My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History

Picnicking, and Quickening

February 19, 2023 Ingrid Birchell Hughes Season 4 Episode 2
Picnicking, and Quickening
My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History
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My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History
Picnicking, and Quickening
Feb 19, 2023 Season 4 Episode 2
Ingrid Birchell Hughes

Season 4, episode 2. 15th - 19th July 1882. Janie's mood continues to be a little low, and Fred starts talking about how a possible baby on the way might impact the date for their wedding. Janie also paints us a tantalising picture of a Victorian working class picnic in Bowden Howstead Woods, near Handsworth, Sheffield, a beautiful ancient woodland that survives even today. 

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Show Notes Transcript

Season 4, episode 2. 15th - 19th July 1882. Janie's mood continues to be a little low, and Fred starts talking about how a possible baby on the way might impact the date for their wedding. Janie also paints us a tantalising picture of a Victorian working class picnic in Bowden Howstead Woods, near Handsworth, Sheffield, a beautiful ancient woodland that survives even today. 

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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 Fred seems to have convinced himself that a baby is on the way, and, we go on a little picnic with Janie.

[Picnicking, and Quickening]
Last week it was evident that Janie was more than a little lost on her return home after such a nice time with Fred. Her mood continues to be a little low, and the pair of them start talking about how a possible baby on the way might impact the date for their wedding, but first Janie paints us a tantalising picture of a Victorian working class picnic.  She and her cousin Jinny and their friends appear to have gone to Bowden Houstead’s Woods. These were and still are the ancient woodlands to the west of Handsworth. Today the woodland has been sliced into three sections by dual carriageways and housing development hugs up against it on all sides. The fact that most of it is still there is a bit of a miracle, and alone with the neighbouring carbrooke ravine, is now a nature reserve. But back Janie’s day it was only bisected w a few tracks and trails - in particular a handy shortcut that connected Handsworth to Darnall.  You might remember that this is where Fred and Janie first met each other almost exactly 3 years prior to this next letter:

July 15th 1882

My own darling husband
I received your very welcome letter this morning for which I thank you love.

I do not feel quite as miserable to day. I must not feel so, now the glorious future with you is so near. 

I shall be thankful darling when the time comes, it will be happiness to be always together, + only you to be nasty with me, I do not mind you a bit love. I shall kiss your nastiness away if ever I see any coming on.

Mother received your letter but she has not mentioned it at all. 

I asked your Mother if she had brought her light shoes to dance but she had not so of course could not dance.

Jinnie Reckless + Emma Gill came up to our house on Thursday purposely to ask me to go in the wood for a picnic, so I could not very well get out of it, + being Jinnie’s last week too these were the people that were there.

Mr + Mrs Gill Emma Gill, Thirleys
Mrs Rennie, Annie Gill, Ellen Staniforth
Mr + Mrs Fose, Annie Rennie, little Rennie’s
Cousin Mary, little Gills.
Maria, Jinnie, David Craven
N. Avery and George Jackson

We had a very nice tea, on a piece of grass in front of the Woodman’s house, the Woodman’s wife boiled hot water for us at two pence a head, we did not sit have tea sit on the grass to have tea. We borrowed two tables, which was more comfortable … I did wish you could have been there darling then we could have had such a nice ramble in the wood + we should have enjoyed ourselves, but I do not half enjoy anything without you love, they fixed a swing up, I did not swing love I cannot do with it at all besides I did not care expose my small seventeens to anybody but you.

I got some very nice fern roots, for our back garden under the hedge. It was a lovely day if you had been there it would everything that is nice but I cannot help feeling rather miserable without darling. Ellen Staniforth + I came home together, the rest were in front, + Jinnie + David we lost so don’t know where they got to.

Jinnie + David are engaged I heard last night, he has bought her a ring I think it is diamonds + pearls but she has not said anything to me yet or shown me the ring + I did not notice whether she had it on on Thursday at our house. I do feel sorry if it is the case, for I think I dislike him more every time I see him.

Jinnie has always said that she did not care for him at all but I think she has always cared for him but felt rather ashamed of his height, they were very loving yesterday. It began to rain as we were coming home + rained until I got to our house which rather spoiled the little pleasure I had. I came up with Polly Corbett.

Have you last week's supplement yet, ours has got torn up. If you have will you please send it for me darling, as I did not finish reading it.

We were just having our walk round Middlesbro last week at this time, I wish I was there now love, I am sorry I came away before yesterday, but I shall be with you very soon darling then there will be no parting to torment us.

About the cakes boxes + cards love, I think you will know best who we are to send them to, To the ordinary people we shall not send cards love.

