Tag Archives: Thomas Ashby

Inspired by a Letter, or a Tale for Dickens

In an earlier post I mentioned an old letter I had found, which could form the basis of a sequel to Persuasion. Early nineteenth century letters are readily available, most seem to have come from lawyer’s offices (my brother would agree that they are the sort of people to have kept them) and tend only to be of interest to those who collect early postmarks. I, on the other hand, like those letters that suggest a story. This is one such;

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Liverpool Novr 18th 1830

My dear Sir,

I have this Evening received a letter from my Sister, Mrs Fenton, stating her husband’s utter inability to pay the amount of his debt at present but if time be allowed he hopes to have it in his power to meet the demand. She states that if proceedings continue, the person of Mr F. must be seized upon, and ruin to them must ensue.

I do not know whether I have the power to interfere, but I am much pained that such should be the state of their affairs. If it remain with me to extend the time of payment I request that Mr Fenton be accommodated or if not I shall be ready to agree to any arrangement that may meet with the approbation of the other legatees.

I remain Dear Sir

Your Obdt Servant

Thomas Ashby

This is just the sort of letter to have been written by a kindly saviour, either towards the end of a Dickens novel when everything is being sorted out, or at the beginning where Mr Ashby’s nephew is helped in a career by his kindly uncle and begins his adventures. All one can hope is that Mr Ashby’s kindness was successful and Mr Fenton escaped the Debtors Prison.

But there is something else that caught my eye, the date. Only two months earlier the only thing the people of Liverpool would have been talking about was the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester railway. Did Mr Ashby or Mrs Fenton go and see the excitement, I would love to think they did. Mr Ashby seems to have been a tolerably well off man, did he use the railway? Within six months the first commuters came into being, with a journey time between the two towns down to less than an hour, people could live in one town and work in the other.

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The Northumbrian locomotive on a test run just before the official opening of the Liverpool and Manchester railway. Perhaps Mr Ashby and the Fentons are amongst the onlookers. I like the fact that Robert Stephenson might have taken his jacket off, but not his top hat.

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Filed under Historical Reconstructions, Liverpool and Manchester Railway