Letters from the Western Front: Sister Kate Luard’s 1917

Hannah Salisbury, Engagement and Events Manager, with thanks to Caroline Stevens for sharing extracts from Kate’s letters relating to the Battle of Passchendaele

As 2017 draws to a close we may well reflect on what the year has brought, to ourselves, our families and friends, and the wider world.

Doubtless our ancestors did the same thing 100 years ago, as the First World War dragged on into the new year.

Sister Kate Luard, an Essex nurse who volunteered for military service, had by this time been serving as a nurse on the Western Front for three years and three months. She must have seen countless soldiers suffering from all sorts of unthinkable wounds pass through her wards, and still there was no end in sight.

1917 brought some of the biggest challenges and most dangerous situations that Kate would face during the war, and these are detailed in the letters she sent home to her family. To help put the letters into a geographical context, please see the map at the end of this post which tracks some of the locations where Kate wrote from during 1917. Many of the letters quoted here are reproduced in Unknown Warriors: The Letters of Kate Luard, RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France, 1914-1918 – these are referenced here as UW.

Some of Kate Luard’s letters sent to her family during her First World War service

From early March until early June 1917 Kate was with No. 32 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) in Warlencourt, in between Bapaume and Beaumont-Hamel. Her early letters from there describe the business of getting the CCS ready to go, in preparation for what would become the Battle of Arras. The construction of huts and tents took place in the snow and within range of the German guns. On Sunday 4th March she wrote of her first night there:

We had a lively night last night. We were cosily tucked up in bed with dozens of blankets, and our oil stoves burning in our canvas huts and I’d just put my lamp out, when big enemy shells came whizzing overhead from two directions. They burst a long way past us, but made a tremendous noise being fired (from a big naval gun they run up close to their line), and loud screams overhead. Our 9.2s and 12-inch in the wood here kept it up all night with lions’ roars. (Sunday 4th March 1917, UW)

In her role as sister in charge, Kate was not only responsible for organising the nursing staff and orderlies, but also for running the Mess and keeping everyone fed:

Feeding them is going to weigh heavily no my chest. It is one person’s job to run a Mess at the Back of Beyond, and I have this Hospital (700 beds) to run for night and day, with the peculiar difficulties of a new-born unfinished Camp, and emergency work. For the Mess you settle a rice putting, but there is no rice, and the cows have anthrax, so there’s no fresh milk, and the Canteen has run out of Ideal milk. Well, have a jam tart; lots of jam in the British Army, but no flour, no suet, no tinned fruits, no eggs, no beans or dried peas, not one potato each. But there is bacon, ration bread and tinned butter (when you can get it), jam, marmalade sometimes, cheese, stew, Army biscuits, tea, some sugar, and sometimes mustard, and sometimes oatmeal and cornflour. Also we have only 1½ lbs of coal per person per day, so when that is used up you have to go and look for wood, to cook your dinner and boil your water. Everyone is ravenous in this high air and outdoor life, and so long as there’s enough of it, you can eat anything. None of them I hope will grumble if we can work up the true Active Service spirit, but it is an anxiety. (Monday 12 March 1917, UW).

Once the hospital was ready to go but the fighting not yet begun, Kate and two other nurses took the opportunity to explore the surrounding areas:

Then you come to what was Gommécourt. It must have been, when it existed, full of orchards, and half in and half out of a wood. Now there is one wall of one house left. The wood and the orchards are blackened spikes sticking up out of what looks now like a mad confusion of deep trenches and deep dug-outs battered to bits. We went with an electric torch down two staircases of one and stepped into a pond at the bottom. Some are dry and clean and have the beds still in them. You step over unexploded shells, bombs and grenades of every description – and we saw one aerial torpedo – an ugly brute. I picked up a nose-cap; and the sapper who was with us said hastily, ‘That’s no good,’ and snatched it out of my hand and threw it out of sight; it still had the detonator in it. Then he picked one up without its detonator and gave it to me… Here you get to see the culmination of destruction for which all civilised nations are still straining all their resources. Isn’t it hopelessly mad? (Friday 23 March 1917, UW)

(Q 4915) Branchless trees and shattered house. Gommecourt, March 1917. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205237124

The Battle of Arras began on Easter Monday, 9th April 1917. The following day Kate wrote:

The 3rd Army went over the top yesterday… all is splendid, but here are horrors all day and all night… All are doing 16 hours on and 8 off and some of us 18 on and 6 off… Stretchers on the floor are back-breaking work, and one’s feet give out after a certain time, but as long as one’s head and nerves hold out, nothing else matters and we are all very fit… The wards are like battlefields, with battered wrecks in every bed and on stretchers between the beds and down the middles… The Theatre teams have done 70 operations in the 24 hours. (Tuesday 10 April, UW)

By 25th July 1917 Kate and No. 32 CCS had moved on to Brandhoek, to specialise in treating severe abdominal wounds. They were stationed close behind the lines at what would become the 3rd Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele). Kate was in charge of 40 nurses and almost 100 nursing orderlies.

