Season 4, episode 8. 14th-18th August 1882. Janie’s fabulous account of a family day at the seaside at Cleethorpes, and, we take a look at the Married Women's Property Act of 1882 that was passed into English law that very week. A law that came a little too late for some of the women in the family.
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 goes to the seaside, and, we take a look at the Married Women's Property Act of 1882
[A family day at the seaside - Victorian style]
Descriptions of holidays at the seaside up until now have be Fred’s preserve so its rather wonderful that I get to share Janie’s fabulous account of a family day at the seaside at Cleethorpes, but first, a discussion about the merits of being a tall bride - I should point out, in case you hadn’t picked it up yet, that our Janie was rather diminutive.
August 14th 1882
My own darling husband
I have not time to give you much to night, Mother has gone to Sheffield + I am housekeeper + barmaid + we have rather a noisy company in. I was disappointed this morning at not receiving my usual letter. Did you get back from Yarm all right love.
I am expecting Ted + Miss Dalton to night. Ted called on Saturday night + said they were coming up, I only had time to say “how do you do” + just for him to tell me they were coming. We were so busy.
I should think they will say when this great event is coming off. I wonder where they will hold the wedding as Sally I think has not many relatives in Sheffield. I should think it will be at some of Teds friends. Miss Dalton will make a good fine bride she is so tall, don’t you think they look better than little ones?
I did wish you could be with me yesterday my darling. I went to Church in the morning, in the afternoon I was alone in the room, so I went to sleep + did not feel very much better for it the room was rather cold. I could not sleep for two or three hours at night.
Kate went out to tea yesterday so I had to stop in and wait for her in the evening, which you know I do not enjoy very much but she obliges me sometimes so I must return the obligation.
The choir have gone to Scarbro’ to day.
I have been trying to do some sewing this afternoon but it has been almost a failure — having to wait all the time. I shall have to work hard to get the most of it done. I shall leave some because I shall have plenty of time by to sew after we get straightened.
You must please excuse more to night anxiously awaiting your letter.
I remain, “Till death us do part”
Your loving true + faithful wife
August 15th 1882
My own darling husband
I receive your very nice, long + welcome letter this morning. I quite forgive you not writing for Monday. I was rather uneasy because of you telling me you were going to Yarm. I was so afraid you had had an accident love, + I could not live if I was to lose you, loving you more than my husband. I did mean that I love you more than ever, my husband. I was so pleased to hear you were all right darling this morning. I felt so fidgety at with not having one yesterday.
Ted + Miss Dalton came up last night. I had scarcely any time to talk to them with Mother being out. I was sorry because I wanted to have a nice long talk about both weddings, Mother came just as they were about going so I went down the street with them, they have put theirs off until November, as Ted has not had so much work lately, they told me they have bought a very nice drawing room suite at a sale for eleven pounds, + it cost 40, when new but is not at all soiled now.
They want us, if we come over at Christmas, to stop with them but I expect love you will not have much holiday so we shall not be able to stop many nights anywhere but at your house + ours.
Miss Dalton does look well. She + Jinnie would have just made a well matched couple to be bridesmaids but I am afraid I should never be seen at all if they were. I shall have to answer your letter fully on Thursday my darling. I have had a letter to write to Carrie for our John to night as it has taken up the time I should have devoted to yours, but he has had to go out on business + could not write before he went, Carrie wanted him to go to Harrogate tomorrow, but he has not got his business done so can’t go until Friday. He will only go for the day.
Ted said he wrote to you yesterday so I suppose he will have told you about their wedding.
Our Emma has gone to Clay Cross flower show to day. it has not been a very nice day, it is post time love I dare not stop to write more.
I do love you my darling + remain as always
Your loving true + faithful
THE NORTH EASTERN STEEL CO
August 16th 1882
My own darling Wife
I received your letters of yesterday + today for which I thank you very much. It was a pity that you were so busy when Ted + Miss Dalton came up my love, as I know you would have derived pleasure in comparing notes as to the weddings.
You say “…I think that tall brides look better than little ones.” I really don’t know love not having seen any but I don’t expect that any bride will look better or nicer or happier than mine, at least if I can do anything towards her looks.
I am sorry that you could not sleep Sunday night love, it is not very pleasant to be …. ful as I very well know. It was strange the room was cold love, as here it was almost unbearably hot Sunday.
I should certainly leave the sewing a … till after our wedding rather than weary yourself with working too much at it, now. I should think you will have a little time to devote to it then though I think that I shall take a great deal of … especially at the first, as you will have considerable sewing to do for me love as well as other things.
I thought Ted’s wedding would not come off in September from what Ted’s mother told me. [they will] be great in the drawing room suite if in nothing else it makes our dining room suite look small love doesn’t it?
