Season 5, episode 1. September 9th-11th 1882. We are now properly into the run up to Janie and Fred's wedding in four weeks time, and Fred offers what some might consider unwise opinions into what his bride should or shouldn't be wearing. Fortunately his letter arrives after Janie has already ordered her wedding dress.Support the show
Welcome back to My Love Letter Time Machine, Hi, I’m Ingrid Birchell Hughes, and I’m serialising the love letters of my great great Grandparents, Fred Shepherd and Janie Warburton. Travel 140 years back in time with me now where we take a look at Victorian history through their eyes and today Fred makes what some might think a rather foolish attempt to lay down the law over the style of Janie’s wedding dress.
[“There must be no bustles or crinolettes !”]
I’d like to dedicate this season of the podcast to my dear step-father, John Fraiser Cox, who died this Summer. He was Fred and Janie’s great grandson-in-law and was part of my family for 27 years. He was always so encouraging of my creative endeavours and I miss him deeply.
Welcome to Season 5 of My Love Letter Time Machine! It’s wonderful to be back. Before we get back into the detail of Fred and Janie’s life I thought it might be a good idea to check in with global events, because the end of August and the beginning of September of 1882 were a rather dramatic couple of weeks.
Firstly, the 20th August, in a tent erected next to the unfinished Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, Moscow, saw the World premier of Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. Written to commemorate Russia’s defeat of Napoleon, the performance heard the cannons being fired for the very first time during the now famous finale. It remains one of his most played pieces of music to this day.
Cannons also rang out during that Summer in Egypt, as Britain was not yet done with doing colonialisms and the latest came in the form of the Anglo-Egyptian war and the brutal bombardment of the city of Alexandria. Supposedly in response to local unrest concerning the Suez Canal, this culminated in the British occupation of Cairo on the 13th September 1882. Gladstone’s government formed a controversial protectorate over Egypt and this uncomfortable state of affairs remained in place for next 74 years until the Suez Crisis in 1956.
Over in the United States, the advance of electricity hit a major milestone that September, when the world’s first commercial power station, Pearl Street Station, was brought into service in Manhattan, New York. It was built by the Edison Illuminating Company and Thomas Eddison himself flipped the switch.
You might remember that back in the first season of the podcast, we discovered that the first ever electrically lit football match had taken place in Sheffield in 1878, a proof of concept that had possibly influenced Blackpool the following year in becoming the first municipality in the world to have public street lighting. And now, here we are, another three years on, witnessing the unquestionable arrival of the electrical age and in many ways the birth of world we live in now.
It was reported in the Sheffield Telegraph on Thursday 7th September 1882 as follows, see if you can spot how the writer valiantly tries to describe what a light bulb is:
ELECTRIC LIGHTING NEW YORK. The first experiment lighting sections of the City with Edison’s incandescent electric lamps was successful on Monday evening. Mr. Edison has laid 18 miles of wire in pipes and placed 16,000 lamps in stores and offices. The work has been completed in about a third of this section, and 5000 lamps along six miles of wire were burning last night. The circuit including the Times and Herald buildings and some large offices. In all these the light was soft, perfectly steady, and seemed more evenly distributed than gas burners, while it gave out only a fifteenth of the heat. The expense will be a trifle less. The lamp circuits have a porcelain shade over an air-tight pear-shaped ground-glass globe four inches in diameter, in which is a carbon horse-shoe. All the subscribers express satisfaction with the experiment. Lights half-a-mile from the supply station burned as brightly as those in the station. When the work in the section is completed 22,000 lamps will be supplied from one station.
Meanwhile, back in Handsworth, and Middlesborough, dramas are on a much smaller scale as Janie and Fred are now in full swing for the final preparations of setting up home, and their wedding, which for them will take place in just over four weeks time. We rejoin their story with Janie’s approval over Fred closing on the rental of what will be their first home.
Saturday morning Sept 9th 1882
I received your welcome letter this morning for which I thank you love. I wish I could have been at Mr Marston’s with you then we could have had another game at Whist. I quite enjoyed the quiet evening we spent there, in fact I think I shall like all our friends there.
I should like to have seen you so much darling but you did quite right to go to Malton has you had promised Mr Banks. You know love you will have me all together soon + then won’t you be tired of me? I think I hear you say “no not if you are good.” I will be so good, we shall be as happy as the days are long. I do yearn for the time to come love when I can be with you, for instead of only a month since you went away, it seems six.
