If you regularly follow my blog and facebook page you will know that I am fascinated by old letters. They are the introduction to a story where we are given only snippets of information and only our imagination can complete the rest. I love these little fragments of life stories where just a few lines can make us wonder about so much.
Of course, letter writing was once the only way to communicate with someone whether you were separated only by a few streets or overseas. As a result, letters can contain what may have been very mundane information – for example I have a letter dated 1904 from a gentleman asking his friend if he will be able to come and play football on Wednesday. It still however makes me wonder who they were and how they lived. I have a letter dated 1830 from a wife to her husband who is working on-board a ship, saying how much she misses him. And I have a letter sent from the trenches during WWI in which a soldier writes about men having to be pulled from the mud minus their boots.
Whenever I come across a letter, I yearn to know something – anything – about the writer. The great thing about old letters is the formality and the structure. The sender’s address is almost always in the top right hand corner, along with the date. The sender also often signs off with their full name, especially in Victorian letters
When the letter is in an envelope you also have the details of the letter’s recipient. Early Victorian letters however didn’t require an envelope as they were folded and sealed with wax in a specific way.
The wealth of information on the internet on websites such as Ancestry.co.uk or even just via google means that usually it is possible to find some information about the names contained within the letter. I find this fascinating and it seems to bring the letter to life.
The letter I want to share with you in this blog post is from early Victorian times. It is was sent in December 1842 from a young girl named Adelaide Dalton to her father.
I was fortunate in that when I bought the letter from the flea market it was in a small bag with a little sticker attached which read ‘From Adelaide Dalton, age 12, to her father Christopher Dalton.’
The person who owned the letter before me had obviously researched it a little as the letter is signed A. M. Dalton. The fact that they had done this made it easier for me to discover a little bit more. Here is what the letter says:
My dear Papa,
It is with much pleasure I write to you these few lines to inform you that our vacation will commence on the 18th of the month when I hope you will find me improved in all my studies in which I have done my best. Miss Sykes and Miss Martha present their compliments and hope though late you will accept their thanks for the very nice hare you were so kind as to send.
With love to all at home, you remain my dear papa.
Your affectionate daughter,
It seems incredible to think that this letter was written by an 12 year old. The writing is beautiful and the words are so eloquent. It sounded to me as if Adelaide was away at school. The address is Euston Square and her father is at home in Watford.
Here is where the internet is such a wonderful thing. I have been able to confirm that Adelaide Maria Dalton was born in Watford on October 7th 1830 to Christopher Dalton and Elizabeth Maria Dalton. She was an only child and tragically, her mother died when Adelaide was just two years old. Her father did not remarry. I am sure that Adelaide’s father must have been quite lost without his wife to help him bring up his little daughter and I am wondering if this is why Adelaide was sent away to some kind of boarding school.
After more online searching I found a census dated 1842 – the year that Adelaide wrote this letter – which showed that Adelaide M Dalton was indeed a resident at an address in Euston Square. Rather frustratingly, there was no description of what the accommodation was where Adelaide was living. Also, because the census is an actual copy of the original 1842 handwritten census, the faded handwriting is incredibly hard to make out. I could not make out the word written under ‘occupation’ which then had ‘ditto’ in each subsequent line for several other children. The names of the other occupants were all young girls but with a wide age range of between three and twenty. I still can’t find any information regarding a school in Euston Square in 1842.
Another thing I know is that Adelaide’s father was very wealthy. I have found another census with his name at the address on Adelaide’s letter and he lists his occupation as ‘none’. The letter is also addressed to ‘Christopher Dalton Esq’, the ‘Esq’ denoting a land owner or a man of wealth. His wealth meant that he could afford to send his daughter away to school. I wonder though if Adelaide missed her father and would rather have been at home? I wonder what it was like where she was staying. Were her governesses kind to her? Were the other girls mean to her? These are the things that we will never know. Dates and places can be confirmed online but I can never know what Adelaide thought or felt. Holding her letter in my hands and seeing her soft, pencil written words makes me feel momentarily connected to her, and makes me hope that she was happy. I wonder what she looked like and what kind of person she was. It’s strange how just a few lines in a letter can make you want to know someone’s story.
I discovered that seven years after she wrote this letter, Adelaide got married. She had six children, a couple of whom lived to a very old age. Her eldest daughter – Helen Adelaide – lived until she was 98, passing away in 1948.
Sadly, Adelaide herself died in 1869 when she was only 39. This really made me stop and think, as this is my age.
Isn’t it odd that this letter has floated through time like this… 174 years later and it is still here. Why?
I wonder how many hands it has passed through and how many people have read 12 year old Adelaide’s words to her father.
I will always be enchanted by these little glimpses into lives from the past. Goodnight Adelaide Maria Dalton.
Thanks for reading x