This venture so close to the Line is of the nature of an experiment in life-saving, to reduce the mortality rate from abdominal and chest wounds. Hence this Advanced Abdominal Centre, to which all abdominal and chest wounds are taken from a large attacking area, instead of going on with the rest to the C.C.S.’s six miles back. We are entirely under Canvas, with huge marquees for Wards, except the Theatre which is a long hut. The Wards are both sides of a long, wide central walk of duckboards. (Friday 27 July, UW)

The Interior of a Hospital Tent (Art.IWM ART 1611) Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/23728

Everything has been going at full pitch – with the 12 Teams in Theatre only breaking off for hasty meals – the Dressing Hut, the Preparation Ward and Resuscitation and the four huge Acute Wards, which fill up from the Theatre; the Officers’ Ward, the Moribund and German Ward. Soon after 10 o’clock this morning he [Fritz] began putting over high explosives. Everyone had to put on tin hats and carry on. They burst on two sides of us, not 50 yards away – no direct hits on to us but streams of hot shrapnel.  …. they came over everywhere, even through our Canvas Huts in our quarters. Luckily we were so frantically busy. It doesn’t look as if we should ever sleep again. Of course, a good many die, but a great many seem to be going to do. We get them one hour after injury, which is our ‘raison d’être’ for being here. It is pouring rain, alas, and they are brought in sopping. (July 31st, 11pm)

Stretcher bearers at Passchendaele (Imperial War Museums)

It has been a pretty frightful day – 44 funerals yesterday and about as many  to-day. After 24 hours of peace the battle seems to have broken out again; the din is terrific. (Wednesday, August 1st, UW)

Crowds of letters from mothers and wives who’ve only just heard from the W.O. [War Office] and had no letter from me, are pouring in, and have to be answered. I’ve managed to write 200 so far, but there are 466. (Monday, September 3rd, UW)

On 5 September Kate was allowed a spell of leave and she returned to England for a couple of weeks, returning to France at the end of September. She spent the remainder of the year with two other Casualty Clearing Stations – No. 37 at Godeswaersvelde and then No.54 CCS at Merville before rejoining No.32 CCS at Marchelepot in early 1918. At Christmas, she wrote home to her father:

My darling father,

This is timed I hope to bring you my very dear love on Xmas Morning – I do hope you will all have a happy day…

This 4th Christmas in France looks like being a comparatively peaceful one so far, but the peacefulness is only on the surface. Both sides are stiffening up like two dogs showing their teeth…

The Division is busy giving concerts in our big theatre this week. Each Battalion has its own Troupe, and the rivalry is keen.  Some are excellent. We Three Sisters are the solitary and distinguished females in a pack of 600 men and inspire occasional witty & polite sallies from the Performers.  We sit in the front row between Colonels of the 3 DG’ s and 2nd Black Watch & others, now commanding Welsh Battalions.  Each concert party has its star “Girl” marvellously got up as in a London Music Hall.  Some sing falsetto & some roar their songs in a deep bass coming from a low neck & chiffon dress, lovely silk stockings & high heels!

We’ve had a bitter North Wind & frost today & all have chilblains but not badly. Still only our 3 heroes in the Ward.

Best love to all

Your loving daughter

KEL [Kate Evelyn Luard]

(ERO ref. D/DLu 55/13/1, included in postscript of new edition of Unknown Warriors)

There were 11 more months of the war in store, and Kate remained on the Western Front to the end. You can read more of her letters in Unknown Warriors: the letters of Kate Luard RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918. 

 

 

 

 

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Locations mentioned in this blog post where Kate’s letters were sent from (click each marker for more information):

Unknown Warriors: Sister Kate Luard’s letters, autumn-winter 1915-16

One of the stories we have been following over the course of the First World War centenary commemorations is that of Sister Kate Luard (read all our posts about her here). Kate was born in Aveley in 1872 and grew up in Birch near Colchester. On the outbreak of the war she volunteered to nurse on the Western Front, and remained there for the duration of the war.

