When Roger and Julia Bolton were contacted by the man they bought their house from two decades ago, it was a bit of a bolt from the blue.
He gave them a box of letters belonging to a woman who lived in their home from 1923 to the 1950s and recommended they write a book about her.
Julia, a former Radio 4 producer, said: “It was like a treasure trove, really.”
Julia and Roger, a current Radio 4 presenter best known for the Feedback listener response slot, have made their careers from dealing with facts – and they set about turning the letters into a book.
A Family At War – The Talbots of Little Gaddesden chronicles the First World War writings of Geoffrey, Bridget, Kathleen and Humphrey Talbot.
They were the nieces and nephews of Adelbert Wellington Brownlow-Cust, 3rd Earl Brownlow, and had a privileged upbringing in Little Gaddesden House. Their uncle lived in nearby Ashridge House and their privilege continued into the war years.
Geoffrey was a pilot for the Royal Naval Air Service. In one 1915 letter from the book, he writes to Kathleen from Dunkirk to thank her for a food parcel from London’s Fortnum and Mason.
Such parcels from the so-called Queen’s grocers often contained potted pheasant, turtle soup, foie gras, plum pudding and other delicacies for the officer classes.
Julia said: “They played an important role in keeping up morale and supplementing the diets of those more accustomed to foie gras than corned beef.”
Bridget was a nurse and set up canteens in Italy during the war. But in her letters and diary extracts, she expresses irritation at not being allowed to play a more commanding role because of her gender.
Kathleen kept the writings in her home at The Manor House, Little Gaddesden, where Julia and Roger now live.
The book is on sale for £10 in book stores, on www.amazon.co.uk or by emailing Julia at firstname.lastname@example.org