Hi, Jo here, dipping again into LONDON OBSERVED: A Polish Philosopher at Large, 1820-24. I blogged bits from it in 2014. You can get your own copy quite cheaply on line. This link will take you to Amazon in the US.
1820-24 is a little after my current books, which are set in late 1817, but close enough to enrich my knowledge base because Krystyn Lach-Szyrma is the sort of traveler who loves to record details of his travel. I'm going to share some more. I never take one source as gospel, and I have questions about some bits. He might not always be accurate, and I'm reading in translation, but here it is.
"Halfway on the journey to London, we noticed an extraordinary increase in traffic. Frequently we were passing carriages and stagecoaches. The latter were quite new to us. All of them were beautifully oil-painted and on every one was written, in gold letters, its name, place of departure and destination. Many men and women of different ages and stations were sitting on top and inside them.
Each coach was drawn by four splendid horses. The coachmen of the stagecoaches were dressed in wide baize frock coats, were vigorous and hearty and were driving from the coachman's box. The coachmen of the carriages were slimmer and wore yellow trousers. They were driving mounted on the horses and everything about them was so neat and clean that they looked like dolls. (These are postilions, of course.)
We were told that at least sixty vehicles run daily between Dover and London and they reach the half waypoint at the same time. I counted on and inside a few of the coaches as many as fourteen to seventeen people. What incomparable activity and traffic!"
My general impression is that six normal sized people could fit inside a coach, and that fits with vehicles I've seen. They could pack a lot on top, so maybe fourteen reasonable, but three more! I'm not sure where they'd put them.
There's a print here that shows a coach from his period. I count fourteen. What do you think? (It's copyrighted, so I can't share it here.) However, this fairly rough print shows an even more crowded one. There might be seventeen crammed on there.
"The stage coaches that travel only within the capital are called hackney coaches…. Written on them in big letters is information about their destinations and places of departure. At set times they stop at a particular place where they can always be found but they also pick up passengers on their way. In addition, there is a postilion who stands on the back and is on the look out for passers-by whose haste and concentrated expression suggests they might wish to take a coach. From a distance, he gives a sign to indicate that there are free spaces and as he draws near, he stops the coachman and asks the person wishing to travel whether he chooses to sit inside or on the top, showing him the ladder.
The fares are fixed and there is no haggling.
This type of hackney is new to me, and seems more like a bus.
There are still others that may be hired. Their charges depend on ether the distance or the number of hours travelled. Such vehicles can be found at any time and in any place in and around London. Measured by distance the price would be 1 shilling a mile to 11s for 9 miles or, by the time taken, 10d for 30 mins. to £1-7-6 for four hours.
Simple reckoning suggests that it was expected to take a bit over half an hour to travel a mile, or 2 hours for 9 miles. This seems odd, but perhaps short journeys were in the busy parts of London, but longer ones would go out to quieter parts.
On Houses in London
He doesn't admire London houses, which "are made of brick, of only two or three floors, and are not plastered. The windows are smaller and there are fewery that one sees anywhere else. This is probably due to the severe wet weather and the burdensome tax on windows."
He's kinder to the west end. "The new parts of the city, particularly the western ones, are wonderfully developed with houses of similar design. Joined together in terraces they create beautiful streets. Englishmen's palaces are in the country; in the capital city even the wealthiest citizens live in modest houses which are almost always built and furnished in a similar way."
Shops. Some Curious Tids-bits.
"Those who always buy goods in the same shop are called customers; lower prices unually apply to them."
That origin of the word makes sense! This is also a bit like loyalty cards and points in modern shops.
"If you buy even a small thing in a shop, you will get it wrapped in a large piece of paper on which all the goods available in the shop are listed."
"Having agreed on the price of a commodity I would tell the shopkeeper my name and address and the purchase would be sent to my lodging. If by chance I were not at home, the landlord would accept delivery for me. Sometimes a few weeks passed before someone came to collect the money…. There is nothing to lose for the shop owner as, according to custom, the landlord who confirmed that I was staying with him became my guarantor."
The Postal System
The postal system interests me, because often communication is key to a story, including speed and cost. Sending a letter was generally free, but receiving it could be costly! I haven't seen it used, but what about a crisis point where a character has to decide whether to spend their last sixpence on a letter or food?
