Workshop 3: Insights through palaeography Thursday 26th

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Workshop 3: Insights through palaeography

Thursday 26th June

Lakeside Arts Centre

Workshop Leaders: Kathryn Summerwill (University of Nottingham) & Ruth Lewis-Jones (Lakeside Arts Centre)
One of the challenges of working with original handwritten documents is reading them!
There are plenty of books and websites to help you read older hands – medieval and 16th-18th century, but very little for the 19th or 20th centuries.
However, this is when individual people’s handwriting styles began to diverge, making them sometimes much harder to read than earlier hands.
People’s handwriting will vary depending on:

  • Their education. Primary education was only made compulsory in 1870, meaning that people born before around 1865 might never have gone to school.

  • Their age. A 60-year old person writing in 1914 will tend to employ the handwriting style they were taught at school, which will be different from the style of someone aged 20.

  • Their health. Illness or old age can cause weak or shaking hands.

  • How much time they spend writing – are they fluent writers, scrawling across the page? Or are they unaccustomed to writing, and take their time laboriously?

  • The purpose of what they are writing. Is it an official record, which must be written neatly? Or is it a private letter written to someone used to reading their handwriting?

Some examples

Letters of condolence relating to the death of Patrick Chaworth-Musters in the First World War. A variety of people with very different hands.

  • ChM/C/19/4 Telegram from the War Office, London, to Mr J.P. Chaworth-

Musters; 12 Jan. 1915

Clearing hospital, British Expeditionary Force; 12 Jan. 1915

Jan. 1915

  • ChM/C/19/8 Letter from Algernon L. Bonham [colleague in the trenches]; 14

Jan. 1915

Ma B 189/1063

Letter from Peter Rose, Moorhouse, to Mr Horncastle, 30 Nov. 1874

An example of a letter written by a relatively uneducated man. Peter Rose was probably the son of Christopher Rose of Moorhouse, baptised in 1830. In 1874 he was keen to become a farmer and publican, but his request to Earl Manvers to become tenant of the Dovecote was not successful. In the 1881 and 1891 censuses he was working as a bricklayer. He could write, but was not very good at spelling.
Mr Horncastle,

Please sir I heare that the dovecoate inn is to let would be glad if you would give me a chance. I applied for it when Mr Motley had took it and your farther said he was sorry that I had not applied sooner he offered me one at the same time at Blythe. I ham 42 years of age has been on the Ossington eastate 30 years can have a recomandation from Mr Cann or Lady Ossington or any of the farmers. I have plenty of stok to bring and A 1000 pound in ready money would be glad to come to thorsby if I have any chance. My farther has one feild under you. Would be glad to do all repares myself if you gave stuf,

Yourse obedently

Peter Rose



University College Nottingham, Science and Art Department General Register 1881–1886, p. 2

Showing names, addresses, ages and occupations of students entering the College in October 1881. This is an official record, written in the usual style of registers at the time. The initial letters of the surnames are perhaps a little difficult to read at first.
Hint: if you can’t read a letter, try to find it elsewhere on the page to see if you can work out what it is from the sense of the word.

Ma 6A 1/128, pp. 21-22

Thoresby disbursements account book 1913-1914

These pages of the Game Account on the Thoresby estate show the amount of effort and money that went into making hunting and shooting available for Earl Manvers and his guests. It is written in a formal ‘copperplate’ hand.

Online resources

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