My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History

Guns and Posies

March 12, 2023 Ingrid Birchell Hughes Season 4 Episode 5
Guns and Posies
My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History
More Info
My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History
Guns and Posies
Mar 12, 2023 Season 4 Episode 5
Ingrid Birchell Hughes

Season 4, episode 5. 30th July - 2nd August 1882. Fred and Janie discuss who is going to be Fred’s best man at their upcoming wedding, Fred goes to see a practice of the North Yorkshire Artillery Volunteers, and we look at the Victorian tradition of the Language of Flowers - a craze where people gave secret meanings to different types of flowers.

Support the Show.

Show Notes Transcript

Season 4, episode 5. 30th July - 2nd August 1882. Fred and Janie discuss who is going to be Fred’s best man at their upcoming wedding, Fred goes to see a practice of the North Yorkshire Artillery Volunteers, and we look at the Victorian tradition of the Language of Flowers - a craze where people gave secret meanings to different types of flowers.

Support the Show.

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 and Janie discuss who is going to be Fred’s best man, Fred goes to see a practice of the North Yorkshire Artillery Volunteers and we look at the Victorian tradition of the Language of Flowers.

[Guns and Roses]

This time we are starting off by immediately going down one of my research rabbit holes into Victorian culture. In his next letter Fred mentions that he’s enclosed some sweetbriar — another name for wild rose and wonders as to its meaning in the language of flowers. So of course I had to find out a bit more about that!

Flowers have had meanings for many hundreds of years, rosemary for remembrance was mentioned by Shakespeare in Hamlet. The diminutive blue forget me knots carry their meaning in their name, and the rose has been recognised as a symbol of love since its associations with the goddess Aphrodite in ancient Greece. The Language of Flowers or Floriography as it was also known, was a bit of a, mainly posh people’s craze for sending secret messages to each other in the form of assigning meanings to the flowers they sent in their bouquets. 

Dictionaries of the secret meanings were extremely popular, the first ones appearing in the early 18 hundreds and by Janie’s time there were many to chose from. Published in 1884 by popular artist and illustrator Kate Greenaway:  “The Illuminated Language of Flowers: over 700 Flowers and Plants Listed Alphabetically with Their Meanings” is often thought to be one of the last publications in the floriography tradition. Filled with charming illustrations of women and children wearing regency style clothes carrying the baskets of the flowers in question, the text is simply a long alphabetical list of flowers each with a very short descriptions of just a few words. 

Snowdrops mean hope, which I guess makes sense as they are the first blooms we see after barrenness of winter. Violets signified modesty’ and white lilies purity and sweetness. The messages of the flowers were not always lovely — a yellow rose could mean a decrease of love or even jealousy especially if it was put together with some marigolds, and a bunch of anemones might even mean you’d been dumped as the meaning for those was ‘forsaken’. There are also some off-the-wall inclusions. A present of ‘dead leaves’ meant sadness, being given mandrake was suppose to convey horror (I’m certain it would) and the offer of potato, root or flowers I’m not entirely sure, indicated benevolence. All of which gives you cause to wonder how the list was put together in the first place.

Flowers were mostly the preserve of the wealthy and middle classes, there were not usually something that working class people could afford beyond what they might have been able to grow. Fred sending sprigs of hawthorn and now sweet briar in his letters were obviously sourced from an obliging shrub on his walks. I do actually have, wrapped in a piece of tissue paper, a dry sprig of heather that is on the verge of crumbling into dust, that Fred must have tucked into one of Janie’s letters.  

Perhaps Janie was able to pay a bit more interest in something like the Language of Flowers because she lived next door to Handsworth Nurseries and was in the habit of taking people there for visits. She mentions buying flowers there too and I wonder if she was able to benefit from end of day sales or cheaper prices if the nurseries were selling off the blooms that were just going over. I get the distinct impression that Janie didn’t just like flowers the normal amount, but actually adored them, the nurseries giving her access to far more exotic variety and colour than most people of her class would normally have been exposed to.

