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The creepiest finds in the National Archives


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Historians at the National Archives have come across a number of items that don't quite fit with the house's normal collection, including the prized will of William Shakespeare and military records - but other far more fascinating and eccentric finds have also been dug up...

One crazy (and illegal) find included small amounts of heroin. Yep, one of the world's most dangerous drugs was on display for the public after having been used in a Cairo narcotics court case in 1928. No blame has been placed on those at the National Archives, though – as soon as the heroin's existence was realised (less than a gram was found in 19 small sachets), it was taken away.

An even more bizarre (and gross) discovery was that of a mummified rat. Henry Cole, the organiser of the Great Exhibition, began working at the Public Record office when he came across the rat. Cole was so horrified at the poor conditions of the office that he decided to keep a memento of the experience: the rat and, in particular, its stomach, which was full of chewed documents.

Historians also stumbled across the eerie but fascinating death mask of Dr John Yonge. Dr Yonge was the Master of the Rolls for King Henry VII and special ambassador to France for King Henry VIII. The National Archives is now home to a 19th century copy of the mask, which is a glazed model of his face made at the time of his death. There's a full statue of Dr Yonge at the Maughan Library of King's College London, but the death mask offers an interesting look at him in a quite different state.

Another interesting – and incredibly creepy – artefact at the National Archives? A Jack the Ripper postcard. The disturbing 'Saucy Jack' postcard was mailed to the Central News Agency in 1888 and is one of many Jack the Ripper documents in the archives. This one stands out from the others for its nasty use of smeared blood and its actual written content: The letter explains the murderer's attack and killing of Elizabeth Stride and Catherine Eddowes the previous night. Spooky.

Another weird artefact also housed in the National Archives is a 100-year-old lemon. It was used as evidence in the 1915 WWI trial of German spy Carl Fredrick Muller, who was accused and convicted (shot at the tower of London, in fact) of sending invisible messages to Germany during the war. Who knew a fruit could hold so much power?

The list of artefacts gets even more fascinating with the Archives' fake Adolf Hitler passport. Hitler himself wasn't the creator of the document – it was made by the Special Operations Executive during WWII to demonstrate different types of potential spy forgeries. The best part? The highly sarcastic comments within the passport, including "painter" listed as Hitler's occupation and "little moustache" as a distinguishing feature.

A less eccentric but equally interesting find at the National Archives is a copy of the American Declaration of Independence. There are 26 known copies of the original document and believe it or not, the National Archives is home to three of them. This particular document was found in the midst of correspondences between American Colonists in the 1700s. 

One last fascinating artefact at the National Archives is a letter written by Titanic victim Richard Douglas Norman to his brother in Canada. The eerie thing about the letter is that it was written one day before the Titanic set sail from Southampton. What's really weird is that Norman outlined in the letter how he wanted his estate divided after he died; it turned out to be a good decision – Norman died in the sinking and was buried in Nova Scotia. Thanks to his estate details, he was able to leave the equivalent of £650,000 to his half-sister and step-niece.

The research was carried out by Storebox.

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