A Bundle of old Letters #19thCentury #History

Yesterday, when my daughter began to sort through my grandfather’s stamp collection which had been kept in shoeboxes, she made an exciting discovery.  She found family letters dating back to 1829.

The letters are all from members of our Hopkins family, who were lightermen on the Thames, living in Lambeth.  The oldest letter was neatly written by 9 year old William Hopkins, from his school, Lambeth Marsh Academy to his father, Robert Hopkins.  The neatness and formal vocabulary suggest that this was a school exercise and a year later he wrote a very similar letter to his mother Elizabeth Mary Hopkins (formerly Norris).

The next letter, chronologically, was written on December 26th 1838 by Elizabeth Palmer, my great grandmother, to the same William Hopkins, who by this time, was 18.  Three and a half years later they were married.  It is not exactly a love letter, as it describes, in detail, her journey, accompanied by her aunt, from Lambeth to Woodford in north London. As the coaches were all full they had to take a Fly and then walk a good distance, in wet weather.  However Elizabeth does remark that she cannot keep from writing to William, remembering their evening of playing cribbage together.  Pretending to her aunt that she is writing to her mother, she hopes that William “will favour her with a few lines.”  She concludes “with her kind love, Yours Affectionately.”  Her address was that of her uncle, Mr Goldsmith, the Postmaster, near the Castle Inn in Woodford.

The next letter from E. Clutterbuck in Lewisham to Miss Palmer in Lambeth was written in 1841.  With the aid of Elizabeth and William’s marriage certificate and perusing the census returns for Lewisham, I established that this was 20 year old Emma Clutterbuck, a friend of Elizabeth who was a witness at her wedding.  Writing on May 6th, Emma accuses Elizabeth of having forgotten the route to her house.  She writes at length about the sweet briars she is nurturing as a present for her.  She suggests that Elizabeth bring William with her, “for fear anyone else should take a fancy,” to Elizabeth!  Emma remarks that she intends to stay single as she has not seen anyone she fancies.  In fact Emma Clutterbuck never did marry.  I found her in Hackney on the 1871 census, still single, living with her unmarried sister Jane and her widowed sister-in-law Harriet.  In 1881 Emma died in Hackney.

Finally there is a letter posted in 1879 from my great uncle Ted Talbot, aged 8, to his grandmother Mrs Hopkins, the aforementioned Elizabeth Palmer Hopkins.


  1. What a wonderful discovery! And I like the small plot concerning Elizabeth's and William's budding relationship.

  2. I think courtship was quite gradual for some couples!

  3. Wow - this really is history leaping out of the text book - what beautiful handwriting too...

  4. LOOK AT THE HANDWRITING! amazing! ans this would have been done with a nib and a quill pen dipped in ink! I love seeing beautiful old writing like this. You are so lucky to have these little pieces of your past to look at.

  5. I really did think I had found everything my family had squirrelled away but they just keep turning up!