Record of the Month

The letters of Miss Dorothy Hartley – AM 1192

Picture1.pngIn the countdown to my departure from the Record Office, I have been busying myself with cataloguing lots of small accessions, in an attempt to ‘do my bit’ and decrease the ever-growing list of archives that are deposited at the Record Office every year.

It was therefore to my absolute delight that I came across a rather unassuming packet of letters from the 1970s, now catalogued as WSRO AM 1192. They are not that old in terms of the other documents we hold (Oslac’s charter anyone?) but rather it was the association with the author of the letters which I think warranted them as the first Record of the Month for 2018.

This small packet of letters came from the estate of Miss Dorothy Morgan, who resided in Chichester for over 40 years and was the vice-president of Bishop Otter College (now the University of Chichester). Writing to her is Miss Dorothy Hartley (1893-1985), the image4eminent historian, author and illustrator, and the subject of a BBC documentary hosted by Dr Lucy Worsley in 2015 (a book accompanied the series consisting of newspaper articles Dorothy wrote for the Daily Sketch in the 1930s).  Miss Hartley wrote many books on the history, folklore and rural crafts and customs of England with her most famous book being ‘Food in England’, which has been continuously in print since it was published in 1954 and is regarded a classic by many cookery writers.  It was as a result of the BBC documentary that copies of this text were bought by the masses, making them hard to find for a while and the few copies for sale priced in their hundreds.

The reason I was so excited to catalogue these letters is because I am one of perhaps a small gathering of Dorothy Hartley fans, and I have collected her books wherever I manage to find them. Food in England is a rather large but very cosy book, one that you could curl up on a Sunday afternoon with a image1cup of tea, and read all about old English recipes, foods and culinary customs.  Accompanying the text are her own illustrations, and to my delight, one of her drawings even feature in one of the letters, a pair of oxen horns (typically Dorothy, I think).  What makes it all the more enjoyable is the fact that Miss Hartley travelled around England on her bicycle, speaking to local characters and gathering together all this local history that is considered lost now.  I would consider her one of those wonderful people who take the time to record and gather local history, much like the researchers we have in the Record Office.  It is thanks to these people that we have such a wealth of history at our fingertips and that we know so much about the past, particularly information which would otherwise have been lost and never known about.

For those who wish to find out more about Dorothy Hartley, obtain one of her books, visit the Record Office to see these letters, or perhaps go and indulge in seeing Dorothy’s very own archive, which is housed at the Museum of English Rural Life at the University of Reading.

Holly Wright

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