My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History

The canary caper (season 3 finale)

December 04, 2022 Ingrid Birchell Hughes Season 3 Episode 14
My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History
The canary caper (season 3 finale)
Show Notes Transcript

Season 3, episode 14. 25th June - 1st July 1882. Janie prepares to travel to be reunited with Fred and to take her first look at Middlesbrough, Janie dishes the dirt on Jinnie's new boyfriend, we track down 'Advice to a Wife' - a Victorian tome about maternal health, and Ingrid experiences an unexpected bombshell from her great great grandparents.  

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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 Janie prepares to travel to be reunited with Fred and to take her first look at Middlesbrough.

[The canary caper (season 3 finale)]
The letters this time are focusing on Janie’s travel arrangements in preparation for her first ever visit to what will be her new home after she is married. There’s a lovely anticipatory holiday mood to her writing but I’m also struck with the amount of cumbersome wrangling that is required to enable women to travel — her doing this by herself was out of the question. How on earth they manage to wrangle their holiday alone together in Morecambe the previous year I have no idea. They keep dropping little hints but I’ve still not managed to piece it together. 

Also last time Fred and Janie started a discussion about her recent period and Fred’s concern for how painful it had been. He’s mentioned in the past that he worries Janie’s pain might mean she’ll have difficulty in conceiving in the future, which I think is the reason that he keeps bringing up the subject - as he does in this next letter:

Albert Terrace
Linthorpe Road
June 25th 1882

My own darling wife
I received your welcome letter yesterday morning love, for which I thank you. Will you please explain to Jinnie Reckless that I should have preferred that she should have deferred her visit until you had finished my letter for Friday + not have kept me anxiously waiting until Saturday for it. However I will forgive you this once, seeing that you got up so early to write to me darling. I hope that you would not experience any sleepiness in consequence.

It is strange your mother did not suggest any remedy love for the pain you suffer. I think there must be a remedy, + we must try to find one when we are married, or I am afraid it will prevent you from being a mother darling, + that is what I want you to be as well as a wife.

The man that abstracted the bottled beer love, would have some fine times of it I should think. Is your father going to proccecute[sic] him at all?
I received you other kind + loving letter this morning my darling.

It will be awfully early in the day for you love 5.30 you will have to stop up all night to catch the train so soon. Miss Smith has asked for your address, so I expect she will write to you, if she does not, you must either write to Miss Lizzie Smith, 28 Grey St. Pitsmoor, or call + see her at Cockayne’s.
I am very pleased that your father has given his permission for you to come love, did he say much about it?
You will not want much luggage love, for four or five days, unless you are going to have a different dress on every day.
Mrs Gordon will be very pleased to see you love, + you + Miss Smith can either sleep together or have separate beds just as you like.

I can well understand your lothfulness[sic] love, to leave your William’s but ours my darling will be quite as comfortable I have no doubt.

I am very sorry to hear that Jinnie + little David are getting chummy again love, as I have no faith in the constancy of the Craven family at all, I should not like to hear of Jinnie being jilted, which seems the usual way of the Craven’s.

I will arrange to have some nice weather love, on purpose for your visit; + in any case we shall enjoy ourselves love, + if opportunity offers perhaps we may have a little pleasure, I have no doubt as, as usual, I shall be quite willing. How will you be, love?
I am afraid I shall have to disappoint Jinnie in the matter of Darnall feast, as I would rather have you here for five days than be there for one.

I am sorry to hear that you have got a brass band love, as it means so much agony for you. Bankes is considered a very good cornet player, + it is even then agonising at times.

We have a glorious future to look forward to darling, as you say, + I don’t care how soon it commences + becomes the present.
I am glad to hear that I had over estimated the fender tc as that will give us a little more to expend in other things.
I think we must give more for the Drawing Room suite love, as the one I saw was the only one they had + I think I should like a better. We must see if we cannot give £14 or thereabouts for it. I should think they would deliver them here from Sheffield for very little more, + then you could have what you liked my darling.

