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Orphaned chorister’s plea found, after 125 years

08 April 2022

17NINETEEN

AN ORPHANED chorister’s plea not to be forgotten has been discovered 125 years after he scribbled it on the back of an order of service.

The choirboy, William Elliott, was sent to an orphanage in Sunderland, after his seafaring father drowned in 1887. His note was discovered in the city’s former parish church during a £5.1-million conversion project by the Churches Conservation Trust to create a communityevents centre.

Addressed to “Dear Friend” and dated 11 August 1897, it read: “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.”

Research by staff at the former Grade I listed Holy Trinity, now renamed Seventeen Nineteen, after the year it was completed, found that William’s father, chief officer Thomas Duncan Elliott, was washed overboard from his ship, the Skyros. His widow, Sarah Ann Elliott, found work as a dressmaker to support her four children, but, a year after his father’s death, William was admitted to the Sunderland Orphan Asylum. On 29 October 1897, just weeks after he wrote his plea, he was discharged from there and found work with a local solicitor, but the trail goes cold after 1901.

The manager of Seventeen Nineteen, Tracey Mienie, said: “A number of theories have been put forward about who he might be, and we are checking them. One links to our Great War memorial board, which records a W. Elliott. But we have found so many W. Elliotts in the 1911 census, it’s difficult to know which is the right one.”

The note was discovered by a joiner beneath a floorboard that didn’t seem to fit. “He could quite easily have thrown it away,” Ms Mienie said, “but he opened it up and immediately saw it was something really significant. It was written on an order of service and then folded into a previous week’s order of service. It had ‘Please look inside’ written on the outside. It was in pencil, and you could barely make out the writing.

“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.”

The framed letter now hangs above the pew beside where it was found. It has also inspired the Dear Friend project, which invites people to write a letter back to William. Seventeen Nineteen will open formally on Easter Eve.

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