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 we find out more about Fred’s neck of the woods in Middlesbrough, and take a look at the Victorian Parks movement and I reflect on my own experience with Sheffield Cathedral.
[Penny Gaffs, Parks, and Parenthood]
With the next letters I’m having one of those moments where I struggle with outdated attitudes that my great great grandparents were wholly committed to. Fred has mentioned before about how he expects Janie to keep him on the straight and narrow with regard to his church attendance, and now he goes into more detail about he expects from her. We also hear more about Janie and Fred’s family planning, or rather lack of it. Fred sounds rather sad at the news that Janie has had her period, it seems he was rather looking forward to fatherhood:
July 20th 1882
My own darling Wife
I received your very welcome letter this morning for which I thank you. I am pleased that you think I deserved a good mark for the writing love, you see I can write when I have plenty of time + inclination – it is when I am pressed for time when the Greek appears. I wish I could have received your kiss really my darling – they are rather cold on paper.
I thought you would undertake the responsibility of helping me (your husband) to do right wifie. You have perhaps heard that a man’s prosperity + welfare is almost entirely in his wife’s hands, + I believe it to be quite true, because nobody has so great an influence over him either for good or bad as his wife.
I place firm reliance in that respect on you darling, + I feel sure that you will be worthy of it, + prove yourself so.
I am pleased my darling for your sake that the usual monthly has come off, + also that you had not so much pain as you have had before. But I am almost sorry that it has in one way, because I fully expected it would not + had quite fancied myself a father in prospective love, + now I feel almost afraid the we shall not have any children love, for I am sure we gave the business every opportunity of being successful. But I suppose it is no use being put out by something I am not sure about, + is after all purely imaginary. What is your opinion my wife – do you think we shall have any?
With regard to the Cake boxes – they will be sent by train + will be delivered at your house. I should think they will pay the carriage but of that I am not quite sure – in any case it will not be much as they will not weight heavy. J. Y. Knight + Co Leeds are the makers.
Shall we have to send cards love with them, + if so what will the cards say?
They seem to have had a collection of evils at Wortley’s love – it was a good job Annie left when she did. I wish you could have stopped longer my darling, we are having beautiful weather now, + there is a great cricket match on here. Australians v. Yorkshire. I did not get to see it today. Alvey went – but I shall try to screw an hour in tomorrow if possible. You see that is the penalty of being great, one has to attend to business no matter what pleasures are open.
It is the great “Cherry” Fair at Stockton today – they are having a general holiday there in consequence. I have not been up.
Last night the Police Band gave a selection of music in the Park. It was very nice, there were some thousands of people there. I did wish you could have been one amongst the thousands love – I should have enjoyed it much more then.
Alvey is playing his heat in a Billiard Tournament at the Swatters Carr tonight. I am going across directly to watch him.
I saw Mrs Marston last night – she wished to be kindly remembered to you darling.
I will give you a little more tomorrow love, you must please remember I shall expect a long one for Sunday darling.
Only 12 weeks wifie to our wedding day – from to day – I am counting.
My darling I will just give you a few more lines, but not many as I have not quite finished work yet, + it is 7.45 now. So you must please excuse me love.
I have been up to the Cricket field this afternoon for an hour. Yorkshire are getting a severe beating.
It only wants 15 days wifie to our meeting, it was a very pleasant break love you coming over here. I wish you were coming for good love next week.
I love you my darling wife more than ever + remain
Your loving true + faithful
Trawling through the newspapers, showed me that Middlesbrough Town Council were in the habit of financially supporting the Police Band to offer public ‘Music in the Park’ concerts once a week in during Summer in Albert Park. I also found the report for the Stockton Cherry Fair that Fred decided not to go to. Fred’s disinterest seems have not been unique and I wonder if we are seeing shift in people’s tastes and interests.
Stockton Herald, South Durham and Cleveland Advertiser - Saturday 22 July 1882
“STOCKTON CHERRY FAIR. This rustic carnival of the olden times was held on Thursday at Stockton, and was, as usual, the occasion of a considerable amount of commotion during the latter part of the day. There was, however, an evident falling off in public interest, as well as a want of spirit in connection with the various " events " on the card. The proceedings began with a baby show at the Exchange Hall, when a goodly array of fat babies were on view at "threepence a-head." After a careful inspection the judges awarded the first prize to the baby of Mrs Smith, of Sedgefield, and the second to Mrs Redfern's baby, of Norton. The next event of the day was the Donkey Derby, which was run from Central Buildings to the Grey Horse Hotel. Some very amusing racing was seen … After a keen contest, John 'Wood, of Stockton, won the first prize (a silver cup), and George Wharton, of Darlington, took the second prize (a medal)…The other events included a foot race for men between the Old Church and the pump at the end of Dovecot-street, a race for women between the Drinking Fountain and the Grey Horse corner, climbing of greasy poles, and other rustic sports. At the lower end of Highstreet there were several "penny gaffs." where all the wonders of creation were on view at the infinitesimal charge of one penny, and the "fun of the fair" was kept up by the lads and lasses till the night was far advanced.”