I expect we shall forget everything as you say, when you come over, except that we are together + are happy.
You are still going in for the purchases love, I see, but they will all come in.
I have not been quite so well again this last few days but feel much better to day. On Thursday night I had the old restless fever on + couldn’t sleep a wink. I thought how nice it would be if you were with me. I could not fail to sleep then love.
On Friday + Saturday I was almost mad with the toothache + last night I think I could have cried if it had not been unmanly to do so. It is a little easier today – we had a very heavy thunderstorm yesterday but it cleared off towards night.
I wish the next week would fly at once + that tomorrow you were coming darling.
I remain my darling Janie
Your loving true + faithful husband
We had a great Cricket match here yesterday – Middlesbro versus Redcar – Middlesbro won by 3 runs. Alvey got 14 for Middlesbro.
They have a very pretty ground, having seats under trees.
I have now to go + sell another dog[sic?] so cannot write any more. I took a Seidlitz powder first thing this morning. I thought perhaps my stomach might be a little disordered + it has operated very successfully so far, + it is getting an urgent case.
Excuse my mentioning such a matter in a letter love, won’t you?
I do wish you were here darling + then I could take you in the park this afternoon.
I hope you will be able to read this. Jinnie would not think I was a good writer if she saw this, would she?
I do love you wifie.

 I’ve found the the book that Janie and Fred have mentioned before —  called ‘Advice to a Wife’. It was written by Pye Henry Chavasse, a member of the Royal College of Surgeons in the Victorian era. He became a hugely popular author on books about maternal health enjoying global success. You might consider him the author of the Victorian equivalent of ‘What to expect when you're expecting’. It was that kind of level.

Running to 300 pages, 'Advice to Wife’ to our eyes is puzzling combination of outmoded attitudes, pseudoscience and actual science. On the one hand the benefit of exercise, particularly walking, is much encouraged. The scientific understanding of fertility is actually quite modern, but the worth of a woman is entirely subsumed into being a progenitor of children and a helpmeet to her husband. The idea of her as being her own person simply does not exist.  

The introduction covers everything from abloutions (cold water where possible) to how much daylight is needed, with a constant hectoring that the only way to happiness is for a woman to focus on her household duties. He writes:

“A wife’s life is made up of little pleasures, of little tasks, of the little cares, and little duties, but which when added up together, make a grand sum total of human happiness; she is not expected to do any grand work; her province lies in a contrary direction — in gentleness, in cheerfulness, in contentment, in housewifery, in care and management of her children, in sweetening her husband’s cup of life, when it is, as it often is, a bitter one, in abnegation of self: these are emphatically a “woman’s rights,” her heritage, her jewels, which help to make up her Crown of glory…”

The chapter on menstruation starts with the warning of not allowing women to marry and bear children until their early 20s as she will not have completed her ‘organisation’ and that she is not yet ‘ripe’. It warns that men should never contemplate marrying a woman ‘unless she be healthy, and of a healthy stock’ which tends to put one in mind of livestock.

The information darts between describing what should happen in normal menstruation and the authors varied experience delivering children of women who showed this or that anomaly in their physiology. I think he’s doing it by way of reassurance — that variability doesn’t mean barrenness, but mostly it’s about how clever the author is. 

I did find this paragraph however, which I think reflects where Fred’s concern is coming from — that painful periods might mean problems conceiving:

“A lady sometimes suffers severe pains both just before and during her ‘poorly’ times. When such be the case she seldom conceives until the pain be removed. She ought therefore to apply to a medical man, as relief may soon be obtained. When she is freed from the pain, she will, in all probability, in due time, become enceinte.”

I think it’s also the paragraph that Janie refers to in this next letter:

June 26th 1882
My own darling husband
I received your welcome letter this morning for which I thank you love. I will try to explain to Jinnie Reckless that you would have preferred her visit another time. I am glad you forgive me this once darling. I did not experience any sleepiness in consequence of my getting up so early to write to you.

