From The Archives: Cross-writing – may cause crossed eyes

This post is part of our From The Archives blog series

This letter from our archives is a perfect example of cross-writing, a practice that was common in the 19th Century. It involved writing a page of text, turning the page ninety degrees, and adding a second layer of text: 


                                                                   Click to enlarge

Cross writing was used for a number of reasons – it saved on paper when writing paper was scarce, and it could save on weight and thus postage costs. 

Paleography is the study of old writing, deciphering not only different hand-writing but also writing techniques and styles that are less common today, such as the long S (which looks like an F), imaginative spellings and unusual contractions. If palaeography is of interest to you, this document from the Natural History Museum is a fascinating read: A Short Guide to Paleography

It claims that once you get the hang of blocking out the different lines, your mind adapts and you’ll find cross-writing easy to read, but I haven’t quite got the knack myself!

Emma Coleman, Museum Officer