Eunice and Ron Shanahan have shared with readers of the Victorian Web this material from their website, Letters from the Past. Click on thumbnails for larger images.

This letter from the past is a good example of how much can be learned from a letter that is more than 200 years old. It has a really good clear postmark showing the year only in 2 figures (98) the date in a centre circle (10) the month at the top of the circle in two letters (OC) and a code letter on the outside 'A'.

It was partially struck first time, but it missed the letter, so a second impression was applied. Checking in my reference books, I found that this is of a type that was only in use for a relatively short time - from March 1798 to 1st July 1799, and that the letter A on the outside indicated the sorting table, not the person who sorted the letters.

My next enquiry was centered on the addressee " Herbert Brace Esqre 4 Essex Court Middle Temple London." The Middle Temple is one of the Inns of Court belonging to the legal societies having the exclusive right to admit persons to practise at the bar, but as it is also a residential area, the address need not have indicated that Mr. Brace was some kind of legal eagle. I had another look at the reference books, and there is an entry in a 1784 directory listing him at that address as an attorney; apparently he also wrote a book on bankruptcy.

The postmark is a very poor straight-line town name stamp for DERBY, and the postage charge was for a distance of between 100 and 150 miles, and Derby is 126 miles from London. This rate- indicated by the manuscript '7' - was in force 1796-1801.

Now to the letter, which sounds as though it has been written by an unwell, and worried man. Considering the age of the letter, the ink has not faded, and the writing is surprisingly legible.

Osmaston 8th October 1798


I thank you for your obliging expressions on the subject of my health, which still confines me to my bed and room, and I fear, may do so long. I have received the halves of Bank notes value sixty pounds, which I request you will place to the Executorship Account - When you forward the remaining halves I shall rely upon your being so good as to send the discharge per Msrs Ldge.

Note: This was an early example of security for money through the postal system. The Post Office issued a handbill to explain the whys and wherefores.

"General Post - Office, November 24th, 1797

To prevent the Loss of entire Notes or Drafts,-payable to Bearer,- in Letters sent by Post, the Postmaster General repeat their Recommendation to the Public so often inserted in the London Gazette, and circulated by Hand-Bills throughout the Kingdom; namely, to cut all such Notes or Drafts 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.

Persons who do not approve of this Mode of remitting Notes or Drafts, - payable to Bearer,- on Account of the increased Postage, are advised to send Bills of Exchange or Bank Post Bills, - made payable to the Person to whom they are sent, - or specially indorsed to such Person or Order.

When Money, or Rings, or Lockets &c are sent by Post from London, particular care should be taken to deliver the same to the Clerk at the Window, at the General Post-Office; and when any such letter is to be sent from the Country it should be delivered into the Hands of the Postmaster; but it is to be observed that this Office does not engage to insure the Party from Loss.

By Command of the Postmaster General


N.B. The Note is to be cut in Half where the above is marked with a black line."

I was surprised to see the names John Doe, Richard Roe printed on this handbill of 1797, as John Doe is a name I associate with modern American crime fiction for an unnamed corpse! And now back to the letter telling of his financial worries.

"I was very sorry to hear what you relate of Weymouth Street house and request the favour of your telling me in your next, if you have done any thing to it since Mrs. Middleton gave you possession, and what.

I also request you will be so kind as to say if Harper has made any considerable payment since I left London: - It will give me satisfaction to find that he has; and I am compelled again to solicit your attention to the different monies due to me - My illness I fear will be very expensive, and I have reason also to fear I shall be called upon by Sir R for the five hundred pounds due to him for Ealing. Do me the favour to say if you had an application about a month since respecting letting Ealing upon lease to a lady; and what passed on the occasion.

I delivered your messages to Miss Wilmot, who with Sir R and Lady W desires their best compliments to you - I beg mine to Mrs. Williams who I hope is well.

I am, Sir, your obedient servant

C: Want."

The next information I wanted was - who was the writer, C. Want, and where was Osmaston. I could not find anything on Mr. Want, but a gazetteer of about 50 years later, showed two different towns both in Derby area with that name, and the second one had this final line.

"OSMASTON, a parish in Shardlow district, Derbyshire; on the Grand Trunk canal. It has a post-office under Derby. Most of the property belongs to Sir Robert Wilmot, Bart."

As my letter mentions Miss Wilmot, and money owing to Sir R. this has to be the one. I would like to find more information about it and its inhabitants; whether Mr. Want was in fact a resident there who had only visited London; and if there was a doctor or apothecary listed who would be looking after Mr. Want in his illness. Part of the appeal of the postal history side of this hobby is that each letter is different, and offers the chance to follow up not only the postal markings but also the social and historical events of the time.

Graham Clark of England sent the following information:

I have a little information on Sir Robert Wilmot mentioned in this letter. He was almost certainly the second Baronet as far as I can tell although I am not sure of his dates. The first Baronet died in 1772 and the second was his illegitimate son (see below). This was a BIG family in British politics and Osmaston was the family seat (see below also). The 2nd Bt. doesn't seem to have had much on an impact. However, I think the info below also makes the link to Ealing mentioned in your letter - they had a villa there.