I don’t think we shall trouble Ted more at Christmas love. It is rather doubtful whether we can come to Sheffield at all then, unless you feel very homesick – then of course we should have to come.
You certainly would not be seen love if you had two such bridesmaids as Jinnie + Miss Dalton ….
So small + insignificant(?) you know. Tho I expect you will be great notwithstanding.
I got Ted’s letter this morning – he had posted it to Church Street.
Everybody are having holiday here but no Stockton Races - + to make up for it we are working more every night. I shall stop the overtime when you come love – as I shall want to get home to you.
I love you more than ever my darling Wife
+ remain, Your loving true + faithful husband.
P.S. Another variety of paper to your already good stock
In Janie’s next letter we get to hear about her family trip to Cleethorpes, which she described to a friend a few weeks ago as ‘a bit of a dead alive place’ but her account doesn’t seem to reflect that. She mentions a little confusion about which excursion various family members had bought tickets for - which meant that they couldn’t travel together and had to rendezvous at the seaside. I found one of the advertisements for that August in the Sheffield Independent and while it’s not the most exciting thing I’ve ever found in the paper to do with my family, I get rather delighted in finding bits of Fred and Janie’s world still in evidence. It’s so relatable isn’t it - seeing an event in the newspaper and arranging a family get-together.
The advert reads:
“Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway. Half-Day at the Sea-side. Every Wednesday, during August, Cheap Express Excursions to Grimsby and Cleethorpes will run from Rotherham (Central 10:30 am, Brought Lane, 10:40, Attercliffe, 10:45, Sheffield (Victoria Station), 11:30 Darnall 10:53, Woodhouse 11:00 [etc] Returning from Cleethorpes at 8:00pm and Grimsby 8:15. Tickets, bills and every information can be had in Sheffield of Messrs, Drake and Dawson, 5, East parade, and 218 West St.
R. G. Underdown. General Manager. London Road Station. Manchester. August 1882.”
Cleethorpes, for Sheffield folk, then and now, is probably the nearest bit of sandy beach on the east coast of England that you can get to, sitting as it does at the mouth of the Humber estuary.
From Sheffield, it’s 70 miles away, as the crow flies, and takes about 1:40 mins on the train. My Mum when, she was a little lass living in Handsworth, was also kitted out with a bucket n spade, as well as a hand-knitted swimming costume, and, along with Skegness and Scarborough, was often taken to Cleethorpes.
Acutally there’s a really cute bit of nomenclature concerning the place - it’s thought that before Cleethorpes was a town, it was a small collection of villages or ‘thorpes’ called Itterly, Oole and Thrunscoe. The larger parish was call Clee, an old word for clay, hence Cleethorpes.
Like many of our seaside resorts, Cleethorpes started life as fishing village and over the course of the 19th century acquired a reputation for sea-bathing and the taking of medicinal waters but what really kicked the tourism trade off was linking it to the industrial towns of Yorkshire via the Manchester, Sheffield, and Lincolnshire Railway, and the construction of the pier which was opened in 1873.
I found a postcard of Cleethorpes online that was sent in the 1920s but if you look closely you can see that it’s been printed with a rather gaudy coloured overlay on top of a black and white photo - as evidenced by every straw hat being a rather lurid yellow blob. Judging by the fashion, the picture is much earlier and was probably taken at the turn of the century. There are crowds of people enjoying walks along the beach, with the pier far off in the distance. There are donkeys with traps taking people for a ride along the sands. In the foreground on the sea front are at least two carousels, swing boats and other fairground attractions. There are food tents, and many many market stalls dotted around.
I’ll hand over to Janie’s description now, but I must just say how much I love the little glimpse she gives of her brother William happily playing in the sand with his kids, while the women go off and have a bit of fun. It’s just throw away line but I find it so so touching. There’s something about William I’m really drawn to - he and Polly have proved very protective over Janie, he offered significant support to his father, and his older sister Emma during Emma’s divorce and later in her struggle with drink, and here he is letting his hair down with his children. I’ve got a photograph of him, he’s got a kind face. I’ll put it up on the my love letter time machine instagram.
August 17th 1882
My own darling husband
I got back from Cleethorpes all right + was pleased to find a letter for me this morning from you.
We spent a very enjoyable afternoon there, we were rather unfortunate in this way we did not know there was two excursions until we got to Darnall Station + that the one we had to go by came from Rotherham + did not call at Sheffield, so our William, Polly + the children had to go by the other that started from Sheffield + did not call at Darnall.
We did not see them until they got to Cleethorpes, our train got in a few minutes first so we waited for them, they went back a few minutes before us so we had not the pleasure of their company either way which was rather provoking.
The first thing we did, was what Sheffield people generally do, feed, we got to a very comfortable private house down one of the streets off the main street, so left our cloaks there + ordered tea for six o’clock.
