My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History

Knives and Forks, and The Cutlers' Feast

April 30, 2023 Ingrid Birchell Hughes Season 4 Episode 12
My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History
Knives and Forks, and The Cutlers' Feast
Show Notes Transcript

Season 4, episode 12. 5th-8th September 1882.  The wedding planning is picking up steam, Janie is gifted a wedding present from the elusive Fred Johnson. Our Fred finaly finds their new house, and we take a look at the Cutlers Company of Hallamshire and some unexpected family history therein.

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 the wedding planning is picking up steam, Fred finalises the new house, and we take a look at the Cutlers Hall and some family history.

[Knives and Forks and the Cutlers Feast]

September 5th 1882

My own darling husband
I received your letter this morning for which I thank you.
As soon as the rain came on very heavy, we left Punch + Judy + came home + there was no means of sheltering until we got there so we had to get wet.
Jinnie Reckless dress was quite spoiled + it was new on. She has had it taken to pieces + washed + redone up, I had my blue washing dress on so it did not do that any harm.
If I had changed my wet things + put some dry ones on. I should have got them wet because I had to stand in it in our establishment across the road + it came through the top [of the tent] like a riddle. I should have felt comforted if you had been there, just to look at you occasionally love, it is over now + I am thankful.
We are having wretched weather here.

My cold is a good deal better love, I did not get so many colds when you were here, it is evident that I want you to look after me.
I shall soon be with you now my darling, the time is getting shorter. I shall soon be your happy + loving wife. I do yearn to see you it does seem such a long time since you were here husband but there is only five more weeks to wait, then there will be no more partings. I shall be with you for ever, + the joy of our meeting will be greater I think love being parted so long, for it does seem a long time does it not love?

How many of your folks would you like to invite to our wedding? I should like your mother, John + Louisa to come, Mother has been asking me this afternoon how many I thought there would be all together.
If we ask John + Louisa we must ask Walter + Jane + your Lucy + her husband. I think we had better ask them all then there will be no offence they could please themselves whether they came if we asked them, you must tell me love what you would like.

I should like you to ask Tommy Hughes to go to church, as well as John Meays, to bring Annie Laverack back. John Meays being best man will bring Jinne Reckless the first bridesmaid. I am thinking of having Annie + Jinnie for my bridesmaids, they are the nearest in height of any of my friends. I don’t like to see one little + the other big, they look odd, but I am going down to Mrs Flears tomorrow to see about her making my dress + how much it will take. We are going to buy them on Saturday, Annie + I are going by the twenty past twelve train + Maria Staniforth, then we meet our Polly + Jinnie at Cole’s corner at one o’clock then we shall go in + buy my wedding dress love.

What size do you take in Gloves + do you know John Meays size + Tommy Hughes’s, we shall buy the ties too. We are looking forward to spending a very enjoyable afternoon, we had a bit of fun over buying Polly Roe’s dress.

I forget your size in gloves love but think it is seven + a half.

Should I buy you a white shirt + a set of pearl studs for a wedding present, then you could wear them that day darling, or is there anything else you would like better.

I will remember that you owe me ninepence love, when I want a bit of frilling I will apply to you. Mother said it must be a mistake in some way that you had not thought when you had put the money in.

I don’t think I could have had everything ready by the first week in October love for we have a lot more paper whitewashing + cleaning to do. We got the clubroom done yesterday so that is one room off our hands.
That house in Milton Street is rather dear love, it is a good deal to pay for a start but if you cannot meet with one less, if we did take that + we found it out was too expensive we could remove to another less expensive, but look out my darling, but I know you will, it would be better if we could get one for less money to begin with. I wish we were together love, it is so nice to choose everything to gether for our home. You will choose the home, then we shall be together to buy everything to fit it up with. I am longing for the time to come love.
Have you seen Mrs Gordon lately, have you said anything to her love about us wanting to stay there. I hope she has not let the rooms, when you do see her remember me very kindly to her.
I am glad you enjoyed your visit to Malton love + Scarbro, + sorry it rained on Saturday for you, I wish I had been with you my darling, I do want to see you, I wish you could afford to come love just now, I feel as though I could not wait five more long weeks but still it is not so long + I must wait patiently.
I do love you my husband. I intended giving you a long one to day love but we have been so busy. I will write more later on to night.
I remain as always
Your loving true + faithful

