Letter writing is seen as a dying art in the twenty first century as most people now phone, text, tweet, facebook or email. Before all of these inventions, letter writing was the main form of communication, particularly among ladies of the upper classes who were well educated and had plenty of time to write to their often copious relatives and friends. Young ladies in particular often enjoyed combining their drawing skills with that of writing a letter, as can be seen in the example below, which also resulted in an enjoyable puzzle for the recipient to resolve.


The letter dates from the 1860s and was sent to George Carnegie, known as Lord Rosehill, who from 1878 was the 9th Earl of Northesk of Longwood House, Owslebury and also of Ethie Castle, Scotland. It is part of the large Carnegie family, Earls of Northesk collection, received in 2015, which is currently being catalogued. (Image below of the bundle which the letter was found with).


It is fascinating to see that some of the abbreviations used in texting today are no recent invention, being used over 150 years ago for the same purpose, such as R for ‘are’, and U for ‘you’.  These devices are known as a rebus which use pictures to represent words or parts of words. 

I have managed to decipher most of the letter, but have some question marks over some of the words.  Try deciphering the letter before reading our transcription!




My dear Rosehill

I was delighted with your letter. We went yesterday to Hillrose?, to see Claud Housen? in his uniform, but he had not got it on. We went and saw the Miss Reneys and they gave us cups of tea and cake. It is dreadfully cold, we are all sitting round an enormous fire and now it is raining.

May? I come and see you while I am at Carflower?

Farewell? my dear cousin

Ever your affectionate, Constance Carnegie

Hampshire Record Office holds enormous quantities of correspondence, including letters from politicians, bishops, French émigrés, letters relating to the settlement and relief of the poor, letters written while away at sea or at war, love letters and of course chatty letters between friends and relations – take a look at our online catalogue on our website at http://calm.hants.gov.uk .

Sarah Farley, archivist


2 thoughts on “Texting U in the 19th century

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