According to the Kate Greenaway book, sweetbriar means “I wound to heal” but as we see, Fred and Janie decide to make up their own meaning for it anyway. 

Albert Terrace
Linthorpe Road

July 30th 1882

My own darling wife
You would no doubt notice that I did not reply to your letter of Thursday. I got the [gift of the] tie all right the first thing in the morning but did not get the letter until I got home at night after eight o’clock, + I had then sent your letter off.

I notice by the post mark that it had been sent to Whitby + then posted to M’bro afterwards + delivered by the afternoon delivery. I thought it was rather strange that you had not written a few lines, but I thought you must have been pressed for time + could not write.

I am sorry that your Emma + Polly fell out, as I am sure Polly would not give her cause for it. You say you wish I had been there to hear love. I think I should just like to see + hear her when she is properly on – just for curiosity you know. But very likely I should get too disgusted to listen to her, + I know it would make me feel sorry – so perhaps I am far better away from her, + you will not be long now darling before you leave her too + I know you will not be very sorry + reluctant to do that.

Banks + Alvey played three games at Billiards, of which Alvey won two + Banks the other. There are usually well matched but then Tom had just a little the best of the play. 

I am sorry that Ted + Miss Dalton did not turn up on Thursday night love, as I should like to know how he was getting on. He had not written since Easter, neither have I.

I will now turn to your loving letter which I received this morning darling.

I was up this morning at half past seven. I don’t usually get up so early on Sunday mornings, but I was very much troubled with the old complaint + I could not sleep after that. I am looking forward to our meeting wifie, for then you will be able to set me straight again with pleasure to both of us – I have not been troubled since you left – so that it would almost seem as though it were time to see you again, which I think is quite sure true. You see love, when we are married, all my uncomfortableness of this kind will disappear. You must excuse my mentioning this matter to you love, but you know you are my wife + should perhaps should know how I am affected.

I had a slice of bread + then went into the Park for a walk + to wait until your letter came. It was a beautiful morning but scorching hot. I got a little sweetbriar for you love, I don’t know what sweetbriar means in the language of flowers, but I send it to mean that I love you more than ever + that I am counting the days to our meeting next Saturday. Oh my darling it will be a pleasure to see + kiss you again, + to feel that you are near me.

After I had walked round the Park + had a sleep on one of the seats I came in to breakfast + your letter – which has never failed me once all the time I have been here. I always think that no matter how busy you may be, you will always find time to screw in a few lines to your loving husband, who loves you so much + who always looks forward to your Sunday letter. I am afraid you will not give me a good mark for writing this time love, but you must excuse me darling as I feel as though I couldn’t shape the letters properly today, + I cant find a pen to suit me.

I thought you would be pleased to hear of my increase darling. Of course I was quite prepared to hear that you thought it was not more than I deserved love. I do almost. I sometimes think that my success is almost too good to be true + real, + quite expect to wake up + find myself working for 28/- again with a prospect of marriage on 35/-. I shall only realise it I think when you are here for good + we are really settled down as man + wife darling.

I shall remember love that you are saving a kiss for me – but I shall not as you know very well, be satisfied with one my darling. One thousand + one would be more like it I think.

Of course you will be the “bosses” love at home you know; over me + the children + the house generally.

I am glad that you think I am not difficult to agree with love. I think you had better make a note of this admission because if you + I disagree it will be entirely on your account by your own statement. I don’t think we shall fall out love, so don’t be frightened. We shall get on all right if we are only mindful not to disagree over trifles, which generally make homes unhappy.

I shall be very pleased to bring you the cuffs + collar love, + something else as well, if I can find anything nice enough for my darling. If not I will bring my humble self which I know will quite satisfy you, wont it?

I am pleased the cake boxes have come love + that you like them. You must not forget to show them to me when I come over.

