Autograph Letter Signed, 1790s

June 14, 2020 at 8:55 pm (Help Wanted, history, people, research, World of Two Teens) (, , , )


Back in 2012, I wrote about various SINGLE LETTERS potentially held by collectors of (Great Britain or GB) postal history items, saying I’d *LOVE* to hear from them. In “Autograph Letter Signed,” I talked about the difficulty of searching for individual pieces of Smith and Gosling mail. Can’t search for ALS, without tons of pages about Lou Gehrig’s disease. Not everyone discusses “entire” letters, and sometimes the letter is not present in its entirety.

But today I wish to put out some images, with brief information, about the postmarks and where letters, in the Smith and Gosling world, got sent from and to.

I am _not_ a collector of postal history or pre-stamp items, per se. My interest is in the CONTENTS. When I studied these photographs a few nights ago, as I saved the address panels for posting here at Two Teens in the Time of Austen, there were moments when I *suddenly* noticed a post mark, buried among the strokes of the handwriting. Sometimes, the post marks are not well struck. The striking might be repeated, or blurred, or partial. And, as a non-specialist and non-collector I don’t know what SHOULD be there. I only know what I can read.

Among the earliest letters – and I will let my original page on Autograph Letters Signed tell who lived where – are those from the estate of the parents (grandparents to my not-yet-born “Teen” Emma Smith – later Emma Austen Leigh), Joshua Smith, MP and his wife Sarah Gilbert. By the 1790s, they lived at Stoke Park, near Devizes, in Wiltshire. As is often the case, this estate bore several spellings of its name: Earl Stoke Park, Erle Stoke Park, even Erlestoke Park. You will see from the examples what they themselves typically called the estate. Joshua rebuilt it in the late 1780s, onward.

There are indications that the Four Sisters of Erlestoke Park lived, priorly, at Eastwick Park in Surrey. Eliza Chute, after her marriage living at The Vine (The Vyne), near Basingstoke in Hampshire, briefly waxed nostalgic on their time at Eastwick (rented by the Smiths), but I’ve never yet seen a letter from that address, or to them there. THAT would be a *find* indeed!

1790_Brodie_Devizes1790: Joshua Smith to John Brodie;
from London to Stoke Park, Devizes, Wiltshire
FRANKED: Joshua Smith;
circular post mark and something above Joshua’s name;
seemingly assessed 1d (1 penny)

The Smith family had SEVERAL MPs in their family in the 1790s. Joshua Smith, Lord Compton (later: the 1st Marquess of Northampton), William Chute, and even for a short time Charles Smith (the father of Emma, my “Teen“; there are other Emma Smiths in the family, over three generations). So, in the early 1790s, I came across a LOT of “free” mail. Mail was free because a Member of Parliament fill out the address, and wrote his name. A frank meant that the recipient (who usually paid the postage) did not have to pay for postage. Of course, such mail should have been concerned with Parliamentary business. These contain family news.  So you will see several examples of various “FREE” postal marks, over the years. An “abuse of privilege,” but even Jane Austen used a frank to mail a letter to her sister Cassandra, from time to time.

1790_Steuart_London1790: Joshua Smith to George Steuart;
from Stoke Park to London;
FRANKED: Joshua Smith;
POST MARKS: circular “FREE”; one-line “DEVIZES”

These two letters (above) both deal with work being done at Erlestoke Park. George Steuart was the main architect; John Brodie worked at the site.

1793_ASmith_Stoke1793: Maria, Lady Compton to her sister Miss Augusta Smith;
from Weymouth to Stoke Park, Devizes;
FRANKED: Lord Compton;
POST MARK: one-line “WEYMOUTH”

Here, we are in the midst of the wars with France, with Lord Compton serving a group of Northamptonshire militia who are based in the south of England, for training and maneuvers. The envelope is written in Lord Compton’s hand, as is proper for any piece of franked mail. The actual letter was written by his wife.

You can view samples of the different handwriting for the Four Sisters of Erle Stoke Park on a prior blog post. Their hands are ALL quite different. From Aunt Emma’s sometimes difficult to decipher “spiky” hand (she was the youngest), to Lady Compton’s rounded child-like hand (she was the eldest).

To read more about each sister, personally, see Further Thoughts on Four Sisters.

1793_ASmith_Tring1793: Lady Compton to her sister Miss Augusta Smith;
from Weymouth to Tring Park, Hertfordshire;
FRANKED: Lord Compton;
POST MARKS: circular “FREE”; one-line “WEYMOUTH”

Tring Park, in the 1790s, was the country estate of the Smith sisters’ uncle, Drummond Smith. He would, in 1804, be awarded a baronetcy. His first wife, who never lived to become “Lady Smith” of Tring, was Mary Cunliffe, the elder daughter of Sir Ellis Cunliffe. Lady Cunliffe (his wife) was a friend of Sir Joshua Reynolds, and it is Lady Cunliffe and her two daughters who appear in the online article, “Boswell’s ‘my Miss Cunliffe’: Augmenting James Boswell’s Missing Chester Journal“. The younger sister, born posthumously, was Margaret Elizabeth Cunliffe. Tring Park (now a performing arts school) is a VERY important estate in my research. Mrs. Charles Smith (the former “Miss Augusta Smith”) and her children moved to Tring in the late 1820s, and Emma and James Edward Austen lived at Tring for the first years of their marriage. You see here a peep at Augusta Smith’s own handwriting: she endorsed it right above Lord Compton’s signature.

