‘There is nothing more advantageous and pleasant to a boy as he grows older …’ wrote Lydia Acland, of Killerton House, in Devon, to her son Thomas, at Harrow School, ‘ … than the habit of continual intercourse with his parents which as he is so much from home must for the greater part of the year be kept up by letter.’1 This letter is an example of the vibrant culture of letter writing in the Acland family during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, one shared by other gentry families. Several generations of the Aclands maintained lines of communication and family relationships with each other and a range of other interested parties through correspondence, whether they were parents, children, wider kin, wives, husbands, school and university tutors, or close friends. The archives from which letters such as Lydia’s one derive contain an abundance of correspondence, both relating to the family and to politics. Gentry families were assiduous letter writers and their lifestyles, characterised by regular travel between town and country, demanded such attention to epistolary practices. Although various social historians of the landed classes have made use of these archives, the letters of gentry families have never been comprehensively exploited.
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