125-year-old note inspires letter-writing project

A note scribbled by an orphaned boy in church almost 125 years ago has inspired a letter writing project in Sunderland.

Dear Friend has been launched by Seventeen Nineteen at Holy Trinity Church in Hendon, in collaboration with calligrapher Jules Eachus, from The Inkling Studio in the city.

The church recently underwent a £5m refurbishment led by The Churches Conservation Trust and an official opening ceremony is due to be held on Saturday, April 16, 2022.

Holy Trinity Church Interior
Inside Holy Trinity Church in Sunderland

During the restoration project, a letter was found hidden under a pew, written on the back of an Order of Service sheet dated August 11, 1897.

Written in pencil by William Elliott, it starts “Dear Friend”.

In the top right-hand corner, he gives his address as Sunderland Orphan Asylum, which stood near the church and was set up to provide an education for male orphans of seafarers.

Whoever finds this paper, think of me…

In the note, William writes about his fears of going to sea himself in “two months, two weeks and four days”.

He said: “Whoever finds this paper, think of me, William Elliott … whoever you are that finds this paper, don’t tear it up or throw it away, keep it in remembrance of me.”

He adds that he was the “leading boy” of the choir.

William Elliott's letter
William Elliott’s letter has been framed and is on display in the church

Research carried out by volunteers at the church has since found that William didn’t go to sea, but in fact became employed as a clerk in a solicitor’s office.

Holy Trinity Church is a Grade I listed building built in 1719. It was the first parish church of Old Sunderland and housed the old town’s council chamber and library.

From church to community and heritage hub

Once at the heart of the city’s thriving port area, the dwindling number of churchgoers eventually led to its closure in 1988.

It is now a venue for concerts and events, as well as a community hub for the city’s burgeoning East End, with several projects already up and running.

letter writing kit
Jules Eachus, from The Inkling Studio, has curated a letter writing kit for Dear Friend

Dear Friend encourages people to pen a letter in a traditional Georgian style, via a special pack curated by Jules, who has a keen interest in vintage handwriting as well as modern calligraphy and brush lettering.

History about more than dates and facts

Lily Daniels, participation and engagement officer for The Churches Conservation Trust, said: “Holy Trinity was a space where big things happened for the city, but also a place where big moments in people’s lives happened.

“William’s story reminds us all that history isn’t dates and facts – it’s people’s hopes, dreams and disappointments.

“Our volunteers decided to stop researching William’s life after they discovered he may have died during World War One.

“He asks in his letter that we remember him and we try and remember him at the time he wrote the letter; a young man, anxious about what lay ahead and hopeful that his story would continue.”

writing  desk
Dear Friend encourages people to put pen to paper.

Lily adds: “We’re thrilled with the work Jules has done, she’s very sensitively captured the urge to communicate, remember and share in such a beautiful art form and we can’t wait to see the responses people produce with their own letters.”

The responses will be displayed in the church as they are received throughout April.

Jules said: “Writing letters has always been an important part of my life, so I was delighted to work on this project for Seventeen Nineteen, combining my love of letter writing, vintage handwriting and history.”

You can request a Dear Friend pack by e-mailing 17nineteen@thecct.org.uk or calling (0191) 560 0288.

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