A letter that was lost in 1916 was delivered in London 105 years later by the Royal Mail.
Where the missive, sent from a Christabel Mennell in Bath, England, has languished for more than a century is a mystery. But as The Guardian reported Thursday, “Bearing a penny George V stamp and Bath and Sydenham postmarks, it dropped through the letterbox of theatre director Finlay Glen’s Crystal Palace flat in 2021.”
Glen lives in an apartment that now sits on the property to which the letter was addressed.
The letter was intended for Mrs. Oswald — Katie — Marsh. And the opening lines read: “My dear Katie, will you lend me your aid — I am feeling quite ashamed of myself after saying what I did at the circle.”
“We noticed that the year on it was ’16. So we thought it was 2016,” Glen told CNN recently. “Then we noticed that the stamp was a king rather than a queen, so we felt that it couldn’t have been 2016.”
“The letter was sent in the middle of World War I — more than a decade before Queen Elizabeth II was born,” CNN said.
According to several news reports, Glen realized the letter was old and opened it, finding parts of it faded and difficult to decipher. It stayed in a drawer for a while, then he recently decided to contact the local historical society and a local quarterly magazine to see if they could learn anything about the sender or the intended recipient, which is how the letter recently made headlines.
Stephen Oxford, editor of the quarterly The Norwood Review, dug in to see if he could trace the letter. In a news release, Oxford said the message was likely lost at the Sydenham mail sorting office, which has been closed for some time. He suspects the letter had fallen behind or under something and was found while the building was being redeveloped.
A letter posted to "my dear Katie" in 1916 has just arrived in Crystal Palace.Stephen Oxford, editor of the Norwood Review, said Oswald Marsh was a highly regarded stamp dealer. Written by family friend Christabel Mennell, daughter of a wealthy local tea merchant Henry Mennell. pic.twitter.com/rmWSPZ2Tm0— The Norwood Society (@NorwoodSociety) February 16, 2023
Oxford’s research suggested that at the time the letter was written, the Crystal Palace area was home to a wealthy middle class. Mennell, who wrote the letter, was “the daughter of a wealthy local tea merchant, Henry Tuke Mennell” and a friend of the intended recipient, Catherine Marsh, who was nicknamed Katie.
“Oswald Marsh is recorded in 1901 living in Crystal Palace as a lodger and as a stamp dealer,” Oxford said, per The Guardian. “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.”
Glen told the New York Post that if the letter proved to have “serious historical significance,” the historical society could keep it. Otherwise, he’d like to hold onto it.
The Royal Mail issued a statement to CNN saying it didn’t know why the letter was so delayed. “Incidents like this happen very occasionally, and we are uncertain what has happened in this incident,” a spokesman said. “We appreciate that people will be intrigued by the history of this letter from 1916, but have no further information on what might have happened.”