Penny Gaffs were a kind of cheap bawdy theatre that could be put on in an empty shop or the back of pub, with benches for the audience and a piano if you were lucky. Rude songs and crude productions of murders, highwaymen and nationalistic reenactments of battles were common fare. It’s absolutely not the kind of place that women like Janie would ever have risked going in, and I dare say Fred would have taken a rather dim view of them. He, and apparently many thousands of others preferred instead to attend the open air concert in Albert Park.
The development of the public park as a response to industrialisation arguably started in the North fo England with the Princes Park in Liverpool in1849. As more and more people moved into the cities for work, farsighted philanthropic individuals understood that townsfolk required recreational space. Lakes and carriage drives, cricket pavilions, wooded walks and bandstands became popular and common hallmarks of the many parks that were developed throughout the rest of the Victorian era. In1864 Henry Bolckow - he of the Bolckow Vaughen Ironworks in Middlesbrough (later mayor and Member of Parliament) bought the land to the east of Linthorpe Road and gifted it to the town for use as a public park. It was opened by Prince Arthur of Connaught, son of Queen Victoria in 1868. By Fred’s time, 14 years later, it was home to Middlesbrough Cricket and Football Clubs, and I imagine that the trees were starting to mature in size and stature. We can see from the letters that the Park has started to feature heavily in Fred’s life and he and Janie mention their walks there a lot. As far as a location for Fred’s interests were concerned, he’d landed in the ideal spot.
July 22nd 1882
My own darling husband
I received your very welcome letter this morning for which I thank you love. I should have given you one for yesterday but I went to Sheffield on Thursday by the ten train so could not manage one before I went. I went to see Polly as I had not seen her since I came back + she sent word by Sissy on Monday that I was a nasty old girl for not going. I should not have gone so early but Mrs Allen’s niece was married at the old Church + I wanted to see the wedding, + to see inside the Church too as I have not been in before it is a grand old Church.
The wedding party looked very nice, it was a very quiet wedding. She is Mrs Hill’s daughter, that invited me to go and see them at Hathersidge. I kissed the bride + congratulated them. She is very young only eighteen. I don’t know how old he is I think he looks about 22 or 23, there was a shower of rice but not as much as we shall get love it will be awful. It was bad enough at our Freds, but it will be worse at ours.
After they were married I went up to Cemetery Road to dinner. Polly + I came down inn the town about four + had a look round + had a very nice tea at Brooke’s we wished our William + you could have had it with us then we should have enjoyed it everything seems incomplete without you darling.
I went down by the train to Attercliffe + called to see your people, your mother has had a bad fall in the garden she has hurt her hand very bad. I think she has knocked her thumb up it is very much bruised + swollen + very painful, she hat is rubbing it with oils from the druggists.
I came up with Polly + Corbett + the train people.
I had a letter from Jinnie Reckless on Thursday morning saying they had raised her salary £5 it is now £20 a year. I was very pleased to hear it because she is deserving of it, she has a lot of work to do, + tedious work too.
I know love you can write when you are not hurried over it. I know you are pressed for time when the Greek appears. I am afraid mine will not be much better than Greek to day as it is the Club feast. I have got what I can ready + have now a few minutes to spare, we are only going to have thirty so that we shall not be quite as busy as usual.
Kisses are cold on paper love but I shall soon be able to kiss you on your lips my darling, it was a very pleasant break love, the week with you, I wish I was coming all together next week but the time will soon pass. I am counting too darling then I shall be your happy little wife. I do want to be your helper to do help you to do what is right my own husband. I do believe that a man’s prosperity + welfare is almost entirely in his wife’s hands + that nobody has such so great an influence over him for good or bad. I hope I shall be worthy of your firm reliance in that respect darling I hope to prove myself so.
I am sorry love you are rather disappointed in one way, that the usual monthly came off. How did you feel love when you fancied yourself a father in prospective?
We certainly did give the business a fair trial + every opportunity of being successful. I think it is as my advice book says there is something the matter either in colour or quantity of the “…… that I ought to see a doctor if I tell Mother she seems not to take any notice. I think I should be all right love with a little medicine + that we shall have some children love.
Will the cake boxes be sent to Darnall Station or Sheffield? I don’t think they would deliver them if they came to Sheffield being so far off. We shall have to send cards with them but I will tell what to have on them when I see you darling only fourteen days to our meeting, only two more Sundays without you; I wish I could have stopped longer as you are having such nice weather, we have had very unsettled, it as rained some part of day, every day since I came home. I am sorry you could not have an afternoon at the cricket match love but glad you got even an hour which was better than nothing, it is the penalty of greatness having to give up your pleasure to business. We will have our pleasure on Saturday afternoons + Sundays just to refresh you for the coming weeks when we are together love.
