys would pester a pedestrian and sweep a clear path whether that person wanted their help or not. The practice of using crossing sweepers to clean the streets of horse manure, dust, and clinging mud lasted into the early 20th century. In the mid-19th century, Henry Mayhew chronicled the lives of working people in a series of volumes entitled London Labour and the London Poor. Mayhew described a system of cleaning streets, introduced by Charles Cochrane in 1843, that instituted a more orderly system than crossing sweepers, and in which former paupers were hired so that they could support themselves.

Crossing Sweepers, 1856

Crossing Sweepers, 1856

The first demonstration or display of the street orderly system took place in Regent street between the Quadrant and the Regent circus and in Oxford street between Vert street and Charles street The streets were thoroughly swept in the morning and then each man or boy provided with a hand broom and dust pan removed any dirt as soon as it was deposited The demonstration was pronounced highly successful and the system effective in the opinion of eighteen influential inhabitants of the locality who acted as a committee and who publicly and with the authority of their names testified their conviction that the most efficient means of keeping streets clean and more especially great thoroughfares was to prevent the accumulation of dirt by removing the manure within a few minutes after it has been deposited by the passing cattle the same having hitherto remained during several days. - London Labour and the London Poor, p. 259

street sweeper

The groups of orderlies not only swept the street and removed dirt in a particular area of London (500 linear yards of a busy street, 2,000 yards of a quieter section, and 9 men in a busy intersection, like Cheapside), but they also acted as “the watchman of house property shop goods, the guardian of reticule,s pocket books, purses and watch pockets, the experienced observer and detector of pickpockets … more, he is always at hand to render assistance to both equestrian and pedestrian.” The report concluded that the street-orderly system would keep the streets of London and Westminster clean in a most satisfactory way. In return, the street-orderlies would earn a wage of 12s. Although this was a lower living wage than other workmen earned, the money lifted them out of their lives of squalor.

The system did not entirely replace the crossing sweepers, many of whom were depicted in caricatures as hounding pedestrians for services rendered. Read my article on Crossing Sweepers at this link.

Read Full Post »

Mr. Knightley's Harvest Ball

Mr. Knightley's Harvest Ball

I prefer Kate Beckinsale’s Emma, written by Andrew Davies, because of the film’s depiction of ordinary life, such as farmers threshing grain before the Harvest Ball. These scenes were not written by Jane Austen, but they added authenticity to the film. When I saw this image, (Detail taken from the New York Public Library’s digital collection of the Costumes of Yorkshire, 1813-1814), I knew that the costumers and the director, Diarmuid Lawrence, had done their research. I loved the quality of the golden light that bathed the workers, lending the scene an antique, painterly feel. There are so many glorious visual moments in this film, which is well worth watching despite the script’s many variations from Jane’s plot.

Detail, Rape Threshing, 1813, The Costume of Yorkshire, New York Public Library

Detail, Rape Threshing, 1813, The Costume of Yorkshire, New York Public Library

By 1750, British agricultural practices were regarded as among the best in the world. The Industrial Revolution accelerated new practices in agriculture, in which animal power and human labor were aided by newly invented farm machinery. These inventions, as well as the new methods of food production, greatly increased the food supply.

harvest
Four-field rotation was practiced in England.  Specific crops were grown in a scientific sequence that managed the different nutrients in the soil. With this method, the continuous use of land was possible; more importantly, additional forage crops for livestock could be grown. This increase in the food supply could support livestock through the winter, which led to an improved diet year round. Even the poor could occasionally augment their bread with meat and dairy products, such as cheese.

harvest 2 (2)
While the Enclosure Acts from 1750-1831 drove many subsistence farmers off their small holdings of around 20 acres, the movement combined land into larger tracts for more efficient farming, and allowing portions of the fields to lie fallow. The traditional method of subdividing the land allowed farmers to feed their families, but their holdings were too small to follow the new method of crop rotation.  The larger holdings (which usually favored the richer land owners) applied modern methods of crop production. The unlucky farmer who lost his lands also lost the means to support his family independently. He and his family had no choice but to find work in the industrial north or in London. These burgeoning urban centers required an enormous amount of food to be brought in daily over long distances. One imagines that after Mr. Knightley set aside enough of the harvest for his own consumption, he transported the remainder to cities to be sold for profit.

harvest 3 (2)

More on the topic:

Read Full Post »

In celebration of Little Dorrit’s remarkable seven wins at the emmys, PBS will be showing the series online for a limited time. The duration of online availability is through Sept 29, so hurry and click here to watch this well-crafted and outstanding show in its entirety. USA only. So sorry, our other country friends.

pipe09-dorrit-big

Read Full Post »

After many parts of Bath disappeared overnight during a German bombing raid in World War II, efforts to restore the city began – efforts to reconstruct the major landmarks like the Assembly Rooms and The Circus, that is.  Smaller Georgian houses were scheduled for demolition.  In 1970, a horrified James Lees-Milne wrote to the Times:
Your readers may be interested to learn that we are getting on quite nicely with the demolition of the centre of Bath. This year alone we have swept away several acres between Lansdown Road and the Circus. The whole southern end of Walcot Street (including the 19th century burial ground and tombstones) has entirely gone. We are just beginning on Northgate Street and have only knocked down two or three houses in Broad Street this month. But New Bond Street’s turn is imminent. All the houses are (or were) Georgian, every one.
Lees-Milne, who joined the National Trust, “played an active part in the campaign to save Bath.” Click here to read the review of Michael Bloch’s book, James Lees-Milne, The Life: Saving what was left to a Georgian city, which goes on to describe the rest of this fascinating story.