I looked for a remedy in my advice book but could not find one. It…only…said that the doctors can give one.
We should both be rather disappointed I am afraid if I was not a mother as well as a wife my darling.

My father is not going to prosecute the man that abstracted the beer. He has promised to pay for it + being Mr Wigley’s son he would not like to do so as Mr Wigley is an old friend of my fathers.

I went to Annie Wortley's yesterday afternoon to make arrangements. She had made all arrangements to go on Tuesday but says she will not go now as I am not going but will try to get off with us on Monday. Will Mrs Gordon be able to do with the three of us do you think as Annie says she would rather lodge with us, it would be very nice in the day time. We could look about us love all together, while you come home from work then darling. You will be able to take me for a walk in the Park or anywhere else.

I felt very much inclined to dance to think that I shall see you so soon love, we will have a glorious time darling. Shall you be able to get Monday holiday. It will be early in the morning to start love. Annie says we are to go the night before to Clara Dentons + stop there all night + get on at the acquaduct. Miss Smith of course would start from the Victoria, we would look out for her at Attercliffe.

Father gave his permission very willingly, he only said I was to take care of myself.

I am sorry Jinnie + little David are getting chummy again. I think I should not have much faith in the Craven family after Maria’s affair. 

David served Henry Reckless a very nasty trick over the canary, they bargained for two canaries at a place in Sheffield + the one that was to be Henry’s was the best, they were to meet the next day + take them. David went an hour before the apointed[sic?] time + took Henrys bird, he told the man that Henry said he was to have it, don’t you think it was a mean trick to serve him?

Henry + he had quite a quarrel over it but David kept the bird. If he will do such mean little tricks as those, I don’t think too much to him do you love?

If opportunity offers perhaps we may have a little pleasure as usual. I suppose I shall have to give way to my own husband. We will see about giving more for the Dining Room suite love. I fancy the leather would be very poor at the price you mentioned, if I go in the town again this week I will go to Peace’s where our Freds furniture came from + ask him if they send any away + whether they pay carriage or part of it + the lowest figure they run at + I know he would show me them + tell me, has he knows our John very well.
I am very sorry you have not been so well this last few days darling. I hope you are a great deal better by this. I think I would see a doctor if you feel the restless fever coming on again love. I wish I could have been with you if I could have made you sleep any better. 

I am glad you felt a little easier of the toothache yesterday + hope you keep easier darling, it is a most destracting pain, it must be the tic you have being so bad, not the toothache. I wish I could relieve you of it love.

I, like you love wish it was next week + that I was coming to morrow, but it will not be a very long time […] before I see you only 7 days now my darling, it will be a treat to be with you.
Our school treat happens to be next Monday which is rather unfornate[sic] as they are going to Skegnes [sic] + I wanted to see the place not having been there before but I shall have a far greater treat darling in seeing you.
I went from Woodhouse junction by train to Darnall last night as I wanted to go to your house. I called at the Wellington before going up + there was our Fred + Polly + Emma they had been with Walter Warburton to the station, he came to our house on Saturday night + stayed Sunday, he looks very well + he asked after you, they promised to wait for me if I was not very long.
I only found John + Louisa Emily + Walter at home your mother had gone to Church, they were all very well. Louisa says your mother gets quite fat, she cannot button all the buttons on her dress. I told them I was going next week. I got back to the Wellington at quarter to nine + they were just going to leave me, when we got to the bridge I met Harriet + Miss Watson so they stopped to talk, they turned back with me + went as far as Hartleys […]

They both looked very well, both in health + dress they were got up very nicely. Harriet generally looks nice, being so fair she look well in all almost anything.

I got home at ten, [the new] Mr + Mrs Fred were just going home.
You will just mention it to Mrs Gordon about Annie coming as well, I hope it will not be inconvenient to her, but it will not love has you say we can have separate beds, it will so nice to be all together.

