A northern English city has found an incredibly rare symbol of wartime cowardice.

Archivists in the city of Wolverhampton found a white feather -- sent to men accused of cowardice during World War One for not doing their bit for the war effort -- along with an anonymous letter addressed to a William Weller and signed A. Chicken Heart.

Weller was a local architect who was excused from military service on medical grounds and because his work in Wolverhampton was vital to the war effort.

City archivist Heidi McIntosh said Weller was a partner at the Weller firm of architects, which designed buildings in the city in the 19th and 20th century.

The letter and feather were found by council staff and the Wolverhampton Buildings Preservation Trust as they were looking through archives.

Your gallant + protracted defence against the brutal attacks of the local tribunal has been brought to the notice of the Supreme Council of the Most Noble Order of The Trench Dodgers, the letter reads.

The Order of the White Feather was founded at the start of the First World War and aimed to coerce men to enlist in the Army by persuading women to present them with a white feather if they were not wearing a uniform.

McIntosh said finding a feather and letter intact was particularly rare as the letters were meant to shame the recipient, who would be unlikely to keep them.

She said that William, who was in his early 40s at the time, should not have been sent this white feather because he had been excused from service on medical grounds and because he was carrying out essential war work by building homes for steel industry workers.

It was even more surprising that he kept both.

And we're very grateful that he did as it's a fascinating artefact and an incredibly rare find -- even the Imperial War Museum doesn't appear to have one. It gives a stark and chilling alternative view of the war.

(Reporting by Paul Casciato, editing by Patricia Reaney)