Wife to absent husband: Ann Craig in Syllodioch, Scotland 1814

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.

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This letter gives the impression of a happily confident woman writing to an equal partner.

The letter has no beginning, just straight into the message, which is dated 22nd May, 1814. This was a Sunday, which explains her first sentence:

I did not receive your letter my dearest till after church time, of course could not send the papers to Mr Young by this day's Mail, but finding them exactly where you directed, I have the parcel put up ready to go tomorrow. I did not observe the copies you mentioned in the bundle, but being very stupid and afraid to discompose them by search I wrote a note to Mr Y, begging he would attribute the sending of the copies provided they be in the bundle, to the real cause, namely my fear of discomposing the papers.

The Children are quite well, but any expression or a hope that you may no more return for we are better off without you, melts Lill into a passion of tears, as she says 'me canna want papa'. Buff is too shrewd to be discomposed by such conversation. I am greatly better since about the 12 but far from nimble.

I have a letter from Agnes today inquiring after you, you must write them when you intend leaving town. I'll tell you why I was vexed with you about Christy, a few days after you left Ruthwell, I had a letter saying you had invited her and asking if it was agreeable for me to receive her, now I thought you ought not to have left that a matter of doubt.

So, after telling him off, she then goes on to keep her husband up to date with what is happening on the farm. It is obvious that she is competent and understands how to run the farm and all that is involved.

Dan, who is behaving as well as possible has already led nearly 30 cartloads of ashes. James was obliged to cool the large pits for the purpose of getting some led away and the odd turff is blasing away at present in small pits, but it is out of the question having ashes sufficient for the whole field, but I am told turnips will grow very well with moss compost, however, I doubt the pits will be all led off before we have rain, of which we are in great want, and without which the turnip seed cannot be sown.

I observe the lower moss is beginning to spring, and Dan has kept it constantly under water during this scorching weather. Your clover is almost entirely consumed by the hares, and the impatience of those tenants I have seen for news respecting their extermination is very great indeed.

Should we find a shortcome in Ashes as I expect, we shall not risk the Swedish seed with compost and with the very first proper weather shall sow the ground prepared and 'let the want come to the webrind'

Note: do you recognise that phrase - is it a Scottish proverb?

"I am so happy to think you have met with Keith, give my dear love to him. Mr Stewart has been very ill but is now got better. I think it probable some of the family will be here next week. Drumwall tells me there is no doubt of the cattle selling very high at Cally on Tuesday. Thomas is great beyond all expression upon the occasion and poor Dumb Tom is in extreme misery.

I cannot omit telling you that the Moss road is again sunk, and that the depredations of the catterpillar is most rapid upon your Berry bushes - I shall walk over to Cally in the morning to book your room there for the Broughton papers and speak to Ramage, and in the meantime, good night and God Bless you."

The letter continues the next day headed :-

Cally, Monday. I have found the tin box here, and shall leave it with Mrs Farr for your further orders, as Mr Ramage will not have a pine to send for a fortnight or three weeks, when he expects to have some very fine ones, he will attend to your directions about the stalks.

Mrs Farr went with John Moor to Parkers yesterday to fetch home poor Tom McMiken, she says in a few days longer it is her opinion he could not have been moved, so I fear your quack medicine will prove of no use to him.

I think the medicine chest beautiful, it came quite safe, and I do not want anything, either for myself or the weans, but if you took the trouble of looking for, and comparing linen with your shirts, perhaps you might be tolerably able to judge. My mother can procure it beautiful at N.T. for 4/ and 5/ per yard but advises me to wait a little.

Mrs Farr wants a bottle of marking ink from G. Watts and Co 478 Strand and two pints of bleaching liquid from F.Andsons Haymarket.

Adieu my dear love, believe me your truly affectionate wife
Ann Craig"

She has then scribbled a line on the back of the letter : Mrs F. wants two boxes of salts of Lemon.

It surprises me that the Scots should be ordering things from London suppliers, but this clearly shows the extent of trading in Britain in the early 19th century. So, Mistress Ann Craig was obviously a capable and trusted wife who supervised the work being carried out on the farm while her husband was in London - four days journey away. No need of 'Women's Lib'! The letter shows that she is delighted to tease her husband about his quack medicine, and the effect of hares and caterpillars on his crops.

For a completely different type of letter from a wife, Polly Massingberd, to her husband nearly 100 years before, click here.

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And now to the postal markings, there are five on the letter:

  1. black circular mileage stamp GATEHOUSE 374. (This is Gatehouse in Fleet). The stamp is black with a boxed mileage figure of 374 and some faint illegible marking under the box which could be a letter D. Mail from Gatehouse went to London via Dumfries - but it could also be a figure 10 or 6. The 374 of course, signified the distance in miles from London for the charging rate
  2. a black manuscript 1/1½d to show the charging rate of 13d or 1shilling one penny - for a distance between 300 and 400 miles from London - plus the Additional Halfpenny, Scottish mail tax.

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  1. the boxed Aditional ½d stamp applied in London.(Hodgson & Sedgwick type 133d). This additional ½d tax was paid on all letters to and from Scotland which were carried on a toll road in a carriage with more than two wheels. The money from this tax was to help offset the costs incurred by the Post Office on tolls payable on toll roads in Scotland (with some exemptions), and was in force from 9 June 1813 until the introduction of the Uniform Fourpenny Post on 5 December 1839. The mail was exempt from toll charges on English roads
  2. the red London morning duty single frame datestamp 26 MY 1814. This had the code letter D at the top, and has the day before and after the month, showing that it was a morning duty stamp in use from 1810-1841
  3. a red oval date stamp 10 o'Clock My 26 1814 F.Nn of the Chief Office of the London Twopenny Post, as the letter would have been transferred to that office for delivery. I think there should also be some indication of the 2d post charge on the letter. The Chief Office in St Martins-le-Grand date stamps at this time always had the month before the day, whereas the Westminster Office had the month after the day.

This stamp also bears the time 10 o'clock F.Nn., and Mr Craig wrote a note on the letter "My wife, Recd 26 May" so he would probably have received it in the afternoon. They had six deliveries a day in the Town area of the Twopenny post at that time.

The appeal of these old private letters is the insight they give into life so long ago, and these two letters show that since the 1700's some women had been educated to read and write, but it was a long time before free education for everyone was standard.

They also have an element of mystery about them, as I cannot help but wonder what was Mr Craig doing in London, leaving his wife to look after the home and family.


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Last modified 31 January, 2008