My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History

Q&A Bonus Episode (Season 4)

May 07, 2023 Ingrid Birchell Hughes Season 4 Episode 13
Q&A Bonus Episode (Season 4)
My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History
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My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History
Q&A Bonus Episode (Season 4)
May 07, 2023 Season 4 Episode 13
Ingrid Birchell Hughes

Season 4, episode 13. Q&A Bonus episode. In which Ingrid answers questions from listeners and talks about the importance of the letters. We also look forward to the Season  5 featuring the last of Fred and Janie's letters (out in September 2023),  and consider the future of the podcast. 

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Show Notes Transcript

Season 4, episode 13. Q&A Bonus episode. In which Ingrid answers questions from listeners and talks about the importance of the letters. We also look forward to the Season  5 featuring the last of Fred and Janie's letters (out in September 2023),  and consider the future of the podcast. 

Support the Show.

Welcome back to My Love Letter Time Machine, were we discover a Yorkshire love story from the 1880s told through the love letters of two ordinary people, Fred Shepherd and Janie Warburton. My name is Ingrid Birchell Hughes, and i just happen to be their great great grand daughter. Every week we travel 140 years back in time to discover the latest happenings, and as we just drew to a close with Season 4,  today I have a special bonus question and answer episode for you.

[Q&A Bonus Episode (Season 4)]
I really left it quite a while for a Q&A, I’m sorry about that and I also need to do a quick shout out to my listeners in the US (who make up nearly a third of all my listeners). Due to the way things are separated online via country, I have only just discovered and read my reviews from you. So I am sorry for being such a twit.

I was particularly touched by this review from jbpasstime in the US who wrote: “Great love story, very well told. Narrator’s voice is soothing, and her emotion comes through telling her family’s story. Historical information about the Victorian Age is beautifully interwoven. This story highlights the fascinating history and emotional information once can glean from letter writing and journal entries of by-gone days. Highly recommend if you like historical fiction stories…or non-fiction in this case.”
JB - what a really thoughtful review! Thank you so much and thank you everyone who left a review - it really helps to push the podcast up the ratings.

Another thing that helps the podcast is the tips I get over on my Kofi page - thank you everyone so much for those and if you would like to buy me a coffee and make a contribution to the production of the podcast that would be very welcome - obviously only if you are in a financial position to do so of course. The money I get really helps towards the cost of hosting, paying for subscriptions to music and sound effects libraries and also the subscription I have to the British Newspaper Archive that is currently setting me back £140 quid a year. You can find my kofi page at ko dash fi dot com forward-slash mylovelettertimemachine

So thank you everyone for your questions and your brilliant ideas about what else you’d like me to include, lets start with this  from Exxa_25 on instagram.

They write, “I’d love to hear more about how Fred and Janie's story being told to you by your mother…impacted you and your view on history. How it … made you aware that "history"… was much more than just numbers and facts, but an ensemble of personal stories, such as your great great grandparents’…. how did these letters survive through generations in your family… Also, had you done historical research before, or was this your first time? How was your approach/what is the process behind all your research about the background information?

Wow Exxa, thank you, I’ll have to take you back a bit -  Well my mother Jeannie, and her dad, my grandfather, Owen, were both very involved with doing family history research and had been doing it for decades. In actually fact Owen ran the family history centre in Grenoside, Sheffield for more than 25 years. So I’ve grown up knowing far more about my family origin story than many people. It seems odd to admit this to you know but I found it pretty dry to be honest. I guess I was being typical of my young age in truth. Most of this was before the internet, there appeared to be a lot of effort spent poring over microfiche readers in libraries, or getting soaked while trudging round a graveyards in the hope that if you were lucky enough, a) the gravestone you were looking for had survived and b) it had some useful information on it that would give you clues as to where to target your search. 

My mum did her degree in family history and my sister did her’s in Victorian art and architecture so actually there were and are, far better historians in my family already.

I am not a trained historian, but I am a professional writer, and I’m very fond of a quote by the wonderful late Hilary Mantel, the author of Wolfe Hall, who said in her 2017 Reith lecture that as writers, your real job “is not to be an inferior sort of historian, but to recreate the texture of lived experience: to activate the senses and to deepen the reader’s engagement through feeling”

My aim in the podcast has always been to tell Janie and Fred’s story, to bring as much atmosphere to their lives as possible. To try and recreate the world they lived it and witness them actually inhabit it through their own words. I have never to my knowledge bent the truth or presented anything inaccurate but I’ve always prioritised the sense of the narrative over and above any exactitude in the relation of historical facts.

