New Years Day 1858, London was divided into ten postal districts—part of an ongoing effort to improve postal service in England.
Before 1840, postal service in England was complex, to put it kindly. The cost of receiving a letter depended partially on the number of pages. People often cross-wrote their letters to cut down the number of pages. The distance the letter traveled affected the cost. The sender’s and the recipient’s addresses also mattered because while some metropolitan areas set a common charge anywhere in the area, many local services charged another penny for letters coming from outside the area. Tolls were added for crossing certain bridges. (Were those bridges so rickety that the toll was hazardous duty pay?)
Yet some things went by post absolutely free. Newspapers, for example, even sent overseas, as long as they were mailed within seven days of publication, were wrapped in a cover open at both ends, and that there was nothing inserted or written on it. Members of both Houses of Parliament received and sent letters without charge. And they could frank letters and even parcels for friends—that is, apply their official mark to indicate that postage need not be paid or had been paid.
Rowland Hill was the hero of the hour. Proposals to improve the postal system abounded, but no action was taken until January 1837 when he published his pamphlet Post Office Reform: Its Importance and Practicability. He suggested a uniform rate and prepaid postage, one penny per ounce, and gave testimony at an official inquiry. In 1838 a private Mercantile Committee was established to organize petitions for reform and publish The Post Circular, a propaganda sheet for reform.
The new uniform postage allowed Frances to write many more letters, two to three times a week to her friend Charlotte Rogers alone. And she certainly wasn’t the only one. The 76 million chargeable letters in 1839 increased to 350 million by 1850. Not that the changes solved all problems. Returning from a journey, Frances wrote, “This is a most uncivilized place for the post,—I got here before my letter.”
Uniform postage enabled easier circulation of petitions and propaganda. During the anti-slavery efforts, difficulties about postage had seemed insuperable. The new system was a definite help in the social reforms and charitable efforts Frances took on.
On this day in 1859, flogging in the British army was abolished—at least by law. Frances Rolleston credited Victoria's reign with more humane laws. The "blessed ameliorations of our cruel laws, the lessening of the punishment of death, we owe greatly to having a woman there."
Frances became aware of violent methods of correction when she herself was "knocked flat on the floor for crooked stitches." Afterwards she wrote a little book on reformed education and printed 750 copies, which "did its duty" in that young ladies were no longer treated such. School boys were not so lucky.
On the first of November 1793, Lord George Gordon died in Newgate Prison, London. Frances Rolleston was twelve years old. Did she know or care? Her father probably did, and if her mother had still been living, she would have cared.
Thirteen years previous to this, Mrs. Rolleston's first child, Robert, was a babe in arms. He was very ill with "disease of the mesenteric glands." At that moment in London, Lord George Gordon was leading a large crowd to present a petition to Parliament. They wanted to repeal the Catholic Relief Act of 1778, which was an effort to relieve the longstanding repressive legislation against Catholics.
Gordon's crowd got out of hand and riots broke out. Much person property was destroyed, though no human life was lost, and Gordon was arrested. He was acquitted of responsibility for the riots and released, however, thirteen years later he died in Newgate Prison of typhoid fever where he was being held on other charges.
During the riots, many Londoners had to flee their homes, including Margaret Rolleston with baby Robert. The baby died in her arms. Then, only ten years later, Margaret herself died giving birth to her sixth child.
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Tomorrow is the birthday plus 233 years of Thomas Attwood, a leader in the Chartist movement in England.
Attwood was a successful businessman in coal, iron and banking. About 1812 he became involved in politics because he saw that the monopoly enjoyed by the East India Company restricted foreign trade and hurt English businesses. He worked hard to influence economic policies, although without much success.
From 1830 to 1832 he was one of the main leaders for parliamentary reform, and in 1838 joined with the London Working Men's Association to fight for their right to vote. However, Attwood disagreed with the aggressive attitudes of other leaders in the movement, and upon defeat of the first national petition, which he presented to the House of Commons, he retired completely from politics.
Frances Rolleston was a Tory by birth, and while she was living on the Rolleston estate at Watnall, the estate was threatened by the Chartists. Watnall escaped—she had hoped that her charitable Infant Schools would give her favor with the Chartists—but another estate in the area, Colwick Hall, where Frances' childhood friend Mary Chaworth Musters was home alone, was attacked. The rioters burned valuables and tried to burn the building, while Mary cowered with her maid in pouring rain. Mary took ill and died four months later.
I'm sure that Frances felt deeply the turmoil of those years. She had a tender heart for the suffering, as her many charitable efforts demonstrated, and she would certainly have held sympathies for the Chartists. But like Attwood, she would have disagreed with their violent activities.