Christmas MicroHistory 4: Lucky Finds

Monday, December 21st, 2020

This is the FOURTH of our special Christmas-themed micro-histories in which we will embrace the task of demonstrating how an unexpected subject not only has a history but is massively important and interesting – in just 15 minutes! We will start with a shared example and then have just five minutes each to make a case for an interesting history on that very unexpected subject. Contributions will be rigorously timed and you – dear listeners – will get to vote on SM on what YOU think was the most interesting fact you heard today.

Today’s topic is LUCKY FINDS – nothing quite says Christmas like serendipity! You may all be becoming slightly chimney obsessed as we are nearing the festive season – decorating fireplaces, hanging stockings – and we have talked in our microhistory episodes on Evil and shoes – about how chimneys are a way into the houses for evil beings but they are also remarkable historical archives: they often contain artefacts and documents that have been bricked in or lodged up the flu. Serendipity in this way has left us with one of the most interesting types of letters to be discovered in chimneys: children’s letters to Father Christmas. For historians, they are a joy. ‘I want a baby doll and a waterproof with a hood and a pair of gloves and a toffee apple and a gold penny and a silver sixpence and a long toffee’ wrote the breathless Alfred or Hannah Howard in October 1911 before placing their letter in the fire. It started to burn before being picked up by a draft and whisked to safety on a tiny shelf inside the chimney of their house in Dublin. 81 years later it as discovered by a couple renovating their house. Such letters are magical because, not only do they record a list of material objects, but a child’s hopes and, sometimes, their fears. The lesson of all of this is never to take your chimney for granted: take a look inside – you just never know what you might find Who knew! Lucky finds are also of course all about the discovered of a long-lost John Donne poetry manuscript, and coins found while weeding in the garden dating from the age of HenryVIII carrying the initials of three of his wives, as well as rare finds of the Bible!

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