My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History

The Bridesmaid Proliferation Problem

September 17, 2023 Ingrid Birchell Hughes Season 5 Episode 2
My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History
The Bridesmaid Proliferation Problem
Show Notes Transcript

Season 5, episode 2. September 12th-16th 1882. Today we have a row about bridesmaids - Fred continues to try and rein in Janie’s wedding plans to absolutely no avail. 1882 was a Royal Wedding year, and while Janie would have been fascinated, she may have been more influenced by accounts of society weddings taking place in Yorkshire. Bridesmaids in hats seem to have been very popular. 

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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 have a row about bridesmaids - Fred continues to try and rein in Janie’s wedding plans to absolutely no avail. 

{The Bridesmaid Proliferation Problem]
1882 was a Royal wedding year. The youngest son of Queen Victoria, Prince Leopold married Princess Helen of Waldeck and Pyrmont that April. You might remember back in Season 1 of the podcast, Fred got to see Prince Leopold when he came on the Royal Train to visit Sheffield for the purpose of opening Firth College. Then as now, there were acres of column inches devoted to the Royal wedding, pictures of all the bridesmaids appeared in the London Illustrated News, and gushing accounts of the proceedings were carried in the regional as well as the national papers. I’m sure Janie and her friends would have been fascinated but in terms of what sort of weddings were likely to influence Janie, I’m sure she would have seen some of the details in the accounts of local weddings more achievable. 

For example here’s the account of a Yorkshire society wedding that appeared in the Sheffield Daily Telegraph in July 1882:

“MARRIAGE OF MISS H. M. ELLISON. The marriage of Mr. Edmund William Eyre of Black Rock, Dublin, to Miss Hilda Mary Ellison, youngest daughter Mr. M. J. Ellison, of Beech Hill, was celebrated in St Maria's Church yesterday, in the presence of a very large number of friends. The bride, who was given away her father, wore a dress of white satin, with broche skirt, and white satin train, trimmed with Brussels lace and orange blossom. There were four bridesmaids, Miss E. Ellison, Miss Eyre, Miss W, Ellison, and Miss K, Ellison. They wore dresses of pale blue nun's cloth, trimmed with […] lace, and hats to correspond, and carried bouquets of red roses. The bridegroom's presents to the bridesmaids consisted ivory ball tablets with silver pencils. Mr. Michael Egan was best man. The marriage ceremony was performed by the rev. Bernard J. Wake cousin to the bride […] As the bridal party entered the church the organist. Mr Kirk, played the bridal march from “Lohengrin” […] At the conclusion of the service Mr. Kirk played the usual " Wedding March " The breakfast took place at Beech Hill, and afterwards the happy couple left to spend the honeymoon at the Lakes and Scotland. In the afternoon the wedding party proceeded to Bakewell. The presents were very numerous and costly, and included a fine pearl necklace presented by the Duke and Duchess of Norfolk, and worn by the bride.”

I’m not suggesting that Janie would see all this as within her reach, but I’m willing to bet that she would have certainly kept an eye on fashionable trends. Unlike the Royal bridesmaids who, from details in a painting commemorating Prince Leopold’s wedding, we know wore veils and flowers in their hair, however lots of society bridesmaids reported on in the Sheffield newspapers this year mention them wearing hats. From Janie’s comments in her letters, it looks as if the dresses were the responsibility of the bridesmaids themselves, and her choice seems influenced by the clothes the women already have, but Janie decides her bridesmaids will also be wearing hats and has a go at making them herself.

However before we get back into the wedding minutia, Fred is having an interesting time as he and the new company Secretary of the North Eastern Steel Works, continue to size each other up. 

Albert Terrace
Linthorpe Road
Septbr 12th 1882

My own darling Wife,
I received your very welcome letter this morning for which I thank you love. I should have answered it by tonight’s post but we have been so busy all day today that I really could not find time.
I expected that when the Secretary came he would relieve of a lot of work + especially of the letters but instead of that he reads + then hands half over to me with the remark “Mr Shepherd you will attend to these” – the others he sends down to the works to Marston + which Marston brings up about five o’clock + tells me what he thinks about them + I frame the letters. Of course do not write the letters but I have to dictate them which takes up a lot of my time.
The Secretary does not come until half past ten + leaves at half past four, so that he contrives to have a very decent time of it.

I should be inclined to strike against this turning over to me of the work, if it were not that this is just the experience that I want + which I expect will be very useful to me hereafter. For actual correspondence, share businesses + Ledger work I was entirely ignorant of which I came up here – but am not so much so now. I was considered good all round before I left B.B + Co but I think I shall soon be if I go on, + perhaps capable of taking a Secretary’s duties which is the next step higher, and which I mean to be if possible. When you come to think that our Secretary has £450 a year, I think it is worth while being one, You see with him turning over so much to me it gives me the actual duties to perform, of course without the credit, but that I do not mind. We have got a new man to day, + I think he will be useful to me. I have not so much of the drudgery of clerking to do now, the others do that, so that I have realised one of my old dreams[. -T]he next one, that is to do nothing but sign one’s name I have not got to yet.
You must excuse me dilating on which must be very uninteresting to you, unless it is that with concerning me it interests my little wife.