Father is not so well this morning he has had a very poor night. I think he has got cold with going out too much in the damp but with a little care I think he will soon be better.
The pain in my side is quite better love I think it was having to stand in the wet at the Flower Show + getting cold I will not be laid up if I can help it love.
My darling there is no doubt about my loving you for I love you more than ever + I wish I was with you I would tell you so + giving you such a loving kiss, you will have some stored up me won’t you husband.
I was so sorry to give you such two short letters love but you know I would have given longer ones if I could, the one I sent yesterday was disgraceful there was so many blots I wrote it in the room + it was nearly dark + I had no blotting paper so you must please excuse as I had only two or three minutes to write it in.
I am glad the house agent will pay half the expenses of papering + painting. I think it will be a very nice house by your account love. I am glad the passage goes straight through [to the kitchen] it is much better + it is a consideration to have the gas fittings in. I do not think the house dear love, our Williams pay £21 for theirs without rates. I know it is a little more than you intended giving love but I think you could not have done better. We can remove if we find it is too much but I don’t think we shall love. I think we shall manage that nicely.
I am glad Mr Cooper stuck up for you [about the Company Secretary] so well love + hope that everything will go on satisfactory.
You would feel put out at the thought of having to do all the work over again after working over so many days. I hope the other clerk will take some work off your hands, the strain is too much. I am sorry you are not well + I am glad you are going to Redcar my darling for a little fresh air. I hope it will set you to rights. I think it would just set me up if I could go with you.
I will try to imagine I am there enjoying the sea breezes with you + that we are having a kiss when we think there is nobody looking, do you remember us being in front of Mr Glover + Annie on the sands + having two or three, we had a happy day hadn’t we love?
I must give up now I have a few jobs to do before I go to Sheffield and it is nearly time I was getting ready.
I remain my darling husband
Your loving true + faithful
In the next from Fred, he seems to come down a little severe on Janie for a couple of things, including her opening a letter from Fred Johnson, addressed to them both, that accompanied his wedding gift of cutlery. How was Janie to know that she wasn’t supposed to open the letter - especially under those circumstances?
Septbr 10th 1882
My own darling Wife
I received your welcome letter yesterday love for which I thank you. It is very nice to have one every morning even if it is short - + I cannot complain this week love that I have not received any.
I wish I could have been with you love on Friday night to take you for a walk, it was very nice here, + scorching hot yesterday. I hope it will be something like it next month love when we take our little holiday – if it is we shall enjoy it, but we shall enjoy being together no matter what sort of weather it is.
I received your nice long letter this morning darling for which I thank you very much, it was quite one of the old sort.
I am very glad to hear that Fred [Johnson] has been as good as his word so soon, + pleased that [the knives and cutlery] suit you so well love; if they do that they are sure to suit me. I am very much obliged to Fred for his acceptable present. Has he gone back to school yet love, or is he staying at home? I should like to write to him but I do not know where to write to.
I should liked to have looked through the Cutlers’ Hall with you my darling. I have heard mother speak of it as being very fine, though of course that is not so much in my way perhaps as yours, I am glad that you saw it love, because there is no Cutler’s Feast in this neighbourhood.
Your curiosity got the better of your judgement love in opening Fred’s letter, as it might not have been all that you had anticipated. In any case you ought to have sent it to me or kept it (as (it was intended until the wedding day. However, it is done now so it is no use saying anything about it. By Eve’s curiosity you know sin was brought into the world.
You did some wonderfully good time in going to Woodhouse, love, almost as good as we used to do in the old days.
I think after all now love that you were quite right before that Tom Hughes would be the best for Annie Laverack + then Ted can be with Miss Dalton, + I will ask him at once, + if he declines I can then ask Ted. You see you did not mention Ted at first, + I thought you meant to leave him out altogether. You must forgive me love for misjudging you. I wish I was with you love + then we could talk it over. It would save us a lot of trouble. I think sometimes, that for all we write such long letters there are lots of things we should like to say + cannot very well in a letter.
I know your weakness for a “nice” wedding love as you call it, + so must give up mine, for it was always my great desire to be married quietly, without any bother or fuss – for it is not the same as if we were going to occupy a prominent position in society. When we get away everybody will have forgotten us in a couple of months + perhaps sneer at our attempt to do the thing in such a large scale. You must remember this wifie, there must be no bustles, crinolettes, padding or anything of that for I detest such miserable little expedients + have no desire to marry a combination of pads + bustles + would much rather you were your own natural dear little lovable loving self than a fashionable make up. Excuse the strong language love, as I feel strongly on this point.
