My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History

Darnall Feast, and The Sheffield Flyer

February 12, 2023 Ingrid Birchell Hughes Season 4 Episode 1
Darnall Feast, and The Sheffield Flyer
My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History
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My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History
Darnall Feast, and The Sheffield Flyer
Feb 12, 2023 Season 4 Episode 1
Ingrid Birchell Hughes

Season 4, Episode 1.  July 10th - 14th 1882. Janie returns from visiting Fred in Middlesbrough, she struggles to adjust, and we meet a Victorian sporting superstar, George Littlewood, World champion walker and runner, aka The Sheffield Flyer. 

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Show Notes Transcript

Season 4, Episode 1.  July 10th - 14th 1882. Janie returns from visiting Fred in Middlesbrough, she struggles to adjust, and we meet a Victorian sporting superstar, George Littlewood, World champion walker and runner, aka The Sheffield Flyer. 

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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 comes back from her holiday visiting Fred in Middlesbrough, and we are graced with a local celebrity.

[Darnall Feast, and The Sheffield Flyer]

Hello! Here we are with season 4 of the podcast - how lovely to be back! 

Before the break you might remember that Janie had gone to Middlesbrough with her companions Miss Smith and Annie Wortley to visit Fred, and take her first look around what will be her future home. Fred had arranged for her and her friends to stay at his old lodgings with his former landlady Mrs Gordon. It looks as if she managed to stay for at least five days before returning to Sheffield in time to attend the Darnall Feast. The letters that follow her return show a marked shift in tone, both Janie and Fred seem to be aware that the end is in sight - it feels as if we are properly kicking down hill towards their wedding now. 
Also over the course of the next few weeks we’ll see that Janie opens up a bit more about her day to day home-life and  I’m only now properly understanding just how unhappy she was — to me it looks as if she was pretty neglected emotionally, and pushed around not just by Emma, but by her mother Maria, and even at times by her father, James. 

To come back to this after what appears to be something of an idilic time with Fred, it’s not surprising that Janie is dealing with what looks like a huge comedown:

July 10th 1882

My own darling husband
I arrived all safe at twenty to six in Sheffield.

It was very hard to part again love, I felt very low indeed, but we must not get downhearted we shall soon be together for ever darling so we will try to look forward to it + not think so much about the present.

The ride was very pleasant as pleasant as it could be under the circumstances. We had to change at Eaglescliffe then Mr Marston got in with us + took care of us like a Father. He is a nice old man. We had to change again at Thirsk + York. We had very comfortable carriages all the way.

I have a feeling now as if I [am not in] the right place. I felt so settled love at Middlesbro’. We were wishing we could go back again when we got to Eaglescliffe, it has been a happy time darling. I am writing this at your mother’s.  I caught the twenty past six train to Darnall. There was a great many people going. I felt nearly fit to faint our carriage was so full but I have got here all right love + they are all very well your mother + all of them. I remain at your house. 

You must excuse the writing + style  I am rather tired + it is post time.

I love you more than ever my own husband + only wish I could be with you to have a nice walk in the Park if only for a few minutes.

Good night love (x)  I think I am shutting you out at Mrs Gordons.

I remain always my darling
Your loving true + faithful wife
P.S. I enclose [a] programme.

LIMITED Royal Exchange

July 11th 1882

My own darling Wife
I was very glad to receive your welcome letter this morning love, + so glad to know that you arrived all safe.

I am pleased to hear that you had a pleasant ride, + wished I could have gone back with you my darling, it would then have been very pleasant.

I feel very thankful to Mr Marston for taking such good care of you, + pleased that you had good carriages.
The feeling you have love, that you are not in the right place I can quite understand, for I have the same feeling very strongly that you are not in the right place. Your right place is here love with your own darling husband.

I am glad that you had such a happy time love, here, + am looking forward to even a happier time in the near future wifie.

I am glad to hear that they are all well at our house love, they would be rather surprised to see you then I think?

