My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History

Wedding frills and carriage spills

November 19, 2022 Ingrid Birchell Hughes Season 3 Episode 12
My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History
Wedding frills and carriage spills
Show Notes Transcript

Season 3, episode 12. Janie’s brother Fred Warburton married Mary Roe on Thursday the 15th of June 1882 and we get to have a fabulous look at a Victorian wedding from the point of view of the chief bridesmaid or Maid of honour as Janie would probably have been known then. It was not plain sailing by any means!

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Welcome back to My Love Letter Time Machine, Hi, I’m Ingrid Birchell Hughes, and I’m serialising the love letters of my great great Grandparents, Fred Shepherd and Janie Warburton. Travel 140 years back in time with me now where we take a look at Victorian history through their eyes and today it’s finally the day of Janie’s brother’s Wedding!

[Wedding frills and carriage spills]
I have been absolutely beside myself anticipating sharing this episode of the podcast.  Janie’s brother Fred Warburton married Mary Roe on Thursday the 15th of June 1882 and we get to have a fabulous look at a Victorian wedding from the point of view of the chief bridesmaid or Maid of honour as Janie would probably have been known then. It was not plain sailing by any means but before we get to the details, it appears that an opportunity for Janie to visit Middlesbrough has presented itself, although the arrangement of it takes at least 8 letters over the course of the next two weeks. It’s a fascinating look at how people had to navigate these practicalities when all they have at their disposal is letters, calling on the relevant people in question, sending messages via mutual aquaintances, and trying to nail down events through the haze of unreliable hearsay. We start with Janie’s confusion as expressed in her next letter: As a reminder, the Miss Smith she mentions is the fiancee of Alvey - Fred’s coworker at the steel works.

June 14th 1882

My own darling husband
I received your welcome letter this morning.
I am pleased I have done your tie to suit you love, it will not have been a bad one if it lasts another four years.
About the excursion in Middlesbro. I do not know when it is love. Tom Wortley made a muddle of it when he told me. He was half tight. When I saw Annie last Sunday she said she had talked to Tom about an excursion but it was last week + she could not go then but she thought there was another in July + she would be quite agreeable to go then.
I don’t know how I can manage to get off if it is next Saturday love but let me know all particulars if you can + then I will try my best. I should like to come darling. I could have managed it better if it had been Saturday week. 
I went to Sheffield yesterday Tuesday, + I am sorry I can’t possibly call on Miss Smith to day, as we have to do to morrow work as well as to days. Do you think Miss Smith could meet me at Darnall Station on Friday night. She might come by the 7-20 train or if that is too early, I would meet her at Attercliffe station by the 8 oclock train. I think Cockayne’s close at seven, it would be so nice to have additional company.
I shall see Annie Wortley tomorrow as she is to come to tea at the wedding, + then I can make arrangements with her.
If Miss Smith could get to know all particulars, as she will have a better opportunity than I shall , there is so little time darling you will not be able to let me know whether Miss Smith can meet me or no, I think I will meet the train at Darnall + Attercliffe in any case + then if there is a chance of getting to see my our husbands we shall not miss it + if Miss Smith cannot come, it will only be a walk as I can go + see your mother.
I should not care to go to Glovers friends love. I have scarcely time to say anything tonight love. I have the room to clean yet + it is now six oclock. I will give you a long one after the wedding but if I get to Middlesbro love I will tell you how everything went off + that will be much better than writing.
The paper from Nottingham came from our Polly, they have been there three days. She thought she would mystify you a bit.
I remain as always
Your loving true + faithful Wife

Royal Exchange
June 14th 1882

My own darling wife
I have pleasure in giving you a few lines for tomorrow my little darling, just to please you you know. I wish I could be there love, just for the day it would be very enjoyable.
We have had a hard day today love, so you must please excuse a long letter this once as I feel very tired.
It is the Board meeting tomorrow again, + if there is anything I am particularly fond of it is Board meetings.
I should like to see you tomorrow darling. I feel sure you will do justice to yourself, I always feel proud of you my little wife on these occasions, but I shall feel much fonder when you are my wife darling, for then you will be my very own.
Will you kindly wish the bride + bridegroom the usual good wishes for me love. I do wish it was ours as well darling.
Did you let me share your wedding present love with you, + if so what was it, + how much did it cost - + I will refund it when next I see you love.
You must give me a long letter love telling me everything that went off so that I can fancy I am there + enjoying it with you.
I have not time for any more love.
I love you my darling wife more than ever
+ remain
Your loving true + faithful husband