I have not time for more. Our maid is out + we are very busy. I am afraid the spelling and grammar will not be of the best to day as I have had to write + wait all the time + you cannot write very well when you have to get up every five minutes. 
I love you more than ever
+ will always remain
Your loving true + faithful wife

There’s a very curious paragraph in that last letter that sent me on a bit of a journey, and reminded me in the most forceful way possible that I am without a doubt related to these two people. I need you to know that just over two years ago I was diagnosed with Trigeminal Neuralgia, a condition that causes a lot of pain in the facial nerve. It can often be mistaken for severe toothache or abscess. It causes me a lot of problems, including hampering my ability to do full time work and it’s one of the reasons I started this podcast, because I can still do it, even on days where I’m not feeling so great.

In Fred’s letter he wrote how the toothache had sent him almost mad. And in this reply Janie wrote “I am glad you felt a little easier of the toothache yesterday + hope you keep easier darling, it is a most destracting[sic] pain, it must be the tic you have being so bad, not the toothache. I wish I could relieve you of it love.”

After not being able to work out what ’the tic’  was, which is spelt t i c, I asked on twitter if anyone could figure it out and a couple of people wondered if it could be something called ‘tic douloureux’, and one of them sent me a link to an 1838 manual for the treatment ‘tic douloureux’ which is shortened to ‘The Tic’ throughout.  It turns out that ‘tic douloureux’, or ‘the tic’ is another name for Trigeminal Neuralgia. 

Well I was completely stunned. Another thing to be aware of is that my grandmother Mary — Fred and Janie’s were her grandparents — also suffered from Trigeminal Neuralgia. It’s not supposed to be a particularly inheritable condition, but there are noted examples of it running through families, the speculation that it might be to do with bone structure in the skull. It looks for all the world like the condition may well be running through my family. 

I know I’m always looking for a connection with Janie and Fred, but it might have been nice to give this particular chunk of DNA a miss.  I'm still processing I think.

Anyway Fred is feeling a bit better in this next letter and he’s been busy sorting out accommodation for Janie and Miss Smith when they visit. 

Royal Exchange
June 27th 1882
My own darling wife
I received your very welcome letter this morning, for which I thank you love.
I am glad to hear that Annie Wortley is coming with you love, as she will be additional company for you when you get here. Mrs Gordon will, I have no doubt be able to put you all three up as she has I believe three beds at liberty.
Mrs Gordon was enquiring the other night if you were severe + prim like Mrs Marston, I said I did not think so, do you? Love. I think you will be very comfortable there love, but of course it would be much nicer if you could stay at our house, but they cannot manage the accommodation.
I will go down to Mrs Gordon’s tonight + acquaint her that there will be three women ladies instead of two. 

I told Alvey that you would get in at the Victoria Station, but it will not matter I should think if you have an understanding with Miss Smith.
Clara Denton’s will be nearer Attercliffe Station than your Williams’ is to the Victoria love, so it will be more convenient. I wish the train did not set off so soon, as it means getting up at four oclock for you my darling.
I don’t think I should be able to get Monday off + I have thought we would spend the time wisely. It will probably be eleven oclock when the train arrives here + you will require a few hours rest after the fatiguing journey so I thought I would not have the Monday afternoon off, unless it is a general holiday on a/c of the Boatrace.
On the Tuesday afternoon we would go to Redcar + Saltburn. On Monday night of course you would have tea at our house, + then we could see the Park tc.
On Wednesday afternoon I think we should have to tea with Marston’s + on Thursday with Davis’s.
On Friday I might possibly get another afternoon off, but of that I am not certain, as it depends very much on the work we have in hand.

Alvey of course will not be able to be off at the same time as I am – I have promised him Wednesday + probably Monday. So that when he has holiday you must let them have it to themselves as I shall not want a third party when we are out. You know what I mean love, if they go out on the Monday + ask you to go, you had better now I think unless Annie goes as well, + then you two can go together.
Mrs Gordon I have no doubt will give you any information about the town + perhaps accompany you round if you wish it. I want you to make friends with her love if you feel disposed, as  she will perhaps be useful to us when you are in an interesting condition, + she is the most reliable woman I know off in that respect in Middlesbro.  Excuse me mentioning this wifie, but we must not overlook these little matters.