You must give me full particulars love how you went on at home + if they were very severe. I hope they were not my darling or else that I could be there to bear it for you.

Oh my darling it is so lonely here now you are gone – last night there was no Janie to welcome me + this morning too. I miss you more than ever my darling wife. I think I could not settle any where unless you were with me, + feel the old unsettled feeling again. Last week I thought Middlesbro was a very desirable place to live but this week I think it is awful.

Just fancy love, getting tea by myself after having had it with you last week – I wish next Thursday was to be the great day wifie + I should have you back again. But I will not distress you darling with vain wishes, it will not be long now.

Did Jinnie forgive you for not being at the feast early? I forgot to tell you to remember me to everybody love. I thought of nothing but you.

I remember last week at this time we were at Saltburn my darling – it was glorious love wasn’t it?

I thank you very much love for the programme of the Sports + remain
Your loving true + faithful husband

It was so lovely to read in this letter that Fred had had the chance to take Janie to the seaside at Saltburn - particularly after that beautiful letter about the last time he visited the place, you might remember that he’d almost got cut off by the tide in a moment of distraction and ended up having to wade back to shore. 

The feast he mentions is the Darnall Feast and Athletic sports day, that Janie obviously made the effort to come back in time for - particularly as it was hosted by the Darnall Wellington Cricket Club and Janie’s Aunt Staniforth would have been much involved.

Darnall Feast seem to have always been held on either the first or second week of July. Sheffield parish church, which became Sheffield Cathedral in 1914, is dedicated to St Peter & St Paul, and their feast day in the Anglican calendar is the 29th of June, so I’m wondering if the Darnall Feast commenced on the first available Monday after the saints day. There are reports of the feast in the newspapers about going back to 1820. It was a very popular event regularly attracted between two and half and three thousand visitors every year, many came for the sports and many came for the gala and dancing held after, that would go on into the late hours. This year it would appear that many visitors also came for a glimpse of a local celebrity. 

The report for the feast held this year appeared in the Sheffield Independent on Tuesday 11 July 1882, you’ll spot canary thief, and suitor to Jinny Reckless, David Craven getting a mention.

These were held at the Darnall Cricket Ground yesterday afternoon, in the presence of a large attendance of spectators. The official included Mr. Pritchard, Mr Gibbins, Mr C E Laycock, and Mr. W. Bolsover - Judge Mr. A. Craven, referee and  Mr. H.  Stacey, starter. The Tinsley Brass Band was in attendance, and played selections during the interval. The first event consisted of a parade for the neatest costume, which was won by a youth named G. Webster, dressed in black satin drawers, and white vest, trimmed with lace.
The results of the succeeding events were as follows:—120 Yards (for members only): 1[st place] Herbert Hobson; 2[nd place] David Craven. 

The article continues with the results of the 440 Yard race, the One mile open, the running high jump, 200 yard hurdles, the Veteran Race for men over 40, the one mile Walking race:
 “This race was looked upon with great interest on account of local lad made good, [George] Littlewood, who just a couple of months before had become the world champion walker. There was also a Ball Gathering race, several steeplechases incorporating hurdles and water jumps, Throwing the cricket ball contest, and the quarter mile Egg and Spoon race, which was rather pleasing won by the Reverend Depledge - who you might remember Fred having mentioned occasionally. 
The prizes were distributed to the victors by Mrs, A. Craven. The article finishes the sports were a great success and the successful arrangements reflected credit on the officials.

Although George Littlewood was only the runner up at the Darnall Feast, he had already that year set the six-day world record for walking of 531 miles,   Born the same year as our Fred in 1859, George Littlewood came from Rawmarsh, Rotherham and his prowess in running and walking competitions, earned him the moniker of The Sheffield Flyer. He became one of the sporting superstars of his age, and later, in 1888 in Madison Square Garden, New York, he won the six-day long distance running race and set another record at 623¾ miles which wasn’t beaten for another 96 years. After a glittering career, he came back to Sheffield, using his winnings to buy the King’s Head pub on Attercliffe Road.

