In a little known book I found a story about encrypted notes from 1905, including a diary. Can my readers support me with finding out more about these documents and decrypting two paragraphs?

Love in Code by Donald McCormick is a little known, but nice book about the use of encryption among lovers. Published in 1980, this work covers steganographic codes of Roman amorous couples, the encryption techniques of the Kama Sutra, the encrypted diary of statesman and womanizer Samuel Pepys, love messages from Victorian England, and similar stories.


In chapter 10 of this book (“Cupid’s Paperchase”) we read:

One of the most remarkable documents of romantic love in code is a collection of diary jottings and minute sketches dating from 1905, hitherto unpublished. An absolute gem of its kind, it traces the fortunes of two young lovers, Hugh and Cecily, written by Hugh in prose that is sometimes pithy, sometimes colourful erotic.

According to Love in Code, these documents were found in 1974 by a grandson of the two lovers. Hugh and Cecily (the surnames are not mentioned) lived somewhere in southern England. The book chapter mentions the places Essex, Cornwall, London, the Scilly Isles and a few more, but McCormick apparently did not want to reveal the exact home place of the two. In addition, he quotes only short passages of the diary. My guess is that the grandson of Hugh and Cecily provided McCormick with the collection of documents under the condition that his grandparents stayed anonymous.

Hugh’s diary is number 00023 on my encrypted book list.

After having read the book chapter about Hugh and Cecily, I have a number of questions about this story. First of all, can a reader solve the following two entries from Hugh’s diary?


These two paragraphs are encrypted in a variant of the Pigpen Cipher. It should be not too difficult to break the code.

Here’s a drawing Hugh left behind:


The numbers on the top left side of the sheet are the following: 10 6 7 11 12 2 11 6 9 23 11 25 7 25 12 22 18 25 7. Deciphered this reads: PUT ON  YOUR COAT AND HAT. Can you break the encrypted text on the top right side?

In addition, I wonder if we can find out more about Hugh and Cecily. Especially, more information about the encrypted notes would be very interesting. McCormick’s book, which doesn’t give much background information, was published in 1980. Has this story been mentioned elsewhere in the meantime? Did a local newspaper report on it? If you know more please let me know.

Donald McCormick himself won’t be of any help any more. He died in 1998. In his Wikipedia entry it says: “McCormick’s reliance on an informal network of oral informants, and his eye for a good story, means that it is often difficult to judge the reliability of his more controversial claims.”

Further reading: Who can solve this encrypted diary entry?


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Kommentare (12)

  1. #1 Klaus Schmeh
    24. November 2017

    Maria Albani via Facebook:
    BODAY WAS WONDERFUL BUT NO SERENDIP, hm das habe ich gerade entschlüsselt. Ergibt nicht so viel Sinn ?!

  2. #2 Gerry and Andrea
    25. November 2017

    2nd part: SIR HECTOR + SERENDIP EQUALS SERENDIPITY (one wrong symbol. it reads SEREEDIP)

  3. #3 Gerry and Andrea
    25. November 2017

    And the numbers on the drawing are the characters A to Z reversed, so it reads CUPID ISL… The following numbers are crossed out/unreadable, but maybe it should read CUPID ISLAND or CUPID ISLE if there is only one letter (21) and a star marking the starting point of the journey.

  4. #4 Gerry and Andrea
    25. November 2017

    The drawing seems to contain instructions to travel from Mersea Island in the east to the Isles of Scilly in the west – with some points in between: The star marks London and the landmark looks like Glastonbury Tor.

  5. #5 Klaus Schmeh
    25. November 2017

    Lori Wike via Facebook:
    As already noted, the first message seems to be “TODAY WAS WONDERFUL BUT NO SERENDIP.”

    The second message seems to indicate some sort of wordplay equation perhaps:
    “SIR ?E?TO?

    I assume SEREEDIP was encrypted incorrectly in the diary and should be SERENDIP.

  6. #6 Lori Wike
    25. November 2017

    The word serendipity was coined by Horace Walpole, who derived it from a Persian fairy tale, The Three Princes of Serendip. I wonder if it might be Sir Newton rather than Sir Hector, given the subject matter of serendipity (the apple anecdote leading to the discovery of gravity is a perfect example of the “accidental sagacity” Walpole defined as serendipity. Of course, for Newton to fit, we would have to assume an encryption error for the first character of that word and a line on the far right cut off in the last character.

  7. #7 Thomas
    25. November 2017

    Interesting background: The two diary entries correspond with the missing pages (4th and 8th of May) in Arthur Cecil (Cecily) Pigou’s diary ( Pigou was a British economist whom McCormick accused of being a member of a Soviet spy ring (see Cambridge Five). “Sir Hector” might be an illusion on King Arthur’s (Arthur Pigou) Round Table. Another question is who was “Hugh”.

  8. #8 Gerry and Andrea
    25. November 2017

    Speculation mode on: At that time Hugh Dalton was Pigou‘s student at King’s College. Dalton later became economist and politician, and although Dalton was married later, his biographer and others suggested that he was a repressed homosexual. Pigou strictly separated profession from his private, secluded life, so we know next to nothing about it.
    Maybe Pigou used „Serendip“ as the pet name (his prince?) for Hugh.

  9. #9 Thomas
    25. November 2017

    Klaus, can you provide more (text) from “Cupid’s Paperchase”?

  10. #10 LC
    25. November 2017

    Ich sicher nicht !

  11. #11 John
    27. November 2017

    Hugh Town is the largest settlement on St Mary’s in the Isles of Scilly

    The arrow on the map of the Isles of Scilly is pointing to the island of Samson

    Fascinating story – thank you for sharing it

  12. #12 Thomas
    27. November 2017

    @Gerry and Andrea

    Speculation mode 2 on:

    According to McCormick’s (fictuous) quotes from Hugh’s diary the two lovers named their sex organs “Sir Hector” and “Serendip” (“Sir Hector will knock at the gates of Serendip tomorrow”). Further on in the chapter it is said that they took a name which was an anagram of one of the codewords. “Sir Hector” is an anagram of “chorister”. Hugh Dalton went to St. Georg’s choir school at Windsor, if he was a chorister also in King’s College at Cambridge, where Pigou worked as a scholar, who knows. Probably “Cupid’s Paperchase” contains more allusions to be revealed.