"The Post Office is close to the Royal Exchange, for this is indeed where it is most needed. Domestic mail goes out every day, the external mail two or more times a week, and the mail to overseas settlements once a month. Due to England's unique relations with all the nations of the world, the London post is almost the central point for any correspondence on the globe….
Letters going abroad are franked*, letters within the country are paid for by the addressee. They are collected at a post office in the simplest manner; they are thrown into a post box made for this purpose. From there they are picked up an hour before the mail's departure, counted and stamped to indicate the price to be paid and the date of posting."
*Frank, from the OED. "To superscribe (a letter, etc.) with a signature, so as to ensure its being sent without charge; to send or cause to be sent free of charge." In this context I have to believe that it means that postage was paid, and the superscription indicated that. They could hardly be sending all post abroad for free. See below for internal use.
"The charge for England is not too excessive. A letter which goes no further than fifteen miles costs five pence; a letter which goes between fifteen and thirty miles, six pence; from thirty to fifty miles, seven pence; from fifty to eighty miles, eight pence etc. The Members of Parliament have the right to send their own and other letters free of charge and they pay nothing for collecting mail from the post office."
I have always understood that this privilege was only for government business and feel sure I've read complaints about the abuse, but clearly the abuse was so common that no one noted it any more. All the same, a clergyman in Too Dangerous for a Lady quibbles a bit about receiving a franked letter on private business on the basis that it is improper.
This quotation makes me wonder if those with franking privileges sold franks. A frank for a letter going a long distance was quite valuable.
1748 Lady M. W. Montagu Let. 17 July (1966) II. 406, I begin to suspect my servants put the franking money in their pockets.
Yes, according to this article. It gives an excellent explanation of the whole situation, including this.
"M.P.’s sold on their privilege to Companies that paid them handsomely for their postage rights.
They also handed out huge quantities of franked (signed) letter sheets to family and friends or to anyone from whom they needed a favour such as a vote. Instances are recorded where servant’s wages had been part-paid in franked letter-sheets, which when the recipient was unable to write, would be sold-on in the local tavern. It is known that some of these finished up in the hands of criminals and were converted into I.O.U.’s."
"Letters are not weighed, for it would be too time consuming. A one-sheet letter is considered single, and any slip of paper, sample of gauze, or anything that could be recognized by the postal worker's fingers doubles the cost. Therefore, it is not a good idea to send letters in England in envelopes, for no matter how thin they are, the charge will be double. The English themselves do not use envelopes; most people receive letters on single sheets and close acquaintances often write crosswise…."
The picture of the cross-written letter is from the above postal heritage blog.
It's interesting that Lach-Szyrma takes envelopes for granted. A little digging found that they were not unknown in Britain. Perhaps those who didn't care about the cost used them. "In 1804, on the 27th of October, I received two letters by the twopenny post, one addressed to me,which I now produce, and have marked with the letter B, both on the envelope and the inclosure, and the other letter addressed to Lady Douglas, and which I now produce, and have marked with the letter C, both on the envelope and the inclosure." In another court case someone points out that envelopes are usually thrown away.
However, in some cases it seems an envelope was used expressly to contain a letter that was then to be passed on to someone else.
"The Post Office has sixty agencies to collect letters in distant parts of the city. Additionally, before dusk, there are men who walk the street with a bell and pick up letters at a charge of a penny per letter.
Apart from the main post, there is the two-penny post, which facilitates correspondence within London and its vicinity. It also has sub-offices. It departs every two hours and just as in the main Post Office the postmark marks the day, here it marks the hour of posting.
The average number of letters posted in London is one and a half million a week."
Such a fascinating book, and the bit about the British Museum and similar places will be useful for my work in progress, though at the rate of her adventures Lady Babs may never get there!
Meanwhile, if you haven't read my Company of Rogues books, which I'm sure include many letters here and there, the first three e-editions are on sale in the US just now. 99c for An Arranged Marriage, which won the Romantic Times Regency novel award and the Reader's Choice, Best Regency. It was also a RITA finalist. Definitely cheap at the price! Find out more here.
Are you surprised by any of the bits from London Observed? Do you see any plot points lurking there? I'll send a copy of one of my Christmasy books, Forbidden Magic, to one commenter. It's a handsome trade paperback edition.