Season 5, episode 3. 17th - 19th September 1882. Content warning for Victorian alcohol abuse. Confusion arises over a mystery groomsman, Fred is arranging for their banns of marriage to be published, and Janie has to deal with a family quarrel when Emma’s drinking takes a turn for the worse.
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 is arranging for their banns of marriage to be published, and Janie has to deal with a huge family row when Emma’s drinking takes a turn for the worse.
[The Groomsman Confusion]
Please be aware that are descriptions of alcohol abuse and the effects on a family in the second half of this podcast.
Last time Fred got rather concerned the ever increasing number of Janie’s bridesmaids. The main task for the pair this week is to organise the marriage banns to be published in their respective parishes, but a confusion about their chosen Groomsmen arises:
Septbr 17th 1882
My darling Janie
I received your welcome letter this morning for which I thank you love.
[The Cross Keys will] as you say love be quite smart at the wedding, with new paper + paint almost throughout. I hope you will not have to do much towards it love or it will not give you much time to get ready for the “great day”.
I will see about the cards printing this next week love, I can get them done very nicely I think at Parson + Brailsford’s in Sheffield + I will tell them to send them to your house.
We shall as you say my darling be together if troubles come, + we will bear them together my little wife.
I am glad you have not heard much talk about the wedding in Handsworth love, I wish we could keep them from knowing at all, for I expect after next Sunday you will hear plenty of it + perhaps be insulted into the bargain. I hope the banns being published will not prevent you from going to Church, at least at night, for there is nothing to be afraid of, + I think you are not ashamed of being married or him you are to marry love, are you?
I am glad to hear that you will not have any more bridesmaids than three love, I was not cross darling.
I shall be quite agreeable to come straight thro’ + not stop at York love but I do not think either Redcar or Saltburn will be very nice in October as we were down there on Friday + it was very chilly at night + dark at seven o’clock, + then it will be dark at six I expect, but we shall see love what sort of weather it is + then if not suitable we can get the house ready in real earnest.
Perhaps after all that would be the best thing to do. We will certainly come away from Sheffield the same night.
If you have anything you could pack away in my portmanteau will you do so at once love, as I shall want to bring it down with me when I come. I cannot get everything I shall want into the little bag.
I went down to Redcar to play at football yesterday, I played about an hour + then we walked down to Saltburn. There are not many people at either place especially Saltburn. I feel rather stiff today with the unwanted exercise, but it has done me good I think.
[Annie Wortley’s] Mr Glover came up on Wednesday night, he told me he was going to be a groomsman. You never told me love of this, + he spoke as tho’ I knew all about it. He also says the Annie asked him at the feast if he could not come over to act so – you did not mention Annie at that time love.
I have not got to know the sizes of the windows yet love, I hope it is not hindering you at all waiting for them.
I shall write to your John this week + tell him to put the banns in. I wrote to Tommy Hughes last week but have not had a reply yet. I intended the banns being put here today but I cannot get to know which parish I belong to.
Your loving true + faithful husband
P.S. You omitted to tell me how they were at home? […]
I dont think you have answered my letters in full love.
For those of you not familiar with marriage law in the UK, I thought I should probably give you a quick explanation about what Marriage banns actually are. Instead of getting a marriage license as you might do in the US, if you are getting married in the Anglican Church you still have to have your banns of marriage published at either a morning or evening service every week for three weeks before the day of your wedding. (If you are having a civil wedding, ie not in church, you have to give notice instead and make a legal statement of your intention to marry at least 29 days before your intended date at your local registry office.)
Publishing the banns of marriage became a legal requirement in England and Wales in 1753 following the passing of the Clandestine Marriage Act. It had come about in an attempt to stop the heirs of those in higher society eloping, abandoning their family obligations in order to marry someone considered unsuitable. The passing of the act wasn’t completely successful as it give rise to the phenomenon of couples under the age of 21 who didn’t have their parents consent, eloping to Scotland where you could still get married without even a clergy-man. Villages just over the Scottish border became popular places where ‘irregular marriages’ could be procured, the most famous of which was Gretna Green, where couples could be married by the blacksmith (almost anyone could conduct a marriage, as long as there were two witnesses) and the blacksmiths became known as ‘Anvil Priests’. This state of affairs continued until Scotland changed the law in 1856, requiring couples to prove 21 days residence. I know I’ve gone off on a tangent here, but I did have a quick look at Gretna Green’s website and their wedding industry looks very healthy, all sorts of venues and wedding packages are available. You can even get an ‘Elopement Package’ for just £589.00 and still get married in the original blacksmiths.
Right — we really should return to Handsworth.
For Janie, the reading of the banns would have been read out in the church of St Mary’s the Virgin, which if you recall, was a mere 3 steps away from the back door of the Cross Keys. During the service the Rev Mowat would have more than likely have spoken the following words:
“I publish the Banns of Marriage between Jane Warburton of this parish, and Frederick Shepherd, of the parish of St John the Evangelist, Middlesbrough. If any of you know cause or just impediment, why these two persons should not be joined together in holy Matrimony, ye are to declare it. This is the first [second or third] time of asking.”
You’ll see from Fred’s next letter, it takes him a bit of detective work to find out which parish he belonged to:
Septbr 18th 1882
My own darling Wife
I have just a few minutes to spare so though I would commence your letter tonight, as you will no doubt expect a pretty long one from me seeing that Sunday’s was so short.
