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 is one of a collection of 40 written by Sir James Robert Grant MD of Bath Square Portobello, Edinburgh to his solicitors Messrs Mounsey in Carlisle concerning the sale, purchase and leasing of property in the Carlisle area. The whole collection covers the period from 14 April 1829 to 25 September 1834, giving a run of letters to and from the same people over a period of five years.

With 40 letters to choose from it is difficult to know which one to select. A good number of them are concerned with a property called Borrans Hill, and problems over the lease on the part of the Bishop of Carlisle. The Bishop felt that some of the land in the lease had been incorrectly dealt with, so Sir James contacted the previous owner pointing out the Bishop's views. The reply was sharp and to the point:

"I and my predecessors always occupied and enjoyed the whole I sold you, without any claim or molestation from any other person whatever. The said property formerly belonged to my grandfather and father then to Mr Denton from whom I purchased. There is no man living can say that the property spoken of before I sold, was ever claimed or occupied by any other person but the late Leasee. I think it is a great insult for the Bishop to say I enclosed land that I had no right to. There must be some mistake between the Bishop and you."

This is a constant thread of dispute throughout two years of the correspondence, the Bishop making difficulties about part of the lease, but unwilling, or unable to decide exactly what he will do.

The Bishop of Carlisle from 1827-1856 was Hugh Percy. Perhaps as he was new to the position he was just being careful. The result was that Sir James put that one in the 'too hard' basket, and began to look around for other investments, explaining to Mr Mounsey that as he can get no sensible reply from the Bishop he may as well invest in Government stocks which are then a good buy.

This is the last letter of the series, dated 24 September 1834: it typifies the attention to detail given by Sir James in all the correspondence. This letter includes a sketch he drew to show which field he wants to buy.

Postal Markings

  1. a poor example of PORTOBELLO PENNY POST in black; stamped across
  2. Edinburgh circular datestamp (2 code letters) SE 25 1834 in red.
  3. Manuscript '1' which has been crossed through, and replaced by '10', which includes the cost of 9d for a distance of between 80 and 120 miles, and
  4. an unboxed 'Additional ½d' stamp applied at Edinburgh.

The Letter

"Portobello, Edin. Sept 24th, 1834

My Dear Sir,

I think it right to send you a sketch of the field which I suppose to be the one for sale, and which has been mentioned to my son and me.

Looking from the bottom to the top of this page you are supposed to look from Carlisle to Edinburgh. The road from Carlisle to Edinburgh being on your right hand.

If I am right in my conclusion as to the field which you will readily find out by the rough sketch on the other side, proceed as noticed in my last."

The instructions in the previous letter were:

should the field you mention actually join the Harker, request you will purchase it for me as much below the £70 as you can; provided it is freehold, and not subject to any particular burthen in the way of tythes, or expenses of transfer or otherwise, and that it is actually rented or can be let at £3.6.-."

Sir James then continues — making sure that his agent understands completely:

"But if I should have made the mistake as to the field, I should wish to be made acquainted with the situation of it before buying it and it is to ensure my being right that it has occurred to me to trouble you with the rough sketch on the other side.

If you think that James Moffat whom I have hired as Hind can be useful to you in making enquiry or otherwise in this business you can send for him at Mr Andrews Wine and Spirit Merchant, Bickergate or Mitchison if he is at home will be able to inform you of everything concerning it and the rent it will give, thought it may not be desirable to say much of our intentions unless you should find it necessary to communicate with Moffat or Mitchison,

Yours most truly,

James R. Grant"

A Hind is a term used especially in Scotland and Northern England for a farm servant, a married and skilled farm workman having charge of two horses, and being provided with a cottage on the farm (Concise Oxford Dictionary.)

The really interesting thing about this drawing to me is that it can be placed exactly on the current map of the area even down to the Harker Toll Gate, which is obsolete, but still shown. The information given by the Cumbrian Archivist is:

"the road referred to would be the present A7 from Carlisle to Longtown and then to Edinburgh via Langholm, Hawick etc. This is one of the ancient routes to Scotland would be a turnpike road at the time hence the reference to the Harker Toll. The road from Carlisle to Glasgow shown at the bottom of the sketch plan was laid out by Thomas Telford in the 1820's which probably accounts for the description 'great'. It is now the A74".

I wonder if Sir James managed to buy that field.