June 15th 1882

My own darling Wife
I received your welcome letter this morning love for which I thank you.
With reference to the excursion to Middlesbro love, I cannot get to know anything more about it here. I expected Annie Wortley would know all about it. I think the best place to get to know will be our house for the trip I understand [it] is in connection with Burrough’s works, + Fletcher (the man that came in the room you know when I was over) works there. I am writing home, so that my mother can get to know for you, + then if you call there first before going to meet the train you will be prepared with full information. 
Alvey is writing to ask Miss Smith to come by one of the trains you mention, so you may possibly see her. I should like to see you my darling, if only for an hour – just for a kiss or two.

I expect you will just be in the thick of the wedding festivities love, + here I am hard at work. But we will have some of our own love, before long + then perhaps I may have a chance of enjoying myself – especially on the night love, ok?

How did your Fred go on love, did he carry it through successfully – I mean the ceremony of course. I should think if he gets tight he will not be the most enjoyable bedfellow for Polly love – How shall you go for me if I get tight love, when our little affair comes off? Shall you object to sleep with me me, or shall we both get tight + then we should be quits. If we do get tight I think the only place will be - you know where love – which I don’t mind being tight at all. Its all this wedding love, that has made me think of these things, so you must forgive me.
I am much obliged love to Polly for the [news]paper – I thought I had seen the writing somewhere before but could not tell where.
You must give me a good long one for Sunday darling; I remain, my darling Wife,
Your loving true + faithful husband

Our Freds
June 16th 1882

My darling Fred
I have not time to say much, I am helping Polly to send out the brides cake.
I want to get done in time to go to Darnall. The excursion is not to morrow I have heard it is on Tuesday week so I shall come if it is then. I will give a long one on Sunday darling.
I remain, as always, my darling husband.
Your loving true + faithful wife
P.S. I did wish you were here yesterday love. I love you more than ever.

The tradition of sending out a piece of the cake to people who couldn’t come to the wedding is starting to fade now, given that modern wedding cakes are more likely to be made favourite flavoured sponge cake rather than a sturdy dark fruit cake that can stand up to some abuse.  A recipe for ‘Bride cake’ in Mrs Beeton’s book of household management for 1906 calls for - several pounds of flour, butter and sugar along with spices, citrus peel, almonds, brandy, 7 and a half pounds of currants and 24 eggs. Even if the Warburton Bride cake was half this size I wonder if was actually made at the Cross Keys - given that the kitchen range there would have been more of a size to take on the baking of a larger cake. Preparation would have been significantly more laborious as sugar came in solid loaves and had to be pounded into crystals to be usable, and of course every element would have been done by hand. It would probably have been made a couple of months beforehand and then stored, ‘fed’ occasionally with drizzles of brandy. Prior to the wedding it would have been retrieved for decoration as described here in Mrs Beeton: “thickly encrusted with almond icing and then iced over with [royal] icing and when dry… decorated with piping, silver leaves, artificial flowers and gum paste ornaments. Where something special is desired, natural flowers are used for decoration.”

According to Carol Wilson’s book ‘Wedding Cake: A Slice of History’ there was a specific tradition relating to brides in east Yorkshire: After eating a small piece of the cake, the bride threw some over her head to ensure that she and new husband would want for nothing. The groom then threw the plate over his head. If it broke the couple’s future happiness and good fortune were assured.  I don’t know if the tradition was followed at this wedding but it’s fun to think it might.