[Fred’s answer to Janie’s letter comes is so blithe in it’s carefreeness coming from someone who has never had to organise a social event in his life and assumes that they just ‘happen’ as if by magic, not realising that guest numbers and food provision need to be married up]

Royal Exchange
September 6th 1882

My own darling Wife
I received your letter this morning for which I thank you. I am glad to hear that your cold is better love, for I don’t want you to be laid up you know. – With regard to the number of my people you are to invite to the wedding – you can just please yourself love, for personally I have no feeling whatever in the matter + should be just as well pleased if there were none of them there.
I thought it was your intention to have only one bridesmaid love. I certainly understood so, but you seem to have now changed your mind. However I will ask Tommy Hughes, but I do not think he will come in that capacity; besides that will be leaving Ted out altogether which he will no doubt feel very much. On the other hand, Tom would be able to have a day without it telling on his pocket – whereas Ted would be a loser by it. – I hope you do not intend to make a gorgeous affair of it love, because you know that is not exactly my idea, but I expect I shall have to make a martyr of myself for that day – tho’ the quieter the wedding the better I should like it.

I hope you will have a pleasurable + satisfactory shopping next Saturday. It should be taking into account the number that are going.

My size of gloves is 7 ½ . I dont know John Meays’ + Tom Hughes’ but will enquire. If you wish to buy me anything love for a wedding present, I think what you mention (shirt + studs) would be as acceptable as anything else.
I saw Mrs Gordon last Friday night, she had not let the rooms, + will be pleased to have us if she has not then let them. I will remember you to her. Mrs Marston wishes to be remembered to you – I was there to tea last night.
I wish now love that I had come to see you instead of going to Malton – I wished it when I got to York. I thought it was such a pity that I had got so much nearer to you + could not see you. I should not have gone but I promised Bankes six months ago that I would go. I don’t think I shall be able to come before the wedding love, it is only five weeks you know love + only four since I left you – though I should so like to see you my darling + kiss you.

With regard to the house love – I have found a nice one in Milton St which I think will just suit us. – It is like Mr Davis’s except that the passage goes through into the kitchen like Mrs Gordon’s. I think that is much nicer love – dont you, especially as the range is in the middle room which is much better than being roasted in the kitchen. The rent is £18 per year + the rates altogether will amount to about £4 making £22 in all.  The agent offers to do half the painting + papering which will amount to about £3 that is 30/- for one to pay. I am going round with him again tonight but will not settle until I hear from you. I think we should be able to afford it love, because Davis’s house is £20 + I have £39 per year more than he has + it will only be £2 more rent. Besides there are gas fixtures in the house which will mean a saving of about £5 at the start. The agent will not agree to pay the rates so I expect we shall have to provide for them. […]

I have not time for more love – I love you more than ever + remain
Your loving true + faithful husband

Fred settling on Milton Street feels like a wise decision. It was one street away from St Pauls and backed on to Church St where Fred had originally taken lodgings with Mrs Gordon. Describing the layout as similar to Mrs Gordons makes sense as the streets were more than likely built at the same time. The houses were typical of a red brick terrace, with a back yard, however instead of opening directly onto the street, they had the luxury of a very small patch of front garden. The North Eastern Steel works were a mile to the North, the Royal Exchange offices and railway station were half a mile to the East. A mile to the South, Albert Park was a pleasant walk past the allotment gardens. Given all these advantages and the price, Janie, who must have been extremely busy the day she got Fred’s letter (what’s new?) must have dropped everything just for a second to dash off the following:

September 7th 1882

My own darling husband
I have only time for a line. I received yours this morning love.
I am sure I shall like the house if it suits you my darling + I think I should close with the agents at once.