You can just say in your next letter love who you think we should have to send them to + then if there is anybody else I think of, I will tell you, I wish we were nicely settled down love, I am going to begin sewing on Monday with a “vengeance.” I intend getting a lot done before our feast. I have not told Mother yet when “the great day” is to come off but shall do so soon.

The Handsworth cricketers are playing a match with against Oak Street. I expect they will be here directly.

I hope the old unsettled feeling has gone off a bit love, I wish I could just pop over for to morrow then we would have a glorious walk in the Park + sit in our favourite seat + watch the swans.

I feel wretched miserable love Sunday coming on + knowing I shall not see you, I feel worse than ever this time but Oh darling I must not get downhearted that will never do but I just feel as if a good cry would do me good. I will not give way love there is a happy time coming + I will look forward to it + try to make the best of the present but love it does seem hard to be away from you, my own husband. Our house seem more miserable after our happy time but I shall not have long to stop now, before I am your happy true + loving wife for I do love you my darling as much as it is possible for anyone to love you are everything to me. We are all in all to each tc. 

I was looking to day at the views you sent me of Redcar + Saltburn.

I did wish you + I was there darling, I wish we could manage a few days there love for our honeymoon.

You must remember me very kindly to Mrs Gordon Betty + Mrs Gordons sister in law and all lother inquiring friends. Post time.

I remain
My darling husband
Your loving true + faithful
Wife, till death us do part

Janie mentioning gathering fern roots reminded me that the Victorians were obsessed with fern collecting. Over over the course of the century, fern collecting became not just something that the rich did on their overseas travels but something the rest of society did on picnics and walks. Fern designs were ubiquitous in wallpaper designs, fabric patterns and ceramics, and the ferns themselves were grown in ferneries or in fern cases in the grand houses. Janie wanting to plant some under the hedge in her family back garden the year she knows she is leaving is on of those frustrating little details. Was she that into ferns and was hoping to take them with her, or did she actively love gardening? I wish I knew more.

In this next letter from Fred, he remarks on Jinnie’s reluctance to show off her ring and wonders if it’s because it’s too fancy for ordinary folk. Given we know David Craven can pull a fast one, I’m thinking back to him cheating Henry Reckless, Jinnie’s brother, out of a canary, —  is something not quite right about the ring and Jinnie knows? I wonder if it’s a family ring and David knows he’d be in bother giving it to Jinnie and has told her not to say anything. 

Albert Terrace
Linthorpe Road

July 16th 1882

My own darling Wife
I received your welcome letter this morning for which I thank you very much.

I am glad that you do not feel quite as miserable love, as you did; you must not give way to it my darling, because it will not be long now before we are one.

I am glad that you had such a nice picnic love, I wish I could have been there with you – we should have enjoyed it. I am pleased that you did not swing, as I should not like anybody but myself to see your “small seventeens” love.

I hope that your news about Jinnie + David being engaged is not true love, for Jinnie’s sake; as I do not think he will stick very closely to her even if they were formally engaged - + then besides that I think the Craven family would have a good deal to say about it + I should think forbid it.

It was strange she did not show you the ring, as I should have thought you would have been the first she would have shown it to. “Diamonds + pearls” are rather too much ar’n’t they for ordinary people.

I will send you last weeks supplement love, with pleasure. Of course you had scarcely time to read it last week as we were so busy.

The Football Club Sports came off yesterday. Tom + I went – they were very good. There were not very many there, as a tremendous thunderstorm came on about two oclock which kept the people away – it cleared off wonderfully afterwards, + it was quite hot in the afternoon.

My darling, I was thinking last night the same as you of the previous Saturday night. I did feel lonely wifie without you, + today as well. It seems a month since last Monday – I think it has been the longest week on record.

I will think over the people to send the cake boxes + cards to love, +  let you know.

You must begin sewing next week love if you mean to get finished, as it may come off in September you know. It is four weeks tomorrow since the last monthly love, if you have forgotten it – do you think you will be all right. Have you got to know yet love whether it shows at three months end or not – if it does + you are not all right this month, I suppose we l shall have to get married in September love, instead of November.

I do not feel quite so unsettled love, as I did at first – but I wish you could just be over here for to day, + was so nice last Sunday darling, to have a walk in the park + “watch the swans.”

But we will have lots of walks love in the Park when you come here.

Did they feel sufficiently interested in Middlesbro love to ask you how you liked the place, + what sort of a place it was?

