Today, Susanna Ives, author of Rakes and Radishes, shares the research she did on the British mail delivery system while writing that book. She includes excerpts from several historical works on the subject, as well as some from books published during the period known as the "long Regency." Do you need to know the price of postage for a letter delivered within the British Isles? Or, is you fictional missive to be sent abroad for delivery in a foreign land? Susanna provides postage tables in her article for convenient reference. In her article, you will also find details on which coaches served which cities and the business hours of the London Post Office, among other details of the British postal system.
Regency Glossary by Donna Hatch Part 1.
Lots of Regency authors, especially the members of The Beau Monde Regency Romance Chapter, use glossaries to explain words no longer in common use.
The Beau Monde will post some of these, bit by bit, and then combine them to make a larger glossary.
Do you have any words or lists that we can add to our expanding glossary? Types of carriages? Names for servants or workers? Commonly used items in the Regency Era?
We’d love to hear from you.
Our first glossary is Part 1 from Donna Hatch, regency romance author and a member of The Beau Monde chapter of Romance Writers of America.
Part 2 is a glossary of Carriage Types and will be in tomorrow’s post.
Donna Hatch says…..
The Regency has its own terminology with which the modern reader may not be familiar. The following are a few terms I often use in my books that bear explanation.
A cross-post from The Regency Redingote:
In great agitation, she took a sheet of foolscap from the desk drawer.
Placing it on the blotter, she dipped her sharpened quill into the inkwell and began to write furiously …
Or, something like that. How many characters in how many Regency romances have written or received a missive on a sheet of foolscap? More than I can count. So, just what is foolscap?
The Proliferation of Newspapers in Regency England
By Cheryl Bolen
Despite heavy taxation, high cost, and government censorship that included prosecution for libel, newspapers proliferated during the Regency.
In 1816, there were 31 national newspapers, including 14 in London. Daily papers included The Times, The Morning Chronicle, Morning Post, and The Morning Herald.
The leading newspapers of those were John Walters’ Times, which catered to the Tories; James Perry’s Morning Chronicle, a vehicle for the Whigs; and The Morning Post, which was heavily supported by the Prince Regent. Each of these was a morning newspaper.
Evening newspapers included The Sun, The Courier, The Globe, The Star, The Traveller, and The Statesman. Other daily papers were The British Press, The Public Ledger, and The Morning Advertiser.
Newspapers published Monday-Wednesday-Friday included The London Chronicle, The London Packet, and The Evening Mail.
On Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday, the Commercial Journal, the St. James Chronicle, General Evening Post, and The English Chronicle appeared.
Those periodicals published only on Mondays included the Farmers Journal, Country Chronicle The News, the Hunt Brothers’ infamous Examiner, the National Register, and Bell’s Messenger.
Saturday-only publications included Cobbett’s influential Political Register and Mirror of the Times while Baldwin’s Journal appeared only on Friday, as did the Country Herald.
Cost of newspapers was a hefty 7 pence. It was estimated that because of the high cost, each newspaper passed through twenty pair of hands. They were also available at coffee houses and circulating libraries.
“A London Twopenny Post letter – 1814″
This letter is addressed to John Stewart Esqre No.16 Queen St Brompton from J. Hill of Rotherhithe. This was on the south side of the Thames and about this time Rotherhithe was still virtually an island, having two swing-bridges connecting it to the rest of Bermondsey/Southwark. 95% of the industry in Rotherhithe was shipbuilding and breaking, and trades directly allied to this. It was (and still remains) a secular, almost independent part of Southwark. The paper is a very heavy type with the watermark R BARNARD 1809, and there are four postal markings on the letter all of them applied by the offices of the Twopenny Post.
Here is another Postal History, this time connected with Napoleon.
This letter, dated 5 February 1805, is addressed to Major Dudingston, Elie, Fifeshire North Britain from G. Nicols in Winchester. It is interesting because many of the events mentioned in the letter refer to things connected with Napoleon‘s battles against the English.
The postal markings on the letter are :-
- London morning duty date stamp in red, FEB 6 1805
- a poor smudged Edinburgh date stamp in red , of the type in use from 1801-1812 where the year was included between the month, in this case FE and the day ’9′
- charge marks: first ”6′ which would have been the rate to get the letter from Winchester the place of posting, to London. There, the clerk would have worked out the whole cost to Scotland, so crossed out the ’6′ and replaced with ‘1/1′.