During this time she wrote numerous letters, the majority of which are cared for at ERO. Her great niece, Caroline Stevens, has put together the following extracts from her letters written home at this time 100 years ago, when Kate was posted to No.6 Casualty Clearing Station.

Kate Luard letters

A few of the letters in the Kate Luard collection deposited at ERO

During the Great War of 1914-1918, Kate Luard served principally on ambulance trains, casualty clearing stations and a field ambulance, but was also posted at times to Stationary and General Hospitals in the base areas.

On 17 October 1915 she was sent up the line to take charge of No.6 Casualty Clearing Station at Lillers in France following four months at a base hospital, No.16 General Hospital. Her second book, Unknown Warriors, commences on this date and in this her letters home are a record of her times in various casualty clearing stations. This included time as Head Sister at No.32 CCS which became one of the most dangerous when the unit was relocated in late July 1917 to serve the push that was to become the Battle of Passchendaele, and where she had a staff of forty nurses and nearly 100 orderlies.

Tented nurse's quarters at a Casualty Clearing Station  (Courtesy of Sue Light)

Tented nurse’s quarters at a Casualty Clearing Station
(Courtesy of Sue Light)

A casualty clearing station was part of the evacuation chain of the wounded from the battle front starting with the regimental aid post just behind the front line, then an advanced dressing station and on to a field ambulance before transfer to a casualty clearing station. CCS’s were normally located near railway lines and waterways so that the wounded could be evacuated easily to the base hospitals. A CCS often had to move at short notice as the front line changed. Although some were located in temporary buildings, many consisted of large areas of tents and marquees and often several were near each other to enable flexibility.

The following are extracts from Unknown Warriors, which was republished in 2014 by the History Press. For more information about Kate Luard and her family see www.kateluard.co.uk

 

October18th

The sister has been showing me round and handing over her books and keys of office. The poor lads in their brown blankets and stretchers looked only too familiar. When there is a rush, the theatre Sister and I stay up at night as well. The CO [Commanding Officer], the Padre and myself are the only people allowed to do the censoring. I do it for the Sisters. I shall have to be very careful myself, not to mention names, numbers passing through, regiments, plans, or anything interesting.

 

Thursday, October 28th

The weather is beyond description vile, and the little cobbled streets are a Slough of Despond and a quagmire. The King has been about here yesterday and today, and was to have held a very sodden and damp Review a mile away, only he had an accident riding and had to be carried away instead: no one knows if it was much or not.

 

Saturday, October 30th

A boy came in at 6 p.m. with his right arm blown clean off in its sleeve at 2.p.m. He was very collapsed when he came in, but revived a little later. ‘Mustn’t make a fuss about trifles,’ he explained.

 

Sunday, October 31st

This afternoon we took a lot of lovely flowers to the Cemetery for our graves for All Saints’ Day. It took all afternoon doing them up with Union Jack ribbon, and finding the graves. There are hundreds. It was a swamp of sticky mud, and pouring with rain.

 

All Saints’ Day 1915, November 1st

A Scotch RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps) officer, who was with his Regiment all through, was talking about the early morning of the 14th, after we had tried to take the Hohenzollern Redoubt on the 13th. Our dead and wounded were lying so thick on the ground, that he had to pick his way among them with a box of morphia tabloids, and give them to anyone who was alive: tie up what broken limbs he could with rifles for splints, and leave them there: there were no stretchers.

 

Wednesday, November 3rd

A lad had to have his leg off this morning for gas gangrene. He says he ‘feels all right’ and hasn’t had to have had any morphia all day. You’d think he’d merely had his boot taken off. Some of them are such infants to be fighting for their country. One has a bullet through his liver and tried to say through his tears ‘there’s some much worse than what I am.’

 

Friday, December 3rd

Captain D. is a scrap better to-day, able to emerge from bromides, and talk a little. He told me that when they were holding the Hohenzollern trenches in that worst weather, when they stood up waist-high in liquid mud, two of his men slipped under it when they were asleep and their bodies were dug out next day.

 

Sunday, January 16th

D.F. the boy with the head wound, has been peacefully dying all day; his hand closes less tightly over mine to-day, but his beautiful brown eyes look less inscrutable as he gets further from this crooked world.

