Other People’s Mail

Over the weekend I spent a very enjoyable and memorable few days at a celebratory get together for my mother’s side of the family. Yesterday, after most of the relatives had returned to their various parts of the country, my uncle showed us some of the inventions of my great-grandfather’s, A.C.W. Aldis (1878-1953), that he has stored in his attic, along with some of his files of old letters and photos from within the family.

My great-grandfather did a lot of work in optics, inventing such things as the Aldis signalling lamp and an overhead projector. We saw a signalling lamp, along with several overhead projectors, a number of cameras, and an epidiascope. A steampunk enthusiast would have a field day with some of the items – lots of brass lenses and fine late Victorian or Edwardian engineering.

The inventions may have been fascinating, but the old letters were equally so. A.C.W. seems to have had a sense of humour, and penned the following letter to his young sister-in-law, containing some of the earliest instances of ‘text speak’ that I have yet encountered.

The letter dates from 1906, and is addressed to ‘Miss’ ‘Dollie’ ‘Smith’:

I will leave it to you to decode the letter’s contents:

There were a few other gems, including this one, dating from WWII in which A.C.W. writes on the subject of one of his brother’s patent disputes:

Those Germans – constantly getting away with exploiting the original work of the Britisher!

The following letter was also a very interesting read, in which my grandparents write back to the supporters of their work in Nigeria, announcing their engagement, and explaining the rather unconventional feelings and circumstances around it. It is also amusing to see how certain traits have remained in the family!

About Alastair Roberts

Alastair Roberts (PhD, Durham University) writes in the areas of biblical theology and ethics, but frequently trespasses beyond these bounds. He participates in the weekly Mere Fidelity podcast, blogs at Alastair’s Adversaria, and tweets at @zugzwanged.
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4 Responses to Other People’s Mail

  1. John Comrie-Greig says:

    Am editing Australian Concise Oxford Dictionary as a hobby (or obsession). Would like to know what Cyril’s profession was. Will give more details if you contact me.



  2. Alastair, I found this while looking for something else you had written about your grandparents, which now I’m realizing was probably on someone else’s blog….Anyway, I’m glad I found this! How delightful! The first letter reminds me of a book my grandmother had on rebuses, that I used to love looking at when we were little and would spend days at at time at her house in the summers. And what a treasure, to have the letter of your grandparents. Their line “…furlough plans have been upset considerably…” reminds me of letters I wrote myself from Italy when an unexpected acquantance turned into an unexpected engagement and changed everything I had planned.

  3. Shane McKee says:

    Hi Alastair; I found your page while looking into the history of an old Aldis Epidiascope that I have managed to rescue from being thrown into a skip here in Belfast. It’s almost identical to the one in your picture, except it has a C-shaped steel stand, rather than the chrome legs. Hats off to your great-gramps – it’s a piece of steampunk genius! Weighs a ton, the bulb seems intact, but I daren’t fire it up.

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