The Source of Madness in Alice in Wonderland

We all know and love Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland and the audacious characters therein, like the Queen of Hearts and the Mad Hatter. But with the release of the latest film version of the tale comes a discussion on just how the Mad Hatter got his name – even Johnny Depp chimes in on the speculation. Was the name really meant to be the “Mad Adder?” Or did the Hatter’s madness have to do with mercury poisoning, a pitfall of the trade in the 19th century? You can read the full article here.

A Warm Welcome

If you’ve arrived at this page, you must share our interest in all things Georgian, Regency and Victorian, as well as our passion for the England of today.

Having written The Writer’s Guide to Everyday Life in Regency and Victorian England, Kristine Hughes has spent the last several years researching her next book, a true opus that will focus on fashionable daily life as experienced by the ladies of London 1700 – 1900.  Victoria Hinshaw has published eight Regency-set novels and three novellas with Kensington Zebra. She is working on several more projects associated with the Georgian era but she admits to a real delight in the Victorian period, since it is hers. Whatever motivated her parents to choose the name Victoria, she has always believed that there exsists a mystical tie between the Great Queen and her.

Victoria and Kristine originally named this blog Research England, for that is their vocation and avocation. But they are not deeply academic, and their mischevious senses of humor crept into their posts. So they decided to start over as Number One London (found at onelondonone.blogspot.com). They promise lots of research oriented material, considerable travel  reporting, and amusing incidents, all accompanied by occasional asides, nonsense and bon mots.

Kristine has been planning to attend the re-enactment of the Battle of Waterloo near Brussels for some years now. The 2010 event has always been her goal and the year has finally arrived – Huzza! The trip will be even more wonderful now that Victoria Hinshaw will be joining her and they’ll be spending several days in London before taking the Dover ferry to Calais. Oh, how they wish they weren’t many decades too late to call upon poor Mr. Brummell while they’re in France! Look for blogs and details about their upcoming adventures both before, during and after the magical days of June 2010.

Victoria and Kristine look forward to making your aquaintance. Please visit often!

Writer In Residence Wanted – Hurry – Free Rent in England!

Are you a female writer over 40? If so, you could be living in a period cottage near Stratford-upon-Avon – though not the one pictured – that’s Anne Hathaway’s – with all expenses paid for anywhere from two months to a year and an annual stipend of nine thousand pounds. The Hosking Houses Trust has been calling for applicants for the 2010-11 award, but so far only two ladies have applied! What’s the catch? Well, you’ll need to have “a contract for publication or performance of original work on any subject” and “the legal right to be in the U.K.” The cottage is in Clifford Chambers, three miles from Stratford-upon-Avon and Hidcote Gardens, Chipping Campden and Warwick Castle are all within easy reach. Applications will be accepted until April 12. Visit the Hosking Houses Trust for full details and do let us know if you’re the writer they accept!

The Low Down on the English Post

First things first – here are all those elusive postal details you’ve been seeking: Before the introduction of the prepaid penny post (Post Office Act of 1765) and adhesive stamps (6 May 1840), postage was usually collected from the recipient. Rather than paying in advance, one paid on delivery. In order to save their correspondents paying postage, some people had their letters “franked.” A frank was the signature of a Member of either House of Parliament, who had to write both the address on the envelope as well as his signature in his own hand. Thus postage was free.

Envelopes had been developed in the 1830’s, but did not catch on until the Great Exhibition of 1851, when Jeremiah Smith displayed his gummed envelopes. Still, the use of envelopes in correspondence was not general until well into the 1860’s, most people preferring the old fashion of folding over the sheet of paper and fastening the flaps with a wafer -a little disc of gum and flour which was moistened and pressed down with a seal. Quill pens were used long after steel nibs had been introduced. Quills soon lost their point and needed cutting with a sharp “pen knife,” so the art of cutting a nib was one of the first things taught at school.

The penny post routes operated six days a week in most cases. Rates of postage at a uniform penny were lower than those charged by most private carriers, some of whom charged fees as high as 4d to take letters from the nearest post town. Many private posts charged for both letters delivered and those collected for onward transmission by the general post. The official penny post charged only for letters delivered, a system which allowed for posting boxes to be provided at certain points. Letters were delivered to any house on the penny post route and in most villages receiving houses were set up where people in outlying areas could collect their mail. In 1830 the letter rates for the penny post were 4d for 15 miles, 5d for 20 miles and thence according to a sliding scale to 1s for a limit of 300 miles. A letter from London to Liverpool cost 11d; to Bristol 10d; to Aberdeen 1s 3d; to Glasgow 1s 2d. Packages weighing an ounce paid four times the ordinary rate, and for every quarter of an ounce in excess an additional sum was charged. Letters sent to addresses within the same post town were delivered free of charge. In the late 1880’s, commercially produced picture post cards became all the rage and the Post Office instituted a half penny fee for the handling of these.

A late posting fee was sometimes charged and was meant to deter letters from being posted at times inconvenient to official duties, this usually being a penny. Private postal boxes were available, but not in widespread use, at the beginning of the 19th century. In 1837, the Bromley postmaster had six subscribers from whom he received a guinea each. The use of such boxes was explained in The Second Report on Postage (1838): Persons having Private Boxes enjoy generally the advantage of receiving their letters as soon as the window is open and the letter-carriers despatched, but which means, those Subscribers who reside at any distance from the post office obtain their letters so much earlier than they would do by the ordinary Delivery; they have also the opportunity of ascertaining at once whether there are any letters for them, and are usually allowed credit by the Postmaster, accounts being kept of their postage.

The Postmaster could also realize extra revenue by the sale of money orders. From 1798 on, the Money Order Office was run by three partners, including Daniel Stow, Superintendent President of the Inland Office. Originally, money orders were offered in order to enable soldiers and sailors to send funds home to their families. In 1861, the Post Office Savings Bank was opened, with millions opening small savings accounts over the next forty years.

The Twopenny Post served London and its suburbs. There were six collections and deliveries daily in London and three in the suburbs, letters being posted at various receiving offices during the daytime while the last collection was made by a postman who went through the streets ringing a bell. There were two kinds of postmen in London, the General who delivered the post from all parts of the country, and the Twopenny Postman, who had only to do with local mail. Both wore much the same style of uniform – a scarlet coat and shining top-hat adorned with a gold band.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, postmasters had also been innkeepers due to the fact that they were responsible for finding post boys and horses, providing stabling etc. Once recognized mails came into being, this was no longer necessary and it was felt that inns provided little security for the mail bags. In October 1792 the Post Office declared itself against the appointment of innkeepers, as separate rooms for postal business were rarely provided and business might be conducted in the bar. By March 1836, only one post town in the entire country had an innkeeper as postmaster. More common were post offices run by druggists, stationers, grocers, news agents and booksellers. Women could be appointed postmistresses or allowed to take over the concern upon the death of their husbands. Of the 29 Kentish post towns in March 1836, four had postmistresses. One of these was the bustling Ramsgate office, the salary of which was roughly 178 pounds per annum. When a postmistress married, it was the ruling of the Post Office that she must give up the appointment, but it could be transferred to her husband. At Faversham, the widow of Mr. Plowman, the late postmaster, took over upon his death, but in 1800 she married Andrew Hill, who became postmaster in her place. After Mr. Hill died in July of the same year, Sara was reappointed.

by Kristine Hughes
Part Two: Mail Coaches coming soon.