A Two penny post Letter – Stewart, 1814

Stewart, 1814.


“A London Twopenny Post letter – 1814”




Eunice Shanahan



This letter is addressed to John Stewart Esqre No.16 Queen St Brompton from J. Hill of Rotherhithe. This was on the south side of the Thames and about this time Rotherhithe was still virtually an island, having two swing-bridges connecting it to the rest of Bermondsey/Southwark. 95% of the industry in Rotherhithe was shipbuilding and breaking, and trades directly allied to this. It was (and still remains) a secular, almost independent part of Southwark. The paper is a very heavy type with the watermark R BARNARD 1809, and there are four postal markings on the letter all of them applied by the offices of the Twopenny Post.

The Twopenny Post has a very interesting history, and came into being as in the early years of the postal service, letters could be sent through London to and from anywhere in the Kingdom, except for the actual London area. Letters in this area were usually delivered by private servants or clerks in the offices. A postal service was obviously needed and it was run from 1680 to 1840 when the special rates charged for the service were abolished. There are two marks on the front: (Fig.1)

1) very faint poorly struck Receiving House stamp TWO PENNY POST ROTHERHITHE.
2) The ‘3’ charge mark was applied because although Rotherhithe was in the Town area, Brompton was in the Country area of the Twopenny post – it was in Middlesex at this time. The 3d charge was introduced in 1805.
On the back of the letter there are two more postmarks (Fig.2)tracing the journey.

3) The Twopenny Post -8 O’Clock AP 7 1814 Mn, Head office – which always had the month before the day
4) The Twopenny post – 10 O’clock 7 AP 1814 F’Nn applied at the Westminster office – which had the day before the month.

So now to the letter, which is written in the old-fashioned style using the long ‘s’ where there is a double ‘s’ in the word such as ‘prefsed’ for ‘pressed’ – but as this makes it difficult to read, I have changed it to the modern spelling. Another feature of letters of this time is the number of words which were given capital first letters.

“Rotherhithe 6 Apr 1814.
Dear Sir
As you are so much press’d with business as well as myself I am unwilling to give you so long a Tramp tomorrow as I do not see any use our meeting can be – it is impossible. I can go over your Narrative at the Coffee House – I foresaw some time ago how I should be occupied at this Time and earnestly requested you would finish what you had to do then, when I was not so much Engaged but it unfortunately happened you were then too much engag’d in other matters.”

The reference to the Coffee House is interesting, as they were a great feature of life at the time. They were meeting places for men, and certain houses were popular with particular groups of men – either because of political beliefs, trade connections, or locality – much like the present-day ‘local’ pub. They were places where the customers were able to buy refreshments (not only coffee), to read the newspapers, and to put in and collect letters. The Grecian Coffee House, being situated in Temple Bar, was popular with lawyers from the local Inns of Temple. This system of coffee houses being used as receiving houses for letters was to last for well over 100 years.

The letter continues with more complaints :-

“If you will Send me the papers by 2nd post I will look thro’ it and make my remarks we can then meet and discuss them and let the matter go back to Mr Richardson – and if he and Lord S. do not take it up let it go to the Devil at once. I have known Mr. Fay Ling long enough and have experienced so much apathy on the part of others more interested and whom Time and Situation qualified them so much better for the Task, that I am not only tired but disgusted – and if I had not promised Lord Selkirk to look at the Matter again I would never give it another thought – I have now made up my mind to Close my Concerns there altogether.”

(Note: the next paragraph is amazing, as that would have been an enormous amount of money at that time.) (Fig.3) showing this paragraph

“It would have been fortunate for my Family and my own health and peace of mind if I had done so 5 years ago – I shd have sav’d from 4 to 5 Thousand pounds besides the vexation I have experienced
Yrs Sincerely
J. Hill.”

He then adds another note, and the Island mentioned is probably the Isle of Wight in the English Channel.

“Stinton goes off for Portsmouth to Embark for the Island on Thursday if you have any Commands, let me have them Either Tomorrow or Thursday Morning.
I will do nothing more there than scrape together the wrecks of what remains.”

The Lord Selkirk mentioned in this letter was a very interesting man, who was the 5th Earl of Selkirk who lived from 1771 to 1820. He was a philanthropist who tried to alleviate the plight of fellow Scots who were dispossessed by the landlords in the Highland Clearance schemes. He bought land for them in Ireland and Canada, was a board member of the Hudson Bay Company there, but although he was well-meaning, the plans failed. Sir Walter Scott wrote of him, ‘I never knew in all my life a man of more generous and disinterested disposition.’


Mr Hill certainly sounds an embittered man, and from what I have read of Lord Selkirk, anyone involved in his schemes would have lost money, so he was probably wise to have washed his hands of the affair.


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