I wish I could have been counting the thousands in the Park with you darling last night, there is nothing I should enjoy more to night love than a quiet walk in the Park + a sit down on our favourite seat. We have got the Club feast over. I am thankful to say, there has only been 21. Our John is waiting of me to take his place downstairs he wants to go to the cricket match so please excuse me.
I love you more than ever, my own darling husband + remain
Your loving true + faithful wife,
This is usually the bit of the podcast where I give you a little historical context for some of the details in the letters and I was originally going to give you some more factual detail about Sheffield old church, now Sheffield Cathedral, where Janie had attended the wedding of Mrs Allen’s niece. But I have a special fondness for the building and how it makes me feel connected not just to Janie but to the rest of my family. It’s going to sound odd, but I had a particularly moving encounter when I visited Sheffield Cathedral back in 2016 — In order to explain it, I need to go back a bit. I was on a research trip for Fred and Janie’s letters. The trip was not only a chance to discover my past family but one to firm up friendships and reconnect with my living family in the shape of my maternal grandfather (who died the year after aged 98) and my cousin, who I had not seen for over 30 years.
With having moved so many times as a child, and later for work as an adult, I’ve spent my life feeling rootless and bit disconnected, not ever really feeling like I come from anywhere. In many ways, I feel like I come from everywhere and after I made my home in Wales about 12 years ago - the valley I live in feels more of a home than anywhere else ever has.
My cousin has done work on our shared family tree, and the other side has been researched mostly by my mother who has been working on it for over 50 years, in the middle of which she did her history degree. Because of their amazing combined work, I am in the rare position of knowing the names and origins of all 16 of my great grandparents and more than three quarters of my great great grandparents. Among my ggGrandparents are people from Cambridgeshire, Wales, Ireland and Jamaica, but the vast majority are from around that fuzzy border between South Yorkshire and Derbyshire. Fred and Janie country.
I’m not sure how I got to my 50s before it dawned on me that I was the first one in my family to have been born outside the Sheffield area in four generations. As I discussed with friends and my cousin, when you come to visit relatives as children, the car journeys between Aunties, and the cousins, and Grandads and Grandmas, aren’t paid attention to. You’re too busy scrapping on the back seat with your sibling about who’s sitting on who’s side and wondering if ice-cream is going to be in your fairly near future. No map gets made in your head. So when I got to Sheffield, a place that I visited countless times before, I had no idea how everything was connected, which way was east or west, or what district was near another.
While I was finding my way round and visiting the Cross Keys in Handsworth, everything was initially delightful. I had an adventure with my cousin while we managed to track down the house where Fred had lived and also the Wellington pub in Darnall which as you know used to be run by Janie’s Aunt Staniforth. We had a great time, they drove around Attercliffe and Darnall like a pro.
The was the fateful week of the EU referendum, and ss the week went on I knew I was feeling anxious about the results. While I was poking about in the Sheffield archive office or the local history library I could distract myself. However waking up on that Friday was hideous, to hear that we were leaving the EU, I was so sad.
On my last full day, before meeting up with friends for lunch, I found myself outside Sheffield Cathedral. I hadn’t planned to but when I got off the bus I felt drawn in. I walked up the aisle and stood in the spot where so many of my forebears, on both sides of my family, had been married including Janie’s grandmother, Jane Staniforth. Then I walked up to the alter where they would have knelt to be blessed before joyfully (hopefully) processing out into their new lives.
I walked back down the aisle to fill my eyes with what they must have seen but then realised that the west wing of the cathedral had been completely rebuilt after it had been lost to bombing in the second world war. The font was not the one that my forebears had been baptised in but a huge silver modernist cauldron made of finest Sheffield steel. Near the font was an area set aside for praying with candles and seats. My eyes stopped at a small stack of cards that had been printed up with ‘A prayer following the EU referendum'. I was very moved. I am not a believer but the thought that someone had taken time to think of comfort in the shape of a prayer was touching.
I picked one up. I sat down. I whispered it. I cried. Oh no I thought I can’t do this here, but then I realised that this was probably the one place I could. I can fall apart in this space just for a minute because you are allowed to here. We don’t really have a secular equivalent of a place where you can been still and be yourself in a safe space. I felt comforted. This old old building, the very bricks, felt made of my family. I was allowed to sit here and let go for a moment because I belonged here.
The cathedral was broken, but then it was rebuilt after the war, symbolising the old medieval Sheffield and the new industrial and modern Sheffield. The stained glass and the carving, the concrete and the stainless steel representing Sheffield far more closely than a perfectly preserved cathedral ever could. It is not an elegant perfect building but it is real, it is authentic, it is valid.
