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 written by an angry man who feels aggrieved by the treatment he has received. The writing itself is hard to read. Not only that, but the writer has used a lot of abbreviations all through the letter, which makes it even more difficult to decipher. However, with helpful suggestions from members of the Old English mailing list on the internet, I have managed to sort out the reason for Sir Henry’s anger

The address on the letter is interesting — “ffor John Van den bempde Esq/ att his house in Pall Mall.” Pall Mall was then, and is still today, a good address, and one of the most expensive places to live in London. It runs parallel to The Mall, which leads to Buckingham Palace. At the time that the letter was written, this house was then owned by the Duke of Buckingham: it was not a Royal residence until 1762. There would not have been too many residences in the street, so the Post Office would know which house was occupied by John Van den Bempde.

Another interesting point is that writing has changed over the centuries, and at that time the word ‘ffor’ when written like that, the two small letter ‘f’ written together, signified a capital letter ‘F’. Although there is no address for the writer inside the letter he may have lived near Pall Mall, as he mentions that he went to the house to speak with John Van den Bempde, before he posted his letter.

Although the Government Penny Post took over from the Dockwra Penny Post system in 1682, it was not regulated until 1711 by an Act which authorised the charge of one penny on all letters passing or repassing by the Penny Post within the Cities of London and Westminster and the Borough of Southwark and parts adjacent, and to be received and delivered within 10 miles distant from the General Letter Office.

The postmark PENY POST PAYD with the Letter P over the letters TV inside the triangle shows that it was applied on a Tuesday at the St Paul’s office of the Government Penny Post. This type of postmark was in use at the St Paul’s office in Queen’s Head Alley, Paternoster Row from 1703 to 1752. When the Government closed down Dockwra’s Penny Post and re-opened a more limited version of it, they followed the idea of Dockwra’s postmarks, but the Government Penny Post stamps are easily identified because the word at the bottom of the triangular postmark was always upside down, whereas in the Dockwra stamps they were always the right way up.

The letter has a seal at the top which appears to be an armorial type of a shield bisected with a white wavy line and the words around the outside of the circle are FORTE SCUTUM SALUS DUCUM + . This is listed in Debrett's mottos 1814 as " A strong shield is the safety of commanders. -v. Clermont; and -e. Fortescue." A further note shows that ‘the viscountcy was an Irish one, sharing an ancestor, motto, and surname with the English Earls Fortescue.’ However, as far as I can see the writer of this letter is not part of that family. He was Sir Henry Gough, who was born in 1649, the eldest son and heir of John Gough. He was knighted in 1678 by Charles II, the honour being conferred on him in gratitude for the services of his grandfather to Charles I in 1642. He was Member of Parliament for Tamworth and in 1668 married Mary Littleton of Pillaton Hall near Penkridge. They had eleven sons and five daughters. I wonder if he had a house in London, to be near Parliament?
The letter was written to John van den Bempde who was born about 1654 in Hackness, Yorks, England. He died 14 March 1726 — a year after this letter was written.

The Letter

So now to the letter, which I have transcribed as it was written, spelling ‘as-is’ but with the completed words shown by the square brackets — i.e. Hond Sr = Hon[ore]d S[i]r. If you would like a challenge try reading the letter from the image before you read this transcription. He begins his letter — setting out the problem which concerns the demands being made by the father of the lad in charge of his horses:

Hon[ore]d S[i]r

Ab[ou]t: three weeks ago going to see my horses, John Ashmore told me his Son was become Capable of a better place & had the offer, & Unless I would advance his wages he should go; So rather than Change I agreed to give him a shilling p[er] week more from th[a]t day & Accordingly paid him the last Saturday, w[hi]ch done, he told me his son had a new Livery made but his son should [not?] stay Unless I would give him Another more p[er] week. I said it was not fare of him to suffer the Clothes to be made fitt for him Unless he had Complied w[i]th our last Agreemt: be [but?] he still insisted on Another shilling more p[er] week I then s[ai]d he imposed upon me because of the Liv[er]y being made fitt for his son, w[hi]ch, I am sure he did, & th[a]t I would not be so dealt w[i]th.

He then continues explaining what he now intends to do about it, having failed to to gain access to Mr Van den Bempde. He is obviously a short-tempered man who feels he is being put in the wrong and wants ‘your Worship’ to do something about it.

Then came to yo[ur] house to have Acq[uai]nt'd; but yo[ur] serv[an]ts not being willing, I thought it my duty to Acq[uai]nt: you by letter, th[a]t you might not be surprised, or any ways disapointed, th[a]t I purpose to employ others in their place, & I doubt not but I can Serve yo[ur] worship as well by others as well as by them, & ev[er]ything as well taken Care of, Unless he abide by our last Agreem[en]t: for I am fully resolved rather to sell my horses if I can no other ways employ 'em than be so dealt w[i]th by any that have their dependence from me. I since sent my maid to see w[ha]t he resolved on he said he would have w[ha]t he had asked of me, so th[a]t I find he think[in]g I must employ him at w[ha]t rate he pleaseth. I therefore desire you to Speak to him, & either to signifie w[ha]t I shall do by letter or suffer me to waite on yo[ur] worship for had I known how he would have dealt w[i]th me his son should not have Learnt his experience on my horses.

who am S[i]r yo[ur] most ...Obedi[en]t Serv[an]t
Ap[ril]: 6th: 1725 ...
Henry Gough? [Sr.]

Why Sir Henry wrote to John Van den Bempde is a mystery, unless he was appealing to him as a magistrate, Justice of the Peace or friend. I wonder what was his response.


Willcocks & Jay, 'The British County Catalogue of Postal History — London'

George Brumell, 'The Local Posts of London 1680-1840'

Addendum 22nd January 2006

I was recently contacted by a visitor to the Victorian Web, who e-mailed me with the following information:

With reference to the old letter by Henry Gough in your possession, I can throw a little more light on the recipient, John Vanden Bempde (d.1726). His will (Public Record Office, PROB 11/609) states that his ancestors came over to England in the mid sixteenth century. It is a long and interesting will, which gives a lot of detail about his relations, servants and possessions.

The reason for my interest is that I have recently acquired a fragment of a letter which was sent to Mrs. Bempde at her house in Pall Mall.

I would like you to know that the only reason I was able to identify the recipient of my letter was because of the transcript of your letter which appears on the Victorian Web. On my letter (which unfortunately lacks most of its text, although the address panel is complete), it was difficult to read the addressee's name, although it is clear from the address panel that it was sent to her house in Pall Mall. Also the "Vanden" was omitted, and it was just addressed to "Mrs Bemde". By using Google for the Latin motto on the little red archive stamp on the letter, combined with "Pall Mall", I came to the transcript of your letter, and hence was able to make the identification.

26 May 2010