Object in Focus-Elizabeth Lea Letter

a very old piece of paper lays on a table. The right hand side shows a drawing of Hemel Hempstead landscape and the handwriting of Elizabeth Lea. The other show the address and a black penny stamp

Early in 2014 it was discovered that a rare handwritten letter dating from 1841 was being sold on eBay. We were successful in gaining funds from the Hertfordshire Heritage Fund and the Friends of the Dacorum Museum to purchase the letter and it now forms part of The Dacorum Heritage Trust’s collection.
The letter was written by Elizabeth Lea on February 28th 1841 to her cousin in London, which arrived on 1st March 1841.
It includes a penny black stamp (1d.) and is from the original runs of 1840, the very first year that the postage stamp came into being. The stamp is in great condition with four margins and could have even been printed on John Dickinson paper.

The letterhead contains an engraving of Hemel Hempstead by J.H. Buckingham with figures on foot and in carts titled “Returning from the Market”. Mr John Henry Buckingham is a prolific local artist with specific connections to St. Albans, but who produced many etchings locally during Victoria’s reign.
It shows market-goers climbing the long hill out of Hemel Hempstead on the St. Albans Road. Those who can walk are seen carrying packs or baskets, whilst others mainly ladies take the carrier’s horse drawn wagon.

The route of the St. Albans Road was moved to the south with the coming of the new town, but Buckingham’s viewpoint can still be seen very much the same today as one drops down into the town just before the Midland Hotel on the right hand side coming from the Adeyfield direction. The area to the right is still undeveloped and remains as playing fields unlike much of the area shown in the foreground to St. Mary’s Church. Compare the view with a contemporary photograph taken by one of our volunteers in the spring.

J. H. Buckingham is best known for his watercolours and satirical cartoons of St. Albans, its people and politicians. Whilst his technique was maybe considered poor by Victorian standards, his humour and interest in everyday life make him one of the most interesting of provincial artists. Buckingham later altered this print, removing the tree, part of the bank, and the two figures awkwardly sinking out of view in the foreground. A copy resides in St. Albans museum.
Within the letter Elizabeth writes about many areas of interest here are a few:-
- “the pulpit is hung with black for Sir Astley Cooper and his pew lined with Black”
This is reference to Sir Astley Cooper’s death and funeral. Sir Astley Cooper, a distinguished British Surgeon was of noticeable importance to the local area. He founded the infirmary at Piccotts End, Hemel Hempstead in January 1827. The Dacorum Heritage Trust has launched a funding campaign to purchase, this building. click here to find out more. Sir Astley Cooper’s death was on 12th February, the letter is written on 28th.
- “Newman’s have got the post office given them about a fortnight since they have been long expecting to have it they will remove soon up in the town to a larger house nearly opposite Mrs Slades were Betsey lives they are well.”
News of the first post office in Hemel Hempstead.
- “I have been spending nine or ten days at Mrs Leach’s at Langley and a very pleasant holiday I had. We were out a great deal and had company at Home so all enjoyed ourselves very much, she is a nice woman”
Social history, reference to family in (Kings) Langley. ‘Holidaying’ in Kings Langley, which is a nearby town, also situated in Dacorum.
- “I Hope you and William are well as it leaves myself and friends. Except my brother and he is very poorly…Mr Murry thinks it is a little touch of the influenza” Description of other members of the family.

One of our volunteers, successfully found the last Will and Testament of John Lea dated 1792, who was father of Elizabeth Lea. This proves that this is in fact a family from Hemel Hempstead. Our Volunteer also found Elizabeth on the 1841 census living in Marlowes and states she was ‘born in county’. She had a servant, so she was well to do.
We also found out that Elizabeth Lea is the sister of George Lea and had a wife named Elizabeth, née Cooper. George had no children, was a grocer in Hemel High Street and then lived at Old Marlowes House. This Grade II* listed house still stands on the corner of the Marlowes and Midland Road.
This letter makes a wonderful addition to the DHT collection, which makes a great bases for illustrating a family from the local area. You rarely find privately written letters from this period and would fill an obvious gap in our collection.
The Letter will be on display at the Hemel Hempstead Civic Centre in 2015.
Full transcript of the letter

Mrs Stephens
64 Regent Street
Hempstead Febry 28
My Dear Couzen
I set down to address a few lines to you
I have been very long Expecting to have a Letter from
you I have not heard of you since Christmas I hope you
and Willm are well as it Leves Myself & Friends
Except my Brother and he is very Poorley he has not
been able for Buisness for this Month past Mr Merry
thinks it is a little Touch of the Influenza he has such
bad Nights scare any sleep and such frightful dreams
that he vapours Himself and it makes him so Low sprited
but I hope he will get better he is better to Day I found
him Walking in the Garden: when I Whent up to Church
Mrs Lea & Mrs Cooper is quite well I suppose you have not
got your House settled for as yet as we have not heard of you
I have been Spending nine or Ten Days at Mrs Leach’s
at Langley and a very pleasant Holiday I had wee
were out a great deal and had Company at Home
so wee Enjoyed ourselves very much she is a Nice Woman
Miss Newman’s have got the Post Office given them
about a fortnight since they have been long Expecting
to have it they will remove soon up in the Town to a
Larger House nearly opposite Mrs Slades were
Betsey lives they are well Mrs Jennings had
a Letter from them the Other day you must tell
Willm he will not have any more rides on the Pony
he is Killed John Jennings thrown it down that first
hard frost coming from Felden and Broke it B***
so bad they were cut to the bone it was Doctored some
time but got worse and Caused it a Locked Jaw
and then it was obliged to be Killed I was so very
much grieved about it I quite Cryed I whent up on
the Thursday Morning and heard it was killed I
really could not help Crying because it had been
such a good creature my Brother was hurt about it
it is a bad loss Mrs Jennings My Brother & Mrs Lea all
desire their Love & the Girls & Myself Likewise
in it the pulpit is hung with black for Sir Astley Cooper
& his Pew lined with Black & Escution put on the Black on the pulpit
he will be very much missed * Yelloby was to have been
married the Tuesday before he Died I suppose it will be put by a time now
& Willm to belive me to remain your sincere & Most affectionate friend
Elizabeth Lea
P S in haste I am going to Church
P S be sure & rite to me directly I wish to hear of you



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