1793_EChute_Vine1793: Sarah Smith to her daughter Eliza Chute;
from Stoke Park to The Vine, Basingstoke, Hampshire;
FRANKED: Joshua Smith;
POST MARK: one-line “DEVIZES”

You see here, in pencil, to the left of “Via London” an indication of to whom this letter (and others) were given, possibly in the 1840s after the death of Eliza Chute. The initials are EAL = Emma Austen Leigh. Mrs. Chute’s letters typically are covered, in the address area, with reminders of who sent the letter (“Mama”) and what the contents covered. “Mrs. Gosling” denotes Margaret Elizabeth née Cunliffe. In 1793 the two Elizas married – Eliza Smith married William Chute, MP and Eliza Cunliffe married William Gosling, banker. EVERY letter that mentions Eliza Gosling is special to me: in 1800 she gave birth to my “TeenMary Gosling, who, with Emma Smith, make my “Two Teens“. Mary Gosling married Emma Smith’s eldest brother, Sir Charles Joshua Smith; and, as mentioned, Emma Smith married Jane Austen’s nephew, James Edward Austen. Thus the full title of my blog: Smith and Gosling: Two Teens in the Time of Austen.

1794_EChute_Vine1794: Sarah Smith to her daughter Eliza Chute;
from Stoke Park, Devizes to The Vine, Basingstoke;
FRANKED: Joshua Smith;
POST MARKS: circular “FREE”; one-line “DEVIZES”

You can easily spot that this is one of Emma Austen’s batch of letters (EAL in pencil) and that the letter was originally written to Eliza Chute, who wrote out hints about the contents.

1795_EChute_London1795; Sarah Smith to her daughter Eliza Chute;
from Stoke Park to (1) The Vine; forwarded to Great George St, London;
FRANKED: “FREE MP” in Sarah Smith’s hand;
POST MARKS: circular date and “FREE”;
two-line “BASING STOKE”; faint “DEVIZES”

Although this was a letter from mother to daughter, it was addressed to William Chute, a Member of Parliament, at The Vine, and forwarded to the Joshua Smiths’ London address, 29 Great George Street, Westminster. During this period, the families often “bunked in” with Joshua Smith when Parliament was in session.

1795_EChute_Vine1795: Sarah Smith to her daughter Eliza Chute;
from Great George St., London to The Vine, Basingstoke;
POST MARK: circular “FREE”

Again, unmistakably with notes written by Eliza Chute on the envelope section indicating contents, including “Mrs. Melford’s dance”.

1796_ASmith_Stoke1796: Lady Northampton to her sister Augusta Smith;
from Castle Ashby, near Northampton to Stoke Park, Devizes;
FRANKED: Lord Northampton;
POST MARKS: circular “FREE”; two-line “NORTH AMPTON”

In April 1796, upon the death of the 8th Earl Northampton, his son Lord Compton succeeded him as the 9th Earl. It is his frank you see in the above envelope. We also see “Miss A. Smith” has now become the eldest unmarried daughter, and her mail is addressed now to MISS SMITH. Castle Ashby, in Northamptonshire, a few miles from Northampton itself, was the country estate of sister Maria, Lady Northampton.

1796_ASmith_Vine1796: Lady Northampton to her sister Augusta Smith;
from Bath to The Vine, Basingstoke, Hampshire;
FRANKED: Lord Northampton;
POST MARK: “BATH”

With the Northamptons in Bath, Maria was writing to her sister Augusta, who was visiting their sister Eliza Chute. Lord Northampton was again at the head of the Northamptonshire Militia in the summer of 1796.

1796_EChute_Roehampton1796: Sarah Smith to her daughter Eliza Chute;
from Stoke Park, Devizes to Roehampton Grove, Surrey;
FRANKED: Joshua Smith;
POST MARKS: faint circular “FREE”; one-line “DEVIZES”

As mentioned, above, the William Goslings were important friends and relations to the Smiths. Letters like this are among  my very favorites because of the pictures they paint of “Life at Roehampton Grove” (now part of the University of Roehampton). Eliza Gosling died in December 1803, after a lengthy illness. ANY news of Eliza Gosling is always welcome news.

1796_Joshua Smith_Stoke1796: Lady Northampton to her sister Augusta Smith;
from Castle Ashby to Stoke Park, Devizes:
POST MARKS: circular “FREE”; two-line “NORTH AMPTON”

Here is a sample of the handwriting of Lady Northampton, she’s writing her sister Augusta. Unmarried, until 1798, Augusta and youngest sister Emma Smith often remained at Stoke with their mother, until the London Season (approximately, February through June) brought them to “Town” for the balls, parties, dances, and other dissipations. Lady Northampton wrote frequently, keeping up a “conversation” with each of her sisters, her parents, her husband, and later her children.

The difficulty in locating single specimens is that I am looking for specific writers and recipients. Collectors talk of cancellations and post marks; hand stamps and free fronts; if I’m lucky, they mention whether there is an “entire letter” and if I’m REALLY lucky, they include an image of the contents.

A for instance: Aunt Emma’s 1799 letter was missing pages 1 thru 4, the extra sheet (folded in half) which would have been “wrapped” by the additional page (a half-sheet). With franked letters, the weight of that extra page did not cost the recipient extra – it was “free.” Such a second sheet often ended the letter on one side and had the direction written on the reverse side. This often is described as a “wrapper.” If the franked address panel is cut out – a small oblong rather than a half-sheet of paper, then you have a “free front.” The rear may be blank or have portions of text (the rest of course has been cut away). These are the saddest to find: Letters that once were!

Early on I got into the habit of calling divorced letters “WIDOWS” (a beginning with no end) and “ORPHANS” (an end with no beginning). In “Orphan in search of its Widow,” I included text AND images of Aunt Emma’s 1799 letter. I am convinced that sometimes family kept the letter, but jettisoned the “envelope.” I live in hope of uniting my orphan with its widow. Thanks to my work in various archives, “The Case of the ‘Noble Torso‘” tells the tale of two halves reunited (at the SAME archive; different folders).

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