This collection of letters was a lucky purchase, as I found many different strands of interest in them. Beginning with the postmarks, nearly all the letters were posted in the Portobello Penny Post of the Edinburgh Penny Post Office, and they have manuscript "1" marks,as well as handstamps of Portobello, with or without a mileage mark. Then they have Edinburgh datestamps - four different types, 'Additional ½d' handstamps' and manuscript charge marks. Surprisingly, what they do NOT have is any mark at all from Carlisle. At this time most towns had name stamps, either as datestamps, or as mileage marks, or both, and usually the receiving date was stamped on the back of the letter by the receiving office. I find it quite surprising that none of them have this stamp, particularly as Carlisle had a town name stamp. However, Mr Lionel Jones, the Philatelic Officer of the National Postal Museum in London advised me as follows:

I have checked the Date impressions books at the PO Records Centre and can tell you that Carlisle didn't have a normal type Receiving Office datestamp until the end of November 1831 1 have also spoken with Derek Hampson who wrote the Cumberland section of Willcocks and Jay's County Catalogue, and he finds nothing unusual in the fact that Sir James' letters are not back-stamped at the Carlisle Office on receipt. "

Then there are the people concerned in the correspondence. Of Sir James himself, apart from the entry in the TwoPenny Post directory, which confirms that he lived at No.4 Bath Square, I can find no trace. In the letters he gives various information. He mentions that his designation for Title deeds is Inspector General of Army hospitals in Portobello - he is married with a wife and one daughter living at home with him. His eldest son, (also called James), is a friend of the solicitor George Mounsey, and an aide-de-campe to his uncle, (Sir James' brother), who is Governor of Trinidad. The second son was serving with a Troop of the King's Dragoons Guards.

Starting with that information, over a period of about 14 months, I had no luck at all finding information from Britain. Sir James does not appear to be part of any Scottish family of baronets and may have been knighted for some service. medical or military. He does not appear in the Dictionary of National Biography. His MD was not granted in Edinburgh. There is no record of a military hospital in Portobello, but this may be because there are no existing records. He is not included in the published history of the Grant family, nor is his brother the Governor of Trinidad. That surprises me, as I would have thought that a Governor of a Colony would be a 'worthy' ancestor. In the letter dated May 6, 1830 to George Mounsey Sir James advises

" Your acquaintance my eldest son, and his Uncle the Governor. are coming home with their friend Admiral Kenning in the "Barham", " and you will be happy to learn that I expect him in the course of this month . My other boy has just left us for Clonmel where his Troop of the Kings Dragoon Guards is stationed. Lady Grant, and my daughter who are all that are with me, are well, and unite in compliments to you and Your family ".

When I contacted the Public Records Office at Kew in England, they were unable to give me information about these various persons. They explained that there is 90 miles of shelving at the Record Office, and they were unable to carry out searches. However, they used my letter as a training exercise for staff, and they located and advised in which sections I would be able to find the various records - for instance, Army records for Sir James and his son, Public Office records for The Governor of Trinidad and his aide. There are researchers in England who will carry out searches, but I decided that this was not really essential for the writing up of the correspondence.

There is more information available about the Mounseys, who were a well known Carlisle family. As a matter of interest, in 1996 a personal friend was in Carlisle for the meeting of the British Society of Australian Philatelists, and he kindly checked things for me and posted me a current business card of Mounseys, showing that they still practise at the same address, Castle Street, Carlisle, but now as part of a larger group. The Mounseys were solicitors to the Diocese of Carlisle .I would have thought that acting both for Sir James and the Bishop would have caused a conflict of interest to the solicitors, but Sir James seems quite happy with the arrangement, and states in more than one of the letters that he is sure they will have his best interests in mind when sorting out the various leases.

The Assistant County Archivist of Cumbria took a great deal of trouble and gave me up-to-date information concerning all the properties mentioned in the letters, and marked them on a map, She also included a family tree of the Mounseys.

Then by a stroke of luck a reader of the Australian Stamp News contacted me and gave me an astonishing amount of information about Sir James Grant. In fact, we found it so absorbing after all the different avenues of research we followed, that Ron and I have since written the collection of letters up into a book. It includes not only the actual letters, but we have added maps, picture postcards, and information about coaching, the state of the roads, the postal system.

Last modified 18 December 2002