If you came across this while perusing the personal ads of a Victorian newspaper what would you do?
Intrigued at finding a secret code I couldn’t resist trying to crack it. It was posted in the London Evening Standard on the 11th January 1900. The Standard was a daily newspaper that ran from 1827 until the end of 1900 and appears to have been the newspaper of choice for cryptic correspondence.
The code is a basic substitution cipher where one letter of the alphabet is swapped for another. This particular code is a Caesar cipher in which the alphabet is moved along a certain number of letters. Caesar always used 3 moves which made it easy for his enemies to crack his codes once they realised he never changed it.
It was only by moving the alphabet along by twelve letters that this particular code began to make sense. In addition the coder had substituted n for l and i for o as well, just to make it a little more difficult I suppose.
A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z A B C D E F G H I J K L l=n o=i
When the coded bits of the message were solved it read:
Eippom (This didn’t translate to anything so I assume it’s a codename) Returning home Satday. Letter awaiting you. Arrive In town Monday next. Can meet you one clock anywhere. – Shopping to do for sirtom. Will that suit?
Who is Eippom, who is Sir Tom and who is the message for? I had no idea, but a reply was posted in the newspaper the following day.
West Wind-G Arnoe sauzsfa faiz egzpmk tabq kaginxx youwbll mdduhq yazpmqyadz mnagf gxghqz ddufq London qjmof fuyq kagmdq pgq I will yqqfkag cfmfnaz
Decoded the message is: Going to town Sunday. Hope you will arrive Monday morn about eleven. Write London exact time you’re due. I will meet you station.
The correspondence between these two people go on for months and I still haven’t found all of the messages. They’re not very exciting, just instructions to meet in secret to conduct their illicit affair (both of them are married), but I can’t help wondering who they were and what happened to them. Who knows, they might end up as characters in one of my stories one day.
Nel Ashley is the author of Blackfeather – a Fallen Angel Paranormal Romance and Immortal, the second book in the Blackfeather Series. She is currently working on her third novel, Persephone Reborn, a vampire romance influenced by Greek mythology.