You must not think too much darling of me being away for it is for the best you know, + we are looking forward to a very happy time. I know + feel that it is very hard to be parted my darling, but it will not be for long now before we are joined together you + I, + I know you love me darling more than ever as I love you. You know wifie that life is not all sunshine, + it is the shadows that make us enjoy the sunshine, that is, when we are together we feel amply repaid for the separation, +those are the best off that make the best even of  a bad look out.

Besides my darling, our previous experience has taught us that what seems most disheartening is often for the best, + perhaps it may be a wise provision of Providence that you should have such an unhappy time at home, + that we should be parted, to enable us to appreciate truly + value the happiness which we expect will be ours in the future, I know it has made us value our loving companionship before my darling. So do not get downhearted darling, remember that “as the day, so shall your strength be.”

I don’t know whether we shall be able to manage a few days at Saltburn love for our honeymoon. I should like it very much love, but I suppose it would cost money + we shall not have very much to spare just then my darling.

I enclose you a copy of the estimate we made out darling, on that happy Saturday night we inspected the furniture.

I will remember you to Mrs Gordon etc who have asked very kindly after you. You seem to have made a decided impression upon them all darling, which of course I thought you would. 

Mr Banks has just remarked “that he will now sing you a love song” which remark I think you have heard before. 

I have just remembered that your John promised me one of his photos when I was over – would you kindly remind him darling that he has not yet let me have it.

We shall have holiday I expect on August 7th being Bank Holiday. Would it be better to come over then love, or shall we leave it until September as we had arranged? I do not fancy holiday very much unless you are with me darling.

I remain my darling Wife, 
Your loving true + faithful husband
“till death us do part.” (x)

July 17th 1882

My own darling husband
I received your loving letter this morning for which I thank you very much.

I feel in very much better spirits to day. I will not give way any more love if possible. I know we shall be together very soon. I must bear my little cares cheerfully + not get downhearted. I know it is for the best darling that you are away but the last week seemed such a change from the happy week with you, but I will look forward to the happy future when we are husband + wife.

We are amply repaid for the separation love when we are to-gether. I do know darling that life is not all sunshine + that it is the shadows that make us enjoy the sunshine, + we cannot always expect to have all sunshine even you + I, so I must face the shadows bravely darling because I want to be your cheerful little wife darling + always look at everything on the bright side.
Mother has gone to Sheffield to day to see Polly, so I am barmaid. Our Emma is upstairs sewing.

I went down to Helen Staniforth to tea yesterday. Jinnie was to be there. I went down about three o’clock + just got in before a very heavy shower came on, Jinnie did not come until after tea. Willie Rennie + George Jackson called at their house to shelter + stopped to tea so she had to get it ready for them. We all went to Church in the evening + I heard the new Curate, he preached a splendid sermon then we went down to Mrs Gills. Helen Staniforth left us to go for a walk with a young fellow that works at Brown Bayleys Dixons. I forgot what she said his name was he was a friend of Joe Gills. After we had been at Gills a while David Craven, Willie Rennie, George Jackson + Henry Reckless came in, Emma + Janie promised to go up with me if I would go down there. David left early so Janie, Emma, Willie, George + Henry walked up with me as far as the Park Lane.

It is rather strange that Jinnie has not said anything to me about the ring because I am generally the first that she tells anything to. I think it is because she has always told me that she did not care for David.

I think I shall be all right to morrow or in a day or to, but I shall soon be able to tell you love.

I have looked in my advice book + it says that quickening generally occurs about the completion of the fourth calendar month + sometimes as early as the third month + as late as the fifth + it is then when it begins to show. I suppose we should have to be married in September love if I am not all right, instead of October, you said instead [sense] November.

They asked me what Middlesbro’ was like, they did feel sufficiently interested for that.

Thank you love for the list of the furniture we inspected that happy Saturday night.

I am glad I made a decided impression on them all at Middlesbro’ love + that you feel quite satisfied with your happy wife that is to be. 

I have heard Mr Banks’ remark about the love song but never heard him sing it, does the senior partner prepare to bash yet.

I told our John about the promised photo + he said he had not got one of yours.

I do think you had better come on August seventh love, that is three weeks to day, it would be better than September as we arranged, as you would have an extra day with me, because you would have to got back on the Monday morning if you came in September so come on August 7th darling.

I have been thinking love you might get a tall hat in Sheffield on the Saturday night if you like + then you would have it for Sunday. I would carry it from Sheffield for you if you do not care about carrying it, then you might put it on to go back in + have your travelling cap in your pocket so that when you got in the train you could take your tall one off + put it on the shelf + be comfortable, the other that you come in would wrap up in a very small parcel. Shall you buy the ring then love. Shall you be able to manage it so soon.

