Image and text by Eunice Shanahan shared with readers of the Victorian Web with kind permission from Eunice and Ron Shanahan's website, Letters from the Past.

This letter is interesting for more than one reason. Although none of the postal markings are of the best, I suppose that is to be expected, after almost 175 years. It has 3 postmarks, but no charge mark to show the cost of postage. The letter was addressed to Mr Ward, solicitor, Newcastle Staf shire, and all three postmarks were applied at that town, the full name of which is Newcastle under Lyme, Staffordshire. The letter was written from Stoke [on Trent], which is about 9 miles away from Newcastle.

The first postal marking is the Newcastle circular date stamp in red NEWCASTLE AP 20 1831 showing when it was received, and applied on the back of the letter. The second is a boxed No.3 in blackish red ink. This is the number given to one of the three Penny Post Receiving office of Newcastle. The third is the Newcastle 5th Clause Post – a boxed example (poorly struck) in red. As a matter of interest, of the 15 known named towns with a 5th Clause Post, the other 14 were all applied in black ink!

For about a hundred years London had the only official local post, despite legislation being passed allowing towns to have their own local post. But 36 years after the laws had been passed, only Manchester, Birmingham and Bristol and Liverpool had provided a service. Local deliveries were made, often arranged by the postmaster, and the Post Office was not concerned with this unless they wanted to run the service themselves, at a profit, naturally. In the1801 shake-up the Act of Parliament passed as “'41 Geo III C.7.' had a new clause. This 5th Clause set up a mechanism whereby a petition could be submitted by the inhabitants of a NON-Post town to have a mail service to the most convenient Post town at a rate to be agreed between the inhabitants and the Postmaster General. The rate was generally a penny for each letter. The reasons there were so few of these so-called Fifth Clause Posts, was because

  1. when the petitions were submitted, it became obvious to the Post Office that in many cases this was a profitable proposition, so they immediately extended the Penny Post area of the suggested town, and refused the petition, and
  2. in 1807 the law changed so that Free Franked letters and Newspapers had to be carried free, in Fifth Clause posts, which reduced the profitability to the small town post master.

If the town was a Post town, the letter had to be delivered free as part of the postage so the Postmaster General would work out the sums to decide if it was worthwhile setting up the official penny post. This letter shows an interesting sidelight to this issue. As Newcastle was a Provincial Penny Post Office and had three Receiving Houses, why did it also have the 5th Clause Post. The only suggestion I can come up with is that it may have had 5th Clause with Stoke, (being the nearest Post town?) which was outside the penny post area of Newcastle. I am also intrigued as to why (if that is true), there is no charge mark to indicate the postage.

So now to the letter, which has a filing note on the outside, written by the receiver, (or his clerk), noting that it was dated “20th April 1831 from Watson as to valuation of Repairs”. Apart from the postmarks, the subject of the letter is also very interesting. The writing is very clear and easy to read, being an account of the state of a house presumably in Stoke.

“Stoke, April 20th, 1831

At a rough guess I should think it would take £150 to make the present house into two. And as the greatest part of this house has from the manner of the work been erected nearly 100 years and the most recent about 60.”

Note: that means that the house was built at least in 1731, and probably earlier, with later additions being made in the late 1770s

“Taking these things into consideration the sum of £64.0.6 in my opinion is sufficient for Tenantable repairs, but to put the premises into repair and sufficiently beautify the same for an incoming Tenant would I should think cost something more than double that amount. And to put the same into substantial repair about 3 times the same sum.”

Note: the £150 would have been quite a sum to expend on a rental property. It represented something like 3 years wages for an indoor servant!

“I believe I have miss’d nothing of importance The drains I could not wholley ascertain but from those I could find I think little will be wanting to make them work.”

Note: possibly the previous tenant had not been too fussy about the drainage if Mr Watson was unable to find all of them. He then finishes up with a suggestion that baffles me.

“There has been some buildings taken down, but does not appear to have been done recently – perhaps it may be well to inquire from some person that knew the premises prior to Mr Fenton’s occupation, and if any has been taken down during that time and can be described, they may be yet valued. Some of them apparently would have been useful for converting into 2 dwellings.

I am Sir,
Your most obt hm sert.
Jno Watson.”

I fail to see how a description of how the house used to look before the bits were demolished could add to the valuation. It makes it sound like an original “coodabeen” situation. i.e. IF the buildings had still been there THEN they could have been used for conversion. But as they were demolished, I don’t think it should enter into the calculations.

I really enjoy reading letters like this, as it shows how the ordinary people were getting on with their business, and other than the actual amounts of money involved, it is not so different from the present time.


Willcocks: The Postal History of Great Britain and Ireland

Alan Robertson: Great Britain Post Roads, Post Towns and Postal Rates 1635-1839

Alcock and Holland: British Postmarks, a short history and guide

12 February 2005