A Stamp News reader has been exchanging information with me about postage rates, and we have agreed that this is correct for the overall distance of 501 miles from London prior to 12 March 1805. The mileage included the 62 miles from Winchester to London, then the 439 miles London to Elie in Fifeshire. The charge was 10d for up to 300 miles and then 1d for every 100 miles thereafter. It seems a bit mean to have charged the extra 1d when the distance was only one mile over the 500 – particularly as the road distances changed as the roads were improved.
The letter begins with a reference to Major Dudingston’s son Charles
5th of Feby 1805
My dear Dudingston
( Authority to post given by authors.)
To read more, please visit the authors – http://www.earsathome.com
Postage costs in Regency Context
The cost of postage had risen in 1784 as the Chancellor of the Exchequer explained that the increases would be on the mail instead of a tax on coal. The income from letters was used to boost the funds of the Government, and the prices were raised again in 1797, 1801, 1805 and 1812.
During the wars against France (1793-1815) the income was regarded as a tax levied to help the war effort, but once Napoleon had been defeated, there was a backlash of feeling against the high rates. By this time, it was often hard to decide if it was worth sending a letter at all: the cost of a letter could be as much as a day’s wages for a working man. It became a matter of importance to get around the cost in one way or another. For instance it was cheaper to send a letter from London to Scotland by the coastal shipping – 8 pence instead of by road which cost 13½ pence (1sh.1½d).
Because the recipient usually paid the cost of the delivery, it was possible to arrange to send an empty letter (or one with an agreed error in the name or address) – so that the recipient would know the handwriting, realize that all was well with the sender, so refuse to accept it, and not have to pay.
To give some idea of comparative costs:
- in 1825 on a suggested budget of £250 a year given by Mrs Rundell in her New System of Domestic Economy for ‘a gentleman, his lady, three children and a Maid-Servant’, where food took £2.11.7d a week or £134.2.4d a year, the biggest single item was
- 10s 6d a week for butcher’s meat (18 lbs at 7d a pound, or about ½ lb each day), followed by
- 7s for beer and other liquors
- 6s for bread
- 3s 6d for 3½ lb butter
- 3s 6d for fish
- 3s for sugar (4½ lb at 8d a lb) and
- 2s 6d for tea (5 ozs at 8s a pound)
- two pounds of candles cost 1s 2d a week in 1825
- coal and wood 3s 9d
- rent and taxes were allowed at only £25 a year
- clothes (for 5) £36
- the maid £16
- the education of 3 children £10.10s.
There were small margins for recreation, medical expenses and savings, but although the family probably had more than enough food in total, it devoted only 3d each week a week to milk (2 pints) and 6d each to fruit and vegetables.
However, on an income of £1000 per annum the budget is quite different! Now there is an establishment of 10, for besides the same-sized family there is a cook, a housemaid, a nursery-maid, a coachman and a footman, whose combined wages are £87 a year ; there is also a ‘Chariot, Coach, Phaeton or other four-wheel carriage, and a pair of horses’, costing £65-17s a year in keep. The family consumes 52½ lb of meat a week – a daily allowance of ¾ lb for each person – there is now a guinea a week for drink, and ¾ lb of butter for each person. The smallest items are still fruit and vegetables (9d per person per week) and eggs and milk (4½d per week).
Taken from John Burnett, A History of the Cost of Living (Penguin Books, 1969)
Mrs Dashwood – in trying to dissuade her husband from giving his mother and sisters any money at all, points out that they will be so well off, they will need nothing.
… Altogether, they will have five hundred a year amongst them, and what on earth can four women want for more than that? They will live so cheap! Their housekeeping will be nothing at all. They will have no carriage, no horses, and hardly any servants; they will keep no company, and can have no expenses of any kind!
Only conceive how comfortable they will be! Five hundred a year! I am sure I cannot imagine how they will spend half of it
But, if, in addition to feeding/clothing the four ladies of the house, they would have to provide living quarters/food/uniform for the house servant, and if they grew their own food, they would have to employ a gardener – more outlay. Allowing for the fact that they would probably make their own clothes, they would still have to buy the materials. It would not be luxurious living by any standards.