Read Full Post »

Prior to the 19th century, children were dressed as miniature adults…

18th c. Girl With a Kitten, Jean-Baptiste Perronneau

18th c. Girl With a Kitten, Jean-Baptiste Perronneau

Children’s fashion often preceded similar changes in adult clothing. Simple frocks for girls in the closing decades of the 18th century foreshadowed the fashionable high-waisted, neo-classical style that would become popular for women during the first decades of the 19th century.

1790 Portrait of a Girl, John Hoppner

1790 Portrait of a Girl, John Hoppner

This pastoral image of a young girl by Thomas Gainsborough is a reminder that poor girls wore “tattered hand me downs or clothes made of coarse woollens and rougher cottons or mixtures like fustian.” (Fashion-Era)

Cottage Girl with Dog and Pitcher, Gainsborough, 1785

Cottage Girl with Dog and Pitcher, Gainsborough, 1785

The easy, loose-fitting shifts below made it easy for little girls to play. The little boy’s skeleton suit is described in the post below.

The Sackville Children, John Hoppner 1797

The Sackville Children, John Hoppner 1797

A little girl’s mourning dress in 1809, although black, remained comfortable and unrestrictive. More details about this dress are at this link from Jessamyn’s Regency page.

Mourning dress, Ackermann plate, 1809

Mourning dress, Ackermann plate, 1809

Childrens’ fashion posts on this site:

Read Full Post »

Gentle reader: This is the second of a series of three posts about the postal service in 18th century Britain. The first, Letters and the Penny-Post, can be read at this link. These posts are written in conjunction with Austenprose’s discussion of Lady Susan, an epistolary novel written in the form of letters, and thus are the inspiration for these posts.

The Post Office, Edward Villiers Rippingille, 1820

The Post Office, Edward Villiers Rippingille, 1820

As early as the 16th century horses were used to carry the royal mail. Sir Brian Tuke, appointed by Henry VIII, oversaw a system of riders on routes from London to Edinburgh, Scotland, Holyhead, Falmouth, Dover, and Dublin. Each stage, or post, was about 20 miles in length. After this distance, tired horses were exchanged for fresh replacements. From 1574, each ‘Post Master’ had to have at least three horses available for use. At the sound of the approaching Post-Boy’s horn, his own Post-Boy was made ready to start the next stage of the journey. Post Boys & Mail Coaches, The British Postal Museum archive

A public postal service was introduced in 1635. Riders on horseback carried the mail, but due to the poor condition of the roads the Royal Mail system was slow and hard on the men and the horses they rode. The riders, or post-boys, wore scarlet livery, and barely traveled more than three miles per hour in those early years. They could manage a faster four miles per hour for an express delivery. Dirt roads were in notoriously poor condition and the journey was challenging for even fresh horses. Only six post roads led from London. Letters were carried from post to post by post-boys and delivered to the local postmaster (or postmistres), who removed the letters for the area and had them picked up or delivered. The post-boy would then continue to the next post, carrying the rest of the letters. The Mail Coach Service

Post-Boy En Route to London, 1800

Post-Boy En Route to London, 1800

Before 1765, sending a letter a short distance outside London cost 3d. and sending a letter halfway across the country cost one shilling, or a week’s wages for most people. To cut costs, business concerns preferred to ship their goods down a river or up a canal, rather than chance a slow and dangerous journey by road, for highwaymen and robbers lay in wait, and post-boys were easy prey. Horace Wallpole wrote about a trip from Tonbridge to Penhurst: “The roads grew bad, beyond all badness, the night dark, beyond all darkness, the guide frightened beyond all frightfulness.” In Sussex the roads were generally so impassable in winter that the judges on circuit refused to hold the assizes at Lewes, the county town. Roads, Tolls, and Highwaymen

Post-Boys and their ponies, I Henderson, 1834. Although this image depicts a scene later than the era described in this post, and the ponies are harnessed to pull carriages, not deliver the mail, I chose the image because it is reminded me of a description of post-boys setting out with several ponies. This image is from the British Postal Museum Archive.

Post-Boys and their ponies, I Henderson, 1834. Although this image depicts a scene later than the era described in this post, and the ponies are harnessed to pull carriages, not deliver the mail, I chose the image because it is reminded me of a description of post-boys setting out with several ponies. This image is from the British Postal Museum Archive.