I have not been able to do much sewing to day with Mother being out, there has been such a lot of folks in + out but I have done a little. I shall try to get as much done as possible this month + next before the feast. We have a Club feast on Saturday next + I believe we shall have the one  another dinner very soon but I hope not.

I have not time for more to day love.
I remain, “till death us do part.”
Your loving true + faithful wife

Royal Exchange

July 18th 1882

My own darling Wife
I received your welcome letter this morning love, for which I thank you. I am very pleased that you feel in a little better spirits than you did wifie – I suppose it would be the contrast between the miserable time you spent here + the intense happiness you have at home love that would do it.

I thought my brave little darling would see the advantage of looking on the brightest side, I shall expect my little wife to help me to fight bravely the battle of life + I will do my best to help her to do the same.

I wish I could have gone with you to Darnall Church love to hear the new Curate I should have enjoyed it, + also the walk home afterwards – but it wasn’t so. I am sorry to say I have not attended Church as regularly as I used to do love – I want you here darling to help me to be better + to keep me right. Will you undertake the duty + responsibility wifie for ever?

With reference to the great day love – if the quickening occurs at the end of the fourth month we could run it until October in any case, as that would only be three – but I will leave that to you darling to decide whether it is necessary or not as you think fit.

Do you think we shall want more than two dozen cake boxes love – I have ordered two dozen from Leeds to day + they will send them to your house in about a month from now. The traveller was here today so I thought I would take the opportunity while I could personally + I thought it would be no use for them to send them here – they might as well send them to Handsworth as not. 

Your John is mistaken about the photo, love, he has or had one of mine in his album when I looked at it last.

We will consider it settled then love, about my coming on August 7th. I think your suggestion a very good one about the tall hat + shall be followed out. I do not see why we should not buy the ring then love as afterwards, it will make no difference you know as far as the value is concerned, + I do not feel afraid of you giving me up thereby forfeiting it.

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

Janie and Fred’s discussion about the ‘quickening’ in relation to the possibility of Janie being pregnant reminded me that in an era before pregnancy tests, how much of a significant moment it was. After all you can miss a period for all kinds of reasons, stress, illness, being underweight, To be quick is to be alive, and the first moments of being able to feel a foetus move was a reliable sign that pregnancy had actually happened. There were all sorts of beliefs surrounding the moment of quickening - from the persistent idea that this was when the soul of a person entered the body, to unpleasant ramifications of when one could actually hang a woman if she was pregnant. The English jurist William Blackstone wrote in 1770, “To be saved from the gallows a woman must be quick with child—for barely with child, unless he be alive in the womb, is not sufficient.” These days feeling the baby kick for the first time has become less of a culturally significant milestone and more of an emotional one shared by parents and family.

Janie and Fred on the other hand are expecting to plan the date of the wedding around the quickening, and I wonder how disappointed Fred felt when he got Janie’s next letter:

July 19th 1882

My own darling husband
I received your very welcome letter this morning. You deserve a good mark for the writing love. (x)

It was the contrast between the very miserable time I spent with you + the intense happiness I have at home that made me feel so miserable last week but I must try to bear everything bravely darling so that I can help you to do the same through the battle of life + I know you will help me.

I wish you could have gone to Darnall Church with me love we should have enjoyed it + the walk home, never mind love we shall be able to go to Church when I get to Middlesbrough. I will try to help you to do better + keep you right. I will undertake the responsibility husband for ever if it is in my power + I think it is to a certain extent to keep you right.

The usual monthly has come off this afternoon. I have not been quite so sick + not had quite so much pain this time but I have had to go to bed for an hour or two. I feel all right now so love we shall not have to get married any sooner. I am pleased it is all  right because I should not like them to notice anything at home before.

I think two dozen cake boxes will be quite sufficient love, you did quite right to have them sent to our house darling it is a deal better than having them sent to you as you would have them to bring over here + it will save trouble, how will they send them love?

I went down to see Annie Wortley yesterday. Mr Wortley is very poorly, they were in a fix when she got home, George Denton was poorly at Attercliffe, Clara had sick headache, little Katie had been under the doctor all week, the servant had toothache + the house  half pulled down, they are making alterations + Willie with his trousers torn so you may be sure love they were glad to see her back again. I have not time for more it is post time.

I remain my darling husband
Your loving true + faithful
Wife Janie
P.S. I will give you a long one for Sunday.

Oh poor Janie, bless her heart, she’s trying so hard isn’t she. Next week we hear more about Janie and Fred’s family planning, or rather lack of it, and we get to find out more about Fred’s neck of the woods in Middlesbrough, and take a look at the Victorian Parks movement.

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