It was the letters themselves that were the catalyst for me to actually become properly interested in the flesh and blood people that my mum and granddad had already researched. I’ve mentioned before that they have been passed down the family, treasured really. Rereading the last of the letters in readiness for the next season of the podcasts, I was amazed to be reminded that Janie and Fred themselves were actually conscious of the value of their own letters, here’s a little preview:

Fred wrote:  “Mr darling our letters will soon be closed, at least under present circumstances. I shall only have to write one more love + then I have done. I think we must both of us own that they have been a pleasure in writing + also a source of comfort in receiving. Is it not so wifie?”

And Janie wrote: “I shall soon be with you all together now, my darling, then we shall be able to do without letter writing…There is something rather melancholy in the Last of anything love especially letters, it does mark a great change in our lives in this case, I think it will be for good and we shall both try to make each other happy my darling + I think we shall succeed.”

I mean, isn’t that just amazing?

This make me realise that Fred and Janie deliberately saved their letters, they were already precious to them even before they were married. At some point the pair of them, united both sides of the correspondence and squirrelled them away.
Janie looks to have chosen not their eldest daughter Agnes, but Edith, her youngest daughter, as their recipient which has always puzzled me. Edith was still an infant when Fred died, and part of me wonders if Janie gave them to Edith by way of giving her something of the father she wouldn’t have remembered growing up. Some of Janie’s letters are missing, and as I have re-read them during the podcast I’ve formed an impression that the ones that are missing have to do with rows at home. I need to double check of course - but I wonder if Janie deliberately censored those for her own reasons. It could of course just be coincidence. It’s just as likely that after Janie died, it fell to Edith to sort our her mothers effects and that’s how they ended up with her.

Edith gave the letters to her daughter Mary — my Mum’s mum. My Grandfather Owen, Mum’s dad,  went through them at one point, trying to find anything of relevance that would help him further the family history research, but, understandably, given they were about his wife’s family rather than his own lineage, it didn’t qet quite as much attention. However, I do remember he and my mum talking about the letters and, as a young teen was a bit startled when he said to Mum “You know, there’s quite a lot of, ‘sports’ pages, watch out, there’s a fair few”? So I knew early on that these were not only love letters but also had some rather intimate content and I think that was probably the moment that it dawned me that these were real people.

Curiously, the fact the letters contain so much intimate detail, might well have been a risk factor in the likely-hood of letters being passed on, it’s kinda amazing that this content didn’t consign them to the fire. Perhaps this is indicative of an aspect of my family culture that has continued all this time - I’d say on the whole there has been a lack of embarrassment and shame, in fact a pretty healthy attitude to humans and what they get up to. Pretty much the same attitude that Fred and Janie had themselves - should I really be so mystified that this has continued?

Anyway, my first introduction to the letters was that they were rather a lucky handy record for a family to have in the service of research and it was only as I was older that it slowly dawned on me that it was a wonderful family treasure.

Exxa_25 also suggested: You could perhaps do a "behind the scenes" bonus episode and bring us along your research journey; explain where you start research, how you find information, what you do when you've got several elements to link together, etc. Or in the form of a video, it might be easier to explain/show. Thank you for putting so much time into this podcast series, it's so captivating and diverting ! :) It's also moving to hear how much this correspondence means to you.

Well thank you so much for that I’m so glad you are enjoying it so much - and in a similar vein,  Emma.lou.p on instagram also asked to be brought along on the upcoming research trip, she writes:

“It would be great if we could come with you on the research trip to see Handsworth and all the landmarks from the podcast - maybe in the form of a vlog or some reels?

"For the Q&A, do you have any plans for the hard copy letters after the podcast is finished? I can just picture a display of letters and artefacts in a local museum!

"And finally thank you for all the hard work that has gone into the podcast for your listeners, have you enjoyed the process and did you learn anything about yourself whilst doing it?”

Well in answer to you both, I will do my best to find away of sharing and posting what I find out this Summer and bring you along on the journey. I’m still wrapping my head round reels - there are few up but I’ve yet to do a personal one so far. My first job is to go through Janie’s paperwork that I’ve mentioned before. I need to work out exactly what we’ve got - Fred’s will is in there, I was surprised to discover that he’d joined the Freemasons at some point, there are charity gala cards, a partially filled in dance card from a banquet. As I’ve mentioned before Janie outlived Fred and there is a auction booklet from a house sale that she must have had before she moved back from Middlesbrough to Sheffield. There’s a receipt for a sewing machine and I’d like to find out if she earned some money dressmaking. There are letters to Scottish Widows and to the Freemasons concerning money for herself and her children. My first sift through the paperwork gives me the impression that while Fred was alive they were doing alright for themselves financially, and that afterwards, Janie had to make quite an effort to keep things going.

