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Grace Webster Chimney Archive

In November 1999 builders working on an old house in Edinburgh came across a collection of letters and other material by Grace Webster, a forgotten author of the Victorian period. These are the materials presented in this online archive.

The bulk of the material consists of some 130 letters. Nearly all the letters are written to Grace Webster. One, written from Morningside lunatic asylum, is by Grace herself, while another, dated much earlier is signed simply GW and is quite likely hers.

Grace Webster's quill pen (part of the chimney archive)

Grace Webster scored a modest success with her first novel, Ingliston, which gives a brutally realistic account of nineteenth-century urban poverty. The plot is almost the inverse of Dickens's Oliver Twist, showing the limited acceptance of an illegitimate child while her father remained alive, and her systematic rejection from the family and descent into penury after his death.

For a more detailed account of Ingliston and Grace Webster's life and works in general, see my paper here.

Grace Webster has sunk largely into oblivion and, while some of her work is of merit from a literary point of view, the main value of the archive lies in the light it casts on life in Victorian Edinburgh. The letters cover a period from the 1810s to the 1870s, and deal with everyday matters, financial matters, current affairs, moral and religious issues and so forth.

There is currently a great deal of interest in the diagnosis and treatment of insanity during the Victorian period and Dr. Allan Beveridge is working on a project charting letters written from Morningside. Grace Webster's letter appears to predate the material he is working on, but her account of being tricked into incarceration at Morningside is equally harrowing, as is her description of the abduction of a woman and her removal to a sanatarium in Raymond Revilloyd.

Archiving the letters and other materials online is a long-term project, but within a couple of years or so I hope to have reconstructed a Victorian life! If you have any materials or information that may be of relevance to this project, please contact me at john[at]discoursesofsuffering.org.

NOTES: In the archive, a simple date indicates the date given in the letter itself. A date with an addition in square brackets indicates the date in the letter followed by the postmarked date, where this is different. Dates known only from the postmark are marked as such.