The following impressions by Arthur Young, a traveler in the 18th century are reminders of the economic consequences of poor roads. Poor linkages meant that postal carriers could not travel around the country easily:

To Luton; the cross-road execrable.
To Dunstable; a cross-road, very indifferent.
To Bedford; turnpike: a vile, narrow, cut-up lane.
To Kimbolton; very shabby.
To Thrapstone; a cross-road, but so so, much cut up.
To Grimsthorpe; cross-road; very bad; at one part of it over a common, with roads pointing nine ways at once, and no direction-post.
To Colsterworth; most execrably vile; a narrow causeway, cut into ruts, that threaten to swallow us up.
To Wakefield; indifferent; through the town of Wakefield so bad that it ought to be indicted. Most of the Yorkshire roads are favourably spoken of, but there are some exceptions that
To Medley; a cross-road, being a line of vile deep ruts cut into the clay.
To Temple Newsham; the road is a disgrace to the whole country.
To Castle Howard; infamous. I was near being swallowed up in a slough.
To Morpeth; a pavement a mile or two out of Newcastle: all the rest vile.
To Carlisle; cut up by innumerable little paltry one-horse carts.

“From Newton to Stokesley in Cleveland,” says Young, “is execrably bad. You are obliged to cross the moors they call Black Hambledon, over which the road runs in narrow hollows, that admit a south-country chaise with such difficulty that I reckon this part of the journey made at the hazard of my neck. The going down into Cleveland is beyond all description terrible, for you go through such steep, rough, narrow, rocky precipices, that I would sincerely advise any friend to go a hundred miles to escape it. The name of this pass is very judicious; Scarthneck, that is, Scare nick, or frighten the devil.

From Richmond to Darlington; part of the great north road; execrably broke into holes like an old pavement; sufficient to dislocate one’s bones. Her Majesty’s mails: a history of the post-office, and an industrial account …, 1865, p 126-127.

Post-Boys and Horses, 1794, George Morland

Post-Boys and Horses, 1794, George Morland

Many areas of the country didn’t have easy access to the postal system because few of the mail routes came near them. In the early 18th century, Ralph Allen, an entrepeneur who lived in Bath, added a system of crossroads, which connected two post roads, thus covering more of the country. By-posts ran between a post road and a town some distance from it. A way-letter went between two towns on the same post road. Instructions were put on the bottom left corner of letters, hence early covers often arrived with ‘Cross post’ or ‘X-post’ written on them. (History of the Postal Service .)

Allen – who later became the model for Squire Allworthy in Fielding’s Tom Jones – immediately began to stamp out corrupt practices. He had postmasters send him quarterly returns and swear an oath that their figures were accurate. All by- and cross-letters were to be stamped, and tallies kept of all the unstamped mail that came into the postmasters’ hands. As a result of these measures, income from the mail service increased dramatically.

Apart from stamping out bad practice, Allen expanded the routes used by the postal service. During his tenure, he established posts from London to Bristol, Bath, Cambridge, Norwich and Yarmouth, and also increased the number of deliveries that were made. By the time Allen died in 1764, by- and cross-letters were a profitable source of revenue and the department was soon incorporated within the Inland section of the Post Office.- Potted History by Ben Locker

By the middle of the 18th century, road improvements changed to the point where a contributor to the Gentleman’s Magazine wrote in 1754: “Were the same persons, who made a full tour of England thirty years ago, to make a fresh one now, they would find themselves in a land of enchantment England is no more like to what England was than it resembles Borneo or Madagascar.” (Road, Tolls, and Highwaymen.) Road improvements included toll roads, or private roads which the public paid to use but which were maintained and kept in decent condition. The effects of these turnpikes in 18th-century England contributed to lower freight charges of goods and travel times, and better economic conditions. - POSTAL CENSORSHIP IN ENGLAND 1635-1844 BY SUSAN E. WHYMAN

Though notoriously inefficient, post-boys continued to deliver the mail for over 150 years. They took two days to deliver mail from Bath to London, or 4-5 miles per hour, while the stagecoach took only seventeen hours. They also reputedly took forty-eight hours to carry a letter from Bath to London – (Great Britain). Post-boys were vulnerable to adverse weather conditions and highwaymen. “Attacks from robbers were so common in the late 18th century that the Post Office advised customers sending banknotes ‘to cut all such Notes and Draughts in Half in the following Form, to send them at two different Times, and to wait for the return of the Post, till the receipt of one Half is acknowledged before the other is sent’.”

In addition to losing much of their profits to robbers, post-boys had a poor reputation, much of it deserved. Although postage could be prepaid, a major reason that the recipient paid for the delivery of a letter was to ensure that it would be delivered in the first place. Post-boys often failed to place by-letters and cross-letters with the official mail, and they managed to lose or miscarry a great deal of their baggage.

