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Thomas Doubleday of Gosberton – Merchant & Brewer

These are paper for sale on eBay. England’s Duplicitous Liquor Trade Exposed In an Archive of Manuscript Letters As a Lincolnshire Spirits Merchant and Brewer [Possible Smuggler] 

Does anybody know about the Doubleday family and can share their information?

Disputes with London Distillers


Gosberton, London, 1819-1834. Archive of 27 manuscript documents of a Lincolnshire spirits merchant Thomas Doubleday, pertaining to his disputes over spirits purchased from London distillers mainly being claims of inferior quality; and, inversely, pertaining to inspections of Doubleday’s storehouse by the Surveying Office and an enquiry by the Excise Office with undertones of possible smuggling. Includes 16 letters, 1 purchase invoice, 8 sales receipts, all in manuscript, and 1 printed court summons completed in manuscript, and 1 excise office permit to receive foreign brandy also completed in manuscript. Documents range in size and length. These are original signed letters received by Doubleday, and retained manuscript copies of his own correspondence and sales slips.

Mr. Thomas Doubleday of Gosberton, Spalding, Lincolnshire, was a dike-reeve (an english official in charge of the drains, sluices and sea walls in a district of fen or marshy) by trade, who became a merchant of rum, brandy, gin and wine, as well as a brewer. He is sometimes addressed as “Spirits Merchant” and sometimes as “Brewer.” Letters are posted to him at the Gosberton Brewery. [There were other brewers in the Doubleday family of Gosberton.]

In this era, England’s liquor trade was saturated by mendacious sorts of men and tainted with fraud and corruption. Smuggling, unlicenced distilling, misrepresenting quality, and reducing alcohol volume was rampant, thus lending equal opportunity for buyers to create false claims even against reputable distillers and dealers. It is impossible to ascertain truth versus exploitation in these transactions, however this lot of documents surely illuminates deceit and unscrupulous practices from one or all parties. It also affirms the importance of some changes that had recently been made to alcohol legislation in England.

[Primarily designed to monitor distillers and merchants, and secondly to curtail overall consumption of spirits, an Act was passed in 1825. It aimed specifically to reduce smuggling, to strengthen controls on legitimate distilling. The Act banned distillers from retailing, outlawed distillation without a licence, banned distillations altogether on Sundays, instituted strict and extensive powers for oficers of the excise to effect inspection and seizure, and instituted retail licences. It also banned the sale or the consumption of spirits in prisons and workhouses.]


The majority of the present documents are from the years 1826 to 1830 and consist of correspondence between the litigous merchant and the distillers from whom he purchased spirits, one or possibly both being unscrupulous in the transactions. However, the meddlesome presence and ironhanded excise officers, restless and keen to enforce legislation upon makers and merchants of spirits, beer and wine, also make an appearance in this lot. Collectively, these papers illustrate the Machiavellian history of the liquor trade img_0442some two hundred years ago.

On 28 June 1826 an official excise summons demands a court appearance by Mr. Doubleday who is being accused in a matter of possessing “excess stock not duly accounted for” – being five gallons of English-made liquor. The document suggests theft, illegal importation, or perhaps evasion of taxes and duty. The liquor was seized the same day, prior to any investigation.

In March 1831, Thomas Doubleday’s shop was again investigated by the Surveying Office, and according to a manuscript letter by John Nutting of the excise office, the latter resulted in “… an unusual and illegal decrease in your stock of foreign brandy… reported to have been stolen”. The excise officer requested all particulars of the purported theft, surely suspecting the liqueur had been smuggled out to evade duty fees. Doubleday responds at once, with much detail of the missing liqueur, as well as witnesses and even potential “suspicious character” to pursue.

A permit dated 28 March 1830, granting one man to receive casks of foreign brandy, being two gallons, specifically from Doubleday’s stock, and charging duties for “sending out one hour” and “receiving one day” suggests diligent, if not rigorous monitoring of all liquor being transported between ports and cities.



Several manuscript letters were exchanged over the years between the proprietors of Eagle and Back distillery in Cripplegate Ward, London, and Mr. Thomas Doubleday, a wine and spirits merchant from Lincolnshire. Doubleday frequently disputed the quality of the liquors and even the quantity received, forming a rather curious and entertaining account of the liquor trade in early nineteenth century London.

Evidently Doubleday fancied himself a better distiller, or at least a spirits connoisseur, and yet he continued to purchase from Eagle and Back. As a regular client he received written notices of price changes from the company, ‘strong gin’ being increased in 1826 and again in 1831.

A letter/invoice dated 27 November 1826, penned on Eagle and Back stationery, outlines an order for gin, Jamaican rum, and casks, which were shipped to the port town of Boston in Lincolnshire for Doubleday.

