Tuesday, 14 February 2012

A love letter from overseas

“The course of true love never did run smooth.”
Spoken by Lysander, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Act I, Scene I, Line 134, William Shakespeare.

Emigration party

As it is Valentine’s Day I thought it apt to tell you a love story from within our archive. This isn't easy as many of the children who passed through our homes were young. Boys and girls were housed in separate buildings and interaction between sexes was few and far between.

In our vast archive of emigration papers however, I came across a letter from a boy, William, who travelled across the seas to our receiving home Marchmont in April 1906 at the tender age of 13. Five years later we find him living with a farming family, Mr and Mrs Galloway, in the small village of Bethany, Ontario. At the age of 18 William describes himself as "not very large, I am only 5ft 4in high and weigh 122 pounds." He’s been around Canada trying his hand at farming, blacksmith work and considering entering into the world of engineering, living in ‘as good a home as a person would want’. However his heart lies elsewhere as his letter written on the 29th December 1911 shows:

William's letter, 1911

“Well Mr Ackroyd you know I came from Styal Cottage Homes and while I was there I fell in love with a pretty young girl, Ms. Hancock. Of course every boy will do that. Well you see I loved that girl, she was as dear to me as my life and is yet and she loved me that I know. Well I have been getting kind of lovesick thinking about her and I want you to find out for me whether she is at Styal Homes yet or not and if she isn’t I wish you would communicate with the Withington Workhouse, as you have to go through them to get out of the homes, as to where she went and who took her as I would like to find out where she is and I thought it would be handier for you to find out than for me as I wish you would. It will be one of the greatest favours you could do for me.”

Looking at census records it appears the girl 'Miss Nellie Hancock' was in Styal Mill in 1901 at the age of six. Ten years later the 1911 census shows her as a general domestic servant for a family in Bradford, West Yorkshire. It does not appear than she ever left England nor did William ever return from Canada. It is unknown what the Refuge’s response to William was but I’m hoping they tracked Nellie down. No amount of miles or time could diminish this boy’s love!

Happy Valentine's Day everyone.

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