Mile post on the way to London

Mile post on the way to London

Inquiring reader, I decided to end this post with a series of vignettes culled from different sources. While they add to our knowledge of Post Roads, Post-Boys, and Post-Offices, I could find no smooth way to fit the information into the narrative. I end with a poem by Cowper, Jane Austen’s favorite poet, whose poem about a Post Man seems a most fitting way to end this topic.

The boy who carried the mail dismounted at Hammersmith, about three miles from Hyde Park Corner, and called for beer, when some thieves took the opportunity to cut the mail-bags from off the horse’s crupper, and got away undiscovered.” Conditions of the Road P. 125

It must be added, however, that there was little help for raw, unarmed post-boys, when carriages were stopped in broad daylight in Hyde Park, and even in Piccadilly, and pistols pointed at the breasts of the nobility and gentry living close at hand! (Conditions of the roads: pp 126-127)

Rumors of their drunkenness and irresponsibility were rife. At one point it was claimed that “the gentry doe give much money to the riders, whereby they he very subject to get in liquor, which stopes the mails”. Paying the messenger after a letter was delivered was probably the most effective way to ensure it didn’t get lost.- Potted History by Ben Locker

Fell Pony
The late 18th century saw the Fell as the pack animal of choice, carrying loads of lead ore to coastal smelters. Fells were often driven in pack trains of ten animals each, carrying a ton of lead ore between them. The loads were just heavy enough so that two men could lift up the pack saddles while a boy led the Fell out from under. The active, long strides of the Fell Pony meant the pack train could travel over 30 miles a day, over 230 miles a week, for seven days a week, year-after-year, with no breaks for the animals.
The Fell became the mount of choice for the Post Office to carry the mail in Cumberland and Westmorland. In the northern towns, the Fell was also a driving animal, crucial to tradesmen. In the 1800′s, the breed gained renown as a premier trotter, frequently winning against all breeds. – Mustahevonen Farm

Posting in England, about the time of the Tudors, and for some long time afterwards, was carried on by riders on horseback. These persons, who were generally young lads, were termed Post-boys. Their only livery was a scarlet jacket and waistcoat, given to them on the birthday of the reigning sovereign. They might often be seen loitering on the way, and rarely travelled quicker than three miles an hour; or, if sent on express business, managed to accomplish four miles in that time. Campbell writes:
Near Inverary we regained a spot of comparative civilization, and came up with the postboy, whose horse was quietly grazing at some distance, whilst redjacket himself was immersed in play with other lads.
“You rascal! I said to him, “are you the post-boy, and thus spending your time?”
“Na, na, Sir, he answered, “I m no the post, I m only an express!”
But these postboys became the special prey of the highway robbers, who often stopped them and ransacked their bags. In February, 1779, an advertisement appeared, stating that the boy carrying the mail for Liverpool, Manchester, Chester, aiid thirty other towns, besides the Irish niail, had been robbed of the whol – Victorian London – Communications – Post – Postal System http://www.victorianlondon.org/communications/postal.htm

Post Boys

Posting in England, about the time of the Tudors, and for some long time afterwards, was carried on by riders on horseback. These persons, who were generally young lads, were termed Post-boys. Their only livery was a scarlet jacket and waistcoat, given to them on the birthday of the reigning sovereign. They might often be seen loitering on the way, and rarely travelled quicker than three miles an hour; or, if sent on express business, managed to accomplish four miles in that time. Campbell writes:  “

Near Inverary we regained a spot of comparative civilization, and came up with the postboy, whose horse was quietly grazing at some distance, whilst redjacket himself was immersed in play with other lads.
“You rascal! I said to him, “are you the post-boy, and thus spending your time?”
“Na, na, Sir, he answered, “I m no the post, I m only an express!”
But these postboys became the special prey of the highway robbers, who often stopped them and ransacked their bags. In February, 1779, an advertisement appeared, stating that the boy carrying the mail for Liverpool, Manchester, Chester, aiid thirty other towns, besides the Irish niail, had been robbed of the whole – Victorian London – Communications – Post – Postal System

Post Master

During the 17th and 18th centuries, postmasters had also been innkeepers due to the fact that they were responsible for finding post boys and horses, providing stabling, etc. Once recognized mails came into being, this was no longer necessary and it was felt that inns provided little security for the mailbags. By March 1836, only one post town in the entire country had an innkeeper as postmaster. More common were post offices run by druggists, stationers, grocers and booksellers. Kristine Hughes, Rakehell, 19th Century Mail

The Post Man, William Cowper

HARK ! ’tis the twanging horn o’er yonder bridge,
That with its wearisome but needful length
Bestrides the wintry flood, in which the moon
Sees her unwrinkled face reflected bright ;
He comes, the herald of a noisy world,
With spatter’d boots, strapp’d waist, and frozen
locks ;

News from all nations lumbering at his back.
True to his charge, the close-pack’d load behind,
Yet careless what he brings, his one concern
Is to conduct it to the destined inn:
And, having dropt the expected bag, pass on.
He whistles as he goes, light-hearted wretch,
Cold and yet cheerful: messenger of grief

