Last Updated: Wednesday, June 28, 2017

University Lecturer Receives a Treasure-Trove of Nineteenth Century Letters

A University lecturer at North Lindsey College has received the best gift an English and history professional could take delivery of.

Dr Rachel Webster has been researching nineteenth-century literature and to her surprise she received a rather exciting email concerning a box of letters regrading her current research project.

For the past few years Rachel has been researching the lives of two largely forgotten nineteenth-century sisters, Susanna and Catherine Winkworth. She became aware of their works through research she had undertaken on Elizabeth Gaskell (author of North and South and Cranford) and the lively intellectual and religious circle that she and the sisters were a part of in Manchester. The sisters translated German hymns and theology and used these texts to engage with the religious debates of their time.

Un-expectantly Rachel recently received an email from the wife of a retired academic. Her husband was moving into a nursing home and she had begun to sort through his academic work. She had discovered his archive of old papers (letters, photographs etc) connected with the Winkworth family and thinking that they would be of ‘interest to the right person’, she googled ‘Catherine Winkworth research’ and Rachels name came up as the author of an article on the sisters. The lady offered Rachel the archive, which she was delighted to accept, and a week later became the owner of original letters.

Rachel said: “I marvelled as I pulled out one fragile letter after another, revealing the spindly, and often faded, handwriting of the correspondent.

“These letters have enormous value and significance for me as a researcher of the Winkworths’ work, and I look forward to what they will reveal as I transcribe them. However, they are also beautiful historical objects that contain wonderful features like the penny black stamp and evidence of hurriedly conceived money calculations written on the back of an envelope. It is a physical connection to our past that reminds us of the role the letter played in communication and everyday life, particularly in an age when there were no mobile phones or emails.”

Dr. Webster is a key member of the English and History degree team at North Lindsey and these letters are invaluable to Rachel’s personal research but will also add great interest to the teaching of the English modules on the degree. 

The degree is a joint honours degree and the History lecturers are also excited about this nineteenth century material.  For more information about the degree please contact The University Centre Information and Advice Office on (01724) 294125 or email:


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