As to the future of the letters, I have offered them to my nephew, Will, when I’ve finished with them and he also wondered if they should be in a museum or archive centre too so, when I get to that stage I will make enquiries. I’m becoming very aware that particularly with Janie, to have this much of a working class woman’s voice from this time recorded in so many letters - that they are probably important for other kinds of research into social history.

What was the last part again “thank you for all the hard work that has gone into the podcast for your listeners, have you enjoyed the process and did you learn anything about yourself whilst doing it? “

Aw that’s very kind of you Emma, and thank you, I’m so very grateful for all the encouragement.

I have enjoyed the process, it’s been a genuine adventure and I am still loving it very much. I’ve been doing this for 18 months now and as well as hopefully becoming a better storyteller, I’ve also acquired a new skill in terms of sound editing - something I’d like to develop even more.

As for learning things about myself, I didn’t expect to become quite so attached I am to Fred and Janie, I never expected to care about them as people quite as much as I do. It’s been a truly emotional journey and I know that in someways it’s going to get even harder as eventually the story will come the end. I’m absolutely not prepared for that and I suspect that I have some grieving to do in my future. It’s not usual is it, to have this amount of information about your family from generations ago.

Mary, my mother’s mother - Fred and Janie’s granddaughter, died less than a year before I was born, I just missed her. It’s like someone left a room just as you went in - you can almost hear their footsteps fading into the distance. She was very beloved by my mother and grandfather and her loss was a palpable absence in mine and my sister’s growing up.

Ironically what we share with Mary, is that her own grandmother, who was Janie, died less than a year before she was born too in 1921. Edith had to raise Mary without Janie’s support and my mother had to raise us without Mary’s support. This direct maternal line got broken, not once but twice and I think the letters are even more precious because of this.

I’ve also learned that when I’m done with this story I’m going to need another project. Actually my grandfather Owen who I just mentioned, was a nurse in the Navy during the second world war. He actually wrote his memoirs of the war - it’s full of amazing war stories funny and heavy both, and I jokingly mentioned to my mum the other day that they might make for another podcast - she said she thought that was a brilliant idea - so you never know, I might give that a go too one day.

LNR Blair asked:
"What has been your most interesting discovery? [and] What needed the most research?"

Oh gosh there have been so many interesting discoveries. The episode that I called ‘Canary Caper, where David Craven cheated Jinnie Reckless’s brother, Henry out of a canary he had an eye on at the market was quite a surprise to me. It was such a beautiful throwaway detail about people’s lives and in particular of people’s characters. This incident lead to Fred mentioning his distrust of the entire Craven family and we later learned of David’s brother Willie, I *think* breaking an engagement with Maria Staniforth, Janie and Jinnie’s cousin.

Broken engagements are not in the records, but finding out in a small obituary in the newspaper that Willie’s first wife had died the year before - suddenly brought a new perspective into that particular mystery. All of my reasoning that Willie’s grief, and Maria’s compassion for him had brought about the ill-fated engagement is entirely conjecture but I think you can see why I went with that interpretation.

Erm, finding out that Fred quite likely had Trigeminal Neuralgia was a bit of shock, albeit that was a personal reflection rather than anything to do with their story, but that was pretty wild.

In terms of the amount of research helping the narrative, making sense of even a little obscure detail can take quite a lot of effort and I don’t always manage it, I’ve mentioned before if I can not resolve it I’ll redact it from the podcast.

I think the recent Cutler’s Company connection needed the most research and yet I can’t claim to have done all of it by myself - that was done a while ago by my distant cousin, Rosamund Du Cane in her book about the Staniforth’s —  Sicklesmith’s and Spear Carriers. She mainly focuses on another branch of the family, but there were enough pieces in her book that gave me a massive leg up into working out how my ancestors connected into hers and how they were involved w such an important part of Sheffield’s trade. That was awesome.

Run_Martini on instagram asked:
"One of the things that has surprised me so much is how amazing the postal service was in the 1880s! I know that in a previous episode you've chatted about it but do you have any other information. How was it so good? Was the service the same all over the country? Was it an act of Parliament? What was the equivalent in price to today? I often wonder how Janey could afford sending so many letters. Without this service, the story would not have been the same!"

