Manuscripts and Special Collections

Living Letters

This exhibition ran from Thursday 12 October until Sunday 3 March 2024, at the Weston Gallery, Lakeside Arts.

For centuries letters have been key vehicles of human communication.  This exhibition explored correspondence from the medieval period to the present and celebrated the letter’s enduring importance. It examined letters’ capacity to chronicle all stages and aspects of human life - from birth to death - and to capture both the personal and the professional. It revealed how they are powerful in their abilities to connect with and impact on the lives of others. It illuminated how letters are also deeply vulnerable, fragile objects whose preservation is liable to the vicissitudes of time, fashion, and chance.  

This exhibition was jointly curated by University of Nottingham Libraries, Manuscripts and Special Collections, and Professor Lynda Pratt, School of English, University of Nottingham.

 Poster for exhibition showing 19th engraving of a man and a woman sitting at a desk writing letters with quill pens



Exhibition themes  

Six exhibition boards were on display in the Gallery. They can be downloaded or viewed online as Adobe PDFs. 

Living lettersBeginnings and educationGetting it right: life, love and family


Further Research

Items from our collections are available to consult in the Manuscripts and Special Collections reading room on King's Meadow Campus.

Links to our catalogues, and specific collections relating to letters featuring in the exhibition can be found below.


Films: Watch our series of films on the theme of 'Living Letters'

Curator Professor Lynda Pratt introduces the 'Living Letters' exhibition

Mrs Fanny Ellerby of Fledborough: estate correspondence concerning a broken porch


Black bordered mourning letters: the correspondence of loss in the 1850s

Introducing a scrapbook of letters collected by 19th century Nottingham architect T.C. Hine


Proposal letters between John Hoyland and Helen Doncaster, 1912

Need to find work as a paid companion? A letter-writing manual could help you find the right words!


Letter writing and technology, highlighting postcards from the First World War

Letter books from a time of war - Lord William Bentinck in Sicily, 1811-1814



From the blog

Read our blogs and Discover newsletter articles about items featured in the Living Letters exhibition.

Connie Ford


An introduction to the extensive correspondence of Connie Ford, Nottingham veterinarian, poet, sailor and political activist.

Go to blog post

Effie Ruskin and Lady Eastlake


Evidence in the archives of the scandal associated with the annulment of the marriage of Euphemia Gray and art critic John Ruskin.

Go to blog post

Beeton knows best

Embossed front cover of book of letter-writing advice

Letter-writing advice in Samuel Beeton's Complete letter writer for ladies and gentlemen.

Go to article, on pages 6-7



Programme of talks and events at the Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside Arts. Recordings of some of the talks were made available online. 

Lunchtime Talks

Confessions of a romantic letter hunter

Thursday 19 October, 1-2pm
Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside Arts

The controversial Poet Laureate Robert Southey (1774-1843) was a contemporary of Jane Austen and an antagonist of Lord Byron. Professor Lynda Pratt shares her experiences of working on the first-ever edition of Southey’s Collected Letters, including the challenges of: editing 7,500 letters, identifying ‘lost’ correspondents,
and writing footnotes covering a vast range of subjects.

Ten years of the Letters Page

Wednesday 22 November, 1-2pm
Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside Arts

The Letters Page is a literary journal in letters, with all submissions sent in as handwritten letters by post. Join its editor, Professor Jon McGregor, for a look at some of the letters received from across the world since launching in 2013, and for a reflection on the place of letter writing in the twenty-first century.

Creativity, craft and correspondence: letters as art

Tuesday 16 January 2024, 1-2pm
Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside Arts

Dr Charlotte May draws on correspondence held in the University’s Department of Manuscript and Special Collections to demonstrate how letters have long provided a space for artistic expression.

Letters and laughs: humour in literary correspondence

Thursday 29 February 2024, 1-2pm
Djanogly Theatre, Lakeside Arts

Amy Wilcockson draws on letters by Edward Lear, Jane Austen, and Thomas Campbell to discuss how – and why – they use comedy, nonsense, and the absurd. She explores how such attempts to create camaraderie, advance social status, and deal with difficult situations, provide an intimate insight into the lives of all three authors.



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Manuscripts and Special Collections

Kings Meadow Campus
Lenton Lane
Nottingham, NG7 2NR

telephone: +44 (0) 115 951 4565
fax: +44 (0) 115 846 8651