Gobbles Loves You

Photo: Andrea Allan, from Gobbles Loves You

Photo: Andrea Allan, from Gobbles Loves You

Artist Andrea Allan introduces us to her photographic project, Gobbles Loves You, inspired by the written correspondence between two lovers. 

Tell us a little about yourself and your work.

I’m an artist working with photography, text, sound, installation and artists’ book. Through my work I like to explore the real and the imaginary, in an attempt to better understand the links between our past, present and future. Combining photography with the written word, I weave past narratives into the fabric of present places, casting old social and political understandings in a contemporary light.

And could you introduce us to Chambre and Margaret? 

Edward Chambre Hardman was a Liverpool portrait photographer who documented many of the city’s most prominent figures from 1930s through to the 1950s.  It was during the mid-twenties that he employed 17-year-old Margaret Mills as an assistant. After a few years she decided to train as a photographer in Scotland, thus leaving Hardman, and the point at which their letter writing began.  They had pet names for each other – Gobbles for Hardman and Pearl for Margaret.

How did you discover these letters? 

I was studying for my MA at Manchester School of Art at the time. One of the modules was to work with archives, specifically looking at Hardman’s legacy. The most natural place people started was with their house, which has been kept the same since they died. I wanted to delve a little bit more into their relationship, and to find out what type of people they were – what better way than personal letters.

Was there anything unexpected about these letters?

One of the first things that struck me about the letters, and why I spent so much time reading through them all, was the way in which they wrote to each other. Business was nearly always discussed, a shared passion, that they could discuss in detail. Then the narrative would switch entirely, sometimes mid sentence, to how they missed each other. These parts were always written in the third person, and they referred to each other by their pet names.

There were some pressed flowers between some of the pages; the pollen had stained the coarse paper yellow after all these years. Telegrams had also been kept, these more than anything show how technology can never replace the value of analogue. Text cut into strips, pasted onto starched white sheets, stamped with the telegram office details, draw entirely away from the intimacy that a letter can hold. Even pet names became confused – instead of Gobbles someone mistyped and put “Gopples”.

How did you select what line of each letter you’d reveal? 

I’ve worked as a document controller and thought that I would draw on my experiences of working with and organising copious amounts of information by imposing guidelines on the way that I photographed the letters. I decided to show only one line of text (although I broke this rule a few times), to only use the back of the envelope so that you couldn’t see the postage stamp for date or location. The text had to be either on the top, bottom or either side of the crease in the middle of the letter so that I didn’t damage the letters in anyway. In the end it turned out a lot of Margaret’s letters were in plastic dividers and could not be removed, making the narrative biased towards him. 

What was it like to read through correspondence originally intended for each other’s eyes only?

For most of the letters it was interesting to see how being a photographer has changed over the decades, and how some elements are very much the same. The only moments when I got embarrassed was when reading through lines like “he wants to whisper something into her ear...” and I won’t finish that sentence!

The tongue twister makes me laugh, and there’s a section where Hardman is off walking in Scotland with friends and complains that a woman in the group can’t manage the mountains, but he has no doubt that his Pearl would have been straight up without any fuss at all.

Are you a letter writer yourself? Did this project shift your ideas about them at all?

In my early 20s I used to write all the time, and then I’m ashamed to say, I seemed to lapse. After doing this project I started reading up on letter writing and came across a TED talk given by Hannah Brencher. Brencher wrote love letters and left them all over the city for strangers to find, eventually turning it into a global initiative ‘The World Needs More Love Letters’, which posts handwritten letters to those in need of human kindness. After creating these photographs and reading up about this initiative, I’ve felt the need to get to know people's handwriting again, to know that someone’s mused over what paper to use, to create that very personal, intimate connection, something technology will never be able to replicate.  

You can see more of Andrea's work on her website, and for more Letters written from the heart, pick up a copy of Oh Comely issue 32


Sunday Reading: Min and Twinkle

words: Alys Key image: Liz Seabrook

It has been more than ten years since I last heard from the fairies.

I’m not sure whether I stopped writing to them, or whether they stopped responding. Things fall behind during childhood and the next thing you know they’re shut up in the attic, difficult to find and covered with dust. Somewhere in the eaves of our house there is a box which holds all of my letters from the fairies, but it’s been years since I last looked through them.

I was maybe seven or eight the first time I left a carefully-sealed note for them.

Dear Fairies, do any of you live in this garden? Please write to me if you do. I would like a fairy pen pal.

Anticipating their response was the innocent version of waiting for a text from a potential lover. Even after their first letter arrived, introducing themselves as two sisters called Min and Twinkle, my excitement was unabated, driven by the childish energy that makes little girls skip all the way home from school. Every day I went outside to see if my last note had gone, or if theirs had arrived. Sometimes I had to rescue our letters from the rain, and every now and then I would find a slug had taken a bite out of one. The garden became a wild enchanted habitat to me; the plants and insects were all part of Min and Twinkle’s world.

