My father is a very keen collector of old postage stamps, letters and envelopes, some of them dating as early as the 1617. Dad often likes to show me, especially if he has found something exciting or of great interest. On this particular evening he wanted to show me an envelope he had acquired from eBay.
The envelope was very small with two post marks, one from Paris with a date of 9th July 1850, and another from Darlington. The envelope also had a red wax seal on the back, with what looked like some sort of coat of arms or family crest.
In beautiful hand writing the envelope was addressed to: Mr Dent, Streatlam Castle, Barnard Castle
Dad wondered who Mr Dent was? We know that sadly Streatlam Castle is no longer there any more as it was demolished in 1927 and later blown up in a training exercise by the Territorial Army. However, it was owned for much of the 19th century by John Bowes, one of the founders of our Museum.
My father believed that a Mr Dent worked for John Bowes, but did not realise at the time that Streatlam Castle was indeed one of John Bowes’ homes, so we were left wondering if this Mr Dent, named on this envelope was actually the Mr Dent that worked for John Bowes.
As I have recently gained employment at the Museum I said that I would try and find out. I also thought it was a great shame that the letter was missing. The next day I went into work and contacted our Archivist, Judith Phillips. She invited me up to the Library and Archives as she believed that the envelope could be connected to The Bowes Museum, and she may be able to find evidence of the missing letter in the Archives.
I had only ever been shown the Library and Archives on my induction day, so when I arrived up there on the agreed day, I could not keep away from the windows as the view is magnificent and it is so peaceful up there. When Judith finally had my attention, we worked out from the post marks that it was sent from Paris on 9th July 1850 and arrived in Barnard Castle 3 days later. We then checked the Archive catalogue and found the folder of letters John sent in 1850. Next we checked the word-processed transcripts and found a letter written on 8th July 1850. The following letter is dated a few days later and it turned out to be the missing letter! I could not believe it. With the click of a few buttons and the sheer skill of our Archivist and her volunteers’ work, we found a letter written by John Bowes that had had no envelope for 164 years.
Judith has given me a photocopy of the letter and a transcript for my Dad and the Museum now has a photocopy of the envelope. My father was really pleased. He has since visited the Museum for the first time in years and he really enjoyed it and he will definitely be visiting again. He has also found out that Mr Ralph Dent worked for John Bowes for 30 years.
This has been very interesting for me and my father. It’s a great example of how our Archives can work, and my father is really pleased that he has something special in his own collection.
By Caroline Nilsson, Customer Service Assistant