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Unknown Warriors coverUnknown Warriors is available in the ERO library, or you can find out more about the book and Kate herself here.

ERO is stronger with Friends: purchase of the Saulez collection

The Friends of Historic Essex are a charity which supports the ERO. Throughout the centenary of the First World War, the Friends and ERO are working together on the Essex Great War Archive Project, which aims to preserve documentary evidence of the period for educational study, family history research and community histories. The project includes looking out for documents relating to Essex people and places during the War, and where possible acquiring them for our collection.

If you would like to help, would you consider making a donation or becoming a member of the Friends? Details are available on the Friends’ website.

Here, Archive Assistant Sarah Ensor shares details of the most significant purchase made as part of the project to date – the Saulez family collection. (A version of this article first appeared the Autumn 2014 edition of the Essex Journal.)

The Friends of Historic Essex have recently acquired a family collection which has since been deposited at the Essex Record Office (Accession A14026).

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DP-511-28-1 Robert Travers Saulez crop

Rev. Robert Travers Saulez (D/P 511/28/1)

A large part of the collection consists of letters and telegrams from and relating to the sons of the Reverend Robert Travers Saulez (right). Robert was born in India in 1849 where his father, George Alfred Frederick Saulez, was an assistant chaplain at Nainee Tal. After gaining his degree from Trinity College Cambridge Robert served as curate in Lancashire, Hampshire and London before moving to Essex in 1886. According to Crockford’s Clerical Directory he was vicar of Belchamp St. Paul from 1886 to 1901 and rural dean of Yeldham from 1899 to 1901, vicar of St. John, Moulsham from 1901 to 1906 and rector of Willingale Doe with Shellow Bowels from 1906 to 1927. He retired to Twinstead where he died in 1933.

Robert and his wife Margaret Jane had three sons and a daughter between 1882 and 1887. Their sons, Robert George Rendall, Arthur Travers and Alfred Gordon were all educated at Felsted School and later served in the army. The letters deposited appear to date from towards the end of the Boer War through the Great War and beyond.

Robert George Rendall Saulez answered the call to serve in the South African Constabulary from 1902 to 1904 so is likely to be the author of the earliest letters in the collection. He volunteered soon after the outbreak of the Great War and served with the Army Service Corps in Egypt and Palestine. He was a good horseman and was recognised during the war for his share in providing an efficient transport service by ‘Horse, Camel or Motor’. After the war he served in the Supply and Transport Corps in the Indian Army until about 1922 after which it is believed he settled in the country.

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Bundles of letters fill the boxes

On leaving school Arthur Travers Saulez attended the Royal Military Academy before joining the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was posted to India in 1907 but returned to England prior to 1914 and was sent to France in May 1915. He achieved the rank of Major and having survived the Battle of the Somme was killed on 22 April 1917. The pencil in his diary which is amongst the collection is lodged in the page of the week of his death. A window was erected in the church at Willingale Doe in memory of Arthur Travers Saulez by the officers, NCOs and men of his battery.

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The diary of Arthur Travers Saulez, with the pencil still marking the spot where he made his last diary entry before being killed in April 1917

 

Hart’s Annual Army List for 1908 shows that the youngest of the brothers, Alfred Gordon Saulez, had joined the Army Service Corps in 1906 and when war broke out he was sent to France as part of the British Expeditionary Force in 1914. Like his brother Arthur he rose to the rank of Major but unlike his brother he survived the war; however nothing is known of his service throughout the conflict so hopefully some of his letters are in the family collection and will reveal more. Following the Armistice he was posted to Mesopotamia where he died in 1921 apparently as a result of the ‘excessive heat’; he left a wife and two children.

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One of the more unusual items within the collection – a remedy for poisonous gas

Robert and Margaret’s daughter Margaret Hilda embraced the opportunity that the Great War gave women to be involved. She served with the Scottish Churches Huts which, like the YMCA, provided support behind the lines in France. Following the war she married Wilberforce Onslow Times at St. Christopher’s in Willingale Doe with her father conducting the service.

D-P 388-1-11 image 95

Marriage of Margaret Hilda Saulez, with her father as minister (D/P 338/1/11, image 95)

Until this collection of over 300 letters and other items can be sorted and catalogued the full story of this family’s experiences serving their country remains untold. It is hoped that funding can be raised to expedite the cataloguing and storage of the collection and the provision of an educational resource for students and people of all ages. If you as an individual, group or institution are interested in helping fund this project then please contact the Friends of Historic Essex by e-mail or by writing to them care of Essex Record Office, Wharf Road, Chelmsford, CM2 6YT.