Perhaps to thousands, and of joy to som ;
To him indifferent whether grief or joy.
Houses in ashes, and the fall of stocks,
Births, deaths, and marriages, epistles wet
With tears, that trickled down the writer’s cheeks
Fast as the periods from his fluent quill,
Or charged with amorous sighs of absent swains,
Or nymphs responsive, equally affect
His horse and him, unconscious of them all.
But oh the important budget! usher’d in
With such heart-shaking music, who can say
What are its tidings? have our troops awaked?
Or do they still, as if with opium drugg’d,
Snore to the murmurs of the Atlantic wave?
Is India free? and does she wear her plumed
And jewell’d turban with a smile of peace,
Or do we grind her still? The grand debate,
The popular harangue, the tart reply,
The logic, and the wisdom, and the wit,
And the loud laugh I long to know them all;
I burn to set the imprison’d wranglers free,
And give them voice and utterance once again.

More on the topic

This post was updated 29, September.

Read Full Post »

write letter byron 2003Gentle readers,

The Lady Susan Soiree is going full tilt at Austenprose, where Laurel Ann and her band of readers are finishing up Jane Austen’s last published novel. Lady Susan is an epistolary novel, or one that is written in letter format. Last week I wrote a post about Upper Seymour Street, one of the prominent addresses in the novel, this week I will be writing about the postal service during the Georgian era. Not only did Jane Austen write a novel in letter format, she was a great letter writer herself. Sending a letter over two hundred years ago was much like sending an email today: the service was expensive and it depended upon the smooth running of a money making operation. But in London the service was different, for the Penny-Post had been introduced. This form of sending letters was both easy, affordable and practical, and explains how a lady with straitened finances like Lady Susan Vernon could afford to write so many letters in such a short space of time.

During the eighteenth century a letter from London to Bath could take three days to arrive, but by the 1820s, mail was delivered the morning after posting in towns more than 120 miles apart. In central London the postal service was so efficient, and there were such frequent deliveries, than an invitation issued in the morning could be acknowledged the same afternoon. – High Society, Venetia Murray, ISBN: 0670857580, p. 2.

Venetia Murray’s entry about the postal service was short and to the point, but it does not come close to telling the entire story. Because I uncovered so much information, I am dividing this post into three parts: 1) Letters and the Penny-Post, 2) Post Roads and Post Boys, and 3) John Palmer and the Royal Mail Coach.

Part One: Letters and the Penny-Post

In 1635 Charles I opened up his ‘royal mail’ for use by the public. Oliver Cromwell established the General Post Office in 1657 and after the Restoration, Charles II authorized the General Post Office to operate the ‘royal mail’, with the revenue from the postal service going to the Government.

Small cross written letter

Small cross written letter

In those early days, postal rates were calculated according to the distances traveled and the number of sheets that comprised a letter. Because of their cost, only businesses and the wealthy could afford to send letters. Others simply had to entrust their missives to friends and family members, or ask people traveling to another town to serve as a messenger. Even the wealthy kept their sheets of paper small and wrote in a cross writing style to conserve space. (See the  image at right and click here to read my post on Letter Writing in Jane Austen’s Time.) Envelopes would have been considered an additional sheet, so these very early letters did not include them.  A letter was simply folded over and sealed with wax that was stamped by a signet ring or a seal.  Recipients, not the sender, had to pay for the cost of a letter. This system caused hardship in cases where the recipient did not have the money, and as a result many letters languished on a post office shelf or were thrown away. Knowing these facts about the postal system of the period helps the reader to understand the following passage from Mansfield Park. Even though this scene occured in the early 19th century, the costs associated with sending letters from one city to another had not changed in over 100 years, for the postal system would not significantly improve until 1837, when Rowland Hill set out to reform it.

    “But William will write to you, I dare say.” “Yes, he had promised he would, but he had told her to write first.” “And when shall you do it?” She hung her head and answered hesitatingly, “she did not know; she had not any paper.”

    “If that be all your difficulty, I will furnish you with paper and every other material, and you may write your letter whenever you choose. Would it make you happy to write to William?”

    “Yes, very.”

    “Then let it be done now. Come with me into the breakfast room, we shall find every thing there, and be sure of having the room to ourselves.”

    “But, cousin—will it go to the post?”

    “Yes, depend upon me it shall; it shall go with the other letters; and, as your uncle will frank it, it will cost William nothing.”

    “My uncle!” repeated Fanny, with a frightened look.

    “Yes, when you have written the letter, I will take it to my father to frank.”

    Fanny thought it a bold measure, but offered no farther resistance

Edmund also sits down to write “with his own hand his love to his cousin William, and sent him half a guinea under the seal.” This was a remarkable sum of money for the day, and demonstratedEdmund’s character like no words could. From this point on, William would have enough money to pay for Fanny’s letters as they came.