We went down on the same + then left our Williams with the children, digging sand, + went on the pier. I had a dance with Maria + Emma Gill + we stayed on there for an hour, before that we went for a drive on the water … in one of those little traps + we did see some sights one great fat old woman paddling + lots of women, with all kinds of legs, fat, thin, black white + all colours, they were quite disgusting.
After that we went to look round what few shops there are + the bazaars, I tried to get you one of those nickel match boxes but could not, but I hope you will like the one I did get for you, I could not find anything else love to buy you, there is not much choice there, I bought a match box for our bedroom to hang underneath the gas. After tea we went walked on the cliffs the tide was in beautifully, I did wish you were there darling then I should have enjoyed myself , we left Cleethorpes at 8-15 + got to Darnall at five minutes to eleven, it was too late to go home so had to stay all night at Darnall. I got home this morning a little after eleven.
The usual monthly came off yesterday morning early. I was very sick, if I had not have promised to go I should not have gone I felt so poorly. I was bad all the way to Darnall […] then I began to feel better + felt all right before I got there for which I was thankful.
I will now try to answer your letter of Tuesday love it was a nice long one.
I was glad that the ring you + I bought could be altered to suit, I did not like the idea of having another one, it is much nicer to have the one we chose together.
I sincerely hope that my fears about our Emma may not be realised on our wedding day my darling, she will have to be very closely watched if she does not spoil it, she has had a little more to day, she has been swearing at mother + saying things that she would not stand from anybody else this afternoon, she speaks to her worse than any common woman I have ever heard in the street.
I do agree with you about us never having her at our house, both for your sake + mine, I should not like them to know that she was my sister. She even told mother the other morning that I said I would not have either my mother or her over to see me. I certainly did say I would not have her over but as for mother she knows that is a base fabrication, she is always trying to put some nasty thing into mothers head, but never mind darling I shall not have long to stop at home, I have only eight more weeks to bear it + I will try to bear it bravely. I shall value our home rightly I hope my darling it will be a happy change. I shall not be able to send the box while next Tuesday, I can’t send it by [Mr] Stacey until Saturday + being Woodhouse Flower Show on the Monday Annie Wortley will want me to go so I think he shall call for it on Tuesday morning + take it to the Midland Station + I will set them off on Tuesday afternoon + address them to … Albert Terrace.
I shall not object at all to a few weeks at Redcar next summer, if we can afford it my darling, it would be nice for you to come back to Middlesbro in the morning + back to me at night love if even you cannot get clear holiday I know we should enjoy it + it the change would do you good love we shall see by then shan’t we love?
Have Mr [& Mrs] Marston taken a furnished house down there they were thinking of taking one of those cottages were they not? It would be very nice to live up at Linthorpe love if we could have managed it, but the distance must not be too far for you.
It would be very nice after the works get started + we have the bairns to keep me company, we will see about it then love.
I shall like my married name very well love it will be Mrs Fred Shepherd.
I will now answer this mornings letter darling. I was only trying what you would say about tall + little brides, I know you will think I am the nicest bride + I certainly shall be a happy one, my husband.
Our room is always cold love, because of the sun never getting in.
I shall be very happy to do all the sewing you want doing my darling, I shall have time to do it when we are settled down. I shall do the things for myself that are necessary + the rest I shall leave. I don’t think Ted’s drawing room suite makes our dining room suite look stale?, I am quite satisfied love.
It is a shame that you are not have holiday like the rest. You must try to give up the over time love when we are together.
I love you my darling more than ever
Your loving true + faithful
THE NORTH EASTERN STEEL CO
August 18th 1882
My own darling Wife
I received your very welcome letter this morning for which I thank you.
I am pleased that you got back from Cleethorpes love all right, + that you enjoyed yourself so much whilst there. It was unfortunate there being two trains as it debarred you from the company of your William + his family.
I wish I could have had a dance on the pier love with you = I think I should enjoy a dance again + I don’t suppose we shall get one yet. I would not have minded the variety of “legs” love, if I could have only been with you. You must not forget my darling that every one have not got such good legs as you, I should not like them to have I think; I don’t think I should have enjoyed looking at those legs as much as looking at yours my wife + shall I say a little higher. It does not want long now my darling to the time when I shall have the right of seeing anything besides “legs.” Is that so wifie.
I like the match box you have sent love very much, but it is rather too light for ordinary use – so I am going to save it.
I am pleased love that the usual monthly came off – but very sorry that you had so much pain. I don’t think you can be all right darling or you would not have so much pain. However I suppose that settles the question of 7 months or 9 months after our marriage does it not love?
