Every minute, 187 million emails, 18 million texts, and 38 million WhatsApp messages are sent. But before we all lived our lives online, the way to stay in touch was through letter writing.
And there have been many famous letters sent throughout history, including ones between Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Henry VIII and Anne Boleyn (while he was still married to Catherine of Aragon), and Charles Darwin shared his ideas of evolution and natural selection in letters to botanist Joseph Dalton Hooker.
Just as important as the letters exchanged by key historical figures are the ones sent between friends, family, and lovers. These documents portray a different side of history – they record how everyday people experienced major events and what they chose to write home about.
Our archives house hundreds of letters, including correspondence sent from the Front during both World Wars, letters exchanged between members of the LGBTQ+ community at a time when homosexual acts were illegal, and letters documenting local activism organised by grass roots community groups.
One of the letter exchanges that we're home to documents the 57-year relationship between John Dalby and John Thompson. These life-long parters wrote regularly to one another during the mid-twentieth century, detailing what was going on in their day-to-day lives. The letters written before the 1967 Sexual Offences Act are particularly valuable for providing rare and intimate insight into their relationship at a time when homosexual acts were illegal.
Please write me a nice long letter for it is the next best thing to having you here.
Another letter exchange that you'll find in our archives is one between David and Diana Hopkinson. David was stationed abroad during the Second World War, with his love letters back home discussing films, poetry, music, and also their friends, children, and the weather. Some of these letters were numbered, with David referring to Diana’s letters by number.
My love, I hold out my arms to you.
We’re also home to the Wensley Archive, with Fredrick Wensley being arguably the first celebrity detective in Britain. This archive contains correspondence between all five members of the Wensley family from the 1890s to the 1930s, including the below letter where Laura "Lollie" Martin writes to her fiancé Fredrick, promising to be true and dutiful through their marriage.
And believe me ever to remain your true and dutiful wife that is to be.
You can explore all of these letters by visiting our Special Collections & Archives. We’re open Monday – Friday, 10:00 – 16:00, and you can book your time to visit here.
If you also have letters gathering dust in your desk or drawers, we’d be thrilled to provide a home for them in our archives. Get in touch at: firstname.lastname@example.org. And we’d love to know if you’re a keen letter writer yourself, or is it an art you've fallen out of love with? Let us know over on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook or (if you fancy it) write us a letter.