William Dockwra's postal markings

William Dockwra's postal markings

Interestingly, the Post Office did not handle letters sent from one London address to another. The city was a thriving metropolis and trading center, yet merchants had to employ private messengers to carry letters and packages across town, much like the poor in other parts of the country. In 1680, an enterprising merchant named William Dockwra introduced a local Penny-Post in London, which carried letters within a ten mile radius. His service also introduced the pre-payment of letters, a revolutionary idea. William’s advertisement in the Mercurius Civicus read:

“The Undertakers for the Incomparable and Advantageous Design for the Speedy and safe Conveyance of Letters and packquets under a pound weight, to all parts of the Cities of London and Westminster, and the suburbs thereof … [have] ordered their Messengers to call for all Letters at all Coffee-Houses in the High Roads and Streets following . . . And all persons, who leave their Letters at any of the places aforesaid, may be sure to have them speedily dispatched for ONE PENY”.

William’s method of operation was immediately successful, “particularly as letters left at any Penny-Post House were sent out “successively every hour of the Day, till Eight of the Clock at Night”. Furthermore, to ensure that correspondence was delivered as soon as possible, each letter was stamped with the hour of the day on which it was sent out. This way, people could work out whether the “delays that may happen be really in the Office, or their own Servants (or other) with whom their Letters were left in due time”. “– Potted History by Ben Locker

Dockwra used two main postmarks for each letter. One was a triangular stamp with “Penny-Post Paid” on the three sides and the initials of the sorting office in the centre. This indicated that the rate had been paid and there was no further charges necessary on receipt. The second postmark was a heart shaped stamp indicating the date and time of dispatch.

There was a great deal of opposition to Dockwra’s post from porters and messengers whose livelihood was affected by the service. The church, a powerful force at the time, also had strong opposition!

The most serious opposition to Dockwra’s system came from the General Post Office, which heavily resented the competition. As such, in 1682 legal action was taken against William Dockwra in the name of the Duke Of York (Later King James II.) who was responsible for overseeing the Post Office at the time. - William Dockwra

Unfortunately, the Duke of York  held the monopoly on collecting revenue from the mail. He prosecuted Dockwra for £100 (Wikipedia says it was £2,000)  in damages and forced the merchant to relinquish control of his enterprise. Four days after the judgement, the London Gazette announced that the Penny-Post would shortly be reopened as part of the General Post Office.  For nine years Dockwra petitioned the Duke to save him and his “family of 9 children from Ruine.” Eventually in 1689, after James II’s death, Dockwra received a “seven-year pension of £500 “in consideration of his good service in inventing and setting up the business of the Penny-Post.” (Potted History by Ben Locker)

General Post Office in Lombard Street, London

General Post Office in Lombard Street, London

“The Penny-Post was quickly adopted in other cities and towns, like Dublin, Edinburgh and Manchester. Revenues steadily increased, and by 1727 the London District Post was so well regarded that ‘Daniel Defoe praised it for not charging for “a single Piece of Paper, as in the General Post-Office, but [sending] any Packet under a Pound weight . . . at the same price.’” The employment of extra letter carriers increased the number of deliveries, so that the system became even more efficient. From the 1770s the numbering of houses began, and by 1805 this system became mandatory in London Streets, making it even easier for letter carriers to deliver mail (Potted History by Ben Locker).  In contrast to the Penny-Post, letters that went out via the General Post Office still charged recipients for distance traveled and the number of sheets used, so that a letter sent from Steventon Rectory to Chawton would be quite expensive as compared to a letter sent from one London address to another, or one Manchester address to another.

Letter carrier, 1800, with bell and satchel

Letter carrier, 1800, with bell and satchel

For ordinary people the cost of receiving a letter was a significant part of the weekly wage. If you lived in London and your relatives had written to you from Edinburgh you would have to pay one shilling and one pence per page – more than the average worker earned in a day. Many letters were never delivered because their recipients could not afford them, losing the Post Office a great deal of money.” – Rowland Hill’s Postal Reforms

To help finance the war against Napoleon, the London Penny-Post was increased to tuppence in 1801; in 1805 the amount was raised to three pence. The beginning of uniform penny postage in 1840 made sending mail affordable to all for the first time. In 1837, English schoolmaster, Rowland Hill, wrote a pamphlet, Post Office Reform: its Importance and Practicability, which was privately circulated. In that year, he also invented the postage stamp, which necessitated the use of an envelope. “The Penny-Post system that began in 1840 used a lozenge-shaped sheet more akin to today’s aerogrammes, though in the same year George Wilson patented a system for printing several envelopes from one large sheet of paper, and in 1845 a steam-driven cutting and folding machine was invented.”  History of the Humble Envelope

Hill’s famous pamphlet, Post Office Reform, was privately circulated in 1837. The report called for “low and uniform rates” according to weight, rather than distance. Hill’s study showed that most of the costs in the postal system were not for transport, but rather for laborious handling procedures at the origins and the destinations.

