A letter posted in the midst of World War I has finally reached its London destination after more than a century. Posted in Bath in 1916, the letter arrived at its London address in 2021.
The letter, addressed to Katie Marsh, had a penny King George V stamp and Bath and Sydenham postmarks, ended up in the mailbox of its intended address in Crystal Palace. But unfortunately, the home had changed owners to theatre director Finlay Glen by the time of arrival.
The letter had been sent by Christabel Mennell to her friend Katie, who was married to stamp dealer Oswald Marsh, while she was on holiday in Bath, according to historian Stephen Oxford. It begins: “My dear Katie, will you lend me your aid – I am feeling quite ashamed of myself after saying what I did at the circle.”
Royal Mail have said they are “uncertain what happened in this instance”. But according to Oxford, it’s likely the letter was lost at the now closed Sydenham sorting office.
“I think it is being redeveloped. So, in that process they must have found this letter hidden somewhere, perhaps fallen behind some furniture”, he told the Guardian.
“The Upper Norwood and Crystal Palace area became very popular with wealthy middle-class people in the late 1800s and early 1900s. The letter is from Christabel Mennel, the daughter of a local wealthy tea merchant, Henry Tuke Mennell. And she was friends with Catherine – or Katie – Marsh.
“Oswald Marsh is recorded in 1901 living in Crystal Palace as a lodger and as a stamp dealer. He was 20 then and I suspect he was being funded by his father, who was a quite wealthy architect who lived in Northern Ireland. They were a Quaker family.”
The Marshes married in 1904, and later left their Crystal Palace address for a larger Victorian house. Oswald would become a highly regarded stamp dealer, and would often get called in as an expert in cases of stamp fraud.
The house the letter was addressed to has since been demolished and replaced by newer flats, but still made its way down Finlay Glen’s mailbox. The 27-year-old said: “We thought 2016, then saw it had the king’s stamp on it, and realised 1916 so thought it was probably OK to open it.
“We were fairly mystified as to how it could have taken so long to be delivered but thought it must have got lodged somewhere in the sorting office and a century later was found and someone stuck it in the post.”
“We held on to it and tried to decipher it, though some is hard to read. And then we got in touch with the local historical society, because I thought they might be able to tell us about the people involved. I had no idea that so many people would find it so interesting.”