In the process of cataloguing archive collections one can come across the most unexpected and delightful documents. One such find is a small collection of letters in the Tullis Russell paper mill archive (ms38973). The archive, in addition to the business records of the company, includes some family papers dated back to 1695. Nestled in those files is a series of letters to Ann Sharp from the early 19th century. The hidden highlight of this sequence are two love letters from John Dingwall to Ann Sharp.
On Valentine’s Day we showcase these two charming letters which provide a fascinating insight into an early 19th century courtship. In the first John expresses his affection for Ann and in the second he declares his hope that she will become his wife:
For a long time past my heart has been deeply impressed with a sense of affection and regard for your person and virtues which from you I cannot withhold any longer a secret. Whither or not I may encouraged to hope for some small return of your goodness and esteem is somewhat doubtfull on which account my mind is filled with mu[ch] [anx]iety and uneasiness on the occasion.
I have once more used the freedom to endeavour as shortly as possiable to convince you of the sincerity of my intentions, that they proceed from the purest motives, which from our long aquaintance I do confess I have long entertained a preference for you above any other of your sex, and at different times I had almost declared to you but my resolutions always failed me, untill now when I could contain them no longer from you. That you alone are the sole object of my affection and regard, and that I would most willingly offer you my hand dare I hope for any return on your part sure am I if you cannot love you wile at least feel for one who loves you as himself, having this far made this declaration. I trust you will seriously think on these things, at the same time I am convinced you have felt before now the effects these things has on the mind of those so situated, sympathize with me when I tell you that I submit these considerations wholely to your own judgement well knowing that it belongs to you to act in this important concern as most agreeable to your wishes – I entreat you earnestly for an answer to the above as soon as convenient asureing you at same time the utmost secrecy will be observed and what ever your opinion on this proposal may be I ever will respect and look upon you as my best friend –
my dear Ann
your most affectionate and faithful friend
Unfortunately there is no reply to John’s proposal. However, with a bit of detective work it can be deduced that the two did in fact get married. Although the letters are undated, a further letter to Ann, from her friend Margaret Allan, dated 4 March 1812, Edinburgh, reveals the gossip concerning the impending nuptials:
…she told me as a pice of news that she had a letter from her sister in which she says Miss Ann Sharp is to be married to Mr Dingwall, in the course of a month, this I should have treated as an idle tale had it not been for what I know tharefor I expect to hear of it sune from yourself, Miss Thompson desires me to say that she expects an invitition and a pair of gloves to the wedding, my Father desiers me to say that he expects a visit from you, when he will show you all that is new and elegant in the way of Bed, carpets, Drawers etc of which a grat apartment waits your chauise, but dont let me alarm you my dear Ann for I assure you I did not let Miss Thompson know any thing of what I mention further than saying that I thought it very likely, that Mr D- was a very pleasant Gentleman and Miss Ann a very handsome woman, and that it was a very proper match. Mr Thompson said so too, but thought you should employ him in making out your Contract of Marrage, I have promissed to give him mine when it happens, which is not likely to be in a hurry –
To find out more about this couple, the registers available through Scotlands People prove invaluable. The earlier letters are addressed to Ann at Lathrisk, in the parish of Kettle. Further digging in the Kettle Old Parish Registers reveals that Ann was born on the 5 September 1784 to parents John Sharp and Ann Dempster. She had a least one sister Margaret and one brother, as one of the letters from Margaret Allan is addressed to Margaret Sharp and refers to Margaret’s brother. John lived not far from Lathrisk. His letters are written from Ramornie, north of Balmalcolm. John was also born in Kettle Parish on the 1 January 1775 to William Dingwall and Margaret Findlay.
The marriage register for Kettle Parish confirms the marriage between Ann Sharp and John Dingwall on 21 December 1813. The baptism records for Kettle also reveal that the couple had seven children, Anne (1815), Margaret (1816), William (1819), John (1821), Walter (1823), James (1825) and Isabella (1826).
A further letter from Margaret Allan, dated 28 March 1815 and addressed to Mrs John Dingwall, conveys her happiness with Ann’s ‘little creature’, perhaps referring to the news of her first child Anne, who was born on the 1 February 1815.
…in your happy prospects, may your little creature be spared to be a blessing and a comfort to you and my Dear Friend I hope your Gratiude [gratitude] will flow to him who has carried you through your trouble and restored you again to health –
Many of the documents in this section of the collection refer to the various members of the Sharp and Dingwall families, including an indenture for Ann and John’s second son John. John Dingwall was apprenticed to William Fairbairn to learn the ‘business of an engineer and Millwright’ in Manchester. We know that John did take up this apprenticeship as he is listed as a Mechanic apprentice in the 1841 census in Manchester.
Ann is one of the parties in this indenture – her husband John had died by this time. The memorial inscription (which can be found in the Fife Family History Society Publications) for John’s grave in Kettle graveyard records that he died at the age of 64 on 21 December 1839. Ann, buried in the same grave, died on 25 January 1866 at the age of 81.
These letters are part of a collection of tacks, indentures, marriage contracts, sasines and wills, and a letter, dated 1960, from David F.O. Russell. Russell comments that these documents must have some connection with the Russell family since they had been mixed in with the rest of the family papers. The exact connection between the Sharp and Dingwall families and the Russell family is still unclear. However both the Tullis and Russell families were well established in Fife and had many connections in the community. In fact one of the business ledgers for David Russell (1831-1906), who was involved in many different business ventures in addition to the paper mill, includes a record of a transaction with farmer William Dingwall at Ramornie in 1857. William is Ann and John’s eldest son and is listed in the 1861 census at Ramornie, along with his siblings Isabella, Walter, Margaret and his mother Ann.
These discoveries within the Tullis Russell collection provide a rare glimpse into the personal lives, opinions and relationships of people in early 19th century Scotland – and show another side to the one of the many business archives we hold.
Tullis Russell Project Archivist