I am very pleased love that your father gave his consent so readily. What did he mean by you taking care of yourself? Did he mean the same as your mother meant, when we went to Morecambe? Has your mother said anything to that effect, this time love?

What you tell me about David Craven + Harry Reckless only bears out my idea of the whole family love, + I am not a bit surprised at it.

I am glad that you are prepared to give way my darling, to your own husband, but I hope you will not do so if you do not desire it also love, as I should not like to inflict pain on my little wife, however we can settle that point when the opportunity turns up.
I have been very much better love, yesterday + today, except for a slight pain in the middle of my back which you will be able to cure when you come.
I am sorry you will be disappointed in not going to Skegness love, but I think you will enjoy yourself more be being here for five days than there for one, don’t you wifie?
I am glad to hear that mother is well, + that you still keep up the connection love.

It is not very nice weather here at present love, but I think it will be better next week. I hope it will be so, as I want you to take back a favourable impression, + that I am sure you will do wifie, if it is nice + sunshiny.
I think the moon will be about at the full loved next week, if it is it will be splendid.
Oh my darling, I do wish next Monday was here, + you with it. Only 5 more days wifie, + then I see you.
You must excuse more tonight darling, as it is half past seven + I am very hungry.
I love you my darling wife more than ever, + will always remain your loving, true + faithful husband

June 28th 1882
My own darling husband
I received your very welcome letter this morning. I am glad you think Mrs Gordon will be able to do with the three of us. I am looking forward to a happy time love.
I have not heard from Miss Smith yet but I have written to her to day so I shall hear from her on Friday morning I should think. It would be nicer to lodge at your house certainly love, but I think it would hardly be the thing even if they could have accommodated us.
It will be far more convenient for Annie + I to go from Attercliffe. It would have been a long way from our William’s to the station. I am so glad Annie is going. She will be additional company.
You will be at the station to meet us love won’t you?
We shall be tired after our fatiguing journey, I think your arrangements of the time will suit us admirably, it will be better than having Monday off unless as you say, it is a general holiday.
I don’t think I am a very severe + prim love, love I shall certainly try to make friends with Mrs Gordon as it is very nice to have to have such a useful friend at those times darling it is as well not to overlook those little matters.
Father meant the same as mother when he said I was to take care of myself. Mother has not said anything about it this time.
We have got the ‘Salvation Army’ at Handsworth they have taken the Chapel for a few days this week. They have just gone past, their chief + only Musical instrument is the big drum it such sweet music to sing to.
We are having very nice weather here love. I do wish it was next Monday then I should be with you darling, it will be splendid to go out for a walk with you on one of our old moonlight nights. It is post time now love I will write again to morrow.
I love you more than ever my darling husband + will always remain 
Your loving true + faithful wife

Royal Exchange
June 30th 1882
My own darling wife
I received your welcome letter yesterday morning love for which I thank you. I expected one this morning as well from your letter, but did not get one.
You will have heard from Miss Smith before this I expect so you will be able to give me all particulars as to your programme.
As you say love it would perhaps be not quite the thing for you to lodge at our house, so we must make the best of the other.
Of course I shall be at the Station love to meet you, but I have not the slightest idea what time the train will come in. I think I shall send our lad down to the station to wait until the train comes in and then to come across + let me know. I can then come over in a minute to meet my darling wife. It ought to be in about ten but it may be anything from that to eleven, + I could scarcely spare an hour just then love. Don’t you think my arrangement a good one love?
I am rather surprised at your father mentioning anything about that to you love, + feel rather hurt in consequence. The sting is I think, in the caution being needed, than anything else.
I hope you will not join the Salvation Army love, with its drum accompaniment, as I decidedly object to Salvation Army women.
It is beautiful weather here now love, + I think it will be fine next week. It will be glorious seeing you every day love for a week, but it will not be so nice I expect as it was at Morecambe because I cannot be all the time with you. But I shall have you all together soon my darling so that we must be patient a little while longer.
Only three more days love + then I see you. I wish it was Monday now. I shall expect you  to come love, even if you miss the Trip train.
I remain my darling Wife
Your loving true + faithful husband