You can also help to support the Essex Great War Archive Project by coming to a fundraising quiz organised by the Friends on Friday 17 April 2015 at Galleywood Heritage Centre – full details, including how to book, can be found here.

An Essex nurse on the Western Front: Sister Katherine Evelyn Luard (1872-1962)

On International Women’s Day 2015, we thought we would highlight the story of one extraordinary Essex woman, Sister Kate Luard. A version of this post first appeared in Essex Life magazine.

Katherine Evelyn Luard was born in Aveley in 1872, the tenth of 13 children, the daughter of a vicar. She grew up at Aveley Vicarage, and then Birch Rectory near Colchester.

Kate Luard Birch Rectory

Sister Kate Luard in her Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve uniform in the doorway of her family home, Birch Rectory. Reproduced courtesy of Caroline Stevens.

Kate, known as Evelyn or Evie to her family, was aged 42 when the First World War broke out, but she headed straight to France, arriving there on 20th August 1914, just 16 days after war was declared. She had previously served as a nurse in the Boer War in South Africa in 1900-1902, and joined the Queen Alexandra Imperial Military Nursing Reserve as a Sister. She worked as a nurse on the Western Front until December 1918, in field hospitals, casualty clearing stations, and on ambulance trains. She was awarded a Royal Red Cross and bar for exceptional service in military nursing.

Photograph of one of the hospitals Kate worked in on the Western Front (D/DLu 55/10/5)

Photograph of one of the hospitals Kate worked in on the Western Front (D/DLu 55/10/5)

Kate and her family exchanged hundreds of letters during the War, many of which are held at the ERO, and she also kept a diary, which was published anonymously in 1916 as Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front, 1914-15; a copy is available in the ERO library. A collection of her letters was also published in 1930 as Unknown Warriors: the Letters of Kate Luard, RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914-1918. A new edition of Unknown Warriors was published in 2014 – you can find out more about it here (again, a copy is available in the ERO library).

Just a few of the many letters the Luard famiy exchanged during the War

Just a few of the many letters the Luard famiy exchanged during the War

Kate’s letters home are a mixture of descriptions of her nursing work and requests for her family to send her food and other home comforts. In one letter written from the Hospital Ship Carisbrook Castle at St Nazaire she describes a night transferring sick and wounded soldiers from the hospital train she was then stationed with:

When you stand off for a few hours from the gruesome details & pathetic streams of broken, dirty, ragged bandaged cripples that one is occupied with all day it gets more & more infathomable & heartbreaking. 1500 were disembarked from the trains yesterday & they are still streaming in. One train of bad cases yesterday took 8 hours to unload.

Kate Luard letter

First page of a letter from Kate Luard to her family written from the Hospital Ship Carisbrook Castle (D/DLu 55/13/4)

In another letter written from Rouen Kate asked her family to send her a tin of bullseyes, a tin of oatmeal biscuits, tea, Slade’s toffee, chocolate almonds, a large homemade spice cake, a tin of honey (if such a thing existed), and nut-milk chocolate. She also asked for an aluminium camp candlestick, a probe and a comfortable cushion to use on the uncomfortable hospital train.

Kate worked on the Western Front throughout the war, and returned home in 1918 to care for her sick father. She later worked as matron of a house at a boys private school, and in the last years of her life she lived in Wickham Bishops with two of her sisters.

If you would like to discover more about Kate, have a look at the published versions of her diary and letters in our Searchroom library, or you can order up the documents we look after that relate to her for yourself. If you would like to find out more about our county during the War, keep an eye out for our First World War displays and events throughout 2015.

Your Favourite ERO Documents: Thirteen Letters by the Author of Frankenstein in the ERO

This special guest post comes from Nora Crook, Professor Emerita, Anglia Ruskin University; Co-general Editor, The Complete Poetry of Percy Bysshe Shelley, Baltimore: MD: Johns Hopkins UP, 2000––). [in progress, 3 vols. published]

I’m a member of the English Department of Anglia Ruskin University, officially retired, but still research-active and involved in editing the works of the Shelleys – Mary Shelley, author of Frankenstein, and her husband, the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. It’s a bit late for the 75th anniversary celebrations of Essex Record Office, but may I tell you about my favourite document, a bundle of thirteen letters by Mary Shelley in the Records of J. Horace Round (D/DRh C102)?

