Descriptions The Letters of John Collier of Hastings, 1731-1746
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“The Sayer MSS comprise one of the most important collections of business and social correspondence involving a Sussex family in the 18th century. The papers describe the rise to affluence and political and social influence of John Collier (1685-1760), five times Mayor of Hastings…. The letters in this volume explain how his legal and government work was organised and give the reader a vision into the range of work of this Sussex lawyer during the era of Walpole, Newcastle and Pelham…. The correspondence offers valuable insight into the business partnership between Collier and his brother-in-law, William Cranston, located in London. Cranston, also an attorney, managed their London accounts and settled business when Collier was in Hastings. Their letters show the crucial role of a wider network of associates and landowners. Most of the surviving Collier letters during law terms were destined for Mary Cranston, his second wife, who organised much of his affairs when he was away from Hastings. Their correspondence also offers up much on their social life and illustrates the tragic side, the sufferings of childbirth and the death of children, the effects of disease and ailments, the constant worry over relatives, as well as the wear and tear during the weeks of separation. Schooling looms large in these letters and the details of the five Collier girls who survived into their teens and went to Elizabeth Russell’s girls’ boarding school in Hampstead are of especial value in illustrating their upbringing and that of their contemporaries. Beyond school the girls’ life in East Sussex underlines the upward mobility of the family by the 1730s, with the girls moving between the great houses, organising dances and games, meeting those of similar standing, going on country walks, finding out about servants and managing staff – all this with an insistence on the latest fashions and accessories to be bought by their father or uncle…. As expected from the offices held, political life was rarely far from Collier’s concerns. Promoting the Whig interest in East Sussex was a particular concern; and the letters here add to our understanding of how the Whigs advanced their cause in the 1730s and 1740s. Letters also cover weather conditions, travel over the Weald, the connections with London, the social season at Bath and Tunbridge Wells and the effects of legislation upon Hastings townsfolk, notably the troubles caused by the smuggling trade.” —