1856, a year in the life of Mary Bealey as told by her cheques.

Among the Bealey papers I found a mysterious brown paper packet tied up with string.

Mary Bealey Cheques

The brown paper packet containing the cheque stubs and cheques of Mary Bealey.

Inside were some early bank cheque stubs or counterfoils, which were drawn on Mary Bealey’s private account and are interesting because they are accompanied by the corresponding cheques.

Mary Bealey wrote these cheques between January 1856 and April 1857 and they can tell us a little about what was happening in her daily life at that time.

She withdrew £20.00 per week for herself and in March 1856 she spent £5.00 on insurance. In early April she spent £6.00 on coals, bought some furniture for £25.00 and spent £105 6/- on carriage for goods and furniture.

Mary Bealey Cheque

A cheque written in February 1856 drawn upon Mary Bealey's personal account at the bank of Messrs. Smith, Payne & Smiths of 1 Lombard Street, London.

Then, in April she wrote a cheque to R.J. Harrison Esq. for £500, which is a very large sum of money. Is this related to 1841-1847 note, and its subsequent renewal, for £1000 as security to Dixons & Wandell jointly from Mary Bealey & Matthew Harrison?  The Bealey papers also holds a letter from Mr Harrison expressing his gratitude to Mrs Bealey for the help of her security (presumably the note) as a loan which he is now able to pay off. Was Mary Bealey still helping out the Harrison family in some way ten years later?

During the summer of 1856, Mary seems to devote her time to decorating (spending about £200), buying furniture (spending about £250), glass for the house, plants, fences, stone and a gardener (spending about £150). She also pays her parochial rates and a half year’s rent.

Mary Bealey Cheque

This cheque was written in February 1856. The cheque has been returned to Mary Bealey after the bank has processed it (note the heavy ink marks over her signature to show that it had been processed by the bank) and we can see that it is authentic because the cut marks match up with the counterfoil. Perforated cheques had not been introduced to cheque books or stamps in 1856 and so they had to be individually cut by hand. Each cheque was cut differently which also acted as a primitive security system, if the cut on the cheque doesn't match the stub, it must be fake!

From this evidence, it seems that she has either moved house or is having what we would call today a “make-over”. The amount of money which she spends shows that her income was stable and substantial – she even increases her weekly personal drawings to £50 and writes a cheque for £52.16.6 “for Adam” who may be her son Dr Adam Bealey aged about 44.

The cheque had its origins in the ancient banking system, in which bankers would issue orders at the request of their customers, to pay money to identified payees. Such an order was referred to as a bill of exchange. The use of bills of exchange facilitated trade by eliminating the need for merchants to carry large quantities of currency (e.g. gold) to purchase goods and services.

“Cheque” is the original spelling but it was also spelled ‘check’, ‘checque’ and ‘cheque’ which also referred to the counterfoil or stub used to check against forgery and alterations.

J. W. Gilbart in 1828 (A practical treatise on banking, 2nd ed, 1828, Effingham Wilson, London) explains in a footnote “Most writers spell it check. I have adopted the above form because it is free from ambiguity and is analogous to the ex-chequer, the royal treasury. It is also used by the Bank of England “Cheque Office.”‘ According to Holden, the spelling ‘check’ survived in some English text-books into the 1920s and is the spelling still used in the US.

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