The earliest letter from John Back of the distillery, postmarked and received 7 July 1829, is a response to what appears to have been Doubleday’s first complaint. His issues are the quality (strength) of a brandy and the price of gin. The writer is surprised at the notion of an unhappy customer and attempts to clarify any discrepancies or concern with much detail, and some sarcasm. Excerpt:

“… the Brandy is the growth of the same maker in Cognac as your last Hogshead, which you approved… If we had wished to spoil the flavour we should have used some the Godfrey Fo. But as the Excise Commissioners have an unfortunate way of putting a heavy fine of but a few hundred pounds upon the back of a man who will infringe their laws, we are not mad enough yet to mix BB with Foreya…”

On 4 April 1830 Doubleday complains of a tardy shipment, “The Boston waggoner tells my men who has met waggon thru different nights after midnight at the Isle-bar, that the puncheons certainly has not yet arrived at Peterboro [Peterborough in Cambridgeshire] …”

A response from Eagle & Back distillers written 13 April 1830 confronts the chronic complainer, “… it is not at all probably that they would make a mistake of 4 Gallons in 88 Gallons… There is certainly something suspicious in your spirits always coming deficient and if that is the case, it must be done in the hands of the Carrier…”

A letter written in 1831 reveals nineteenth century liquor transport laws, as well as another questionable move attempted by Doubleday. Mr. Eagle writes to Doubleday, “… owing to the permit for the hogshead of port wine being a dock permit the name cannot be altered… have therefore sent a petition with the Board of Excise asking them to allow the same to be taken into the stock of Mr. Bennett…”


Eagle and Back distillery was situated on Red Cross Street, Cripplegate Ward, London, it’s owners being Messrs Thomas Eagle and John Back, who let the distillery premises and two messuages (nos 6 and 7) from a Lady-day beginning in 1826 for a term of 21 years, and whose rent was payable to the church. Half of their rent was paid to the churchwardens of the parish of St. Luke, which is connected to the parish of Cripplegate. The remaining half was payable as a contribution to the general charity fund of St. Giles parish. In the year 1830 Eagle and Back made substantial repairs and renovations to the premises as had been agreed in the lease agreement.

According to the letterhead on which one letter is penned in 1826, this enterprise was the “Successor of Thomas Wyatt & Son.” [In 1821, a distiller on 9 Red Cross Street named John Wyatt, possibly brother and business partner to Thomas Wyatt, died at 32 years of age, documented in the Gentleman’s Magazine Vol 91.]

In 1824 Thomas Eagle, one of the proprietors, inherited his brother’s estate. He is listed in the register of the Licensed Victuallers Association in 1833.

Along the same lines, Thomas Doubleday disputes relentlessly an over-shipment of spirits and related charges, this time with John Wood, a foreign wine & brandy merchant operating at Devonshire Street in Bishopsgate, London. As well as an original receipt for 1/4 pipe (39 gallons) of Superior Old Brandy for £31 made in October 1829, this transaction resulted in six rancorous letters between the parties. Doubleday refused to pay the invoice and further demanding credit for postage for the correspondence, while Wood repeatedly threatened legal action against him, the final letter being dated exactly six months after the invoice date, and the mater still not resolved.


The lot further contains Doubleday’s own copy of a letter he sent to a Mr. C. Shannon in December 1831, again disputing the alcohol proof of a bottle of rum purchased from him. Excerpt: 
“… I put the rum into my 2 gall measure, in the presence of our officer, when I found more than a quart deficient of measure & the strength 16.6/up much lower than… My son John tells me he saw you put it up to file the measure properly therefore it cannot be Imperial. The rum is a good quality but you have reduced it too low for your own safety… it will be seizable… I should advise you to get your measure examined… & to attend to the strength of your whole stock of spirits to prevent your getting into trouble in future. As for the present mistake we can easy make right.”

The eights sales receipts in this archive record Doubleday’s transactions, selling liquor to various customers between the years 1819 and 1834.


Cripplegate was a gate in the London Wall and a name for the region of the City of London outside the gate. The area was almost entirely destroyed in the Blitz of World War II and today it is the site of the Barbican Estate and Barbican Centre.

A map of St. Giles Cripplegate made in 1755 and held at the British Library, shows “Two Brewers Yard” as well as a vineyard, indicating a long history of producing wine and spirits in the district.



Vistor comments

5 Responses

  1. Hello Geoff. The Museum of English Rural Life in Reading holds his accounts and diaries

    What is your particular interest in Thomas?


    1. Thank you for your information. I run this website which makes the heritage of the South Holland area accessible to the community. We also use social media to engage with the community and to collect their memories and share them. I am also a member of the Gosberton History Group which are collecting and sharing their heritage. Is it possible maybe we could visit and see the collection or do you have a catalogue of its contents.
      Geoff Taylor

  2. I am not connected to the museum. There is a detailed article available on Thomas Doubleday which you should be able to find by doing a google search with Gosberton. I think he was quite a character. Mark

  3. If this is Thomas DD who was born in 1791 he is my great great great grandfather. I’m in the process of researching my family tree and I’m intrigued to know more!

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