Mary Shelley seal

A seal from one of the letters

Professor Nora Crook

Professor Nora Crook

What excited me about these nondescript looking letters is that up to now they have been completely unknown to literary scholars. They are not in Betty Bennett’s monumental edition (1980–88) of her letters. New Mary Shelley missives surface from time to time, but this is the largest cache to surface for decades. The ERO archivists, of course, knew about them, because they had catalogued them with full descriptions containing snippets, without which I certainly would never have come across them via Seax in late 2011. They swam into my ken only because I was trying and find out if Mary Shelley had written an anonymous review (she hadn’t) of a novel by an obscure Irish novelist called Mary Crumpe. When I googled ‘Miss Crumpe’ and ‘Shelley’, up came the Seax catalogue and took me to ‘Papa [William Godwin] has half fallen in love with Miss Crumpe’. On reading the descriptions I realized their significance, and let the beauteous Miss Crumpe go by.

I followed up this lucky hit with a visit to the ERO together with my husband, Keith Crook, who had grown up in Chelmsford, and had spent happy days in the old ERO as a sixth-former. The staff couldn’t have been more helpful and informative, and for a small fee gave permission to photograph the letters, from which I was able to make accurate transcripts. The result, with a commentary, will shortly be published in America by the Keats-Shelley Journal (vol. 62), though not yet (6 January 2014) announced on the website (http://k-saa.org).

The letters were written between 1831 and 1849. Eight of them are to Horatio (Horace) Smith and the rest to his eldest daughter Eliza, aka ‘Tizey’. Smith, a stockbroker, wit, and minor author, became friends with Shelley in 1817, and handled his money affairs when he went to Italy. After Shelley drowned in 1822 the Smith family befriended his widow. They remained among her warmest friends until her death in 1851. Some letters from Smith to Mary Shelley have been preserved and are in the Bodleian Library, Oxford, but there was no reason to suspect that any of Mary Shelley’s letters to Smith had survived, Smith having a habit of destroying correspondence, or, if they had survived, that they would be in the ERO. In fact there is no direct connection between Mary Shelley, the Smiths (who lived in Brighton) and Essex. True, part of one of Mary Shelley’s novels, Lodore (1835), is set in the ‘flattest and least agreeable part of the county of Essex, about five miles from the sea’, where, I am happy to say, one character declares that ‘the people are honest’—but that’s a red herring. If she ever went there, I can’t think when!

The trail that might lead a Mary Shelley researcher step by step to the ERO unaided by Seax is a broken and zig-zag one, though you can work out retrospectively the likely path by which the letters arrived. ‘Tizey’, a spinster with a formidable memory, inherited her father’s literary papers. She sold four letters from Shelley, but failed to sell those from Mary Shelley. She died in her nineties in 1903. As she is known to have remembered her only nephew in her will, I am deducing that they came to the ERO through her. This nephew was the pugnacious historian of Essex, J. Horace Round, whose father, John Round, Lord of the Manor of West Bergholt, had married Smith’s youngest daughter, Laura. (There is an ERO publication of 2001 by W. Raymond Powell, John Horace Round: Historian and Gentleman of Essex; this has more details about Round, his family, and the Horace Smith connection.)

The catalogue descriptions in D/DRh C102 give a good idea of the topics of the letters. There’s no mention of Frankenstein, and the snippet about Miss Crumpe was, of course, just a joke – nothing was going on between Miss Crumpe and Mary Shelley’s aged father! Two are about asking Smith to help expurgate a novel by Edward Trelawney. It contained shockingly explicit content (by 1831 standards), and the publishers wouldn’t wear it. Others are about asking Smith for permission to print a letter in which Shelley expounded his atheistic views. The letters show Mary Shelley in many lights – playful, charming, wheedling, fashion-conscious, anxious about riots in Sussex, apologetic, flustered, in pain. The later letters to ‘Tizey’ are in a scrawl – showing, sadly, the effects of the brain tumour that was to kill her. Some remarks give a different twist to received ideas of how she regarded Shelley’s satirical poems and radical pamphlets (she comes over as much more positive than has been thought). She is very proud of her son, Percy, then in his second year at Cambridge, and becoming increasingly politically-minded, as his father had been. His only fault, she says, is  – that he is too short.

To me, this is a prime example of how online catalogues of county record archives are helping scholars to ‘tread in unknown paths’, in Mary Shelley’s words. Many, many thanks to the superb ERO archivists!