The letters themselves were so beautiful that I felt a compulsion to protect them, as though the paper itself was a living thing. They were written in small, elegant script on bright pink or purple paper, always smudged with fairy dust. I tried to make my responses look the same, using bright gel pens to do my best handwriting and fastening the letters inside little pink envelopes from Paperchase.

Over time, the part of the garden which served as our mailing point became known as ‘Fairy Corner’. We still call it that now, even though the fairy shelter my daddy made from spare wood has long disintegrated, and the Magnolia tree – planted so they could enjoy sitting in the soft flowers – is overshadowed by shrubbery.

I was the first of my friends to have fairy pen pals, but I was not the last. The back gardens of Winchester were, it seems, practically infested with them. The fact that it was particularly my friends making contact with magical beings was in no way strange to me. Girls who talked to fairies had a little bit more stardust in them than everyone else, I reasoned, and we would naturally all band together.

But it was through this community of fairy enthusiasts that I first sensed something amiss. The other letters I saw looked different to mine. Some had the same crisp whiteness as the printing paper we used at school. Once, a friend’s fairies gave her a picture of a woman bending down to look at a crowd of glowing lights dancing around her feet. “Here is a picture of us at one of our fairy dances!” they wrote. When I saw it, I recognised the image as a well-known painting; it was on the front a notebook I had been given the previous Christmas. I acknowledged, silently, that this letter was the work of my friend’s parents, and from that point the subsequent realisations followed.

Even now, at the age of 21, I have still never discussed the truth about the fairy letters with my parents. I know where they came from. But there is a difference, I think, between what we know and what we believe, and I can still believe in Min and Twinkle. At least, it is hard not to feel that something special belongs to that portion of the garden. When you visit a site for a religion you no longer subscribe to, there’s that scent of belief in the air, and the silent urge to pray. Magic works the same way.


Alys Key is a student and writer on a quest to spend her life writing and listening to Radio 4. Take a look at her website to read more of her work. 


Find more stories about letters in Oh Comely issue 32



10 ideas for letters to write

Few surprises are as heartwarming as a handwritten envelope amongst your post. Hidden between junk mail, catalogues, bills, there it sits: slow, considered, sentimental. We often know exactly who it's from before prising the envelope open, recognising the curve of the 'a', the way the 'y' loops; invoking a memory from a childhood birthday card perhaps or a funny note left by an old housemate. They're a bit of a relic really to most. A treasure in today's quickfire-text talk. Carrying sentiments across distances, in no great hurry, just for you. To read at your leisure, and hold on to forever.

We think it's time we wrote more – what about you? Take one of these letter ideas as your cue for a trip to the postbox this weekend.

Photo: Lara Watson

Photo: Lara Watson

1. To the confidence boosters
Teachers, friends or colleagues, there are those special souls who know exactly what to say at the right time. They may not even know how important that conversation was to you. Tell them in a letter.

2. To distant relatives
If your family's separated over the country or over continents, drop a line. For kin feeling cut-off, even lonely, a letter is a wonderful gift. 

3. To your childhood penpal
You never know – their family may still be at the same address. Strike up the conversation again. Do you still like the same boyband? What's your favourite film? Have a little search for them online if they've likely moved on. Facebook stalking come good.

4. To the person who hurt you
If enough time has past and a bit of perspective would help you both, pen a gentle, kind note. Post, and move on. 

5. To your bestie
So you text every other day, no matter – there's always more to say to your soulmate. Fill the envelope with bits and pieces that remind you of them for a confetti-like smattering of extra love.

6. To your crush
Go on, say it. Love favours the brave. Avoid tongue-twisted real-time confessions and unveil your feelings exactly as you want to via the written word. Then savour the next meeting knowing you've said your piece.
If you've coupled up with your crush, leave them a note telling them they still make your insides go funny, somewhere they'll find it by accident – a sports bag, rucksack, lunch box...

7. To the youth
Littles love grown-up things. Address fancy correspondence to nieces, nephews, friend's kids. Give the next generation the letter-loving bug too.

8. To your hero
Fan mail can make it. Go through their book publishers or management agency, keep it cool and enjoy the rather wonderful wait, checking your mailbox for a response worthy of inclusion in a future edition of Letters of Note. Heroes don't have to be famous of course. If you've got a favourite blogger or inspiring person in your community, tell them so on paper.

9. To your local MP
Angry or proud, write with passion for what you believe in or have been affected by – bad and good – and encourage others to, too.

10. To a stranger
Write a general note of encouragement. Leave it on a bus seat, inside a library book or on a park bench. Feel good for the rest of the week.

You can always write to Oh Comely too, naturally. We feature our pick of the postbag each issue. You can reach us at: Oh Comely, 40 Bowling Green Lane, London, EC1R 0NE. Get more letter-writing ideas in issue 32, dedicated to type, mail and the creation of mighty words.