I think we shall be able to afford the rent nicely, if Mr Davis can do [on] less. It is post time. I will write again tomorrow.

I remain
Your loving true + faithful wife

This is huge isn’t it - their first home! She follows up the next day with only a slightly longer letter:

September 8th 1882

My own darling husband
I have just finished papering the passage. I could not leave off very well before it was done, to write love, so you must please forgive another short one + I will make it up by giving you a long one for Thursday. We are so busy cleaning down.
If I had left off it would have got so dark that I could not have done to night + Mother wanted me to get it done as soon as possible.
Father says I have done it very well, but our walls are so bad you cannot do them as well as you would like.
It has been a lovely day. I wish you could just come for the evening love + take me for a nice walk but we shall not have to wait long before you can take me any time when you feel inclined my darling. The time is getting nearer to our wedding day, only a month next Thursday.
We cannot get the room straightened this week, one of the germans is going to leave [unreadable]  the one called Henry. It is post time.
I love you more than ever my own husband
+ remain always
Your loving true + faithful Wife

In his next letter Fred makes reference to information about Jinnie Reckless which made me worry that another letter of Janie’s had gone missing but I think it is self-explanatory.

Royal Exchange
September 8th 1882

My own darling Wife
I received your letter yesterday morning love for which I thank you. I am very sorry to hear that you are not so well my darling, what can the pain in your side be with love? I hope it will be better now, if it not I should certainly see somebody about it for I do not want my wife to be laid up + me so far away from her.
I am glad to hear that Jinnie has given David [Craven] his ring back as I think it would not be conducive to her happiness to get intimate with him or any of the family.
I am very sorry to hear that Miss Dalton is so ill + sincerely hope it will not be like her brother’s illness or else I am afraid there will be no hope for her. It will be, as you say love, a serious blow to Ted. – I think with you love that Betsy Panton does not care much for Harry Lucas, or if she does she does not show it. She is not like you my darling, for there is no doubt about you loving me my wife.
I received your very short letter this morning love. I was rather disappointed as I think it is the shortest on record; but I know you would have given me one longer if you could. I will close with the house agent tomorrow love, I think I told you he would be at half the expense of painting + papering. The third bedroom I have told him not to do, as we shall not want it for a while, + if we do the paper is quite good. The rent is a little more than I intended giving love, but I could not do very much better I think as cottages are letting for 7/- per week + I could not take you to one of those. If we find it is too much we shall have to flit love that is all. You remember those houses in front of ours here, + about the same size as Snaith’s. One of them is to let – I enquired the price £25 a year + all rates.
I am afraid the Secretary + myself will not get on as well as I expected. His ideas + mine are quite different about the appropriation of the Wages + Material, + he suggested that we should go through all the work again + do it according to his notions. Of course I was very much put out, as that would mean that all the trouble I have taken + overtime we have worked would go for nothing. I mentioned the matter to Mr Cooper + he quite agreed with me – we had it out today together + Mr Cooper stuck up for me like a brick - + with [ sp? ]  practically it was settled as I had had it before – which was very satisfactory time. We are also going to have another Clerk so that perhaps I shall not have to work so hard. I hope not as I felt that I could not bear the continual strain always - + just now do not feel at all well. I think I shall go down to Redcar tomorrow to have a breath of fresh air, + then I shall be all right.
It is now eight oclock love so I must give up as I have not had any tea yet.
I remain my darling Wife
Your loving true + faithful husband

In Janie’s next letter, she mentions the Cutlers Feast and visiting the Cutlers Hall in Sheffield to view the grandeur of the occasion. This sent down the longest research wormhole yet I think in this podcast and I hope you will indulge me as Janie’s ancestors association with the Cutlers Company spans several hundred years. This is the bit where we need some timey whimey music, travel back in time with me - we have to go back one 450 years…