Costs could be reduced dramatically if postage were prepaid by the sender, the prepayment to be proven by the use of prepaid letter sheets or adhesive stamps (adhesive stamps had long been used to show payment of taxes – for example, on documents).

Letter sheets were to be used because envelopes were not yet common – they were not yet mass produced, and in an era when postage was calculated partly on the basis of the number of sheets of paper used, the same sheet of paper would be folded and serve for both the message and the address. In addition, Hill proposed to lower the postage rate to a penny per half ounce, without regard to distance. He presented his proposal to the Government in 1838.

Postal service rates were lowered almost immediately, to fourpence from the 5 December 1839, then to the penny rate on the 10 January 1840, even before stamps or letter sheets could be printed. The volume of paid internal correspondence increased dramatically, by 120%, between November, 1839 and February, 1840. – Rowland Hill

More on this topic:

Read Full Post »

Murder at LongbournOnce I began reading Murder at Longbourn, a fast moving mystery written by Tracy Kiely, I discovered with pleasant surprise that I had difficulty putting this debut novel down. I say surprise, for it has been several years since I enjoyed reading a mystery novel. The plot reminded me of an old fashioned Agatha Christie drawing room murder with some humor thrown in. On New Year’s eve, Elizabeth Parker’s eccentric Aunt Winnifred, the proprietor of the Inn at Longbourn and a lover of all things Jane Austen, decides to throw a “How to Host a Murder Party.” Elizabeth, wishing to forget her two-timing boyfriend, has arrived to help her. Aunt Winnie informs Elizabeth almost immediately that she has also invited Peter McGowan to help out. Upon hearing this news, Elizabeth’s heart sinks. At fourteen, Peter had locked her chubby and awkward ten-year-old-self in the basement and mockingly called her Cocoa Puff.  Hating the idea of their remeeting, for Elizabeth is convinced that Peter has not changed one whit, she decides to stay and honor her commitment to Aunt Winnie. Making the best of what is she is sure will become an awkward situation, Elizabeth writes a list of resolutions:

  • I will have inner poise
  • I will not let Peter McGowan get under my skin
  • I will not allow myself to be locked in a dark basement
  • I will have a calm and relaxing New Year’s

But then things go bump in the night and Elizabeth’s well-laid plans for a smooth evening go awry. A wealthy guest is murdered in the middle of a murder mystery game, leaving the actors without a script to work from and the local police scratching their heads. When Elizabeth realizes that poor Aunt Winnie is the most likely suspect, she goes into overdrive to help solve the murder. Peter turns out to be an unlikely ally. In fact, Tracy Kiely had devised a situation in which the hero and heroine at first misunderstand each other. (Quelle surprise!) The heroine must then sort through her ill-conceived preconceptions before COMING to an UNDERSTANDING with the hero. Shades of Pride and Prejudice, which also happens to be Elizabeth Parker’s favorite novel! Throw in a cat named Lady Catherine, two friends called Bridget and Colin (I kid you not), a plot set in New ENGLAND in a small village inhabited by gossipy small village characters similar to the sort found in Meryton, a sprinkling of clues that left this reader pondering and wondering until the very end, and you have a fabulous read.

Tracy Kiely weaves her old-fashioned murder mystery with a modern sensibility and the sort of humorous observations about the human character that I love. Those who have come to appreciate a more forensic approach to murder solving, will be a tad disappointed, but those who love good writing, well-drawn characters, a solid mystery plot that is hard to solve, and Austenesque overtones, will enjoy this book as much as I did. Not that Tracy’s debut novel is entirely without fault, for she introduced a score of characters at the beginning, many of whom were hard to recall only pages later, and after the actors played their roles, they were suddenly dropped from the plot. As the mystery unfolded, Austenesque details and humorous observations came fewer and farther between, and never quite reappeared to my satisfaction. The good news is that Tracy Kiely has been given an opportunity to perfect her craft and hone her considerable writing skills. Next year, the delightful Elizabeth Parker will solve another murder mystery in Tracy’s second novel, Murder on the Bride’s Side.

3 regency fansI give this Austenesque novel three out of three Regency fans.

Read Full Post »

Detail of the North Side of Portman Square

Detail of the North Side of Portman Square

Inquiring readers: For two weeks, Laurel Ann, my blogging partner at Jane Austen Today, has been blogging about Lady Susan at her own blog, Austenprose. Lady Susan was published posthumously in 1871, almost 80 years after Jane Austen wrote this short epistolary novel. When one reads the book, one is struck by the number of letters Lady Susan writes to an address on Upper Seymour Street. This is where her friend Mrs. Johnson (Alicia) lives. It was Alicia who famously wrote at the end of the book:

I would ask you to Edward Street, but that once [Mr. Johnson] forced from me a kind of promise never to invite you to my house; nothing but my being in the utmost distress for money should have extorted it from me. I can get you, however, a nice drawing-room apartment in Upper Seymour Street, and we may be always together there or here; for I consider my promise to Mr. Johnson as comprehending only (at least in his absence) your not sleeping in the house. – Mrs. Johnson (Alicia) to Lady Susan, ca. 1805

