Lost Letters

Round & About

lost letters

Community heritage project, Lost Letters, launched 

hrough a series of more than 40 workshops and a touring exhibition, the newlylaunched community heritage project, Lost Letters, will engage people across Surrey in the lost art of letter writing.  

Lost Letters aims to engage people across Surrey with their local history through a partnership with Surrey County Council’s Surrey History Centre and the rich archives they hold. 

The project wants to bring to life the lives and experiences of our predecessors and ask for a response, by letter, from current residents, who will be invited to take part. It will culminate in a book, touring exhibition and an online legacy, displaying the original letters alongside some contemporary responses.  

Most people can relate to the key experiences and phases of life – childhood, school, love, parenting, friends, work, home, holidays, loss, celebrations – and this project will share them through the medium of letters, bringing to life some personal heritage of the people of Surrey and illustrating its importance, value and relevance for people living in Surrey today.  

Collections explored will include:

→ The frank and engaging letters of Lady Mary Wallis to her friend Mary Turner that cover all aspects of life in Surrey while raising a family and being married to the engineer Sir Barnes Wallis. “May’s twins have arrived – well but rather feeble. George was 4lb and John 3 ¾. They have already been christened as they are so weakly. They are true twins made of one ovum. They won’t suck but have to have food dropped into their mouths.”   

→ The evacuee letters of Vera Dawes who was billeted from Ewell to York and writes to her family and friends to share her experiences 

The love story of Frank and Isabel Baker of Mitcham who were lifelong Labour supporters and committed socialists but whose relationship was strained by the Second World War and Isabel’s politics moving towards communism

Letters retelling the details of VE Day celebrations in the county and people’s hopes for the future after a very difficult period 

→ The letters of Herbert Henry Bowerman, a private in the trenches during the First World War, “I feel awfully weak some days but they say it is no use going to the doctor unless you are nearly dead.” 

Participants will be encouraged to respond to letters in both written and visual art form using the archives to shape their creative responses and will be supported by professional artists. The written and visual responses to the letters created will be shared in a touring exhibition free to access between September and November and with opportunities for the public to add their own responses. Confirmed venues include Surrey History Centre, Princess Alice Hospice and Riverhouse Barn. 

Surrey History Centre is supporting the project. Julian Pooley, Heritage Public Services and Engagement manager, Surrey County Council said: “We are looking forward to being a major partner in this exciting community project which will engage people across the county with our heritage in a very immediate way.   

By using these letters with schools, in care homes and other community settings, we will enable people to discover their local heritage and recognise that so many of the issues and concerns that we face today are nothing new.” 

Lost Letters is organised by It’s Not Your Birthday But… (INYBB) and created in response to seeing increasing social isolation in communities and recognising the power of arts and heritage to combat it by connecting and bringing people together through creativity, reducing isolation and improving wellbeing.  

The project has been funded by £68,000 from The National Lottery Heritage Fund. 

More info

If you are interested in being involved in this project, they are looking for volunteers to help curate a selection of diverse letters as well as volunteers to help run the workshops and support the tour. They would also like to hear from you if you are able to host the touring exhibition in the autumn. Contact [email protected] or write to INYBB, The Old Bank House, 26 Station Approach, Hinchley Wood, KT10 0SR.