Monday, February 27, 2012

Posting a Letter in the Regency

It was too soon for Mary to send Sally a letter, too much to ask her to pay for so little news.

I wrote this today in my current work in progress. But was I right? I thought I had it right, but really, what do I know about sending a letter in Regency England.

After hitting the my own files and some of the sites, I discovered more than I ever wanted to know. Here are a few things I thought you might find of interest.

First of all, I was right about the receiver of the letter having to pay the cost of mailing.  In this case from St Ives in Cornwall to somewhere near Old Sarum in Wiltshire.

All letters went via London. So in this case, the letter would pass Old Sarum, then be sent back there.  Letters were charged according to distance and  and the number of sheets of paper:


Within Great Britain:-
Not exceeding 15 miles 4d
Above 15 but not more than 20 miles 5d
Above 20 but not more than 30 miles 6d
Above 30 but not more than 50 miles 7d
Above 50 but not more than 80 miles 8d
Above 80 but not more than 120 miles 9d
Above 120 but not more than 170 miles 10d
Above 170 but not more than 230 miles 11d
Above 230 but not more than 300 miles 12d
Above 300 but not more than 400 miles 13d
Above 400 but not more than 500 miles 14d
Above 500 but not more than 600 miles 15d
Above 600 but not more than 700 miles 16d
Above 700 miles 17d

 For example, a typical single page letter from Dublin to London would cost 1s 3d - a lot of money in those days, when you consider that a Dairy maid 6 pence per day, less than half this amount. Can you imagine sending a letter at the cost of a whole days pay?  Two sheets of paper doubled the cost, three tripled it. And paper was not a cheap commodity either.

This high cost is partly because you paid twice. Once to get the letter to London, and again to get it to its destination. And sometimes cities added their own charges for delivery also, usually a penny.   And this is why, out of respect, the sender would keep their information to a single page and only write if needed. To save paper they would "cross their lines"  turn the paper at right angles and write in that direction as shown in the picture. In most places one had to go the the post office to collect one's mail rather than it being delivered to the door. Which is apparently something we are returning to these days.

By the way, there were no envelopes in the Regency. The sheet of paper would contain the address on the outside, and be sealed with wax or a wafer.  Additional sheets would be folded inside.

Not all mail had to be paid for. Letters from, Members of Parliament, Commons and Lords as well as newspapers travelled for free. It was intended for official business, but as we so often read in books, Peers etc were often asked to frank  (sign and stamp the letter as official) letters for friends and relatives to save the high cost of postage . This example dates from 1930.  The postal system was overhauled not long after this and the franking of letters was abolished in 1840.

If you want to dig deeper than I do at present, I would recommend starting with http://postalheritage.org.uk

No doubt there will be a new question on my mind requiring information in the not too distant future and until then, Happy Rambles