I am glad you agree with me about the Sacred Music love. I thought you would do so, + I put it down to forgetfulness on your part. Of course I will forgive you love “this once.”

I am pleased to hear that your John got a little more work to do. I wish I could be the means of his getting a good job, but I really don’t know what he would be able to do.

I will write to Fred love about being best man at our wedding. I don’t think he would care to come + as I have not had a letter from him since February I almost think he wants to cut my acquaintance. However I will give him the first chance, + then if he does not accept it I will ask John Meays, I know he would be only too pleased to fill the unpleasant office.

I do remember that Attercliffe Feast we enjoyed so much darling, it was a treat. I expect your feast will not be very enjoyable at least for you my darling, but it will be the last you will attend in your present capacity.

Banks + I went to Hartlepool yesterday. We took the ferry to Port Clarence, on the other side of the river, then train to Seaton Carew. This is a place which stands in the same position as Redcar on the other side of the river. It is not so nice I think as Redcar, there is no promenade + the place is much commoner. We walked from Seaton to West Hartlepool on the sands, about three miles. We saw the Artillery Volunteers practising for the last time before going to [compete at] Shoeburyness next week. They won the Queen’s Prize last year, + shot splendidly yesterday.

When we got to Hartlepool we had a look round the town. I don’t like it so much as M’bro there are too many sailors knocking about + the town is not so nice looking. We then went to the Theatre where Banks is playing. I went up in the boxes for which got me an order so that I had not to pay. I did not care for the performance it was very common. Suitable for the town no doubt but not in my line at all. We came home by the 10.35 train.

I did wish I had been with you darling – the moon was full I think + it shone splendidly – do you remember ever going for a walk on a moonlight night love, + somebody telling you how he loved you? That somebody still loves you my darling, + loves you ten thousand times more than he did then.

I was wishing the moon had been full next week love, but it will not make much difference, as we never seem to have a night to ourselves, + this time I expect will be similar. Saturday will be at our house, the Wellingtons at your house; Sunday night again at our house, + Monday again at our house I expect. It will only seem like a few minutes instead of 3 days. But we must not complain darling, we shall be together for life soon + then I shan’t have to hurry from you.

Only one more parting for us love + then I shall bring you with me.

Did you remember me to Polly love, + give her a flattering sketch of M’bro? It has been raining since one o’clock – but has now cleared off. I wish I could walk in the Park or anywhere with you – but I shall do next Sunday love, so I must not complain.

I love you my darling Wife more than ever,
+ remain
Your loving, true + faithful 

I thought I’d look up a bit of information about the North Yorkshire Artillery Volunteers, that Fred and Banks went to see practicing. The tradition of a having a reserve force in England goes back, in many areas over a thousand years, volunteer bodies were organised, trained and paid for locally. These forces only became centrally formalised in 1756 when Parliament decided “a well ordered and well disciplined Militia was essentially necessary for the safety, peace and prosperity of the kingdom.” and in 1757 and 1762 passed acts for national funding. 

Officers were drawn from property owning classes and the volunteer service men, between the ages of 18 and 50, were chosen by ballot. They served initially for three years and that later became five. You could get out of serving but you had to appoint a substitute or pay a fine. The advent of the Napoleonic wars strengthened the links between the militia and the regular army and the Act of 1809 enabled militiamen to enlist into the forces. At the time more than 380,000 men in GB and Ireland were part of the local militia and volunteer forces. 

By the time we get to the latter part of the Victorian era, training had become more formalised and militia recruits were allowed 49 days a year training, provided with free kit, and they got paid. Records for 1906 say that per week, infantry got seven shillings a week and artillery service men received eight shillings and five pence. 

In April 1882 the Artillery Militia was reorganised into 11 territorial divisions as part of the coastal defence force and the Yorkshire unit became part of the Northern Division. Shortly afterwards the Artillery Volunteers were also added to the divisions and this may be one of the reasons that they became of more interest, prompting many spectators to go and watch their training sessions. 

