NORMAN Jones is a retired telecoms engineer, now 86, who has spent much of his long life researching the Royal Mail and all that can be associated with it.

He has a collection of the most intriguing letters that have been sent to or from Haverfordwest, but modest and unassuming he has never promoted the fact. But of course, he fell into my clutches and it is with great delight that I am able to, with Norman’s permission and blessing, bring some of them to you. At a later point I will present one with a content that is both perplexing and intriguing, but there are several compelling reasons as to why we have to start off with the following example.

Firstly, because it is the earliest surviving letter, in its original condition, to have been sent to Haverfordwest which should on its own be sufficient. It is dated 26 November 1706 and was posted in London. But much more emotive and compelling to me (and possibly other anoraks) is the fact that it is addressed to Alderman William Bowen. A few months ago I outlined the heroism during the plague of 1652 of the grandfather of this recipient, also Alderman William Bowen. This grandson was alive during the life of his grandfather and in touching the extremely fragile single page of this letter, neck hairs erupt (on me) and the tenuous suggestion of some sort of contact with the hero is created.

After that, the letter falls somewhat short in terms of excitement that might otherwise have endeared us to it. It is so hard to read, combined with the fact that perhaps about a quarter is missing through age and damage, that I asked the Chief Archivist of the Pembrokeshire Records/Archives Office, Clare Orr, if she would be good enough to try and make something of it. Clare and her staff have as a matter of course to try and interpret documents that might have been written centuries ago and the task that I set her was certainly not insurmountable to her and her brilliant crew.

The writer of the letter (and there is immediate disappointment if I say that we don’t know his name) is writing to ‘The Haverfordwest Corporation’ (which of course means Haverfordwest Town Council) via Alderman William Bowen and in an extremely complex fashion sets out his case relating to huge amounts of money outstanding and owed by the Corporation to him since 1684. It is a forceful letter in which he declares that he wonders that, ‘... the Corporation could be soe mistaken since nothing but their own interest could do it... ’ and later, ’... you industriously take no notice that I allowed the £201... ’ and towards the end, ‘I must confess that I am not satisfied how my bill of £871 16s 10d delivered the August 25, 1684, was payed, nor can I...’

It seems therefore incongruous that he should end the letter with sorrow that he has heard of the death in Haverfordwest of someone obviously known to him and wishes to be remembered to the deceased’s wife and children. To get an idea of the value of the amount being dealt with here it might help to reflect that just thirty five years before this it was costing only £5 per week to feed and lodge 84 soldiers in Haverfordwest.

Envelopes were yet to be used and letters were folded with the address written on the blank side. This one shows the postal mark as used at that date (then known as the London Bishopmark) of NO26 written in a circle which was stamped on the letter when the postal charge, then three old pence, had been paid; an enormous amount. The letter had for some unknown reason been routed through Pembroke although Haverfordwest had been designated a postal town since 1598.

I look forward to being able to bring you the next one at some point in the near future; much more interesting.