I am not surprised at anything your Emma does or says now – she seems lost to all sense of decency. I can quite believe that she would tell your mother that you would not have her over here, but I dont think – in fact I am sure you would not say that love – for I hope we shall have both your mother + mine over to see us, + I think if I wish it you will be only too pleased to acquiesce. But I am determined that your Emma shall not come over here at least not to us love, so if you have told her so before hand so much the better. – I cannot help thinking love that the old saying about “men being deceitful tc” ought to be altered in favour of women – for I was months + months + was constantly seeing your Emma + still I had no idea of anything of the kind. I think you must allow love, that your sex excell [sic] in being superficially nice – when all beneath is a “raging volkana,” + badness.
I have also thought several times darling that your Emma is an awful example of training. I think we ought to profit by it wifie for it would be a sad thing if we made the same mistake with ours + were served in the same manner.
I shall be pleased to receive the box tc next Tuesday. I suppose there will be some more dancing on the Monday without me, I seem to have quite dropped out of all your amusements.
I think [the] Marstons have taken a no. of rooms in the same house, as there have been eleven of them all together. Brothers in law, sisters, tc.
I wish our wedding was to be next week love instead of so many weeks to come. It seems a long time to wait + still it will soon pass. We were working until half past one this morning, so you may guess I don’t feel very brisk to day. I promised Mr Cooper we would have the wages appropriated for the next Board meeting next Thursday, + not withstanding the overtime this week I don’t think we shall get done - + I don’t feel disposed to work on the Sunday.
You did not say whether you saw Fred or Annie Johnson at Cleethorpes love, did you?
I have not time for more love except that I love you more than ever
+ will always remain
Your loving true + faithful husband
P.S. I think I am going to Yarm tomorrow or Ayton or else Redcar. I feel that a little change will do me good.
I’m not happy with Fred using Emma’s behaviour to justify an atrocious bit of misogyny there regarding the deceitfulness of women, mind you I wasn’t happy with Janie’s judgement of the older women at the beach and I guess just I have to remind myself that neither of them are going to be paragons of virtue, they are people of their time. I don’t know how to reconcile with it at the moment but I don’t want you to think that I didn’t think it worthy of note. Actually taking the theme of misogyny into the wider world, the day Fred wrote this last letter, the 18th of August 1882, was rather an auspicious day as it was the day on which the Married Women’s Property Act of 1882 was passed.
Before this date, legally anything a woman owned, be it income, property or the clothes on her back, upon marriage, was no longer hers, it belonged entirely to her husband. In June Purvis’s book ‘A History of Women’s Education in England she relates the story of Millicent Garret Fawcett who in 1877 “gave evidence in court regarding the theft of her purse at Waterloo station, she read on the charge sheet that the thief was charged with ‘stealing from the person of Millicent Fawcett a purse containing £1, 18s. 6d., the property of Henry Fawcett. Full of indignation Millicent felt that she had been charged with theft herself, of her own belongings.” Interestingly after this Millicent Fawcett emerged in the 1880s as one of the leaders of the women’s suffrage movement.
It’s truly horrifying to really understand that at that time, that as a woman, once you married you became a legal non-entity with no control of the coins in your hand and no rights to the roof over your head. You were not even allowed to write your own will, and while you couldn’t be sued, neither could you sue It was all in the hands of your husband. You’d better hope and pray he was a kind and reasonable man, because as far as the law of England was concerned, you had absolutely no legal status.
The campaign to change the law so that husbands and wives would be recognised as two separate legal entities had begun years before, spearheaded by the educational activist and feminist, Barbara Bodichon. In 1854, she published a far-reaching work called the ‘Brief Summary in Plain Language of the Most Important Laws Concerning Women’ in which she described women as having ‘no status of their own’ and her writings proved to be crucial to the campaign and the passing of the Act.
In the months following the passing of the Act, there were one or two newspaper articles that expressed concerns that it would create a ‘domestic revolution’, but by and large the majority of the reports were supportive, seeing the Act as an undoing of a great wrong, and offering vital protection for women against potentially unscrupulous husbands.
Of course, the act came too late for Fred’s mother Ann, who was still at this point paying rent to her grandson to remain in the home she hadn’t been able to inherit from her late husband. Rent that Fred was still helping to supplement. Thankfully Ann had a loving family who had rallied around her, but it’s so sad to think she was entirely dependent on that kindness.
When I think about Ann’s story, and Emma’s story, it really hits home to me that being born a woman at that time was to be born into a state of unspeakable vulnerability. The very idea of it, it’s terrifying.
Anyway, we’ll leave it there for now, next time we discover that Janie had been iceskating - yes in the summer, get ready for another research rabbit hole, and an almighty row blows up at the Cross Keys. I’ll give you one whole guess as to who is the cause of it.
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 leave a review on your podcast app if if there is a space to? It really helps more people find Fred and Janie’s story. 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