There doesn’t seem to be a report of the training session that Fred went to but there is one for the month before in the Daily Gazette for Middlesbrough - Tuesday 27 June 1882 : “Rifle contest — Middlesborough versus Northallerton. On Monday a contest took place on the Northallerton Rifle Range between seven of the H Company of Rifle Volunteers and the same number of the No. 1 Battery (Middlesbrough) North York Artillery Volunteers. The conditions were that each man fire three shots from the Snider and three shots from the carbine at 200 and 300 yards.” The article then goes on to list the scores of the individual men. The North York Artillery Volunteers scored a total of 196 and the Northallerton Rifles won with 220.

Meanwhile, Janie back in Handsworth is full of the local news and she starts to encourage Fred in getting on with the job of closing a best man.

August 1st 1882

My own darling husband
I was so pleased to receive your nice long letter yesterday, it was a treat love + sorry I could not reply last night but I was so busy up to the time I expected Louisa + Jane. I was to meet them by the nurseries + to go through, so I got dressed + went down a little before three + did not meet them until I got to the bridge + then only Louisa, Tilly + Walter, Jane had sent word to Louisa that she could not come, she was busy washing + Mrs Hawley could not get down so that she could not leave it.
We went through the nurseries, Louisa + the children enjoyed it very much, they were not so many flowers out this time as when Emily + your mother went through, but the roses looked beautiful, we must have stopped in the grounds nearly two hours, so we had tea rather late, so I could not get a letter written darling, you know I do not disappoint you if I can help it.
I did notice love that you did not reply to my letter of Thursday but thought you would have got it all right as I posted it at the same time as the tie.
Our Emma went down to our Freds to tea yesterday. I was rather pleased she did so. I shall not be sorry or reluctant to leave her, only ten weeks on Thursday then darling I shall leave them all and cling to you my husband.
I was sorry Ted + Miss Dalton did not come, I wanted to hear all about the wedding. When I saw Ted that last Monday he said it was your turn to write.

Maria Staniforth asked me to go to tea last Sunday so I went. They said they thought they had offended me as, I had gone past without calling. I don’t know why they should think so. We were going to Darnall Church —  Maria Emma Gill + I, but I happened to say I should like to go to Attercliffe, they said they should, were we to go then. I thought you would not mind love so we went, I did not think they would go when I said so but they took it up very quickly. We were rather late so had to sit very low down the Church which made it not quite so enjoyable as before, as everything echos  + I could not tell scarcely anything that Mr Depledge said, I saw + spoke to your old sweetheart, Miss Craven. Maggie was not there, she is away, + I saw Annie Johnson, Mr Rocksberry, Mr + Mrs Johnson, Arthur Johnson, I stood with them for a few minutes. Annie Johnson told me she was going to Cleethorpes yesterday to spend a week I think, I told her, I did not think she would care for it very much, it is such a dead alive place, do you think she would love? I did not see anybody else that I knew, only Harriet + Miss Watson + I missed them as we came out.

Maria + Emma brought me to Handsworth as far as Mr William’s house.

I am very sorry you were troubled with your old complaint on Sunday morning darling. When we are married you will not be troubled with any of that un-comfortableness of that kind, it does seem as though it were time to see me again, I hope I shall be able to set you straight again as I do not like you to be troubled at all + as you say with pleasure to both of us. I do think I ought to know how you are affected being your wife darling so quite excuse you saying anything about it.

I wish I could have gone in the Park with you on Sunday morning love, the sweetbriar does smell nice, we will take it to mean that you + I love each other as much as it is possible to love. I do wish Saturday was here I do want to see you, it will be pleasure to be feel you near me love.

I wish I could have watched over your slumbers in the Park.

I do always try to screw you a letter in for Sunday, my husband though I am very busy sometimes. 

I can quite excuse the writing not being quite as good. I can’t always write my best love, you can write a deal better some days than others, + I did not mind the writing much love it was such a nice long one.