I will now turn to your letter love.
I am pleased that you had such an enjoyable afternoon last Saturday love, I expected you would have, seeing that it was for the all important day in your life. I want my wife though to remember in all her preparations that marriage is not only a day on which to be great, but that it is a Divine institution ordained by God, for the good of mankind + as such must be regarded to have a right conception of it. 
You will be able to get the ties any time you go to Sheffield love. I should not trouble about that just yet.
I am very sorry to hear that George Denton is so very ill love, I thought he would get over it all right but it seems that is not to be so. I hope my darling that you will not have a tenth part of the trouble that Clara has had. I should like to think that you would not have any, but everybody seem to have some of one kind or another + I suppose we shall not be the exception. However my wife + I will try to bear up together under it, wont we my darling?

Harriet + Miss Watson seem to have anticipated our wedding a little [early] love – I expect it will have been canvassed pretty freely both in Handsworth, Darnall + Attercliffe, among our numerous friends + acquaintances, but unfortunately we cannot help that.
I am sorry that you were not so successful as you could wish with the hats love – I expect you had seen such nice ones in Sheffield that yours would look ordinary by the side of them but they are sure to be nice if you make them.
I have not written to Tommy Hughes yet love, but will do so in the first opportunity.
I am very pleased to hear that you will not go in for making up my darling, for you know it is yourself I want not the bustles etc.
I am glad to hear that your father is better love, I hope he will long keep up.
I will take your advice love if I am ill again + see a doctor about it – at present I am almost in my usual good health.
I arranged with the house agent finally today love, + enclose you a copy of the letter I sent to him. He sent me a lot of papers to choose, but they were all common + besides that dear, + I did not know how much he would be getting out of them, so I have arranged that he shall give half the money + I will do the other myself. I think I can get it done very nicely by a firm that we have done business with, + perhaps cheaper.
I shall await your letter tomorrow love after which I will give you a little more, meanwhile I love you more than ever. It wants exactly a month to day love to the day. 
I was thinking tonight when I got home, how nice it will be to have a dear little wife ready to kiss me + to be with me always. Oh love it will be like heaven to me I think to be with you always.
We shall have some happy evenings then my darling.

I forgot to reply to Jinnie’s letter love before, but you can tell her, that notwithstanding the two visions of loveliness that will be there, I shall not be in doubt who is my wife.

In the middle of Fred’s letter, one from Janie arrives, so to preserve the flow of the conversation I will drop it in here now:

September 12th 1882

My own darling husband
I have now time to give you a little more. I am very busy sewing today getting the house linen ready for our home love.

Annie Laverack + I went down to see Annie Wortley last night + she was in sad trouble. Joe had been over + made such a row, poor Annie has something to put up with.

You say love you know I have a weakness for a nice wedding + that you must give up yours for a quiet one. We will have it as quiet as we can at Handsworth. I want you to give way to another bridesmaid as I cannot very well leave Annie Wortley out, + Jinnie + Annie Laverack have got rather gloomy dresses. I want Annie to go between them as she has a nice light dress. So love you must please not say a word against it as Annie is a very old friend.

I will consider it over love about spending a day or two at Redcar or Saltburn. I have been thinking love that if we went there, how should we manage about getting the furniture, you will only have Friday + Saturday to be with me all the day, + you will only have the morning + evenings the next week, 

but we might manage to go on the Saturday morning to Redcar or Saltburn as we could get the furniture in the house on the Friday + then come back refreshed to work on Monday morning + stay with Mrs Gordon for about a week, then I think I could get the house in something like order. 

I am afraid I have not made my meaning very clear love but I think you will be able to unravel it. I have no time to write it over again + put it clearer.
When you go down to our house love, I mean ours in Milton Street, will you measure the length + width of the fronts windows then I can make the blinds, + the length of the back you can send afterwards.
I think love that it would be best to have a few cards printed similar to what I put in our Freds. I have thought that it would not be hardly necessary to have the other I will tell you to morrow what to put on. I have not time for more to day. 
I remain my darling husband
Your loving true + faithful wife

Septbr 13th 1882
My darling,
I received your welcome letter this morning for which I thank you.
I suppose I must not say anything about the additional bridesmaid, but I must say that I think it is unnecessary. I cannot help thinking that if you had stuck to one you would have been spared three. You see love, what I wish to avoid is people thinking that we wish to show off in any way. You know how uncharitable people are in these things + I wanted to spare them being so if possible besides show is quite unnecessary. However you do not belong to me yet altogether so that I cannot possibly stop it, however much I might wish to do so. I have been thinking whether you originally intended to have three + have taken this means of breaking it to me. If it is so it does not speak well of your opinion or respect for me love.
Shall you stop at three now love or have you another in reserve? 

With reference to the projected excursion to somewhere for a few days, I don’t quite see even with your arrangement that we shall gain much time as it would probably be four o’clock on the Friday when we got there + if we went to Redcar on the Saturday morning it would not give us much time. Do you intend that anything shall come the week before love as the house will be quite ready by October + we could put them there or Mr Marston or Mr Davis would be very pleased to store us anything. 
I wish I was there with you darling + then I could help you to arrange things.
I will send you the sizes of the blinds tomorrow love. 