I also wonder if the cake, along with supplying the wedding breakfast, was James and Maria Warburton’s contribution to their youngest son’s wedding. Remember The Cross Keys was right inside the church yard of St Mary’s Church, Handsworth, so after the ceremony, the bride and groom and the rest of the wedding party would have had a very short walk to their celebrations. Given that Janie’s earlier letters talks about getting hats made for the bride and bridesmaids, in all probability, Polly Roe didn’t wear a white dress but would have had a fashionable new dress made that she could have worn after the wedding. There would have been a veil however, attached to her hat. The bridesmaids also had pretty dresses that would have been able to have been worn again. However, as Janie writes, things did not go smoothly for the bride or anyone else from the start:

June 17th 1882

My own darling husband
We have got this great event over at last. I will tell you our proceedings all through the day. I went down to Mr Roe’s in the morning about nine to dress. We had quite a chapter of little accidents. When Polly was nearly dressed she tore a piece of frilling off her dress then when we were ready except putting Polly’s hat + veil on, we went down into the room + she spilled a glass of wine all down her dress. It happened to be sherry so it did not stain it, if it had been port it would have been ruined, then just as she was ready to go to church, I tore a bit more frilling. 

We were at the Church exactly at quarter to eleven, there were a lot of people there to look at us, we got pounds of rice thrown at us, 

it was a very short ceremony. Mr Allen told the clergeman[sic] to cut it short as our Fred was very nervous, he got through very well though, he stammered a bit now + again. Polly went through it best.
I think we all looked very nice. I should have enjoyed it darling if you could have been with me, very much more than I did. 

We had breakfast about half past twelve. It was a very nice one. We had beef, ham, chickens, tongue, tea + coffee + all kinds of sweets, the brides cake was a very good tast[ing] one. We shall want one about a hundred weight to supply all our friends I think love, shan’t we?

A very hearty thunderstorm came on about one o’clock so we did not start for our drive until three.

I did wish you were with me darling. I only half enjoy anything without you. Tom Wortley, Annie Mills, her sister + Annie Wortley came up to our house in their trap in the afternoon + went with us for the drive.
The weather turned out splendid. We went to Wickersley + called at the Public House we stop at coming from Roche Abby + spent a very pleasant half hour. I did wish you could be there, they turned the table on one side + had a dance, I had a shotiche[sic] with Henry Reckless. I thought you would not mind, as he is my cousin love, + two with Annie Wortley then we left Wickersley to go through Brampton Ulley +Houghton back home. 

Tom Wortley was driving first, as our driver did not know the way, when we got about a mile on our way in a very lonely part no houses near. Tom was turning a sharp corner + upset the trap, it was not his fault altogether. We thought he had turned the horse all right + turned his head to see if we were coming + the trap went over a heap of dirt + threw them all out. Miss Mills fell on a stone + hurt her her very badly about the face. Her eye was swollen as big as an hen’s egg, it was a wonder they were not killed. I thought her leg was broken. I was so thankful when she got up that there was no bones broken. I helped to get her to our carriage but I could not tell you who was on the other side of her. It put us in such a fright. 

Fortunately there was a doctor passing at the time, he told us to get some dock leaves + put over her eye + get her home as quick as possible + put a new milk poultice on. He was such a kind old gentleman. Annie Wortley + Miss Mills sister escaped with a bruise or two + […]Toms lips [were cut]. It damped our pleasure all the way home. Annie Mills was very brave, though she was hurt so much she tried her best to keep us from bothering about her. Her lips + nose was very much swollen she could not talk a deal. We were six or seven miles from there[sic] house when the accident occurred. She was not much better yesterday she would be sore all down one side poor girl, she is a little better to day. 

We were just saying in our carriage how glad we were we had come as it had turned out so nice. We should have enjoyed the drive back again if it had not happened. We came down Willey Lane, it is like a long avenue all the trees meet overhead, if we go for a drive when we are married darling we will go that way, it is splendid.

In our carriage was Maria, Lizzie Roe + I, our Emma, Fred + Polly inside. Willie Roe, Henry Reckless + George outside. We got back to tea at seven, then we had some music, our William + Polly went home in the carriage at half past eight, then we had charades but we could not through throw the gloom off altogether. We broke up at half past one. Our Fred, Henry + George Roe had a little more drinks than was good for them. Fred + Polly slept at their own house. 

I went down there to tea there yesterday + to send the bridecake. Did you get yours all right + did you like it love. I went down to Darnall + met the trains last night but Miss Smith must have been prevented from coming as I did not see her. I called at your house, your mother is not quite so well. All the rest are quite well. I went up home with Polly Corbett.

