Image and text by Eunice Shanahan. Eunice and Ron Shanahan have shared with readers of the Victorian Web this material from their website, Letters from the Past.

In contrast to the letter from the Scottish lawyer, this letter is written by Ann Robinson to her brother Mr Goward, the postmaster at Huddersfield. The spelling and general appearance of the letter looks as though she is very poorly educated. It is dated 1829, the postmark is too faint to be legible but the charge mark is 1/- which is to cover the distance from Norfolk to Yorkshire... (Norwich to London 111 miles; London to Huddersfield 187 miles; total 298. 1/- covered the cost of 270-300 miles). In addition the writer has inscribed on the front 'Singel Sheet'.

White’s Directory of Norfolk 1845 — (Norwich Record Office) gives a description of this ancient village — it would have changed little since 1829. Life was harsh for the poor, but basic provision was made for them through bequests and the levy of a Poor Rate on the better-off parishioners.

NEATISHEAD 10 miles N.E. of Norwich, is a large village and parish containing 697 inhabitants, and about 1905 acres of land. This manor was given by Canute, the Dane, to his Abbey of St. Bennet’s at Holm, so that the Bishop of Norwich is now patron of the church, impropriator of the great tithes. The Church (St. Peter) is a small edifice with a belfry, being only the chancel of the original building, which was extensive, and had a lofty tower and spire of the age of Edward IV. The vicarage is now enjoyed by the Rev. John Heaton Champion De Crespigny. The Poor’s Allotments, awarded at the enclosure in 1808, comprise 48A, 34p of which 15A 26p is let for £10.10 a year, and the remainder, which lies in Irstead, is used for cutting turf for the poor. The poor have also eight cottages and gardens, and 3 Acres 21 perches left by Widow King and others. To these premises 2 Acres 5 perches was allotted at the enclosure, and the whole are now let at rents amounting to £27.16s per annum, which is distributed in coals &c.

The letter itself is on a much larger sheet of paper than most of the others in my collection and this one has taken a battering and is rather fragile. I have transcribed the letter exactly as it was written, with the odd spellings, and capital letters etc, as it would not have the same impact if I just put it into modern day English. This does make it quite hard to read, but as much of it is phonetic, if read out loud, the message of the letter is quite plain — she is in trouble!

Neatishead Sep the 25 1829

Dr Brother,

I Take this opportunity of These Fue Lines To you and to inform you that I soud Have Wrote to you Before And sent you som Money But we have had so Menny setBacks, I whas Ill Most of Last yeare And Whas Forste to have Nuse For 7 weeks,and Doctor And this yer the children have all been ill and th Larst years crops ware very Bad and we Lorst a Fine Sow And Fat pig.

My Husband whas Forst to have My Uncls sleping Room New Rved. (Roofed?)"

The next sentence is somewhat puzzling

And the Front pat (part) Whent to Den (?) we canot up Star when the Wind Blows with a Candel Light And the Bearn (barn) is All but Down. Nerthe Carpenter Nor the thatcers (thatchers) dar not Gite upon it to Repere it. Dear Brother I wishe you could make convenint to Com into Norfolk As the old House is very Much out of Repere. My Husband will send you som Money As sune As he Can And hop he shll Be Able To pay you all. And hop you Will have the Goodnes to Give him Time.

The next paragraph brings her brother up to date with all the local news — most of it bad:

"Uncl is so very Much Infirmd that he have not Ben to curch this 2 years. He is a great Dele of Trubel My Husband is obliged to pay him som of the Money that he had of him As he said he did not like to send to you. I should like to see my dr Mother if the Expence was not so much whoud come to Huddersfield. Plse to tel Abbs that his Farther was att Neatishead som Littel time Back semes to think it very hard that he naver here from him he is very Much altrd. Plse to tel my Mother that Mrs Beals is dead and Mr Richers and Mr and Mrs Seger. And at Strumpshaw Mrs Gunness and Mrs Low and old Benjamin Giffin, And Robert King.

But here is some good news

Margaret have 8 children. Giffen have bilte a Blacksmiths shop.

I have not ben at Strumpshaw For a Long Time, Uncl is so Much Trubel that I cannot Leave home, as he often Durtey the Bed and a Night or two back he get up and nockt the window out.

This sounds like a poor sort of life, but she obviously accepts it, as she ends up with this:

All hare joine with Me in Love and Duty to you All that this may Meet you all in God as it Me,

I Remaine your Ever Loving sister
Ann Robianson"

On the back page of the letter in totally different hand writing is an account written and signed by Thos. Peebles. The details on it are quite fascinating, and appear to be the costings for repairs. It is broken down into labour charges and materials. However, the dates appear to be at odds with the date of this letter, as the accounts are dated from 2 years before Mrs Robinson sent this pathetic letter to her brother.

1827 Mr Jno Robinson Dr for Landlords work      
Jany 13th New gate 14th(?) 1/4 day of man £0 14 0
July 14th 1 day of 2 men after the barn and 31/2 lbs nails  
  115 ft scantlings for the Barn @11/2d   14 41/2
  Boards for the Barn  
Feb 13th 1 day of 1 man 21/2lb nails  
  2 spars and 2 pieces to mend the door  
1828 June 7th

24 ft of Scantling for the house and 1 lb of nails and 1/2 day of 1 man  
    £2 10 41/2
Settled Augt 9th 1829...Thos. Peebles      


1823 Augs 1st
To Bricklayers Bill paid £0
1824 Apr 22d Mr PrattĄ¯s bill for Bricks
1825 Jun 3d
Mr PrattĄ¯s bill for Bricks do  
1828 June 3d
Mr Scarlands bill for Reed do £2
June 2d Mr Starlings Bill for Thatching do £1
July 22d Blacksmiths Bill for mending rordons? windows    
July 22d 1/2 load of mixed stuff for thatch    
      £5 14 2d

This is followed by a list of 5 years Quit Rent payments, and then ends with this summary :-

Tradesmans bills as above   £8
Quit Rents ditto   17 9 d
The bills to be sent if requested.....Thos. Peebles

The story of these accounts is one of constant running repairs to the property. I have three other letters either to John Goward, or concerning his business affairs, and it is obvious that he is much better educated, and certainly better off financially than his sister. The last of the four letters dated 1835, concerns the legal position of the Neatishead property on the death of John Goward. It is not right to pass judgement from this distance but it certainly appears that the brother has got the better deal in this family, and I hope that he responded to this appeal from his sister.

16 November 2004