This event has now finished.
This event has been postponed.
  • Date and time: Saturday 8 June 2024, 1pm to 2pm
  • Location: In-person only
    Law and Sociology Building, Campus East, University of York (Map)
  • Admission: Free admission, booking required

Event details

Receiving an unexpected and unsigned note is a disconcerting experience. Historian Emily Cockayne, author of Penning Poison, turned sleuth to trace the stories of such letters to all corners of English society over the period 1760-1939. In doing so, she uncovered scandal, deception, class enmity, personal tragedy, and great loneliness. Some messages were accusatory, some libellous, others bizarre.

Join Emily as she explores the reasons and motivations for the creation and delivery of these missives and the effect on recipients - with some blasé, others driven to madness. Small communities hit by letter campaigns became places of suspicion and paranoia. By examining the ways in which these letters spread anxiety in the past she will grapple with the question of how nasty messages can turn into an epidemic. Perhaps the anxieties of our internet age are not as new as we think?

Book sales

You can buy copies of many of our speakers’ books from Fox Lane Books, a local independent bookseller and Festival partner. In some cases, author signed bookplates are available too. 

About the speaker

Dr Emily Cockayne is Associate Professor in Early Modern History at the University of East Anglia. The author of several well-known books, including Hubbub (2007; second edition 2021), Cheek by Jowl. A History of Neighbours (2012), and Rummage (2020), Emily's research ranges freely across modern English social and cultural history. It is characterised by extensive primary research, immersion, and a delight in sleuthing.


University of York

Venue details

  • Wheelchair accessible