There is two excursions, the one you spoke about is a fortnight on Monday, “Burrough’s trip” but it is only for one day. The other is to Newcastle races for three days, on Tuesday week, it is in the Telegraph to day. Don’t you think that would be the best to come by, Tom Wortley is going with Annie, where would Miss Smith stop if she came for three days + where would you put me up at?

I should very much like to come darling. I do yearn to see you again, it seems months ago since you were here.
I am very sorry I can’t give you a longer letter my darling it is past time. We have had a noisy lot of folks in + I could not begin until late.
I love you my own husband more than ever
+ shall always
Your loving true + faithful wife

Well, I think we can agree that was one heck of a wedding. I’m pretty convinced that Tom Wortley’s habit of being ‘half tight’ - which you might remember Janie already mentioned in the first letter of this podcast - could have been a contributing factor to the accident. 

I am wondering about this tradition of going for a drive after the wedding, which sounds for all the world like a pub crawl. They went quite a way nearly as far as Roache Abbey which is ten miles from Handsworth. Curiously I have an account of a similar event (although not with the drama) for Aunt Staniforth’s wedding nearly 50 years earlier in Rosamund Du Cane’s book Sicklesmiths and Spearcarriers. She writes:

In 1833 John Staniforth married Mary Carnall. [After the ceremony and] prior to undertaking the serious business of making a living…the newly wedded couple with several of their friends drove [from Woodhouse] over the the moors to the Wheatsheaf at Baslow, which was kept by a…friend of theirs, Mr Ingleby, and there they all stayed until night fell, when they finally started back.’  Even as the crow flies Baslow, which is near Chatsworth, is fourteen or fifteen miles from Woodhouse so it is good to read that they made the return journey through the dark of an autumn night ‘without mishap or disturbing element’ the Cross Daggers being their destination, of which well-known and popular inn they were duly installed as host and hostess’. 

(For the avoidance of confusion, The Cross Daggers was the first pub Aunt Staniforth and her husband ran — years before they acquired the Wellington Inn in Darnall.)

Perhaps going for a post wedding breakfast drive was a local tradition or a sort of lower middle/upper working class tradition. It sounds like its basically a knees up for all your mates doesn’t it? It’s quite common for weddings in the UK to be in two parts, you have the wedding reception for the family and then a more informal evening reception to which you can invite all your mates. Going for a drive to a pub for some dancing and some boozing could possibly be a forerunner of this but finding out the non-Downton Abbey style wedding traditions has proved a bit difficult. 

Fred mentions receiving of his piece of the wedding cake in his next letter, I was assuming Janie and Polly were sending dainty pieces out in pretty boxes but from the sounds of things, it looks like Fred may have been sent a fair decent chunk. I’m imagining Janie persuading Polly to put a bit more in a tin specially for him. 

Albert Terrace
Linthorpe Road
June 17th 1882

My darling wife
I received your short but welcome letter this morning enclosing the wedding cake – I thought they would not entirely forget me in dispensing their favours, + I am pleased to receive it. I divided it amongst the firm (Banks Shepherd + Co) + the firm wished long life + prosperity to the bride + bridegroom. It would all be very useful experience for you love, this wedding, + no doubt you would enjoy sending out the cake – of course during the operation there would not be be any pumping on your part as to the experiences of the first night. You would not be curious at all, women never are, especially on these matters. How did your Fred look love, after the dreadful ordeal, did he still exist?

On Thursday night Mr Cooper being at York, we got finished at six, + as you were having such festivities at Handsworth I thought we would go in for something similar here, so we invested sixpence in “Rip Van Winkle” at the Theatre, which was very good.

On Friday night I went down to Davis’s + received much valuable information as to setting up housekeeping. It was all very good but rather frightened me – he referred to the bills of his furniture, £25 for the Dining room suite, £4 for the Table, £14 for the Bedroom suite – it made me think that our £30 would look very small love, + made me rather glum. However I am on the strongly commercial tack + shall I think save about £6 this month, so we may have a little more than £30 by October. But how shall we go on if we have to get married earlier love? It will be rather a bad look out, but I will not continue on this subject any longer – or I shall be making you glum also. 

