A LETTER by Charles Dickens has been rediscovered in York, revealing that the writer who popularised Christmas as we know it today may have spent his last Christmas day without turkey.

The letter, found in the archives of the National Railway Museum, was written by Dickens in 1870, four months before his death.

It was his response to the Great Western Railway after a parcel containing a 30lb turkey destined for Dickens’ dinner table was in a horsebox laden with parcels which caught fire, destroying the contents.

Mr Kingett, from the Great Western Railway, wrote to the senders, including Dickens, to explain the circumstances and apologise.

Dated two months after the incident, Dickens wrote: 'Sir, in reply to your letter I beg to say that I have no doubt my Christmas fare was destroyed by an unavoidable accident, and that I bore the loss with unbroken good humour towards the Great Western Railway Company. Faithfully Yours, Charles Dickens.'

The letter is clearly signed by Dickens and the envelope bears his stamp with the letters C.D, and it is not known if he ever found a replacement turkey for his Christmas dinner, said a museum spokesman.

Lead curator Ed Bartholomew said that every now and then, staff were fortunate to uncover a hidden gem in the museum's railway archive.

"Dickens played a key role in popularising the image of Christmas as we know it today, which included the then luxurious choice of turkey in A Christmas Carol, instead of the more traditional goose," he said.

"The bleak irony of this discovery is that the man who did so much to shape our Christmas experiences may himself have been left with an empty stomach on his last ever Christmas day. Hard times indeed.” The letter will now go on display in the museum’s Highlights Gallery.