Mr Marston was asking me on Sunday what would be the most suitable present. I told him I had not the least idea – can you tell me love what I shall say to him when he asks me again?

I have seen the house again today – he has promised to allow me £1.10.0 towards papering the house. I think I can get it done nicely for £3 love. I shall get the price tomorrow + will let you know.
I remain
Your loving true + faithful husband

September 14th 1882

My own darling husband
We have been awfully busy all day. I have not time to give you much to night but will give you a longer one for Sunday.
I received your nice long letter this morning…Our maid will be home to night so I will answer it for Sunday. You say Mr Marston asked what would be the most suitable acceptable present love. I thought I had better answer that as he might see you + ask you again but I really cannot tell you. I think you had better leave it to him to get what he likes.
I am pleased you are better love.
They will think I am quite a stranger at your house as I have not been this week but I shall call tomorrow as I come back from Mrs Flears.
I love you more than ever + remain
Your loving true + faithful wife

Royal Exchange
Septbr 15 1882

My own darling Wife
I have received your two letters of yesterday for which I thank you very much.  You must not be bothered about me wifie as I feel quite well now my darling.
With regarding to the wedding cards I will have some printed. I suppose what you have given me will be the thing wont it love? I wish our wedding was next week love for I do want you to look after me, + I to look after you too love.
I will tell Mr Marston to get what he likes as you suggest love. If you called at our house to day love, please tell me how they all were.
I am sorry to say I have not got the sizes of the window blinds yet, you see I have no rule here and the painter was going to get them for me, but I have not heard from him since – I shall be able to tell you I think in my Sunday’s letter.
We had an awful wet day yesterday, but today is beautiful – I should like a walk with you my darling to night, but I must wait a little while + then we can have one every night love.
I remain my darling Wife
Your loving true + faithful husband
P.S. I went to the Gas Office yesterday + signed the book for the meter to be fixed.
You must excuse the shortness of letter love, I will give you a longer one for Sunday. 

September 16th 1882
My own darling husband
I received your welcome letter this morning for which I thank you love + I quite excuse the shortness of it. You have had a good many short ones from me this last two weeks darling but we have been so busy we have not got straightened yet. We have had two bedrooms papered painted + papered so we could not get on with the cleaning of them + our John is painting the clubroom. We have got the little room done but the far room is upset yet father is going to have that back cleaned. We have not had it done since we came to the house so I think it has stood very well. We shall look quite smart for the wedding shan’t we love? They are not doing it because of that it is because it really wants it.
I think what I told you to have on the cards is quite the thing love.
I wish I could have gone for a walk with you for a walk my darling last night there is nothing I should have enjoyed better. I wish you could have brought me from Darnall like you used to do. We are having splendid weather here it has been grand for Doncaster races.

I will now answer your other letter. I thought the Secretary would take some work off your shoulders love but he seems as though he intended to have an easy time of it, but never mind if the work is useful to you I know you will get through it love + I hope the new man will be very useful to you. I think you will realize all your old dreams in time my darling even to having nothing to do but sign your name. Anything that concerns you at all interests me, your wife love, so never be afraid of wearying me with anything.

I expect we shall have our share of trouble darling but we shall be together + will help each other to bear up under it. I think George Denton is a little better but he is going as fast as possible.

I have do not think they have canvassed our wedding very much in Handsworth love. I have heard very little about it we have kept it as quiet as possible, of course it will have to come out on Sunday week.

The hats were too dark so Jinnie is going to wear her cream coloured one + Annie one of the same kind.

Father still keeps better. I am glad you did not have the papers the house agent offered you, as your choice will be best, it was a good idea love to have the money instead.
It will be nice to be at home to welcome you + be with you always we shall have some happy evenings. 

I have no more bridesmaids in reserve nor did I intend having three at the first. So please do not be cross love because I love you + did not intend to displease you.
I do wish you were to night love I should like to see you if only for a few minutes, I must wait patiently for a little longer + then I shall always be with you.

With reference to the projected excursion to somewhere for a few days love, you say we shall not get to Middlesbrough until four o’clock, aa I thought we would not stop at York if we go to Redcar, but go straight through to Middlesbrough on our wedding day + it would save a little expense + see York some other time. I should like to go away the same night. I will tell you nearer the time love about the things coming the week before, it is very good of Mr Marston + Mr Davis offering to store them for us. I wish you were here my darling to help me to arrange everything. I love you more than ever + remain my darling husband
Your loving true + faithful Wife

You know I’m really not comfortable with Fred accusing Janie of manipulating him about the number of bridesmaids, I don’t think she’s like that at all and Fred should know better frankly. Although the issue of the bridesmaids has now been resolved, and for once to Janie’s liking rather than Fred’s, next time the issue of how many groomsmen suddenly crops up. We also find out about the banns of marriage being published - including a rare letter from Janie’s brother John. And Janie offers to make a generous sacrifice in order to help her mother-in-law-to-be. 

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