My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History

Emma flies into a drunken rage

April 09, 2023 Ingrid Birchell Hughes Season 4 Episode 9
My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History
Emma flies into a drunken rage
Show Notes Transcript

Season 4, episode 9. August 19th - 23rd 1882. Content Warning: Victorian alcohol abuse and its effects in the family environment. We discover that Janie had been ice skating, and a really upsetting row blows up at the Cross Keys. We take a look at the history of Victorian indoor ice rinks or 'Glaceriums' as they were known. 

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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 we discover that Janie had been iceskating, and an almighty row blows up at the Cross Keys.

[Emma flies into a drunken rage]

Please be aware that the second half of this podcast concerns alcohol abuse and its effects in the family environment. 

A significant letter from Janie has gone missing, the dramatic and tantalising contents of which, we can only infer from Fred’s reply to it. In it was the disappointing news that James, Janie’s Father seems to have got rather upset at the idea of Janie taking the piano with her when she gets married, and a comment that at some point Fred’s mother Ann must have made in passing about Emma. This appears to have got back to Emma on the grapevine, with I assume predictable results. However before we get to all that, Fred also mentions that Janie, on her visit to Cleethorpes, had gone ice skating, which gave me pause - because it being August I had no idea that there would have been skating facilities. So before we get into the heated reports of Emma’s behaviour, let’s have a little look at the history of Victorian indoor ice rinks.

Experiments with skating rinks utilising artificial ice started in the 1840s in London, and a small number of venues opened using a rather disturbing substitute which was a concoction of hog’s lard and salts. The one that opened at the Baker Street Bazaar was advertised as being 3000 square feet in extent - I mean my nose is wrinkling at the idea of that much lard.  These rinks were not long lived, and it’s possible the smell and getting the unpleasant stuff on clothes encouraged the novelty to wear off rather quickly. 

During the 1860s and 1870s early refrigeration technology for the transport of meat had started to emerge, which caught the attention of veterinarian Professor John Gamgee, during a trip to the US to study Texas fever in cattle. It must have become one heck of a distraction for his research not only led to the world’s first refrigerated ships, but also the world’s first ever mechanically frozen ice rink - in 1876.

It was rather delightfully called the Glaciarium and I think the world may well be poorer for not sticking with the name. Opened in May 1876 in Chelsea, London - the floor of The Galciarium was laid with flattened copper piping and then flooded to a depth of 2 to 3 inches. Then through the pipes was pumped a mixture of ether, glycerine, nitrogen peroxide and water, the reactions of which sufficiently lowered the temperature enough to freeze the water solid. Gamgee opened a second rink in Rusholme, Manchester in 1877 - thus bringing the technology to the North of England - indeed Southport, just north of Liverpool opened their own Glaciarium the following year in 1878.

For Janie to be skating in Cleethopes in August, 5 years later no longer seems so quite far fetched, although I cannot find any reference to ice skating in Cleethorpes at that time. It’s probably something that would require hitting the archives. I did wonder if the 7 years from its invention was sufficient time for traveling fairs to have acquired the technology and come up with their own portable versions, and if so, was a smaller rink in a tent part of the attractions at the sea front in Cleethorpes. I am entirely speculating here - however before I read the skating reference in the letters I had no idea that public indoor ice rinks were had been developed by the Victorians, and I think for me at least, it serves as a reminder that I shouldn’t underestimate just how much of the modern world was already in evidence in Fred and Janie’s time. 

So, lets get back to them shall we, here’s Fred’s reply to that mysterious missing letter of Janie’s:

Albert Terrace
Linthorpe Road
August 20th 1882

My own darling Wife
I received your welcome letter this morning for which I thank you love very much.
I am glad that you got some skating in as well at Cleethorpes love, I should like to have been there as well to skate with you.

I feel sorry + just a little disappointed that your father did not give you the piano my darling, because I had fully made up my mind that he would give it to you without any trouble. But it does not make much matter love as I have no doubt we shall soon be able to get one + then we shall be all right, + perhaps a little more comfortable than we should have been had your father given it to you unwillingly.

I should very much like to know what made him come to that decision as I should have thought from his manner to me that he would have been pleased to give it to you.
I am almost afraid love that I went about the business in a wrong manner. I think I ought to have asked him how much he was going to give you (as is customary), but instead of that, when he mentioned it I said that I did not want anything. You see I was so pleased at the thought of getting you (after so much previous difficulty + vexation) that I felt perhaps foolishly generous. But it was really true what I said – as I only wanted you my darling and not any of his money or furniture.