So, it does seem as though the parsimonious Mrs John Dashwood could have convinced herself that her four indigent in-laws could manage with no financial help from their brother.
Free Franks: Some markings used for the Parliamentary Franking System in the U.K.
( Re-posted with the permission of our friends at earsathome.com)
The origin of the Franking System was a decree of the Council of State in 1652, by which correspondence to and from Members of Parliament and of certain State Officials was permitted to pass free through the post. The system lasted till January 10 1840, when the Uniform Penny Postage was introduced.
Abuses soon arose, and regulations were made at various times, about the number and weight of ‘FREE’ letters, the time and place of posting and the method and form of addressing them. In the early days of the system, the written word ‘FRANK’ or ‘FREE’, accompanied by the seal and sometimes the name of the person entitled to the privilege was all that appeared on the letter.
[The items used as illustrations are from our own collection but barely scratch the surface of a complicated study.]
|Manuscript “Free Geo. Bird?”at bottom left of cover.This entire is dated inside ‘Carmarthen March ye 10th 1760′ and despite its age the letter is perfectly legible and is as easily read as the address on the front. In it, the sender, John Rogers mentions a chirograph”.In the centre of the front is the two line ’ CARMAR THEN’ stamp.
On the reverse is a Bishop Mark of 14 MR.
The London Office Stamps
|In the late 1780′s, more decorative types of ‘FREE’ marks began to be used.The initials which were incorporated into the marks were those of the surnames of the various Inspectors of Franks.
This piece is franked by Lord Grenville and dated July 2nd 1792.
|Detail of stamp|
|In 1791 three ring date stamps with initials were brought into use.This piece is dated AP 4 96 and has the initial ‘C’|
|At the beginning of 1800, a type of mark was introduced which showed ‘FREE’ on a crown and contained within a single rim. This mark, with some variations, remained in use until 1807.||This front bears a manuscript”London march twenty first 1800″ and is franked by Lord Inchiquin.|
|This entire has a single rim crowned circle free dated 6 De 6 1831 but the manuscript date reads “Selkirk Octoberthree 1831″.There is no apparent reason for this and it does not appear to have been detected.||In 1832, a mark was introduced for use on letters received on Sunday and posted on Sunday at the Chief and Branch Offices, consisting of a circle surrounded by arcs or scollops. There are many varieties of this mark, differing in size and the number of arcs. The use of these marks continued into the 1860′s.|
|The ‘additional’ stamp for each duty had a cross, differing in size and shape, below the date.||
There are varieties of the crowned circlemarks with the letter ‘O’ or ‘E’ below the date
This front shows an example of the ‘E’ type. The letter was addressed to Oxford Street, London, but was redirected to Dorking, which explains the use of the two free stamps. It has been suggested that the ‘E’ type was used on letters that arrived in London by train in the early afternoon.
|This piece franked by “Will” and dated May eighteen 1834 in manuscript, has the “SUNDAY” mark dated May 18 and with the curved figures in the year. The inner circle is 21mm, and it has 22 arcs around it. The single rim, crowned circle Free mark was applied on May 19th 1834.|
Some Dublin Office Stamps
|The mark shown on this piece was introduced in 1819. This example is dated 29 JU 29 1825. The type appears to have been in use until 1831.||A completely different shape was introduced in 1815 and remained in use till 1831.|
In 1832 a new type was introduced consisting of a two-ring date stamp with date symbols in the centre, FREE and DUBLIN in the outer band separated by two stars. This type is listed by Lovegrove as being in use from 1832-1835.
|Time coded stamps were in use from 1835-1840. The mark consisted of a crowned circle containing date symbols with code letter ‘M’ at the bottom for ‘Morning’. This piece is dated 29 AU 29 and the part manuscript at the top reads ‘twenty eight 1835′.|
|This front is as the previous mark but with the code ‘E’ at the bottom, for ‘Evening’.||This piece makes one wonder how on earth it was delivered. It was redirected twice as is seen by the three addresses and the three ‘FREE’ marks. Other marks on the front are the mileage mark of ‘STIRLING 20 MAR 1826 431 — E’ and Glasgow mark ‘G MAR 20M 1826′ plus a receiving stamp.Good luck to the Postman!|
SOURCE. Much of the information regarding these marks was taken from J. W. Lovegrove, Herewith my Frank, (KB Printers Ltd. 15a Alma Road, Bournemouth). The book runs to 100 pages of highly detailed information and illustrations and shows how incredibly complex the whole story was.