In 1560, two years after Queen Elizabeth the first came to the throne, my ten times great grandfather William Stannyforthe was born to a farmer, Henry, in the parish of Norton. They lived in a grand old farmhouse called The Herdings, three miles to the South West of Handsworth, and I was amazed to discover the building still survives - although the structure was much changed in the 1600s. It has it’s own wikipedia page if you want to take a look - I’ll put it up on the instagram too.
In 1606 William married Elizabeth Thorpe in the Parish Church (now Sheffield Cathedral) - she was the daughter of a smelter from Woodsette. Given that Elizabeth was 21 years his junior, it’s more than likely she was his second wife. It is with his sons, William, John and Robert, that the family first became part of Sheffield’s famous trade. There are entries for all three of them in the very earliest records of the Cutlers Company for 1624 and were obviously among the founding members or ‘freemen’ as they were known.
It’s rather cool to realise that they would have been around for (and more than likely contributed financially) to the building of the first Cutlers Hall in Sheffield in 1638. The original has long gone, and the classical Regency style Hall we have today was built in 1832.
To give them their full name, The Cutlers Company of Hallamshire were and are a trade guild and in the original Act of Parliament that incorporated them, the company was given jurisdiction for:

 “all persons using to make Knives, Blades, Scissers, Sheeres, Sickles, Cutlery wares and all other wares and manufacture made or wrought of yron and steele, dwelling or inhabiting within the said Lordship and Liberty of Hallamshire, or within six miles compasse of the same"

William’s decendents pop up again and again in the entries through years, as Freemen of the Cutlers Company, many of them sicklesmiths. In 1743, Janie’s Great Great Grandfather established the family sickle works of Thomas Staniforth & Co at Hackenthorpe, a small village 3 miles South of Handsworth and barely a mile from the Herdings. His son, also Thomas Staniforth, was appointed one of the Assistants to the Cutlers’ Company in 1793. The duties of the Assistants included collecting Mark rents, payable by the Freemen Cutlers in respect of their individual makers marks, and assisting the Searchers in seeking out any abuse of the regulations and maintaining quality control. He would have attended the monthly meetings at the Cutlers’ Hall. It would appear that this was during a bit of a controversial period of the history of the Company of Cutlers, on account that it had become something of a closed shop and in fact required an Act of Parliament to reform the organisation’s electoral procedure. I won’t go into it here as it requires a discussion of the history of hallmarks and makers marks - perhaps I could do that in a separate episode if anyone wanted me to. 

The early 1800s the Cutlers Company, like many similar institutions, struggled to keep pace with the expansion of industry. Many manufactures decided that they were better off without the restrictions of the Company and it looks as if this was the period of time where the organisation shifted to also emphasise the beneficial side of their endeavours — in charitable work, supporting the housing and infrastructure development of the rapidly growing city and taking on a more ambassadorial role in the promotion of Sheffield trade. In 1860 their jurisdiction was updated to include steelmakers and given the power of veto of any proposed limited company in the UK that wanted to use the ‘Sheffield’ name. The Cutlers Feasts became not just a time to celebrate the installation of new officers but an occasion to network, make new business contacts firm up on old ones and to provide a showcase for Sheffield cutlery and steel-ware. The nature of the Feasts became grand affairs. Traditionally the assembly would go in procession to the Parish church, directly opposite the Cutlers Hall, for prayers and a sermon, before returning to the hall for an extravagant dinner served at 4 o’oclock. The prestige of the Feast became unparalleled, and guests would frequently include ex Prime Ministers and the nobility. It was a rare moment where the members of the company, many of whom were originally working class, could literally rub shoulders with the great and the good. 
The Cutlers Feast is an annual event even today, and arguably, is still the most prestigious white tie event that takes place outside London. 
Janie’s letter make reference to tickets that granted her access to come and view the  Feast finery at the Hall before the the dinner was served. In the newspaper report on that year’s cutlers feast, after the discussion of the all the dignitaries, there’s a tiny paragraph that simply says
“From eleven to one o'clock, through the kindness of the Master Cutler, a considerable number of the public were permitted to inspect the tables while they were being prepared for the guests. “
Obviously Janie was one of the members of public who attended and she seems rather delighted with what she saw, it sounds magnificent:

September 8th

My own darling husband
I am not quite in such a hurry now. I can devote a little more time to you love for I have had to neglect you a little for the work this last fortnight.
I received your letter yesterday for which I thank you.
I called at your house on Wednesday night they were all quite well, as I went in at the gate Miss Barton was just inside + Fred Johnson had just been to take our present.

