20 October 2016
An exclusive collection of letters from throughout history
If you’ve ever inherited a relative’s letters or joyously unearthed a sackful of mail from your own youth hoarded in your parents’ loft, you’ll know what an exciting glimpse they give us into lives and times gone by.
So just imagine the chance to sift through the 126 shelf-miles of letters, postcards and telegrams in the keeping of The National Archives at Kew. That was the enviable task of a team of 24 specialist archivists for this book, their reasoned choices reflecting on key moments in our shared history, when correspondence really was king – and letters brought news that could make or break an individual, their family or even the world they knew.
This rich collection, expertly curated by Dr Hester Vaizey, comprises some 80 largely unpublished letters. Each item is presented with an essay and introduction and together they cover almost 1,000 years of history. Penned by the ordinary to the extraordinary, each letter reveals a hidden story about the author, their ‘audience’, and the era they lived in. From love notes written by the doomed Catherine Howard to Culpepper, to a desperate begging letter to her father from Elizabeth Sprigs, a young white British indentured servant slaving on a plantation in 18th-century Maryland, all human life is here. You’ll also find writings of wartime espionage, Karl Marx’s bid for citizenship, a family’s tragic attempt to save their son from conscription, the Ford Dagenham women’s call to strike, plans for the mass evacuation of children in 1939, a hoax ‘Jack the Ripper’ and more.
These compelling snapshots in time, complete with images, tell us how we became the nation we are today. Made all the more poignant with the benefit of our hindsight, they also show us that, when it came to the human condition, our ancestors were really no different from us.
Watch this behind-the-scenes video of some of Britain’s best loved performers – including Miriam Margolyes, Martin Shaw and Daniel Mays – narrating the audiobook below:
ISBN: 9781. RRP £20 hardback, £17.99 eBook and £14.99 Audible audiobook. Bloomsbury and The National Archives.