The following information camce from a site describing the first Baronet's papers, which are in the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland:

The Wilmots were a well-established Derbyshire family by the early Hanoverian period. Wilmot's father, also Robert, had developed the estate at Osmaston. Before him came another Robert, who was MP for Derby from 1690 to 1695; his father, Sir Nicholas, was a Serjeant-at-Law and was knighted by Charles II in 1674. Wilmot was the eldest son in his generation and the heir to Osmaston; which explains his coming to the notice of the 3rd Duke of Devonshire, his first patron, to whom he became private secretary, c.1734. His grandfather had been elected MP for Derby with the support of the Devonshire interest and was a strongly loyal MP in the early 1690s. All of that suggests a long-standing relationship between the Wilmots and the leading political interest in Derbyshire.

The Wilmots remained a family of more than local prominence in the 18th century: Wilmot's brother, Sir John Eardley Wilmot, was Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, 1766-1771, and a cousin, Henry Wilmot, was Governor of Nova Scotia in the 1760s. Wilmot's brother's life helps explain some of his other political connections. Sir John Eardley Wilmot's D.N.B. entry records his friendship from Westminster School onwards with Henry Bilson Legge. The latter was briefly Chief Secretary for Ireland, 1739-1741, and his refusal to accompany the 3rd Duke of Devonshire thither in the winter of 1739 seems to have hastened the promotion of Wilmot from deputy to full Resident Secretary. Wilmot's predecessor in that office, John Potter, was in Ireland from 1737 (thus in effect ceasing to be Resident Secretary at all) and replaced Thomas Tickell as Secretary to the Lords Justices in 1740. Wilmot's experience as deputy since 1737, added to the recommendations that would have come from Legge and Devonshire, made him the obvious candidate. (Legge more or less disappears from Wilmot's correspondence after 1741 as he concentrated on his political career in England.)

Wilmot was a protégé of the great Derbyshire magnates, the Dukes of Devonshire, two of whom were Lords Lieutenant during this period. He was appointed deputy Resident Secretary in 1737 by the 3rd Duke of Devonshire, Lord Lieutenant, 1737-1745, and promoted by him to the full secretaryship in 1740. The 4th Duke, who was Lord Lieutenant, 1755-1757, and First Lord of the British Treasury and Prime Minister, 1756-1757, subsequently became Lord Chamberlain of the Household, and in 1758 appointed Wilmot Deputy-Secretary to the Lord Chamberlainship. In the early days of George III's reign, he was promoted Secretary to the Lord Chamberlain, a post which he retained along with the Resident Secretaryship until 1772.

Final recognition of Wilmot's services came in October 1772 when he was created a baronet, thirty-three years after he had been knighted. He was able to ensure that this title passed to his illegitimate son, also Robert, who had been born to his mistress, Elizabeth Foote, in c.1752. Wilmot's first wife died in early October 1769 and he married Mrs Foote two months later. He did not long enjoy either this second marriage or his baronetcy, as he died on 14 November 1772 at his villa at Little Ealing, Middlesex.

Graham also gave me the url for Brett Payne's website which has the following information about Osmaston. Brett is in New Zealand, and is happy for this information to be included on my web page.

Bagshaw's 1846 Trade Directory of Derbyshire has this listing:

OSMASTON parish and small scattered village, 2½ miles S.E. from Derby, contains 929A. 37P. of land, including an allotment of 77A. 1R. 4P. belonging to Sir Robert Wilmot, Bart., and 2A. 35P. of land belonging to the incumbent, on Sinfin moor, 29 houses, and 178 inhabitants, in 1841, of whom 83 were males, and 95 females. Population, in 1801, 114 ; in 1831, 172. Rateable value, [£]1,847 12s. 6½d. Sir Robert Wilmot, Bart., is the principal owner and impropriator, and patron of the church, All Saints, a perpetual curacy, now worth £280, has been augmented wit[h] £200 benefactions and £400 Queen Anne¹s bounty. Rev. Forrester French, incumbent, for whom the Rev. James Dean, of Derby, officiates. The church has a small nave and chancel, with a wooden turret, and one bell. In the chancel is a handsome painting of our Saviour in the manger, and some ancient tablets to the Wilmot and Horton families, including a very neat one to Sir Robert Wilmot, Bart., who died 23rd July, 1824, aged 82 years. Mr Briggs, of Newton Regis, owns 14A. 3R. 32P. of land, subject to a rent charge of 30s. to the impropriator ; and 2A. 27P. of glebe land belongs to Bolton.

The Hall is a large stone mansion stuccoed, with an observatory from the top, and situated in park-like grounds, at the bottom of which is the Derby and Loughborough turnpike road. This manor (Osmundistone in domesday survey,) was in 1307 granted to Robert Holland, as an appendage to Melbourne, with which it has passed ever since, and belongs to the Marquis of Hastings.

Sir Robert Wilmot,Bart., the principal owner, is descended from a younger branch of the Wilmots of Chaddesden. Sir Nicholas Wilmot, of Osmaston, serjeant-at-law in the reign of Charles II., was fourth son of Robert Wilmot, Esq., of Chaddesden. The late Sir Robert Wilmot, of Osmaston, was created a baronet in 1772. Sir John Eardley Wilmot, Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, who died in 1792, was of the family.

Wilmot Sir Robert, Bart., Hall
Hough John, blacksmith
Lewis Josiah, silk manufacturer, & Derby
Marshall Thomas, parish clerk
Morris Mathew, collector, Tollgate
Truman Henry, silk manufacturer & Derby
Wragg Sarah, vict. Navigation Inn

Bowmer Wm. - Draper Isaac. - Gilman Jno.


R M Willcocks & B Jay, The British Country Catalogue of Postal History.

Alan W Robertson, Great Britain Post Roads Post Towns and Postal Rates 1635-1839.

Concise Oxford English Dictionary .

Last modified 18 December 2002