Updated: Apr 9
Writing letters has always been an important part of my life so I was delighted to work on this project for Seventeen Nineteen, combining my love of letter writing, vintage handwriting and history.
I’ve been a keen letter writer since I moved to London in my early 20’s, I must have sent hundreds of letters over the years to family and friends. Having studied history at university I have a particular interest in vintage handwriting, especially handwritten letters.
In February 2022 I went along to Holy Trinity Church in Sunderland to meet with Lily Daniels, Participation and Engagement Officer at Seventeen Nineteen, to discuss projects we might work on together.
Holy Trinity is a beautiful Georgian church which has recently undergone a £5 million renovation, sensitively restoring the original features whilst creating a stunning event space and cultural venue for heritage crafts, Seventeen Nineteen.
As soon as I saw William Elliott’s poignant letter I knew I wanted to do something based around this wonderful, handwritten note. Dated August 1897 the letter was found hidden under a pew during the recent renovations. Written on the back of a faded Order of Service by the 13 year old William Elliott, it addresses the reader as the “Dear Friend” who may find it and asks to be remembered as “the leading voice” of the choir.
Researchers at Seventeen Nineteen discovered that William lived at Sunderland Orphan Asylum (which can be seen from the church, just across the Town Moor) and sang in the choir at Holy Trinity. He was due to leave the orphanage to join the Navy, something he would have dreaded as his own father, chief officer Thomas Duncan Elliott, was lost at sea in 1887.
William was due to be discharged from the Orphanage just a couple of months after he wrote his note expressing his fears for the future. Although most boys from the orphanage were destined for a life at sea, William luckily found a job with a local solicitor, Mr Herbert. Sadly we don't know what became of William after 1901 as no more records could be found.
Coincidentally, during research for this project I discovered that my great uncle and his twin brother lived at the orphanage in the 1940’s, the same place William Elliott called home all those years ago.
Inspired by the history of Holy Trinity Church, which was built in 1719, I decided to make Georgian style hand folded letters, using beautiful Colorplan paper made in the English Lake District.
Envelopes were not widely used in England until after the 1840’s, before then a letter was a single sheet of paper, written on, folded and sealed with wax.
If you’d like to take part in the Dear Friend project, please contact Lily Daniels including your postal address at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0191 560 0288.
You’ll receive a letter telling you about the project and a hand folded letter sheet with a wax seal so you can write back.