suffolk letters

The story behind them:

More than thirty five years ago my aunt, Dorothy Chandler, gave me an old portable writing case which had belonged to her father, my grandfather, George Draper Chandler. It contained some sixty letters, an album of old photographs, a sale prospectus and a few other items. I looked at them and found most of the letters were written between 1870 and 1875 to my grandfather by his family when he went at the age of thirteen and a half as an apprentice to a drapery firm in Edgware Road, London. Some of the letters were easy to read but others were much more difficult. My great grandmother's writing was tall and thin, I believe in a type of copperplate style. Also, as was the custom at that time to save paper, when one had covered the sheet in the usual way, it was turned through 90 degrees and then written over again. So, I kept everything safely for some thirty years as I worked, married, had children and moved homes. On one occasion my brothers looked through the contents and went to Suffolk to see Laxfield and Ringsfield, taking a few photographs to add to the collection.

My father was the youngest of five, Aunt Dorothy was seventeen years older than him, and another sister had emigrated to Australia with her husband and three sons in the late 1940s. Contact had been maintained sporadically between us all, including another cousin in London and once the Australians retired they visited us in recent years. There were now seven young ones in their families plus two grandchildren and it seemed right to do something to share the history in the letters with them all.

So about eight years ago I sorted them out, started to write them out and type them, a rather lengthy process. Then my husband obtained a computer with word processing facilities so I was able to use that, so much easier to correct the typing errors and produce a good result. The undated letters were in their original envelopes, but I was able to use the postmarks as dates. At first I made photocopies of the 'criss-cross' ones, went over the writing in coloured pen to help in reading them, but it was not too difficult to read the original once I had got the knack. My husband and I then made them into a booklet using his desktop publishing facilities. Although it took time to do all this work, it was very worthwhile as the letters were often amusing, interesting and gave at times quite a detailed description of everyday life in a farming community in the early 1870s.

I've called them 'Suffolk Letters', a copy is in the Suffolk Family History Society Library and also at the Laxfield Museum.

To anyone having old letters it is a useful way of sharing the information on daily life in years gone by with others, omitting any personal details if necessary.

Myra Gentle

Go to the:
Introduction        Index