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Friday, 25 April 2014

There's Nothing Like A Letter

On the way back from Shropshire, a couple of weeks ago, we stopped off at Moseley Old Hall. This property, now owned by the National Trust, is the Elizabethan farmhouse near Wolverhampton, where a young King Charles II hid from Cromwell's troops after the Battle of Worcester in 1651.

You can see the bed in which he slept and the priest hole where he hid for two days whilst planning his escape. You can also see a letter of thanks which he sent from France the following year, thanking those who had helped him. This letter of course is beautifully written because handwriting was taken seriously in those days.

As well as looking at those old letters in glass cases, I love to receive them. When I was away at boarding school we weren't allowed any telephone contact with our families so letters were quite literally a lifeline. You can tell so much about someone from a letter, from the pen they use, the paper they choose, how much space their words take up on the page and, of course, from the individual style of their hand-writing.. My mother wrote to me twice a week when I was away from home. Often in a rush, her letters reflected this personality trait; always just one page of heavy, white, headed notepaper, written on both sides in her large, rounded writing. My grandmother wrote less often but her letters were longer, more detailed and her writing smaller. She always wrote on blue Basildon Bond paper. My aunt's loopy, generous script totally reflected her slightly idiosyncratic and loving character.

Our handwriting says so much about who we are and how we are feeling at any given time. I remember how, as my grandmother got older, her handwriting deteriorated. She may have put on a brave face in public but her shaky penmanship was a sign that time was taking its toll. Letters too are for keeping; a bundle of love letters tied together with faded ribbon cannot fail to touch the heart. A few weeks ago I was given a letter, written by the grandfather who died before I was born. This letter was sent from Palestine to his family in England. It is dated March 22nd 1918, is written in pencil on one side of lined paper which is so thin as to be transparent when held up to the light. He begins the first of his twelve pages with 'Dear Father, Mother and Sisters' and he describes how he has just arrived back from three days of leave in Cairo, his only respite from duty in twelve months. This is what he writes about the Blue Mosque;-

'There is a large mosque, known as The Blue Mosque and from its great expanse of floor right to its lofty dome it is one glorious harmony of colour with blue predominant.'

He talks of a visit to the zoo, of a companion who had been to visit the Aswan Dam and 'of the countryside 'ablaze with red and yellow tulips'.  Then he writes of a return to duty and of a battle where 'the din was like nothing else on earth. the continuous flashes of the guns turning night into day' and  how 'the wounded came back in one continuous stream'.

This letter would not have nearly so much meaning for me had it been typed or in today's fashion, sent as an e-mail. I would not then run my fingers over the words, noticing that we both style our I's in the same way and I would not feel that depth of emotion, that connection through the years with a man whose survival enabled my existence.

As we came out of the tea room at Moseley Old Hall we were treated to this beautiful display.

The  peacock is the symbol of immortality and through this letter my grandfather lives on in a far more vibrant way than through any photograph or others artefacts which have been passed down to me. I shall treasure it and pass it down to my children and I shall also make an effort to write a few more letters myself.

Thank-you for reading. Have a lovely week.


  1. That looks a wonderful place to visit!
    I was recently looking through letters sent to me by my father, when I was a student at Leeds. One had wet splotches over it that had made ink run. It was telling me about the death of our lovely old cat. I'm not sure if the tears were his or mine, or a mix of the two! Reading it certainly brought back the moment of that news arriving, but also of a great closeness to my father who had taken such care in telling me all he knew I'd want to know.

  2. How lovely to have kept your father's letters and to have that feeling of closeness to him. I have a letter written to my grandmother from her father, telling her of a doll he has bought her. His love for her just leaps off the page.