Read more about this at - Postal Information
Postage rates 1805-1839 within Great Britain
(Posted with the kind permission of the authors at earsathome.com)
There were two sets of rates in force during the Regency Period: under the Act of 1805 the rates were set for the cost of sending a single sheet letter. If a further sheet was enclosed in the letter the cost was double. If the letter weighed an ounce the cost was four times the base rate.
Although it is slightly before the Regency period, this letter written in 1800 is a good example. The sender has put a note on the front of the letter “Two Sheets inclosed”.
The postal official has written the weight 1oz (one ounce) and the correct postage due is therefore 4 times the base rate for the distance of between 60 and 100 miles i.e. 4 x 6d = 24d or 2/- (two shillings). Wisbeach was 89 miles from London.
The following tables show the stages of distance, the cost involved, and then an example of a town within that range, or a linked image of a letter bearing that charge.
Note: we have 29 letters dated between 1805 and 1812, some of them with inexplicable charges on them, for instance the Southwell letter of 1808. Sleaford was 117 miles from London so that would be in the 8d rate for a single letter. If this was a double letter it would therefore be 2 x 8d = 1s. 4d, but the charge mark appears to be 1s. 2d. If it had to go to from Sleaford to London (8d), then London to Southwell 9d the combined cost would be 17 pence or 1s. 5d.
|distance during 1805-1812||Cost in pence||Notes|
|Not exceeding 15 miles||4||a ‘one-horse stage’|
|15 to 30 miles||5||Leith/Haddington|
|30 to 50 miles||6||Tetsworth|
|50 to 80 miles||7||Dover|
|80 to 120 miles||8||Birmingham|
|120 to 170 miles||9||Derby|
|170 to 230 miles||10||Cardiff/Aberdare|
|230 to 300 miles||11||Newcastle-on-Tyne|
|for every 100 miles above 300||add 2d||Southwell|
Then in 1812 the rates were changed to the following :
|Distance during 1812-1839||Cost in shillings & pence||Notes|
|Not exceeding 15 miles||4d||Southall|
|above 15 less than 20||5d||Leatherhead|
|above 20 less than 30||6d||Cardiff to Merthyr Tidville|
|above 30 less than 50||7d||Luton|
|above 50 less than 80||8d||Chipping Norton|
|above 80 less than 120||9d||Dorchester|
|above 120 less than 170||10d||Bristol to London|
|above 170 less than 230||11d||Dartmouth|
|above 230 less than 300||1 Shilling (12d)||Redruth|
|above 300 less than 400||1s. 1d||Edinburgh to London|
|above 400 less than 500||1s. 2d||Glasgow|
|above 500 less than 600||1s. 3d||Aberdeen|
|above 600 less than 700||1s. 4d||Forres Scotland|
|above 700 miles||1s. 5d||Wick, Caithness|
- Payment of Postage in early 19th century (thebeaumondeworld.wordpress.com)
( This article is re-posted with the kind permission of earsathome.com)
There was no compulsion to pay postage until the 1850′s, but the choice to pay or not was available right from the beginning of the postal systems.
What about the payment of one penny to the postman on the street?
In Frank Staff’s book, The Penny Post, 1680-1918, he includes an illustration of ‘A postman with a bell about 1820. The penny he received for taking the letter to the General Post Office was his perquisite.’
This was because it was not the usual practice, as there were so many Receiving Houses, both for the General Post, and for the London Penny Post, that it was easy enough to take your letter to the nearest one.
He also quotes from The Picture of London for 1805: Houses or boxes for receiving letters before four o’clock at the West-end of the town, and five o’clock in the City, are open in every part of the metropolis; and after that hour bellmen collect the letters during another hour, receiving a fee of one penny for each letter.
The bellman disappeared from London streets from the 5 July 1846, following a announcement by the Postmaster General that they were to be abolished. This illustration is of a British postage stamp issued in 1979 to mark the centenary of the death of Sir Rowland Hill.
Generally the head of the family would pay the postage on letters, whether it was sending the servant to the post office to deliver the letters written, or to collect the incoming letters. In Jane Austen‘s books there are many references to the mail. The Bennet family is in a fever of anticipation waiting to hear from Mr. and Mrs Gardiner after Lydia has eloped, and that comes in from the post office.
