The children’s letters were treasured by their parents, and bound into an album marked on the cover ‘Family Overland Letters, 1856-1857’, which included other correspondence from friends and family. The letter collection mysteriously appeared at an auction in 1951. It was bought as part of a job-lot of old books ‘for a shilling or two’ by Major Maxwell-Lyte, himself an Old Radleian. He passed it on to Admiral Sir Cecil Talbot, a cousin of Charles and Gerald, whose son, John, had also been to Radley. Admiral Talbot brought the letters to the attention of A.K. Boyd, whose centenary history of Radley had been published in 1947. Boyd had been aware of the close connection between the Talbot brothers and William Sewell through another primary source for Radley history – the diary of William Wood, Sub-Warden under Sewell, later Warden in his own right.
The album contained original letters from Sewell, Wood, Robert Norman, Henry West and Edwin Monk, all Dons at Radley, as well as the boys’ perspective of life at the school. Boyd obtained permission from Charles’ daughter, Geraldine, and her sister-in-law, widow of his son Chetwynd, for a transcript to be made of many of the letters, and ‘permission to quote from the letters in future historical works about the school.’ [AK Boyd’s notes]. Boyd was not particularly interested in the daily life of a school-boy, often truncating the transcripts or providing brief summaries. Mrs and Miss Talbot also offered him any of the letters which he would like. Boyd selected a few for the school, primarily those written by Sewell, and returned all the boys’ original letters to the family. In the 1990s, three lots appeared in a manuscript sale catalogue: four letters by William Sewell to the Hon. Gerald C. Talbot, twenty-five letters from Charles Talbot and twenty-four letters from Gerald Talbot to their parents. The whole valued at £275. This gave Radley a second chance to acquire a primary source for its history – and highlights the changing priorities of historians.