You know I shall not get tired of you you little dear. How can I if you do your duty. I shall love you more.
I am sorry to hear that your father is not so well, + hope he will be better soon love, he ought to take more care of himself I think. I am very pleased to hear that you are all right again my darling, for it is bad to think that you are not well + me not there to comfort you. I shall have a lot of kisses stored up for you my little wife + do not know how we shall be able to get them all in. I will gladly excuse your blotted letter love.
I am pleased you think the house will do love, I think we shall be able to afford it very nicely + it is something after all love, to live in a nice house in a decent neighbourhood.
I went down to Redcar yesterday love, + very pleased that I did so as it has done me a world of good. I really felt on Friday as if I was about to break down altogether, + was awfully low spirited + weak. I could not make it out. I was afraid I was going to have a serious illness yesterday if it had not been pay day I think I should not have gone to the office.
It was a beautiful day at Redcar – they were playing football on the racecourse, but I did not play in the match. I just kicked the ball about a bit + that did me good. Then we had tea with Harrison + then went for a row in a boat which did me good.
I was up at 8 this morning + feel very much better love.
I am going to Marston’s to tea this afternoon. He is left in charge at the works during Mr Cooper’s absence.
I wish you could have been with me yesterday darling but you will be with me soon + I think we might manage a few days either at Redcar or Saltburn. It would not cost us much, + then we should be able to start fair with increased strength.
I do remember our kissing on the sand in front of Mr Glover + Annie love, do I ever forget anything that has happiness between us my darling?
With respect to the wedding cards love, I do not think we should have any need to send any because it only means that we should be pleased to see them at our house. [with] those friends at Sheffield that would be almost impossible, + the friends we have here will not need them.
I have been thinking if we had some printed with a few words on similar to what you put in the paper from your Fred it would. Tell me love what you think about it, + also what to put in. I could get them printed for nothing, + it would save a lot of trouble. About 100 would do I should think.
I will send you the list this week of my friends.
I wish it was next Thursday love, I think I should be better if you were here my wife.
I think I shall have to get a new suit love, as the serge I have been working in sometime + it would scarcely be good enough to go about with, + it would not do to wear the other all the time; Besides I should have to get some trousers in any case, + I need not pay for it then unless I liked.
We shall have £40 altogether love, or very near to start with – do you think we can manage everything including a few days at Saltburn.
Please tell me what you think about everything that I have asked you – as I think there are several things in my other letters you have not answered yet, but I cannot remember them just now.
The [marriage] banns will have to be published the Sunday after next wont they love?
I remain my own darling Wife,
Your loving true + faithful husband
P.S. Excuse the ink + writing love, the ink has been watered until you can scarcely see it, + I feel out of form for writing this morning.
NB I love you more than ever.
I do wonder if Fred’s frustration over wedding details is partly to do with how removed he is from all the proceedings, and has practically zero control over anything happing with his own wedding — it all seems to be coming out in these somewhat dictatorial edicts - in this case what his bride is going to be wearing. When he wrote “there must be no bustles, crinolettes, padding or anything of that for I detest such miserable little expedients + have no desire to marry a combination of pads + bustles + would much rather you were your own natural dear little lovable loving self than a fashionable make up.” Fred wasn’t actually expressing a controversial opinion. Being disparaging about women’s fashions is not just a modern phenomenon, and appears to be a tradition going back centuries. I do wonder if Fred had chanced upon a mass produced article doing the rounds of the British and Irish newspapers that Summer. It came up 36 times in a search on the British Newspaper archive so I think we can assume it had blanket coverage, I think the gist of it is basically ‘oh no, please don’t let this be the return of the dreaded crinoline!’ and reads as follows:
CRINOLETTES. The Medical Press and Circular refers to the new vagary of fashion styled "the crinolette," not because of any actual medical interest that It possesses, than because of the medical interest of certain changes in dress which it apparently portends. The crinolette cannot with propriety be called the thin edge of the wedge of crinoline, but it may, perhaps, be correctly described as the first elevation on the ascent of that mountain of absurdity which was such a nuisance twelve or fifteen years ago. The crinolette is simply a ludicrous excrescence [...] and must be highly inconvenient, being something in the nature of a birdcage stuffed under the dress and fixed in the region of the archaic bustle, but it does not in any way interfere with functional activity nor endanger health. With crinoline, however, the case is far different. That was not only a social vexation of the first magnitude, tending to the dissernation of nervous irritation by universal ruffling of temper and creation of embarrassment, but it was a cause of disease and a danger to life. By exposing the lower half of the body to cold air and chilling, it helped to set up various disorders, and to induce general debility, and by spreading out the inflammable materials of clothing in such a way that they were beyond control, and almost beyond cognisance, it kept up a constant risk of conflagration whenever an open fireplace was approached. Many lives were sacrificed owing to crinoline-inflated skirts catching fire. It behoves all sensible women firmly to set their faces against any attempt at the reintroduction of this pernicious fashion. …”
…and so the article continues but I think we’ve probably heard enough.
