The story of the Wyatt crossed letter

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For the purpose of this case study it is only a short account of a much more detailed and lengthy piece of work and is described here to demonstrate the range of source material and methodology I use when researching. I concentrate on only the two principal characters (the letter writer and the recipient) and their immediate family.


Client brief

A client gave me a fascinating letter and asked me to research it as she was interested to establish the story that lay behind the words. Who were the various individuals, where did they live, what was their background, what were their occupations where and what were the places like that were mentioned in it. She was intrigued by the story it appeared to tell.



The letter was written by S Wyatt, dated 24th October 1829 and sent from St Johns, Newfoundland Canada to his brother Captain Henry Wyatt RN in Puckpool Nr Ryde, Isle of Wight [Hampshire England].

 crossed letter

This letter is written in the form of a ‘crossed letter’.

 You read it first the way you would normally read a letter, ignoring the cross-written lines, then you turn the page 90 degrees and read the cross writing, ignoring the first lines. It looks impossible at first glance, but once you get the knack of blocking out the different lines, it becomes legible. On one page there is a map and this is crossed with only one line of writing… thank goodness.

 crossed letter

This letter is essentially one piece of paper 38cm x 22cm folded in half to give 4 sides of writing each 19cm x 22 cm. To post, it was further folded to 11cm x 10cm and sealed with wax.


Before 1840 there were various factors which affected the cost of posting a letter, these included:

  • the distance involved
  • the weight
  • whether it was a single or a double sheet
  • whether there was anything enclosed
  • whether it was paid for on despatch or receipt

To save on postage they ‘crossed’ their letters to use only a single sheet, it essentially halved the postage cost.


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