You forgot to say in your letter whether it had come off or not love? I suppose from that that it has not, but yesterday should have been the time – I will wait until to morrow + perhaps you will say something about it then.

This afternoon I went to the Middlesbro Cricket Club sports -which were very good but as I was not running, I did not enjoy it so much. The prizes were distributed by Mrs Dixon who seems to be a big gun in this neighbourhood + they were pretty fair, about of the same value as Darnall last year. It came on raining immediately after the sports + continues to do so. Bankes + Alvey have gone to the Swatters Carr to have a game of billiards but as I don’t play billiards much + have no desire for any beer I am the sole representative of the firm at their place of business. Of my darling I do feel lonely without you. But I will not complain.
I wish it was morning wifie + then I should get another letter from you, giving me all particulars about everything. I do love you my darling more than ever. (X)(X)(X)

June 18th
My darling
I received your letter this morning + was rather disappointed. I expected a longer one love – but I suppose you would be disappointed hurried, + judging from the differences in spelling + grammar from yours usually, I should say you were.

I am sorry to hear that all did not go well, but very thankful that you were not hurt.

Alvey says Miss Smith was working away, so that she could not catch the trains.

About the excursions love, the one to Newcastle won’t come any nearer than Darlington to Middlesbro + in returning leave Newscastle at 7.0 so it would get into Sheffield about 2.0 next morning. How would that suit you?
The other one for a day would be too much for you I think, though it would be convenient; you could stay the week, as the double journey by the trip won’t be cheaper than the single joint[sp?] ordinary fare.
If you came + did not stay at Marston’s you would be all right at Mrs Gordon’s, as she asked me the other night if you would not be coming over + said should be pleased for you to stop there. I expect Miss Smith would do the same).
I notice that you do not say whether you are all right or not love – I suppose you have not thought about it.
It is a beautiful day here to day, but unfortunately I cannot enjoy it as I have got a splitting headache. I think I shall have another  affair the same as I had last year + the year before at this time, but so far it is not very bad. I will let you know if I am not all right darling.
I do wish we were married love - + then I should have a little congenial society.
There is Bankes blowing his confounded cornet, + a cornet in a room combined with a headache is not the happiest combination one could imagine. Whereas if I had a wife + she played a cornet I could request her to stop it – but you cannot do that in lodgings you know.
You must write early + let me know how you are love as I am getting anxious about the matter.
I cannot write any more love except that I love you as ever + you know how much that is + remain
Your true + faithful husband

Oh Fred - how can you possibly be disappointed with Janie’s letter about the wedding? It was truly epic! I know I have several listeners who tell me they get rather cross with Fred mithering about the length of Janie’s letters, especially when it is blatantly obvious that she’s doing her best. He is a bit of a mardy character at times isn’t he. Don’t get me wrong I still love him. 

Rip Van Winkle was originally a short story written by Washington Irving, an American author who nowadays is probably more known for having also written The Legend of Sleepy Hollow. Rip Van Winkle tells of a man who imbibes liquor with a group of mysterious Dutchmen causing him to sleep all the way through the American Revolution. It was adapted into a play by American actor and comedian Joseph Jefferson and became his signature role which he toured all around the US, Australia and Great Britain. The guy toured and played the role for 40 years and I am curious to know if it was actually this chap that our Fred and his flat mates got to see. If you are interested Jefferson actually lived long enough to have his performance as Rip recorded in a serious of short silent movies in 1896 which you can find on Wikipedia. 

As for the noise of Banks playing his cornet - next time we’ll find out that Janie is full of sympathy as it turns out some of the villagers in Handsworth have started up a brass band, and Janie finally lets Fred know if she’s pregnant or not.

Thank you so much for listening to My Love Letter Time Machine. I’d very much like to share Fred and Janie’s story with more people, so If you haven’t already - can I ask to share this podcast with someone you think might enjoy it? You can also find excerpts of Fred and Janie’s letters on instagram at my love letter time machine all one word and you can write to me at my love letter time machine at gmail dot com.

Until next time, take care.
© Ingrid Birchell Hughes 2022