When physiologist, B. B. Lloyd, was writing in the Advancement of Science journal in 1966, he referred to George Littlewood’s 1888 world record, and described the feat as "probably about the maximum sustained output of which the human frame is capable" George died in 1912 and was clearly still beloved and held in high regard as more than 3000 mourners came to pay their respects to The Sheffield Flyer at his funeral. 

The six day walking world record that he set in 1882, just couple of months before the Darnall Feast in fact, remains unbeaten even today. That he only came second at the walking race at the feast might very well be down to the fact that he’d probably not quite recovered. 

The next letter from Janie contains her account of the feast and it seems that Jinnie Reckless seems a bit put out.

June 11th 1882 [Janie has misdated this - it should be July]

My own darling husband
I begged a cup of tea at your house yesterday after which I felt quite refreshed, so I went in the field to see [little?] Jinnie, she would not speak for a while but relented a little before I went home. I went up with our Emma + Lizzie. I did not dance at all, there were a great many in the fields but very few that I know. I saw Lucy Craven in the tent, they had the large tent this time
Aunt Staniforth’s had one end of it and the other one was kept for dancing, they had … Tinsley Park Band.
We came out of the field at 9-30 + went on to the green, we only stopped half an hour, the people, on, were not very select. I got home at quarter to eleven.
I feel rather tired this morning. Mother says I look as if I had been raking for a month, we kept very early hours didn’t we love? It can’t be with that.

[about my return] They did not say much to me, they said you have got home again of course I said yes, I wish I hadn’t love I think I might have stopped until Friday + they would not have said much more. 
I have promised to go down to your house to tea this afternoon + to take your mother to the feast + on the green as she wants to see it.
Mother says I can go just after dinner as I have to see Jinnie + I have got my work done. Oh darling I do wish I could be with you to night just to have a nice walk round the Park.
I have a feeling now that this is not the place ought to be in, it has been a glorious time darling. We did hinder you love, but I believe you liked to be hindered, I do love you my husband more than ever it was harder to part this time but darling there will only be one more parting, then I shall be your happy wife + be with you for ever, “till death us do part.” You will feel more lonely now than ever love now you have not your wife with you to pour your tea out + look after you a bit, it is such a pleasure to do anything for you darling.
I shall have to give up now it is dinner time I remain as always my darling husband
Your loving true + faithful wife

Royal Exchange

July 12th 1882

My own darling Wife
I was very pleased to receive your loving letter this morning. I am glad to hear that you did not dance love, but hope that you did not debar yourself of any pleasure by doing so. ----  It was very silly of Jinnie not to speak to you love, she could never have thought that you would leave me to come even to Darnell Feast.

I suppose the long journey would knock you up love – it could not not have been the late hours altogether because you looked all right other mornings. I am glad they did not say much to you darling, + very sorry now that you left before Friday. Mr Cooper went to Sheffield this morning + I could have been with you this afternoon + tomorrow afternoon as well; but it will not be long now before you are with me altogether my darling –

I wish I could have taken tea with you last night love + gone on the green with you as well – it would have been like old times. I do feel lonely darling without my little wife to look after me – but I shall have her soon + then I shall look after her as well.

Would you like a list of the furniture we selected love on Saturday night – or can you remember them all – I can send you a list + the estimate we made out if you like, + then you can see how it fits as we go on. If you think of anything more that is absolutely necessary, I can perhaps put on the screw a little more to provide for it.

With reference to the “Cake” boxes + cards, will you let me know about how many we shall want + then I can arrange for them. I suppose to the ordinary people we shall not send cards shall we? I wish it was over darling “the great day” + we had got nicely settled down – my darling little wife + me + then we might have a little quiet happiness.

I remain, my darling wife
Your loving true + faithful husband

July 13th 1882

My own darling husband
I was pleased to receive your welcome letter this morning. I don’t know what I should do without them love. It has been a miserable day both inside + out of doors, I think Mother has been trying how nasty tempered she can be, or perhaps I feel it more after our loving companionship for a week.

