Below is a letter from the Hackworth family archive. The letter is cross written, a technique that Victorians used to save paper and reduce the cost of postage. The Hackworth archive is full of letters like this, and our team have been working to decipher them. This one is actually one of the easiest to read.
Can you unlock what is being said? To encourage you, we’ve arranged a fantastic prize – a behind-the-scenes tour of Search Engine, or a framed reproduction of an engineering drawing showing either Mallard, Duchess of Hamilton or Flying Scotsman. The first person to comment on this post with an accurate transcription of the letter (in the eyes of the judges) will win. Terms and conditions
You’ve got a week to post us your deciphered text: on 5 December 2011, we’ll post a full transcription ourselves. Good luck! (You can click the images for a larger view.)
The Hackworth archive consists of the papers of Timothy Hackworth. The archive is held here at the museum and is available for consultation through Search Engine. This cataloguing project has been made possible by The National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives.
Update 5 December: Thank you for all the entries to the competition: the winner will be contacted in the next couple of days. I’ve added a full correct transcription to the comments below. And here’s some information you may find interesting about the letter:
- Timothy Hackworth Jr wrote this letter to his sister Jenny, Jane Hackworth (later Young). The letter was sent to Vilvorde, Belgium, where Jane was at school.
- The family lived in Soho House, which was close to their business Soho Works, Shildon. Shildon reminds Timothy of ‘London parks on Sunday’. The family were surrounded by railway lines and men working, thus the ’spoil bank’ – which was a pile of waste materials.
- The ‘Company’ refers to the Stockton and Darlington Railway Company. Timothy remarks on them building a reservoir at the top of the hill near Soho works, with a light-hearted comment: ‘we hope they do not mean to drown us out of the place’.
- From Timothy’s account Soho Works appears to be successful. But at this time adverts had been submitted showing the works were up for sale. Timothy attempted to buy Soho, but his bid was rejected. The works were sold to the Stockton and Darlington Railway Company in 1855.
- The letter refers to Timothy’s sister Elizabeth ‘Lizzy’ Holmes and her children, and another sister Prudence ‘Pru’ Hackworth (later Nightingale). ‘Mrs John’ is the wife of his brother John Wesley Hackworth. The letter also refers to John Wesley’s children.
- “Our people are very well with the exception of ‘Mrs A’” refers to Timothy’s eldest sister Ann Ambler, who was committed to a mental asylum around this time.