Much like many other historic collections, the Middle Temple Archive contains thousands of items of correspondence - letters and memoranda between the Inn and its members, staff, suppliers and other associates, covering a period of over four centuries and providing an incredibly rich and detailed resource for the study and illumination of all aspects of the Inn's history. This month, we look beyond the content of these items to their context and form - exploring the postal service that brought it to and from the Inn, the global network of epistolary Middle Templars, and the individuals responsible for delivery.
The Royal Mail was established by King Henry VIII in 1516, and became accessible to the public under Charles I in 1635. In those days, letters were not sent in envelopes but simply folded up with the address written on the outside, and often sealed with wax imprinted with the arms or emblem of the sender. Many letters of this nature survive in the archive from the early 1600s onward, including one from William Laud, Bishop of London (later Archbishop of Canterbury), who played a key role in the religious and political struggles of the time which led to the outbreak of Civil War in 1642. His letter, addressed by Laud to 'the right honourable and his worthie frends the Benchers & others the Gentlemen Fellowes of the Middle Temple', is sealed with the arms of the Bishop of London. A letter dated 1744 bears another episcopal seal, that of Thomas Sherlock, Bishop of Salisbury, who had also served as Master of the Temple since 1705.
Letter from William Laud, Bishop of London, to the Benchers and members of the Inn, 10 December 1633 (MT.15/1/TAM/67)
Seal on a letter from Thomas Sherlock, Master of the Temple and Bishop of Salisbury, to the Under Treasurer, 12 June 1744 (MT.15/TAM/159)
The London Penny Post was introduced as a private enterprise in 1680, being taken over by the crown in 1683, and enabled correspondents to send letters around London for one penny (worth about 50p in today's money). Regulations for the Penny Post dating from the late eighteenth century can be found in the archive, addressed to the Under Treasurer. These detail the locations of 'Receiving Houses' around the city where letters could be deposited, reveal that at the time Londoners benefited from six deliveries a day, and list prices and further rules. The document also dictates that bank notes should be cut in half before sending, the second part 'not to be sent till the Receipt of the First is acknowledged'.