I know my darling that you will be pleased to make anybody comfortable that I invite to see us; + it would no doubt be better for your mother seeing us if you we were nearer – but I would rather go a hundred miles farther north than that your Emma should come + disturb us + perhaps bring some trouble to us, for she seems to bring disaster to every body connected with her; + my idea is, to take you clear away from her.

I am sorry that Betsy Frith cannot come to our wedding love, because I should like you to see all your friends + for them to see you at your very best wifie, on that day.
Fred Johnson has not written yet love, I feel rather hurt that he has not written before this, especially as he must have a little time now he is at home. I have not written to John Meays yet but will do so this next week + let you know the result.
I had a letter from Ted this last week in which he says that Fred told him the last time he was over that it was a settled thing between him + Miss Barton. Ted’s idea is that Fred does not care much for her but his mother + Annie have drawn him into it. Silly fellow!
I will send you a list of addresses sometime this next week love.

With respect to the Fireirons love, which your Emma has so kindly promised to give you. Do not take them love or anything else from her – I should not care for them if they were made of gold instead of iron.
I am rather surprised at your mother wanting you to keep thick with her as tho. we could not do without her when we are stuck fast. By all means do not keep thick with her – I would not have you suffer her insults for all the towels + fireirons in the world. Besides if she gives you anything we shall almost be compelled to ask her to come + see us, + she might take it into her head to do so some time + we should be compelled to be civil to her having asked her to come.

If your mother says anything about it, tell her that I have told you not to take them, + what is more, I am determined you shall not have anything from her.

Who could have told Emma what my mother said at the first love, I cannot think who could tell her. And as for calling my mother as you say she did to Polly, I don’t see what she has to call her about as I am sure that my mother has been very careful (as she always is) what she says has said about her. Even then it was more particularly about you that she spoke, + only incidentally about your Emma. I should think the sting is in the truth of what she said, + I am sure that your Emma cannot with truth say anything bad about my mother. At least I think not, + I know her perhaps a little more than Emma does. However I will leave this subject which at the best is disagreeable.

You are so right my darling I have seen + felt your legs + a little bit higher with pleasure, as you know, + I shall not have the least objection to you doing ditto love some day we shall have the lawful right then; It was very nice before, but I always felt as though I was taking advantage of your love for me, + I am expecting that it will be even nicer when we are married because we shall not have to fear being disturbed + it must be more satisfactory when you feel that it is right, + not doing you a probable injustice.
After Friday night I felt that it would not be wise to work so late love, even if the work did not get done – for I could feel that it was doing me harm + I must think of your future my little wife.
But if we do not work over, we generally play cards until 12+ sometimes later. You see it is this way sometimes Retchford, Jarvis or Robson comes up + wants to play, so that we have to oblige them. I wish we were married love then of course I should stop all that, for I am determined we will go to bed regularly at half past ten, of course if that is agreeable to you my wife.

We went up to Yarm yesterday + had a very enjoyable outing. We took train to Stockton + then a boat from there to Yarm about 7 miles. It was a glorious row. On the way Phillips + I had a bathe, it was splendid the tide was coming up the river beautifully. I had no idea it was so difficult to swim against it until yesterday. We could swim easily with it, but it was almost impossible to swim against it – but the river was only about 4 feet deep there, so it did not matter.
We had a good ham + egg tea + then had a look round the town. It is a funny old place but very nice + [quiet] + tho it is so small the principal street is almost as wide + long as the high street at Stockton. We set off back at 8.30 + got to Stockton at 10.15 just in time to catch the 10.25 train to Mbro. Not bad for 7 miles is it. I feel rather stiff to day besides sundry blisters on my horny hands.

I think I could spend a week there in summer, + have been thinking that very likely we shall do so sometime, as we  cannot go to Redcar every year + a country out would be nice.
It will be a very pleasant outing for you love next summer (if you are good).

I am thinking of going to Eyton next Saturday + over Roseberry Topping, which was the pointed hill that we saw from Mbro.
I want to see these places so that I can take you when you come – which will relieve the dreary monotony (?) of our married life.
I shall have to close now love as it is post time. I wish the eight weeks would go, I do want to see you so much.
I love you my darling wife more than ever.
I will always remain my darling
Your loving true + faithful

The following day Janie visited the Woodhouse Flower Show and there’s a write up of the show in the Sheffield Independent on Wednesday 22nd August. It reads: 