We often think of industrialisation in terms of leaving its mark on the big things like railways and steam ships - but innovation also was happening in more intimate products too. Mass produced sprung steel in corsetry and frames for crinolines and bustles instead of whalebone made ever changing fashion trends very affordable. The famous bustle sillouette - that of having an almost shelf like protrusion from your rear upon which to hang and drape your skirts - saw its heyday during the 1870s and 1880s.
During the early 1880s there was a bit of a lull in the fashionability of the angular bustle and skirts shapes became softer, and instead were arranged to fall more softly in a flowing shape to the rear, supported by the crinolette that Fred so detested. Our Janie was extremely interested in clothes, and her ability to acquiesce with Fred’s demands here may well be in part that she would have considered the bustle frankly out of fashion. However during 1883, the bustle came back in force, in all it’s right-angled glory and I wonder how Janie and Fred handled that turn of events.
Anyway Janie’s next letter is the first one she wrote after going for her wedding dress shopping trip with all her friends that Saturday and the dress she has chosen sounds as if it will meet with Fred’s approval.
September 11th 1882
My own darling husband
I received your very welcome letter this morning for which I thank you love.
We did our shopping on Saturday + a very enjoyable afternoon we had. Jinnie was quite excited over it, as usual, she could not keep still a minute.
I did not buy your ties or gloves as it I thought I would get them another time.
We all had tea at Evans […] We came to Darnall by 5.20 train + I went up with Mr Allen. Annie was obliged to go before as she had a letter to write + to post that night. I got home about nine.
I was going down to Annie Wortleys yesterday afternoon but she called about half past two in the trap + she had to go to Clara’s. George Denton + Clara have been to the Isle of Man this last week went and he was so poorly they were obliged to come home sooner than they thought of doing, he Annie was going to walk back so I walked down there to meet her + got all the way, George does look bad, he is going as fast as possible I think, he has such a racking cough.
When we got to the Boars Schools we met Harriet + Miss Watson, they asked me if it was true that I was going to be married, next Wednesday they had heard, they wished every happiness, we stood talking at ten minutes then they wished me good bye + gave me a kiss.
I hope we shall have nice weather this next month love, when we take our little holiday. We shall enjoy it wet or fine.
Fred Johnson said he was going back to school this last Saturday, so it will be best to write there love.
I am very sorry I opened Freds letter.
I have been making the bridesmaids hats to day but they do not look so nice as I expected they would.
I think Ted would like to walk with Miss Dalton best, so if you can get Tommy to consent to come I would ask him. I wish we were together love so that we could talk everything over, there is lots of things we should like to say but cannot very well in a letter.
I can promise you that I shall not wear any bustles, crinolettes or anything of that sort so love you will not marry a fashionable make up, but my as you say my dear little lovable loving little self so that you will know as soon as you see me that I am all genuine.
Father is very much better to day he ought to take more care of himself.
It is something to live in a nice house + decent neighbourhood love.
I am glad my darling you think going to Redcar has done you good. I think I should have a doctors advice if you do not feel better as he might soon set you to rights now + if you let it go on it might end into a serious illness. Whatever should I do then love. I do hope you will soon be better. Annie Laverack + I are going down to Annie Wortleys now. She is waiting for me. I will give you everything in full to morrow if possible love.
I love you more than ever + remain my darling husband.
Your loving true + faithful wife,
The wedding discussions continue next week, while Janie is fretting about the colour of the bridemaids’ hats, Fred is more worried about the ever increasing number of bridesmaids. He is also making inroads to the set up of their home on Milton street, arranging for wallpapering and getting the gas put on. It’s all beautifully domestic and I can’t wait to share it with you.
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