Anybody watching Poldark will have noticed three things about epistolary communication in the late 18th century. They had no envelopes, their quill handwriting was elegant and, above all, delivery was usually the same day – making the Regency postal service considerably more efficient than today’s overpriced service.
I mention this as for Valentine’s Day this year I decided to give my wife a novel present: a love letter written on “hot press” parchment paper in authentic Regency-style script, in “iron gall ink”, using a 19th-century recipe. I arranged for the letter to be delivered to the front door of Upton Cressett, my house in Shropshire, by a 37-year-old calligrapher called Stephen Duckett, who personally folds each letter and then seals them in dark ruby wax with your loved one’s initials. I had seen his services advertised on an obscure calligraphy website.
After my wife was presented with this beautiful “hand cut” flowery letter, the least I could do was invite my epistolatory messenger in for a cup of tea. It turned out that his previous career had been as an apprentice butler at Buckingham Palace, before serving in such great houses as Blenheim Palace, Hatfield House and Arundel Castle (working for the Duke of Norfolk, the most senior lay Catholic in the country).
As we sat in front of the fire drinking tea, his ex-butler credentials got me thinking. Could I lure him out of retirement – if only for a weekend to organise arrangements for a house party my wife and I were hosting to celebrate my son’s christening?
Stephen looked mildly pensive at the suggestion but politely said he would “think about” turning Upton Cressett into Downton Abbey for the weekend and supervising all the meals, the kitchen, the flowers and the drinks.
“Where did you train to be a calligrapher?” I finally asked as we ate a second slice of cake.
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