We are often in danger of losing family connections. Sometimes we don’t know what we have lost - such as a photograph of a person that no one living can remember the name of. Other times great chasms open up and we cannot begin to imagine how we will cross them. All that pain. All that loss. But we can rediscover, rebuild. It won’t be as it was before. But it will be whole in a new way. It will be ours.
It’s hard to understand that the ‘grand old church’ as she describes it that Janie stood in and the hybrid building that I stood in are in many way so different but I’m kinda moved to realise that it is another place where I walked in her footsteps. I stood there thinking about the past, but she would have stood there thinking about her future with Fred.
In his next letter, Fred’s also thinking about the future, in particular about becoming parents…
July 22nd 1882
My own darling Wife
I thought I would commence your letter tonight love, + then I could give you a good long one – for I know that you like a long one from me, don’t you?
I cannot stand Saturday nights at all darling now, they are such a contrast to our old Saturday nights, but we will have some of our old Saturdays + Sundays as well darling, before long every Saturday + Sunday, + they we will make up for the present loneliness.
The Australian match was finished early this morning so we could not go there. I was sorry as I could have spent a pleasant afternoon there if the match had been on. As it was I did not know what to do with myself, so I went to the Swatters Car to see Banks + Alvey play billiards, + then came home to tea, + then went into the Park until closing time. Oh my darling the Park does not seem half so nice now you are not here. The roses are still in bloom + the orange blossom as well – my darling wife it will not be long now before you are wearing some orange blossom on the “great day.”
After leaving the Park I had to come in as there are no nice walks about here. A fortnight tonight love + I shall be with you + then we will have a nice walk + on the Sunday as well. I wish it was tonight darling + then it would be something like.
I could not sleep last night again, so got out of bed + was straightening up my box when I came across the testimonial that Mr Robinson sent me. You will remember I thought I had lost it. I enclose it to you as I know you would like to see it. Please take care of it wifie for it may be wanted someday.
While I think on love, we must send some cake to Mr Robinson. I don’t know his private address but I will get it for you. Will you put his name down love + then we shall not forget it.
I wish it was morning love for then I should get a letter from you.
Mr Cooper told me today that he wanted to have a quiet talk with me on Monday. I don’t know what it is about unless to make arrangements for the Secretary who commences on August 1st. I hope he wants to give me some more money, if he does I shall certainly not refuse. I have been thinking that if I had another 10/- per week more – we shall be able to manage nicely both for setting up + also for ordinary living afterwards.
I must now close wifie as it is bedtime – I do love you my darling so much I wish I could kiss you love just once (x)
I received your very welcome letter this morning, for which I thank you love.
I wish I could have gone with you to see the wedding dear. I should like to see one very much + then I should have a good idea how to go on.
I suppose after being here for a week you will not go to Hathersage love for your intended holiday, at least I think I should not if I were you, in this case, it might be coming it too strong.
With regard to the rice, I shall be more pleased in proportion as the quantity is less, + overjoyed if there is none. Because there is neither sense nor meaning in the usual rice throwing, + quite a waste of money I think.
I wish I could have had tea with you love on Thursday night, + in fact every night.
I am sorry to hear that my mother is has hurt herself love. I hope she will soon recover.
I am pleased to hear that Jinnie Reckless is doing well.
I am very glad you had time to write to me love, yesterday notwithstanding the Club Feast.
I am sure you would be busy.
You ask me how I felt love being a prospective father? Of course I felt sure it would be a girl + also of course I felt proud (in prospective) of the achievement for it is an achievement darling isn’t it, to make a mother of you.
I have been thinking love that your mother knows that as you are at present is the best preventative of any accident that might happen, + so does not care perhaps to have it altered. But perhaps you will be better now love, as I understood you that you had not so much pain as is usual. When we are married darling, you will be able to rectify that + then I have no doubt we shall be more successful. I am looking forward wifie to a renewal of our marriage rights in a fortnight. I suppose if opportunity offers my wife will not refuse me. You know darling that it will only want two months then to our marriage so that it could not possibly make any difference as far as appearances go. Will you darling?
I should think the Cake boxes will be sent at least to Darnall Station. I understood they would deliver them at your house but of that I shall enquire.
There will only be one more Sunday to get over without seeing you darling + then happiness. It only wants 13 days love to our meeting, + only 81 days to our marriage – only 81 mind love that is not many. You will not have too much time to get ready because *there will be at least half on which you will not be able to do anything.*
We have had a very heavy thunderstorm to day.
I remain my own darling Wife
Your loving true + faithful husband
Fred’s calculations of 81 days from the 23rd of July brings us to Thursday 12th of October 1882 as the date they have set for their wedding. Next week it would appear that this date seems even more likely as Fred gets some very encouraging news from his boss Mr Cooper. And our Williams’ Polly finally snaps at Emma’s behaviour.
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