The houses along Upper Seymour Street in Westminster, which is situated near the Marble Arch (then known as Tyburn) near Hyde Park Corner, are tall, narrow, and four stories high. Edward Lear, the Victorian writer of charming limericks, lived in a house that has been converted to a hotel (Image below). I stayed on the 3rd floor a decade ago and can attest that the stairs are steep!
edlearfront_small

Living at this location off Oxford Street was considered a moderately respectable to fairly good address during the Regency era.  Upper Seymour Street is close to Hyde Park, and within easy walking distance to Mayfair and St. James’s, where the upper crust lived and visited each other when they stayed in London. Upper Seymour Street is actually situated in Marelybone, just around the corner from Portman Square and one block over from Upper Berkeley Street, an area that Jane Austen and her sister, Cassandra, knew well:

Upper Seymour Street and Portman Square

Upper Seymour Street and Portman Square

The Countess de Feuillide looked out from her windows in Upper Berkeley Street towards Portman Square, waiting for her cousin Cassandra to arrive. It still pleased the Countess to be know by her former title rather than as plain ‘Mrs Austen’, and she was always gratified by tradespeople and others who thought to humour her vanity in this matter. – Jane Austen: A Life, David Nokes, 1998, Google Books

North side, Portman Square, 1812

The nouveau riche, whose ambition was to enter Society, moved as close to the “action” as they could. In 1772, Lady Home, a 67-year-old widow,  made plans to move to Portman Square. This area of London was just beginning to be developed, and, as the image at right attests, the houses (Rated 1 and 2) were big and spacious.  Lady Home had been twice widowed and had become rich from the money she inherited from her father and first husband, Sir Nicholas Lawes, Governor of Jamaica. Her second husband, the 8th Earl of Home, was a dissipated spendthrift. Their marriage in 1742 was one of convenience, for while she got the title, he most definitely married her for her money. In 1744 the earl deserted Lady Home just months before she was to give birth to their child, who, sadly, did not survive. The earl died in 1761, leaving Lady Home a widow once again and free to act as she pleased.

Home House Today

Home House Today

Very little is known about Lady Home’s life until she began to build her grand house in Portman Square. In the early 18th century, Henry William Portman had developed 200 acres of meadow passed down from a Tudor ancestor and turned them into Portman Square. In 1755 he began issuing the first housing leases. Lady Home took a 90 year lease from William Baker in June 1772, on which she was permitted to build a brick house. By 1774, builder Richard Norris was close to completing the house, which had been designed by the architect James Wyatt. His claim to fame was The Pantheon which had opened in 1772 when Mr. Wyatt was just 26 years old.  In 1775, Lady Home fired Wyatt and hired his archrival Robert Adam to complete the interior. One of the most unforgettable features of Adam’s design was the breathtaking  neoclassical stairway under a glass dome.

Stair case

Stair case

Stair case, view down

Stair case, view down

Staircase

Staircase

Skylight above staircase

Skylight above staircase

Adam details, Music room

Adam details, Music room

William Beckford, who came from another wealthy plantation-owning family, and who also lived in [Portman] square, described her as: ‘.. the Countess of Home, known among all Irish chairmen and riff-raff of the metropolis by the name, style and title of Queen of Hell…’ He went on to describe her extravagant and eccentric behaviour. She entertained other wealthy Caribbean plantation owners and was related to many of them. She also had royal connections. - BBC History, The business of enslavement

In reading about Lady Home, I was struck by her ambition and audacity, and began to compare her to Lady Susan. Publicly deserted but her husband, Lady Home chose to remain in London and entertain in high style. She successfully made a life for herself on the fringes of society, but, despite her wealth, she was never quite accepted among the haut ton. She lived and entertained in the house from 1776 to 1784, the year that she died.

Adam fireplace

Adam fireplace

In an interesting aside, Robert Adam and James Stuart were also the architects of Montagu House, which was built for Mrs. Elizabeth Montague in the northwest corner of Portman Square. The house, known as the ‘Montpelier of England’, became famous for its meetings with the literary world. The Blue-Stocking Club, named for the informal blue stockings that many in the group wore, invited intellectuals to discourse on a variety topics.

Library

Library

Lady Home’s Etruscan bedroom reflected the current interest in antiquities. The house almost did not survive. From 1989 to 1996, the house was listed on the 100 most endangered sites, and extensive renovations did not begin until 1998. Today the house is part of a private men’s club.

Etruscan room, Home house

Etruscan room (bedroom), Home house

Two portraits by Gainsborough hung in her house, depicting the duke and duchess of Cumberland. The duke was the brother of George III and the duchess related to Lady Home through her first husband. It has been suggested that Lady Home’s motive for building such a large and elegant house when she was a widow who had no children was to entertain the Cumberlands. - BBC History, The business of enslavement

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,084 other followers