In the other cases letters are delivered by servants, or slipped into the hands of the receiver. Vicar’s daughters – as represented so beautifully by Jane Austen – would be unlikely to have money of their own so the father would have paid. It was generally accepted that the recipient paid the postage, therefore they would only write to someone they knew would be able to pay to receive it.
People likely to send paid letters :-
- Solicitors, who added the cost of postage to the bill – I have many such letters, listing the details of the accounts, in which Postage is quite a large amount.
- Commercial travellers would send it unpaid so head office would pay the incoming postage bills. I have a series of 40 letters from a commercial traveller in haberdashery from 1828-1832, written to his head office in London. The letters are posted from all over England as he drives out to make sales, and not one of these letters has been pre-paid.
However, some were less happy about paying postage -
this example was written by Mr Matthew Tate from Hull in the north of England, in 1837, and he sounds very irate he writes :
you may inform your clients that I will pay no more than I am indebted to them, the postage of letters I will not submit to pay, as they never post pay there letters to me.
He then adds this cryptic postscript.
P.S. you may inform them if they save a Loss they may perhaps catch a Louse.
(This article extract is posted with the kind permission of earsathome.com )
In 1774 the Court of the King’s Bench decided that delivery of mail must be free within the limits of a post town; but letters to or from places outside these limits had still often to be brought or fetched under local arrangements by means of village messengers, private servants, or carriers in the employ of local postmasters. Except in the case of certain small towns, not Post Towns, which seem to have been given a grant for the purpose, or where private servants were used, a charge for the conveyance of each letter was made, or else a fixed annual sum was raised for the village or district messenger.
The cost of posting a letter has to be seen in the context of the ability to pay. In some cases there would be no cost, if the family was able to send a personal servant to deliver the letter. Once the Penny Posts began to be set up in the provincial cities, from 1793, the benefits of the cheaper postage would have been felt by everyone. Between 1812 and 1815 there was a rush to open Penny Post offices everywhere. The fact that the one penny charged was not such a burden is proved by the profitability of these offices.
Take this letter from a desperate mother, where she seems to be requiring such a paltry sum to settle two of her children. Notice that she has mentioned 7d a week for a constancy for the daughter, and yet it cost 8d to send the letter to the solicitor in Highworth, 82 miles away.
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. 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
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
To put it all into perspective, here is an extract from “The Agricultural Labourer” by Peter Talbot-Ashby…
At the beginning of the 18th century in England, in most households it was necessary for the whole family to contribute to the production of an adequate subsistence and not simply rely on the efforts of a single breadwinner.
The labourer’s wife was usually a working woman, and children too were put to work at an early age. The children would be plaiting straw for several hours in the early morning, scaring crows, or weeding and picking stones from the fields.
The girls were expected to work alongside their mother in a variety of handicrafts and household chores, including sewing, weaving and feeding hens. The boys, from about the age of seven, as they became stronger, would be working beside their father 10 or 12 hours a day, doing a full day’s hard work contributing to the family budget.
To be employed in fulltime work was certainly not the normal practice, however. A few, usually unmarried and under the age of 25, might be engaged for a year as farm servants at a Mop Fair or hiring fair.
The majority of labourers were hired on a day to day basis as “wage labourers”, earning about one shilling a day (5p) in the 1700s, rising to about eight shillings (40p) by the 1830s. At harvest time work was plentiful and they could earn a little extra cash, but their day was not eight hours, as we know it today, but 12 to 15 hours of hard physical work.
In the 18th century, travel as we know it today was usually neither desired nor undertaken by the labouring classes, isolated in their village communities except for an occasional journey of a few miles to a nearby village or market town. Parish records show that many would be born, married and die within the confines of their small world, and our labourer would not have the level of national and world news that we enjoy today.
Yes, there were newspapers, but few agricultural workers could read or write.
(Family Tree Magazine, July 1995)
To read the full article, please go to - Postal information.
Letter Writing is today’s part of our Postal Information in the extended ‘Regency’ period, 1800-1835. (Courtesy of earsathome.com)
Published with permission of the author.
Related articles by the same author -
- Clothing in the Regency Period (thebeaumondeworld.wordpress.com)