I feel rather downhearted to day but darling I must not give way. I shall be with you for ever very soon.

My reception was not very loving last Monday but not less than usual, they never asked how I was, they only said what I told you. I felt it very much, just coming from you, I thought, I would keep it to myself love but now it feels as if I can’t this afternoon, they don’t give you credit for any feeling at our house.

But Darling I will not  trouble about these little things, I will look forward to the happy future, I shall not have long to be at home now love. I have reckoned the weeks, it will be thirteen weeks to day to “the great day” then I shall be your happy wife.

I do feel sorry I did not stop until to morrow, especially has you could have two half days.

I went down to Darnall on Tuesday but it turned out very wet. I went up to see your Mother it was not fit to take her down to the Wellington, + there was no dancing, she seems very well indeed at present, 

they knew I was coming home last Monday, Louisa saw our Emma in the afternoon so she told her, […] Mother went down to Darnall on the Sunday. She was not going to disappoint her. I was very pleased she was so obliging.

dance music

 It was a nice night so I went down last night + took your Mother on the green, she wanted to see them dance. I kept my promise darling I did not dance with anybody but girls, not even with Henry. I did not feel I debarred myself of any pleasure it is not much without you darling.

This is the week of depression Mr Banks said we should have. I felt leaving you this time more than ever my own husband, but we shall soon be together love, so I won’t despair.

I wish you could have been with me last night love.

I should like a list of the furniture we selected love.

I will tell you on Sunday how many cake boxes + cards we shall want darling. I wish we were nicely settled love but we soon shall be now, + we shall be quietly happy.

I remain my darling husband
Your loving true + faithful wife

Royal Exchange

July 14th 1882

My own darling wife
I received your welcome letter this morning for which I thank you. I am sorry love that you should have had such a miserable day. I am sorry too that your mother should be so nasty with you my darling, for I am sure that you never gave her cause for it. Perhaps it is the contrast love as you say between last week + this that has a little to do with it. – You must not get downhearted my darling, for you will soon be my little wife, + then there will only be me to be nasty with you + I know you will not mind that will you? You must think that it won’t be long now, + then you will be happy.

You are right love, they do not give you credit for much feeling, everybody seems wrapped up in self. Did your mother receive my letter, what did she say about it love?

I am glad you took my mother out love, it would do her good to get out a bit. I suppose she would want to dance didn’t she – It was so good of your Emma to not disappoint your mother. It is the first time on record I should think.

I am pleased that you kept your promise darling, but I never expected you would break it wifie, for I have implicit trust in you.

I expected you would feel leaving here very much love, this time, for we were so happy, but we shall be even happier when we are married darling, for then we shall not be tormented with the thought of parting. 

I intended giving you a list of the furniture love, but I have not had time. I will send it to you on Sunday. I also intended giving you a good long letter to day love, but we have been so busy – that I could not screw one in. We have had almost a hundred letters to day. It is now eight o'clock + I have not had any tea, so you must excuse me.

I remain, my darling wife
Your loving true + faithful husband

Poor Janie sounds so down doesn’t she, I know we are used to Fred being a bit sunshine and showers but it seems so unusual to see this level of despondency in Janie. Next week Janie seeks distraction from her sadness by going on a picnic, and everyone seems rather worried about Jinnie Reckless. In the meantime I’d like to take the opportunity to thank my Ko-fi supporters - I recently reached my first goal, so Cathy, Eleanor, Emma P, Gwenfar’s Garden, InstaDan73, Jeannie, Karen, Rosalyn and Sion, thank you all so much, I’m so grateful for your generosity - your support means I can pay for hosting, and subscribe to music and sound effect libraries, as well as the British Newspaper Archives. If anyone would like to help out, you can buy me a coffee or make a monthly contribution at, that’s k o dash f i dot com forward slash mylovelettertimemachine.

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 2023