Article XVII written by Alexander Gunn was published in the Northern Ensign on 17 Nov 1881 – Part C
"I referred to the library in connection with the school, as the only literature we had within our reach. Newspapers in those days were a rarity in the far north. The John O’Groat Journal and the Northern Star, if I remember right came into existence about the time I allude to, the one published in Wick where it still flourishes, the other, I think, in Thurso. They were both diminutive sheets, perhaps about 12 inches by 10, so far as I can recollect. Then the Northern Ensign came into life, and I need not say still flourishes prosperously. The price of these papers at the time was 3d, I think, and I believe the postage for one of them would cost as much as the price of the paper."
"There was no penny post at that time, and the rate of the postage was very high. A letter from Helmsdale to Berriedale, or Badbea, which was only one stage, cost 4 1/2d. A letter from Edinburgh was 1s 1d, and letters to Canada cost 2s 6d. There was this advantage, if advantage it could be called, there was no rule as to prepayment, and no difference in the rate whether prepaid or not."
As Alexander Gunn tells us, in the1830s postal rates in Great Britain were very high. At the time it was usual for the recipient to pay postage on delivery, charged by the sheet and distance travelled. In 1837 Sir Rowland Hill proposed an overhaul of the postage system using a glued stamp to show pre-payment of postage. It was first issued on 1 May 1840 and featured a picture of Queen Victoria. The ‘Penny Black’ allowed letters of up to ½ ounce to be delivered at the rate of one penny regardless of distance.
The Grey Hen’s Well was the place Badbea letters were collected and posted from. I doubt most of the Badbea residents could afford to post letters but John Badbea Sutherland received some financial gifts from Christians he corresponded with and over several decades he both wrote and received many letters. The earliest I have a transcription of is 12 July 1838.
See my blogs on August 18 2014 and July 15 2015 for more on the postal services and John’s letters.