They are very nice knives + forks, half a dozen large ones + half a dozen small + silver forks of both sizes, the knives have white handles you will like them I am sure love, we shall be set up very soon.

I met the nine oclock train at Darnall + came up with a girl out of Handsworth. I saw Miss Williams at the gate so she walked up with me a little way + we met Mr Williams, + he asked me if I had ever seen the tables set out for the [Cutler’s] Feast so I said I had not, he said if I liked to go he had two tickets + I + Miss Williams might go together. 

It was yesterday so we went by the half past eleven train + came back by the two o’clock. It was quite a treat, the tables looked magnificent the silver was splendid; all the stands for flowers was silver, + to each guest a little glass with flowers for the buttonhole, three knives + forks, + spoon, serviettes + four glasses.

Then we went into the ladies room[. T]hat was furnished by Cocka[nes] it looked very nice indeed, + in the passage leading to it on both sides they had arranged beautiful plants, + up the main front staircase there were trees on each side + plants on the landing. I wish you had been there to look round with us love you would have enjoyed it. We also got to look in the kitchens. We saw fowls piled up in heaps + grouse, + a cartload of fish + we saw the venison roasting before such a large fire, five haunches roasting at once besides a lot of Grouse. We saw the cook turning out the jellies, they did look nice. She had turned out about a score then, I should have liked a bit it did look so tempting, + all sorts of sweets.

Fred left a letter with the present, + I took the liberty of opening it love. I thought you would not mind as it would concerned both of us I enclose it to you.

After the last night Mother sent me to Woodhouse for some paper so that was the reason I could not write much.
Annie Leverack went with me, we went there + back in 5 minutes under the hour so we did not lose much time.
I always thought I should like two bridesmaids love but never could think of anybody big enough to go with Jinnie. I quite forgot Annie, so that was the reason I said I should only have one.
I did not think of leaving Ted out, I thought I would ask him + Miss Dalton. I thought he would like to walk with Miss Dalton if they went to the Church to see us married but ask Ted first to go with John Meays, to take us to Church if you would rather + ask Tommy to come up to breakfast.
I think it would be best to ask Ted, Miss Dalton would not mind him bringing Annie from Church perhaps + he might feel hurt if you do not so if you have not asked Tommy, ask Ted. 

I wish love you were here so that I could talk to you about everything.
You cannot write everything I could like you would tell it can you love?
I do not think it will be a gorgeous affair love, I should like a nice wedding, + I think it will be, but I am afraid not a very quiet one as we are both well known my darling.

I had a post card from Jinnie this morning asking me to be sure + wait for her if she is not there exactly at one, she is quite excited about the buying of the dresses.

I shall have to give up now it is bed time My darling.

I think you can tell that the tone in their letters has changed gear, we are at last into the thick of their wedding preparations and home making. 

In order to make sense of the paperwork I’ve inherited, so that I can continue to tell their story in the podcast, I need to take a break for doing some research, and I’d like to work out a way that I can incorporate some deep history dives into the world of Victorian Yorkshire. I will share my research online on the my love letter time machine instagram and I’m hoping to do a couple of bonus podcasts during the summer to keep you up to date with my personal journey. So Q&A episode next time! I’ve already started to get a few questions and thoughts from you but there’s just time to drop me a few more please do - I would LOVE to hear from you SO much. I want to take you with me on the next phase of this journey so please let me know what you think. 
We’ll return with the podcast proper in September with the fun and drama of the run up to the wedding and hopefully, the rest of their story. 

Thank you so much for listening to My Love Letter Time Machine. As I said I’d love to get your questions for the Q&A and any ideas you have for the future of the podcast - you can message me thoughts and questions on instagram at my love letter time machine all one word or you can email them to me at my love letter time machine at gmail dot com.

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