“WOODHOUSE FLOWER SHOW. The second annual exhibition of the above society took place yesterday in the Cricket Field. The weather during the early part of the day was cool and cloudy, and as the afternoon came the wind cleared away the clouds, and the remainder or the day was beautifully fine. During the early part of the exhibition the wind overturned the refreshment booth of Mrs. Davis, Royal Hotel, Woodhouse, and caused considerable damage to the glassware, as well as the loss of a large quantity of spirits, wine etc. The tent which contained the needlework was also overthrown, but no one was seriously injured. The attendance was very large, and the receipts at the gates very largely in excess of last year. In addition to the show, the band of the Welsh Regiment, now stationed at Sheffield, and the Woodhouse Brass Band were in attendance, and supplied music at intervals. There was also a troupe of performers, under the direction of Mr. Burton, of Sheffield, who catered for the amusement of the people. Numerous other amusements were also provided in the field; and the committee may congratulate themselves upon the success of their efforts. A novelty was also introduced in an exhibition of pigeons and canaries; and, indeed, these appeared to excite as much interest as anything on the ground. A large number of hothouse plant were lent (not the competition) from the neighbouring nurseries.”

It looks as if the Woodhouse Flower Show got off lightly with the weather as I noticed in the report just above this was the headline ‘Gleadless Flower Show - Exhibition Wrecked!’ Gleadless is just 3 miles to the south west of Handsworth and apparently more vulnerable to the wind as it overthrew the main exhibition tent and caused irreparable damage to the all the exhibits. 

Other kinds of bad weather are in evidence in Janie’s next letter where it would seem that the atmosphere at home is becoming stormy and dark:

August 22nd 1882.
My own darling husband
I really could not find time to give you a few lines for to day. We were so busy all the morning yesterday, + Annie wanted me to go by half past twelve to get dinner over early. I do not like to disappoint you love if I can help it so please forgive me once more. I received yours for which I thank you love.

Oh darling I do wish you were here. I should like to see you. We have had a terrible row with our Emma this afternoon. You never heard such language to come out of a woman’s mouth. I really could not stand much more of it. I am so thankful darling to think I shall be out of the hearing of such rows in future, they make me quite miserable. I cannot describe what they are like. It was all nothing over a little thing but she has had some drinks + that is the cause of them generally. I have been in the bar nearly all the day so that has made her furious.

What caused the row was this. I was baking two cakes for mother. She was dusting the kitchen, I never spoke said a word wrong to her. She banged my towel on the floor that I look in the over with, took the hastener away, so I said to mother in her hearing, she has thrown this down she may pick it up now, she does all such nasty little tricks as those why she was offended with me. I found a porter bottle that she had had either whiskey or brandy in, between the bed + mattress so I gave it to mother + told her to do as she liked about telling her about it. I did not say a word to her about it. She said I had been telling mother a lot of tales, (she judges me by herself when she says that). When mother told her to pick the towel up she would not + cursed + swore awfully, she wished I was stiff, + lots more awful things I dare not tell you.
I really did not mean to cause a row my darling I am very sorry I did not pick up the towel + say nothing about it, but I cannot feeling provoked such dirty little tricks do provoke you sometimes.

Her pet name for you is Toby + your mothers, dame Shepherd. She always brings both of you in in some way, she wished when you + I went in the train it would smash us all to pieces.

She said all that to my mother. I did not say anything to her after mother had told her to pick it up, the quarrel was between them, some part of it was meant for me but I did not take it up. You don’t know what she can + does say when in her rageing[sic] temper.

I don’t know what she has to call your mother for darling, but she makes something, the sting is in the truth of what your mother said. [Your mother] was coming this afternoon to see the garden but [the weather] looked very dull and so I think that has prevented her, I am very glad she did not love, as [Emma] is in such a temper. I should have been awfully grieved if she had insulted her + she does not care when she said when like that.

I don’t know how our Emma got to hear of your mother’s remark but my darling you will be sick + tired of hearing about her so I will not say any more.

It was a little after one oclock when I got down to Annie yesterday. Annie could not go to flower show, she wants to come to ours. Mr Glover is coming for it, I wish you were love, it does seem such a long time since you were here + we have eight more long weeks to get over before I can see you, my husband, but love when they are over I shall be with you for ever + your loving wife + to be with somebody that does love me, I shall be happy darling + I know I can + will make you so too.
Oh darling I do wish I could you could be with me to night just to feel your arms round me + one kiss from my husband my everything, if I had not you I think I could not get on at all.
I do love you.

I was going to tell you about the flower show love, I took the children with me Annie said they had to go there after dinner. Miss Mills, Tom Wortley, Sarah Jane Mills + I went up to the Show + the children, it was very good indeed for the second show I did it wish you were there to take me round everything is more enjoyable when we are to gether, it was a very cold day I was afraid I should take cold but I have not felt it yet. There was a good many people there from Handsworth. I saw Annie Laverack T + L Revitt, our John + Charlie Thompson came with him.