You certainly have been successful since you went to Middlesbrough, it does seem all most too good to be true + real sometimes love to think I am shall soon be with you + we shall not have to live on 28/- but I know you would get on darling I always felt sure of that + I always feel very proud of you. Oh darling we shall be happy when we are together when + we are man + wife.

I know you will not be satisfied with one kiss love but we will try to put that in as an extra one, one thousand + one would be more like it.
I don’t think we shall fall out love, I don’t feel very much afraid, as we have not had many quarrels so far + not likely to disagree over trifles. 
If you bring yours very humble self darling you will quite satisfy me.

Annie Johnson said Fred is coming on Friday love so if you have not written to him, you will very likely be able to see him + ask him about being best man. Annie also said that he would have met you the last time you came over but thought he might be in the way. I told you I met him down the station road.

Our feast will not be very enjoyable for me darling, but I shall feel greatly comforted to think it is the last I shall attend in my present capacity.

We are going to have a Conservative Meeting tonight I think there will be about a hundred. I wish it was over as Kate + I will have to do the waiting + it is not the pleasantest thing you could imagine, to wait off so many people.
I wish you had been with me instead of going to Hartlepool love it was a splendid night just one of our old nights that we used to enjoy.
I do remember that moonlight night darling when you told me you loved me, can I ever forget it when it has brought me such happiness my husband, we did love then but we do love each other ten thousand times more now. I am afraid we shall not have much time together this time love we shall have to run about as usual, it will not seem long but we will not complain darling this is the last parting then I shall be with you for ever.
I remembered you to Polly love + gave her a very flattering sketch of Middlesbro’. I cannot write more now love only three days. I love you more than ever 
+ remain 
Your loving, true + faithful wife,

Royal Exchange
August 2nd 1882

My own darling Wife
I was just a little disappointed yesterday on not receiving a letter from you, but I expected you would be too busy. I should have liked to have gone through the nurseries with you love, on Monday – it is some years since I had a look through.
I am pleased your Emma went to Freds to tea love, as she might have been awkward + then our Louisa might not have enjoyed. the out [sic?]
I thought I had written to Ted last, I suppose I shall have to give him a few lines. I am rather pleased that you went to Attercliffe Church last Sunday night love – I intend going myself next Sunday if possible just to see old friends for the last time.
I don’t think Annie Johnson will like Cleethorpes – but of course it depends how she is situated with regard to lodgings + companionship. I think you + I would enjoy ourselves now even there – if we could have a week there don’t you.
I knew that you believed that I should get on wifie, even when I was most doubtful, + that I think has kept me up when I used to have my fits of despondency. I don’t have them now, as money matters are pretty comfortable. I am pleased that you have confidence in me darling, as that makes me have confidence in myself.

I have written to Fred love about the question you spoke of – I expect I shall have a letter in return before Saturday. I don’t think he really wanted to see me, + “being in the way” was only an excuse for not coming up.

I am pleased that you will feel greatly comforted to think that the next feast will be the last you will attend as “barmaid” – I should myself prefer to take you away before that but we cannot manage it.

I have had a little bother with our foreman Engineer today – about the Timekeeper – he had been giving him instructions which of course he ought not to do as he is under my control. I put it down to a “try on” – which he mustn’t do with me. Mr Cooper has settled the matter which has ended in a compromise.
I have not time for any more love, except that I love you more than ever, + remain
Your loving true + faithful husband
Fred (x)

It’s rather sad to hear that Fred Johnson appears to be ghosting our Fred, their friendship seems to be suffering for some reason. I know I’ve said before that Fred Johnson rubs me up the wrong way and I’ve never really been able to justify it really, but also I’m kind of not surprised. We’ll hear more about what happens next week, when Fred returns to Sheffield for a visit, and Janie gets a bit of a fright when her cousin Maria Staniforth suddenly falls ill.

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