December 2017

This month's document is chosen by Cath Mayo, Conservator.

The Archive is currently updating its policies and I was asked to look at our Conservation Policy. One of the first tasks was to go through both the Document and Photographic stores to create an inventory of all the different materials that we have in storage; this was no easy task, as the Archive is large and has an awful lot of weird and wonderful items made of many different types of material.

My initial thought was: 'Oh no, that's going to take forever'; it did take a while and was a bit trying at times, but I found some interesting bits and bobs along the way. I decided to take random sample boxes to look at, as going through each and every box was going to be extremely time-consuming. When I reached the Special Collections section, I chose one of the boxes off the shelf, not really paying attention to the label and started to have a look. I then realised that it was a box full of begging letters sent to William Morris, Lord Nuffield, the founder of Morris Motors. I placed a tick in the 'paper' section on my checklist then, out of curiosity, took a closer look.

Why this document?

As well as running a successful motor assembly business, Lord Nuffield was a generous philanthropist and gave away millions of pounds to the causes he supported. Whenever he made a notable donation, it would be reported in the local and national press. This would spark a deluge of begging letters from all over the world, and this archive box contained a large sample, some from charities and some personal requests. They included several from older people who were after a bit of money so that they could go on holiday. I plucked a particularly interesting one out to share with you.

The letter that I have chosen was written by a Mrs Sealey in 1961. It was one of many sent to Lord Nuffield after it was reported that he had gifted Morris Garages Ltd to the Nuffield Foundation on 22 May 1961. The writer says she remembers a young William Morris from her days in the Midlands, though she gives an address in Pimlico, London, SW1. Here is the transcribed version of this particular letter (the original spelling has been preserved)…

'My Lord

Having seen your name in the Photo news, I feel I must drop you a line. When you were on your bike near Coventry Station many years ago, I was a young cook with the Late Mr Docker in Kennelworth. You used to come up the hill riding so fast & once nearly knocking me over. I said then what a boy. Now I am an old woman & shall be 90 in July. How I would like a little holiday. But I am only an old age pensioner, so that is impossible. A little present would be a Godsend to help me out & I think you are such a wonderful man. What you have done, especially for the blind, don’t be offended my asking for a little help out. Hope I shall hear from you & that you will live a many more years to come & enjoy that which you have worked for so hard.

Sincerely yours, Mrs Sealey'

It seems Mrs Sealey may have been offering William Morris a chance to redeem himself for almost knocking her over on his bike all those years ago. Sadly, her letter lives in a folder entitled 'Begs Not Acknowledged'; so unfortunately it seems that poor Mrs Sealey never received a response, let alone a little holiday.