Dear Santa: early Christmas gift as man realises his mother is 100-year-old letter's author

 

THE SPIRIT of Christmas past turned up unannounced for Victor Bartlem yesterday in the form of a 100-year-old letter from his late mother, Hannah “Annie” Howard, to Santa.

The slightly scorched missive, dating from Christmas Eve 1911, when Hannah was 10 years old, was discovered up a chimney in a house in Terenure, Dublin, as reported in The Irish Timesyesterday.

Sitting at home in Bangor, Co Down, yesterday while his wife read out details of the story, Mr Bartlem initially failed to make any connection between himself and the young girl in the story. Even when the address on the letter – Oaklands Terrace, Terenure – was mentioned, he put it down to coincidence.

It was only when he heard the name Hannah that he realised the girl in the letter was his mother. “I simply couldn’t believe it. I never knew about this letter. I never even knew it existed.”

His mother’s carefully crafted Christmas wishlist, topped with a good luck message for Santa, was discovered in the chimney by the house’s current occupant, John Byrne, when he was installing central heating in 1992. He kept the letter as a memento of times past, deciding only to publicise its existence this year to mark its 100th anniversary.

In her letter, Hannah, like many 10-year-olds, is quite explicit about what she wants from Santa.

“I want a baby doll and a waterproof with a hood and a pair of gloves and a toffee apple and a gold penny and a silver sixpence and a long toffee.”

As the letter was signed “A or H Howard”, it was initially thought to be jointly from Hannah and her younger brother, Alfred.

However, Mr Bartlem confirmed his mother Hannah went by the name “Annie”, hence the “A or H Howard” on the letter, a clever insurance policy in case Santa got confused.

Hannah was born on Christmas Day 1900. The excitement of having her birthday on the same day as Santa’s arrival must have been considerable.

Mr Bartlem said his mother attended the Zion Church of Ireland school in Rathgar before going on to marry Alfred Bartlem in 1931, with whom she had two sons, Howard and Victor. She and Alfred moved to a house on Lomond Avenue, Fairview, shortly after they married, where she died in 1978.

Mr Bartlem said his mother had been extremely creative, excelling at various forms of needlework and later at woodwork. She was also an expert baker of cakes and other confectionery, which may go some way to explaining her toffee-themed letter to Mr Claus.

Hannah’s niece, Iris Murphy, who lives in Stillorgan, Dublin, was also alerted to the letter’s existence only yesterday, when her daughter in Tasmania read about it on irishtimes.com.

Ms Murphy described her aunt as a “very happy-go-lucky person with a great sense of humour”.

Hannah’s elder sister, Lily, who was 13 at the time the letter was sent, died in 1996, aged 99.