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.

I have two letter from this lady which really show the circumstances of ordinary people. They were both sent from Hackney to Wm. Crowdy, a solicitor in Highworth Swindon Wilts. I have several to this family firm of solicitors, but these have a twist to the ending.

Postal Marks

Both letters have the same four postal markings: on the front

  1. Framed two-step Receiving house stamp in blue ink TP HACKNEY N.O. This is the mark for Hackney Northern Office, which had been in the Country area of the Twopenny Post, but was transferred to the Town area in 1831.
  2. manuscript ‘8’ - Highworth was 75 miles from London and the rates (1812-1839) for a single letter between 50 and 80 miles was 8pence.

On the back:

  1. transfer stamp of the Chief Office of the TPO which has the year at the bottom, dated FE 15 1834 7 NIGHT
  2. General Post evening duty circular date stamp FE 15 1834.

The Letters

31st December 1831


I sincerely hope you will pardon me for intruding a subject on you so much prohibited in your last to Mr. B. but my great anxiety for my family instigates me to use every endeavour to promote their welfare.

The favour I have to solicit from you Sir is the loan of twelve pounds. If my request is complied with it will enable me to provide for two of my family my Son and a daughter whose health being very delicate will not allow her to leave home. On that consideration the person has given me an offer of allowing her (for a constancy) 7d pr week if I will pay her eight pounds which I should be most happy to do if possible but I have no other means of raising that sum. I therefore most humbly solicit your kind compliance."

Note the sum of 7d per week for the daughter, yet the postage on this one letter was 8d!). She then continues :

"My son also has an eligible situation promised if we can make him respectable in his appearance which I should be enabled to do with the sum before named and should I now be successful you may rely Sir on my not again applying to you till all that is due is paid - I sincerely hope I may not be disappointed and I shall ever Sir, pray for one whose kindness will never be forgotten by your humble servant

E. Belcher

Should you Sir comply with my request I shall feel obliged by your dropping a letter to me directed for me at the School of Industry Dalston Lane, Hackney.

I am Sir
E. Belcher"

Did Mrs. E Belcher receive her £12? There is no receiving datestamp to show when it was received in Highworth, but there is a scribbled reply on one of the ‘wings' of the folded letter, to the effect that a £12 draft should be made out and sent to Mrs. B., so it looks as if her application was approved and she would be able to provide for her two children.

The second letter was written three years later, and Mrs. Belcher is in worse financial trouble than ever.

"Feby 16th 1834


I feel a great reluctance in again troubling you respecting my affairs as I received no answer to a letter I wrote some time since, sometimes I am led to suppose you never received it as I always had an answer heretofore, and an application to Mr. Hall is to no purpose as I fancy he does not study my interest. I have no person but yourself to assist me - in my former letter I stated that I was in daily expectation of a Writ for a long Doctors bill which I kept off for some time in the hope of having a favourable answer from you till I fear it is now almost too late having been served with a Writ which has added three pounds ten already to the debt and in a fortnight we are to be arrested - now Sir in such a dilemma what am I to do - I have no hope but from you who have always hitherto pitied and relieved me, and would you so far serve me as allow me twenty pounds per annum till my debt to you is settled I should not have to trouble you in this way.

I should feel obliged by informing me how much I am indebted to you as I am not certain whether my memorandums are correct -

I do not wish to ask for this allowance without interest and as you have the opportunity of taking my interest I sincerely hope you will not object to my proposal, it will be an acquisition to my present income that will enable me to provide for my large family without incurring any debts and I cannot but flatter myself but you Sir will feel a pleasure in rendering me so material a service when it is attended with so little sacrifice on your part, that of a little delay.

Should I not succeed in this request (and I cannot think to be so unsuccessful) I shall summon resolution to state to Dr Warnford my troubles and I know no person goes from him without his pity and assistance tho’ I acknowledge it will be with reluctance as I know I have no claim to either.

In compassion to me and mine do, kind Sir send me a favourable answer to my request - I fear I shall not succeed in regard to Apprenticing my Child as I cannot pay the small premium required - let me request you consider maturely before I hear as I know then I shall not be denied. It is so trifling a sacrifice and will so essentially serve your

Obedt humble Servant
E Belcher

at Messrs Rivingtons St Pauls Churchyard.

There is a note on the back presumably written by Wm. Crowdy " Ansd - sent 20L" so he must have pitied and assisted her !

I posted a message on internet mailing lists for London history, asking if anyone knew of the School of Industry, or of Mrs. Belcher. Overnight I received two replies; firstly from Isobel Watson, Chair of the Friends of Hackney Archives, who knew nothing about the Belcher name, but advised that The Hackney School of Industry was a parish charity which trained the children of poor parishioners for a practical trade so that they could earn their own living.

In the 1830s the boys (who were in a separate school from the girls) learned tailoring, (and made their own clothes) while the girls learnt to do domestic work and needlework. It was situated for most of its life in Dalston lane, on the corner with Amhurst Road, and though the boys school seems to have closed in the 1830s the girls' school was still known as an 'industrial school' in the 1890s. Isobel said that she could find no reference to a Dr. Warnford but Pigots directory for 1839 shows that Rivingtons were booksellers. They may have acted as a poste restante for Mrs. Belcher.

However, the twist in this story is that the second response I received on the mailing list was from a lady in Australia who is descended directly from the writer of these letters. Not only that, but her family records show that Mrs. Elizabeth Belcher was the Matron of the School of Industry in Hackney. Also, her second youngest son, (who may be one of those referred to in the letters), emigrated when he was 28, with his wife and children, on the Albeura, which arrived at Port Adelaide on 7 June 1856, and he subsequently became Post Master at Burra in South Australia. When he died, this report appeared in the local paper:-


"Death of Mr. J M Belcher. We regret to have to record the death of Mr. Joseph Moulden Belcher, who for many years occupied the position of Post and Telegraph master at Burra, and who only retired about a year ago for twelve months leave on account of failing health. The deceased gentleman never took a very prominent part in public matters in Burra, being debarred somewhat as a civil servant from doing so, but he devoted himself the more assiduously to the work of the office, which was of a very much more laborious character then than it has been since the railways have been extended. Mr. Belcher suffered some time ago an apoplectic stroke and just previously to his death two others followed in rapid succession, and he succumbed on Tuesday, 3rd January at his residence in North Adelaide. Mr. Belcher’s eldest son occupied the position of Post and Telegraph stationmaster at Terowrie."

So despite his mother being in such financial strife in 1831 she managed to have at least one of her children educated, enabling him to become a well-established free settler in Australia.

Last modified 27 May 2010