We all want to be remembered, to feel like our lives had a purpose. A choirboy from Sunderland found an ingenious way of making sure it happened. William Elliott took a copy of a sermon and wrote a note in pencil on the back. He then hid it away behind a metal plate in the choir pews, and it stayed there undisturbed for 125 years.
William lived at the Sunderland Orphan Asylum, and in those days, children could only stay until their fourteenth birthday. While he sat in his place as the lead choirboy, he worried about what his life would become once he lost his home. He chose to put his thoughts down on paper.
He chose to put his thoughts down on paper. He reached out through time and space, asking the world to love him and sending his own to love to them in return. His beautiful and touching letter 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.”
The letter was found during renovations at the church and has been expertly restored by specialists. It now hangs in pride of place above the pew where it was found for all to read. This moving letter has also inspired Seventeen Nineteen, the owners and restorers of the church, to set up the Dear Friend project. The project invites anyone touched by William’s words to write him a letter in response.
Seventeen Nineteen were intrigued by their find, and so did some digging into William’s life. His father was named Thomas Duncan Elliott, and he served as chief officer on the ship Skyros. Tragically he was washed overboard in 1887. Thomas’ death left William’s mother, Sarah Ann Elliott, a widow with four children, and she began to struggle financially. She took work as a dressmaker but eventually, she had to put him in the care of the orphanage.
He was discharged on his fourteenth birthday. The normal path for boys from the orphanage was to become a sailor as his father had been. However, William was a special boy, and his high degree of literacy and numeracy earned him a job with a solicitor named Mr Herbert. Sadly, there is no further trace of William after 1901. Whatever became of him, it is safe to say he got his wish. His letter ensures he will never be forgotten.