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Seventeen Nineteen
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Seventeen Nineteen
Church News

Hidden note written by choirboy found in church pew 125 years later

by Alex Collett

A hidden note written by an orphanage choirboy has been discovered in a church pew 125 years after it was first written.

William Elliott, aged 13,  penned the heartbreaking missive just months before he was due to age out of the social care system.

He was clearly afraid of the future that awaited him, once his days in the choir was over. 

Written on August 11 1897, the note was recently found on the back of a chorister's order of service at Sunderland Parish Church. 

It lay undisturbed until it was discovered when work was carried out in the church during lockdown, in order to convert the place of worship ahead of a takeover from Seventeen Nineteen. 

So that the words could be deciphered, conservationists worked on the paper to remove more than 100 years of dust and grime. 

The note read: "Dear friend, whoever finds this paper think of William Elliott who had two months and two weeks and four days on the 11 of August 1897.

"Whoever you are that finds this paper don't tear it up or throw it away ... keep it in remembrance of me, W Elliott ... I was the leading boy of this choir ...

"I love you if you love me."

Fascinated by the note, volunteers from Seventeen Nineteen dedicated themselves to uncovering the story of William Elliot. 

It's believed his father was chief officer Thomas Duncan Elliott who was sailing on the vessel Skyros when he was washed overboard in 1887.

William's mother, Sarah Ann Elliott, was left a widow with four children.

Despite leading a fairly comfortable life, the death of Thomas Elliott saw the family fall on hard times. Sarah worked as a dressmaker to keep her family afloat, but tragically William was admitted to an orphanage. 

It's suggested that he then became a solicitor, but the trail dies off after 1901. 

The letter now hangs in a frame in the church's Lady Chapel next to the seat William wrote the letter from. 

In a bid to fulfil his greatest wish - not to be forgotten - The Dear Friend project is inviting people to write a letter back to William, and keep his memory alive.

Centre manager Tracey Mienie said: "His letter has touched us all.

"He was clearly very aware that his time at the orphanage, and in the choir, was ending and I think apprehension at what his future may hold comes across in his words."

William was admitted to an orphanage after his father's death, but was later on October 29 1897, his 14th birthday - just weeks after he wrote his letter.

There is knowledge of him becoming a Solicitor after that. 

The letter now hangs in a frame in the church's Lady Chapel next to the seat William wrote the letter from. 

His plea to be remembered has inspired Seventeen Nineteen to launch The Dear Friend project, inviting anyone who wishes to, to write a letter back to William.

Centre manager Tracey Mienie said: "His letter has touched us all.

"He was clearly very aware that his time at the orphanage, and in the choir, was ending and I think apprehension at what his future may hold comes across in his words."

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