There was no dancing, they were afraid of it blowing the tent down the wind was so rough, it did blow two down the refreshment tent + another.
After we came out of the field Sissy + I + Miss Mills + the party went up to see the feast, then we went down to Mr Wortleys again. I did not want to stop long but our John would not go before ten minutes to eleven he was quite touched. I am so sorry love, I hope he will not get to like it very much, Charlie Thompson went with him to sleep at our house + they have gone to Woodhouse to the cricket match to day.

I had a dreadful headache all the way home. I did wish for you darling to lean on a bit I wished many a time that I had not gone, I think it was the cold that made my head so bad but I had to trudge on with Sissy + Miss Mills + get home the best way I could.
I feel all right to day love.
I shall have to give up it is post time but will write more later on for Thursday.
I love you more than ever
I remain
Your loving true & faithful

Royal Exchange
August 23rd 1882
My own darling Wife
I received your letter this morning for which I thank you love. I thought you would be busy on Monday with the Flower Show so hardly expected one for yesterday.

My dear little wife I am so sorry to hear that you have had some more trouble at home. I wish I could take you away from it at once instead of waiting for October, but I cannot you know my darling or I would do so – neither can I come over until then, though I should like to see you + comfort you as only I can do, but you know wifie we cannot afford it before October. You must try to bear it a little longer darling + then the happiest time of your life will begin as my loving + loved wife – for you may always rely on my love for you:- but it is not necessary for me to tell you that as you know it perfectly well.
I am afraid if I had been there yesterday I should have had something to say about it love, because it is impossible that there can be any peace or happiness at your house until she is better or out of it. Cannot your father do anything in the matter – or has she got master both of your father + mother as well.

I think you did quite right to mention the nasty mean contemptible little trick to your mother love, even though it did provoke the row for I have experienced such little tricks before + always found there was no other remedy but to have it out + the cause removed.
I have no doubt it was on account of the brandy bottle that you found that caused the row, but I think you did quite right in mentioning that too love, because that also ought to be stopped. I am much obliged to her for her pet name for me + also for my mother’s – the latter is almost stylish, + if she had called her “madame” it would have been quite so. I think mother would “smote” at the idea of calling her “dame.”

You must not take any notice of her awful wishes with regard to the train tc bother you love, I mean you must not let them frighten you for imprecations like those cannot come to anything you know. I cannot imagine anything but the most violent hatred prompting anybody to invent such awful wishes. – I think that she is just a little envious of you (shall I say good fortune love) at any rate you will have a loving husband + perhaps a prosperous one. But even if she is I did not think that anybody not really bad would ever even think such things much more say them.
I am pleased that mother did not come up yesterday as it might have vexed her, but I think she would have been with too much sense than to say much to her or provoke her in any way.

I wish I could have been with you at the Flower Show love to take care of you + bring you home. I should not let any fears of your John’s sobriety bother you love, as from what I have seen of him I do not think he will get to like it much.
From what has transpired with your Emma I feel more determined than ever not to have anything from her.

I wrote to John Meays yesterday, + will let you know what he says about attending, as soon as I hear from him.
I thought I would write to day love, because I might not have time tomorrow as it is my usual monthly abomination the Board meeting.
I love you my darling wife, more than ever + will always remain
Your loving, true + faithful husband
P.S It is Linthorpe Flower Show today + has been pouring with rain almost all day.

I am absolutely reeling at all of this. I almost can’t believe how vile Emma is behaving. I’m certain Fred is quite right, in fact I would go so far as to say, the Emma isn’t just a little envious, I think she’s absolutely green with envy and indignation. How dare the youngest girl of the family, get to have such a promising future. I share Janie’s concern, and right now, no I wouldn’t put it past Emma to cause some upset at the wedding. Poor poor Janie. And yes poor Emma. It will be interesting to see if she calms down over the next few weeks or gets even worse. 

Next time Fred and Janie try and firm up who will be their bridesmaids and best man for their wedding, it’s all hands on deck at the Cross Keys as they get ready for the Handsworth Feast and Flower Show, and our Fred decides goes on an adventure up the mountain of Roseberry Topping, in which he narrowly avoids killing his silly self. 

Thank you so much for listening to My Love Letter Time Machine. I’d very much like to get the podcast up the charts a bit more, 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 with the algorithm. I’m still putting excerpts of Fred and Janie’s letters on instagram at my love letter time machine all one word and you are very welcome to write to me at my love letter time machine at gmail dot com.

Until next time, take care.
© Ingrid Birchell Hughes 2023