Well as I said before I think I should avoid being an inferior historian, and the best way I should answer a part of your question would be to continue with the focus on Janie. Although she doesn’t ever mention it, Janie did seem to have a bit of money, it’s possible she had an allowance from her father or was able to petition her parents for some money, as she buys Fred gifts, has some funds for clothes shopping and train tickets —  a stamp for a letter would be the least of her expenses. Frustratingly none of the envelopes from their letters has survived. I do have a couple of envelopes from other people letters, and a postcard of Fred’s that was sent from his football club back in Sheffield for January 1882 requesting him to play - the ‘apenny stamp is preprinted on the post card. Letters with a normal amount of paper in them have postages stamps for a penny. The National Archives Currency Converter says that a penny in 1880 would now be worth 28 pence. Let’s say Janie was averaging 3 letters a week - that’s only threp-ance, less than a pound in today’s money. The only comment I can find anywhere about the frequency of the letters, is nothing to do with the expense, and was back in February 1882 when Fred wrote:

“I was very pleased to hear from you this morning love, it has as you say, seemed an awful long time since the last. I think we could not love, if we followed your mother’s suggestion of only one a week. It is not to be thought of.”

So I think we can assume from this, that for Fred and Janie at least, the expense of staying in touch was fairly trivial. As for the quality of the postal service, the frequency was amazing - particularly in the big cities, several deliveries a day. Villages further out not on train lines had fewer services. But there was still a need for even more frequency - because telegrams were huge at this point, and this bit surprised me, the telephone was gaining traction. I mention this as there’s an emergency coming up in the next season at Fred’s works that requires them to telephone for Mr Cooper while he’s in London, however that’s getting spoilery and will have to wait until the next season of the podcast.

Run Martini also said: "What would be really useful for me is some sort of glossary of all the characters that come and go. Something that I could refer to when a name returns that hasn't been mentioned by Fred or Janie for a long time. Sometimes I just can't remember! Not sure how that could fit into a podcast tho? "

Well I’d like to have a go at doing a couple of background podcasts, the working title of which is currently ‘The ‘Wellingtons’ and the Warburtons’. I thought I’d call it that as I’d noticed that the family group of the Staniforths and Recklesses are referred to as the Wellingtons by Fred and Janie occasionally - in reference to the Wellington pub in Darnall. I’d like to include a grouping of family and friends located in Handsworth and Darnall, I should also do a sort of who’s who in Middlesbrough too. I guess I could try drawing chart of some kind. It is rather expansive isn’t it. We are used to writers condensing stuff so we don’t get lost and real life is a lot more complex isn’t it.

Becca from Ely asks:
“As you tell their biography are you experiencing it too as they go through it do you get caught up in the story as well, or, do you think you are just watching them and have a responsibility to tell what you see.”

Oh what a flippin great question Becca!

Gosh I am absolutely experiencing it! It’s impossibly not to. When I think back to discovering Emma drunk on the floor and their father James ‘crying like a child’ or the drama of the family wedding that got rather spoiled with a bloody carriage crash of all things. I am so completely involved and I really have to discipline myself to step back a little. I think that’s important to be a good storyteller, but I’d be lying to myself if I thought I was an unbiased observer. Also I think it’s important for me to try and preserve those moments too - in such a way that you can feel as is you are experiencing it too. These were real people describing real events and real feelings. It such a rare opportunity to experience that with them and that’s kinda the whole point of the podcast.

So we are almost at the end of this Q&A, just time to include this last suggestion on the future of the podcast from ‘A’ on mastodon who said:
"[Why not] broaden the scope? [For example a] Google maps style virtual tour of their walks, addresses, workplaces etc, possibly with photos of locations. Recordings and lyrics of their music, possibly including programmes of things they attended -- you could make playlists. "

I love this! Well I have actually started work on this and I’m the process of putting together two playlists that hopefully will be on youtube and spotify - I’ll announce it on instagram and in an update podcast when it is ready. First I want you to be able to play all the lovely piano music that I use as the soundtrack on the podcast, Secondly there will be the playlist from the songs that Fred sang, the music Janie played and any operas and shows that I can find that they mention in the letters. I have recently found some copyright free recording of the famous Victorian baritone,  Charles Santley - a world-class opera singer who Fred went to see sing as part of his Christmas celebrations in back in 1878 - that was mentioned back in episode 3 of the first season of the podcast.

So in a moment I’m going to close out with one of those recordings, but for now, let me just say thank you for all your questions and brilliant suggestions, and thank you so much for listening to My Love Letter Time Machine. Please continue to share the podcast, and don’t forget to join me over on the instagram - that’s mylovelettertimemachine all one word and you can write to me at mylovelettertimemachine at gmail dot com. For those of you brave enough to stick it out on twitter you can find me at Ingi spelt 1 ngi, that’s the number one then n g i. I don’t just write about the podcast over there though so be aware.

I’ll drop by in the Summer with a couple of bonus episodes and we’ll be back  in September with the last of the letters and continue the rest of their story. My Love Letter Time Machine was written and produced by me, and the title music is Delicate Waltz by Neil Cross.

So here to see us out is a 1903 recording of Charles Santley singing the famous Non piu' andrai aria from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro.

© Ingrid Birchell Hughes 2023