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DOCWRA

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1640-1716 - William Docwra of the Penny Post

William Docwra was born a little before 1640, and on 22 January 1663-4 the Earl of Southampton, Lord High Treasurer of England, appointed him a Customs Under-searcher of the Port of London. [Note: In the Treasury Warrant the name is spelt Docwra - Early Treasury Warrants in the PRO (T51) Vol.10, pp247/8]

He is described as "Wm. Docwra, of London, Gent." [i.e. he was native and citizen of London]

Under-searchers were paid ?12 p.a. [Note: Treasury Warrant dated 4 Feb 1663-4 to pay this sum]

William kept this position "above ten years", i.e. until about 1673-4.

There is evidence that he was part-owner of the S.S. Anne, which traded to the "Guiny Coast" of Africa. In 1676 the Anne was siezed by Captain Richard Dickenson, commander of the man o'war Hunter. In 1696 William recovered ?2630 compensation from the Royal African Company.

William married Rebecca and had 9 children (according to his petition for financial aid dated 1700). Three of his children are named as William, Peter and Richard, and there was at least one grandson, Thomas. [Note: Baptisms of the first two children 24 Mar 1680-1 and 12 Jun 1682 are recorded in the registers of the church of St. Andrew Undershaft] Two of his children were married by 1697.

William began the Penny Post in 1680 (27th March), setting up their Chief Office in the former mansion house of Sir Robert Abdy in Lime Street, where William was living.

One of the other "undertakers" was Dr. Hugh Chamberlen, son-in-law of Sir Hugh Myddleton.

There were three offices for the Penny Post - Lime Strret, Charing Cross and Temple Bar. (Lime Strret was called Penny Post House). The partnership between William and Robert Murray, which had spawned the Penny Post, broke up, probably in May or June 1680. Murray had always claimed to be the Inventor of the Penny Post, which independently lasted for almst 200 years, and William carried it on alone for about 6 months and was then joined by new, unknown partners, who ran it with him until 1682.

William was the subject of an action against him in the King's Bench in November 1682, due to an alleged debt of 5250L. William's Penny Post closed in November 1682 but was restarted in December 1682 under the control of the General Post Office. As a result of the trial about the legality of the Penny Post William was fined ?100 and lost the P.P. On 1st July 1689 he petitioned Parliament for ?8000 compensation for "out of pocket" in setting up the Penny Post. He was as a result given a pension of ?500 for 7 years, from June 1689

Prior to April 1692 he tried to sell the new style "easy coaches", with John Green of Cantaret Road as his partner, apparently unsuccessfully.

In February 1692 he was listed as an "East Jersey Proprietor", according to the American Dictionary of National Biography.

On March 17, 1693, William made an application (along with Richard Povey, Thos. Puckle and Augustin Harris) for a grant of Letters Patent for invention "of art of making moulds of iron" for casting large guns. Later they all applied for incorpration as "The Governor and Company for Casting and Making Guns and Ordnance in Moulds of Metal". [Note: This was referred to the Attorneey or Solicitor General on August 11 1693, outcome unknown]

In 1692 William was elected Master of the Armourers' Company, and twice (in Oct 1695 and Jan 1703) unsuccessfully put up for Chamberlain of the City of London.

Reports on the 20 March 1696/7 said that William was to succeed Mr Castleton as Comptroller of the Penny Post Office, who would receive "a salary of ?200 p.a., taxt ?40 for the Capitation Act" in addition to his pension. He was in charge until 1700.

On 20 April 1697 William petitioned the King for an extension to his pension "indefinitely", and received an extension for 3 years.. In June 1700 William was dismissed from his post as "not fit to be trusted any longer". He repetitioned in 1700 for the King's extension again but this was denied.

In 1704 there are baptisms of three children recorded in the registers of St. Thomas the Apostle, Thos., Jacob and Ann. It is thought these were grandchildren of William.

William was living in the London parish of St. Mary Aldermary in June 1709, and he died 25 September 1716, supposedly aged 94.

William was described as "that ingenious and knowing Citizen of London" by Ed. Chamberlayne in his Angliae Notitia.

Source: "William Dockwra and the Rest of the Undertakers - The Story of the London Penny Post 1680-82" by T. Todd, published 1952, by C.J. Cousland & Sons. Ltd., 30 Queen Street, Edinburgh.
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