Older readers may remember how to write a letter, using paper rather than a mobile phone. ‘Thank you letters’ were a chore after Christmas but appreciated by the person who had sent the present. Not so long ago letters were the only means of communication and those which have survived give us a window into historical events and daily lives. Many biographies of historical figures are based on letters found in archives.

On November 26, 1769 Lady Henrietta Conyers wrote to Miss Cotton at Madingley Hall, Cambs, about arrangements for Christmas at Copped Hall (near Epping) and the letter is preserved at the Cambridge Record Office. Her 93 word sentence could be texted today as ‘Sorry, party’s off, hope you can come in spring’.

“Having intreated you to do me the favor of charging your memory with an engagement to me for the 21st of December when I proposed assembling a great many of my Friends to dance at Copped Hall it behoves me to acquaint you that several things have happen’d which obliges me to deffer my intention till the Spring when I hope you will as graciously & good humouredly accept the invitation I shall then make you as you were so kind to do when I made you this which does not take place.”

Epping Forest Guardian: Rolls Park in 1826Rolls Park in 1826 (Image: Georgina Green)

Lady Louisa Harvey of Rolls Park, wife of Admiral Sir Eliab Harvey who captained the Temeraire brilliantly in the Battle of Trafalgar, wrote more than 1,000 letters between 1804 and her death. In 1826 she passed on family news to her daughter Mrs Louisa Lloyd, starting with her sister Georgiana who had married into the wealthy Drummond banking family. She didn’t bother with a full date – just ‘Sunday’ and the letter continues for several pages.

“We had a line last night from John Drummond to say that Georgiana was much stronger than ever she had felt the day after her labour, as his letters come here at night I can not write you word in this tomorrow how she continued going on – tell me is not poor little Mary much vex’d about her Dog. I am sure I am and have thought enough about it –think our nasty Coachman and Groom going out at six at night and never coming home till eleven the next morning the poor things left all that time to their fate. How tiresome servants are. I only wait for the Adm’ls answer to hire another coachman whose appearance I like much and shall be so glad to get rid of this one. Mary wrote me word that the Adm’l wanted to take her back with him but she does not like to leave you so soon, and seems to think you do not wish her to go. I think if we could get Mr.Kenyon to drive her to Birmingham about the middle of January I would send a maid there to bring her home in a post chaise. I should wish her to have ten days of Maria before she leaves us, do think it over my dearest Louisa and then turn it in your mind. . . . .”

Epping Forest Guardian: Thomas Liddle Post Office in Woodford, as sketched by Reg Fowkes. The building still survives, just south of the cinema.Thomas Liddle Post Office in Woodford, as sketched by Reg Fowkes. The building still survives, just south of the cinema. (Image: Reg Fowkes)

In another letter she mentions the owner of Wanstead House: “We are all so shocked at poor little Mrs. Long Wellesley’s death. What will become of all the money. I hope he will have none, as I think he must in part have been the occation of her death. – I shall not write you a long letter as I have nothing to say from hence.” (Essex Record Office D/DGu/C4/1/1)

In Victorian times the postal service was so well organised that arrangements could be made for just a few hours later. In 1855 there were three Post Offices serving Woodford: At Mr. Thomas Liddle’s, Woodford, letters were despatched to London at 9.15am, 1.15pm, 4.15pm, and at 8.15pm. They were received at 9.30am, 1.30pm, 5.30pm and 9.30pm. Mr. James Messer at Woodford Bridge, and Miss Elizabeth Hoye at Woodford Green, also had offices where letters could be received and where letters were despatched to London at similar times to the main Post Office.

Georgina Green has been involved with local history in Redbridge, Waltham Forest and the Epping Forest area for 40 years and is the author of several local history books. She was elected a fellow of the Royal Historical Society in 2021.