June 30th 1882
My own darling husband
I am sorry I could not give you the letter yesterday that I promised. I had promised to go to tea at Darnall as our Polly was coming. I was so busy all day I could not make time to give you a few lines. Mother kept bothering to know if I was going that day or not so I went. I thought if I did not go, I might not get to see your mother this week + I knew she would want to see me before I go went to Middlesbro, so darling you must forgive me this time for disappointing you.
They were all very well at your house, your mother seems better than she has been for some time. I went up there after tea.
I had a letter from Miss Smith yesterday saying that she is going, our letters crossed. I wrote on Wednesday night. I am writing again to night to make the final arrangements as I have not had an opportunity of going to Sheffield.
I got up early this morning + went down to see Annie Wortley. Clara is coming to keep house so she will get off very nicely. I intended going there by train last night but there was every appearance of a a heavy storm coming on so thought I had better not venture.
I hope you keep better darling + that you are quite free from the tic, I shall soon be with you love + I will try to charm your illness away. We will have a glorious time. I am impatient for Monday to come my darling. I wish the journey was at an end + we were just meeting you. We shall have to be up early but I do not mind.
Mother is going with the children to Skegness. I do not feel very disappointed at not going, it will be a far greater treat to be with you. I do love you darling + I shall soon be able to tell you so + we shall be able to have some of our delightful kisses shan’t we love? I can just imagine you saying “just a fewthry.” [sic?]
I am going to write to Carrie to night – I am in the black books already I am afraid.
I will give you the usual one on Sunday love.
I remain as always
Your loving true + faithful wife

July 1st 1882
My own darling husband
I received your welcome letter this morning for which I thank you love. I am afraid you will be rather disappointed in the length of my letter to night again, there is such a noisy lot of people in + Mother wants me to help her + we expect the band coming again to night. 
I  You must forgive me again, there is only another day to pass over then I shall see you darling, + we tell everything to each other which is better than writing it is it not love?
I had another letter from Miss Smith this morning saying she is quite satisfied with the arrangements + will look out for us at Attercliffe.
I do think it would be best to send the lad down to the Station + then love you would not lose any time, + as you say he would soon run over + tell you my own husband. Oh darling I am longing to see you, I wish it was Monday morning.
I don’t what time the train will get in love, it is an express, we shall not stop after we get past [Parkgate], so I should think we shall be there by ten at the latest.
My father did not say that to me love it was to Mother + she told me.
I shall certainly come love if I do miss the trip train.
As you so decidedly object to Salvation women I think I will not join the army.
We have had two lovely days if it continues so it will be glorious.
It will not be quite so nice has being at Morecambe love + having you all the time together but it will be very nice + I am sure we shall be happy, + we will patiently wait a little longer then I shall be your darling wife + be with you all together.
Please excuse more darling.
I want to pack my little box to send down by Mr Allen.
I love you more than ever my own husband + will always remain
Your loving true + faithful 

It’s so frustrating - we’ll just have to imagine the excitement of Janie heading off to Middlesbrough to see Fred and to explore the town in anticipation of her new life when they eventually marry. 

This brings us to the end of Season three - this has been the 52nd episode of ‘my love letter time’ machine which means I must have been doing it for almost a year. And for that reason, I hope you don’t mind but I need a bit of a rest so I’m going to take a little break. We’ll be launching Season 4 in a few weeks, on the 12th of February - the weekend immediately before Valentines Day. I’m not going to disappear completely - I’m hoping to get a bonus episode out in the interim at some point, and I’ll still be sharing Fred and Janie content on their instagram at my love letter time machine all one word, so follow me there for updates or if you want to ask me any questions. In the meantime, let me wish you a Merry Christmas, or Happy Holidays wherever you are in the world, and all the best for a kinder more peaceful New Year. We’ll be back soon.

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