I reckon I have done some business towards housekeeping to day. 1st. I have written to your John to put the banns in there, + I have been to see the Vicar of All Saints here, he received me very cordially but it turns out that I am neither in All Saints nor Linthorpe Parish but in St John’s which is the dark looking one at the bottom of Marton Road, I shall see the Vicar tomorrow, it seems to be the thing here to see the Vicar instead of the Clerk. I think I shall go there next Sunday morning + hear the Banns published as there will be nobody but Retchford + Alvey there that will know me, + it must be curious to hear ones own Banns published.
I have also written to Pawson + Brailsford about the Cards; I know their manager + think that I can get them done very cheaply.
I have also arranged about the house being papered + painted for three pounds; we happen to have done considerable business with the Painter tc + consequently I have got the benefit of it.
While I think of it, have you written to Ted or Miss Dalton yet about the wedding. Do not forget it love, as he is one of my earliest friends. Of course, I do not know whether it will be convenient for him to be there but I should like him to have the chance. – I have not heard from Tommy Hughes yet, love.
I enclose you the dimensions of the windows taken by the paperer. The inside sizes are the sizes of the glass, if you cannot make it out, your John or your father will explain it to you I have no doubt. I feel pleased my darling to think that you will have a decent bedroom to sleep in at least, + shall I add a decent bedfellow.
A letter from Janie must have arrived at this point but appears to have gone missing. I think we can infer from Fred’s response that she must have mentioned having a painful period and cleared up the groomsman confusion.
I received your short but welcome letter this morning love. I am sorry that you were so bad last Saturday darling, + regret that I complained about the shortness of the letter. We must try to remedy you having so much pain my darling, I think it is possible to prevent it. I wish I could have been there to cheer you up my little wife – but I shall be very soon love + then your troubles will vanish.
I will excuse the shortness of this morning’s letter love as you are going to our house, let me know how they all are.
I am pleased to hear love that I was mistaken respecting Annie + Mrs Glover’s attendance at the wedding. I can quite understand you omitting it darling under the circumstances; still I thought I would mention it as it did not seem to be at all clear to me. Forgive me Wifie.
I am glad to hear that you will go to Church at least at night love - + very pleased to hear that you are not ashamed of me. I did not think you would be love – but thought I would see what you would say.
I enclose a list of the people I should like cake sending to love. It is rather extensive but I cannot very well cut it short. You will notice two addresses are out – I will get these + let you know. Of course all my relations I have left for you to deal with.
I intended giving you a good long one to day love, but we are so busy. The Secretary as usual has taken his book.
I have chosen the papers for our house love today. I think you will like them. The one for the Dining Room is like Mr Marston’s which I thought looked very nice didn’t you love?
I love you more than ever + remain
My darling Wife
Your loving true + faithful husband
In the corner of this next letter Janie has written: Our Emma has been quite drunk tonight.
September 19th 1882
My own darling Fred
I don’t know when I shall be able to give you a long letter I seem to have to hurry over them all now love.
We are very busy to day getting ready for the association dinner + it is the washing day as well.
I went down to your house yesterday to tea. Your Mother is much better again she said she was very poorley last week + little Walter has been bad too, he has been under doctor Pritchard, he does not look well at all, all the rest are quite well, John was going to work all night so I did not see him. Your mother still says she does not like to come to our wedding in a black dress love. I shall be disappointed if she does not come. I should like her to be there.
Darling could you not make her a present of one + we won’t go anywhere but go straight to Middlesbrough + get the house ready in real earnest, then what we should have spent if we went anywhere, you might give to your Mother love + and we spend could spend our honeymoon in getting our own happy little house straightened. Or give her what you think sufficient for a dress.
Your mother does not know about me asking this love.
I know love you want to save as much as possible for our home love but she will be so disappointed I know if she does not come but she does seem to have such a dislike to coming in a black one.
I called at Aunt Staniforth’s yesterday + Mr Gillingham was there he said I was to tell you Mr Rennie + he would want a glass at the wedding.
You will have heard love by this what Parish you are in, I told our John I thought you were in the parish of All Saints. I think that is the nearest Church to Albert Terrace is it not love? Mr Allen will want to know by Saturday.
I will try to answer all your letters in full later on love it is post time now.
I remain my darling husband
Your loving true + faithful wife
It’s really sweet of Janie to offer up the cost of their little honeymoon in order than her mother-in-law to be might have a dress in which she feels comfortable to attend their wedding. However I’m also aware that up til now Janie’s letters about their weekend away have been very ambivalent. She seems absolutely desperate to get her teeth into setting up their new home, and I have to acknowledge that this generous sacrifice on her part does rather feed into her desire to get on with the homemaking. We’ll find out what Fred thinks about this next time.
And now we have a rare letter from Janie’s brother John Warburton, who has graciously taken on the wedding ceremony adminstration duties on Fred’s behalf. During Janie and Fred’s courtship, John seems to have been the brother most willing to escort Janie to various places and on several occasions has sought Fred’s company out for his own sake, so I’m imagining a warm connection here. His writing is very slanted and challenging to read, there are no full stops and he doesn’t seem to write in full sentences.
Sep 19th 1882
My dear Fred
I received your reminder this morning I have seen Mr Allen he tells me he shall require the Parish you reside in that will be until the morning of the Wedding then he will require a Certificate from the Church in Middlesbrough where you had the Banns published also three + sixpence very cheap I will pay the money then you can pay me when you see me his best advice to get to know the Parish you reside in is this if supposing you reside nearest St Pauls you will be in St Pauls Parish if nearest St Marys St Marys Parish this is how they are in Sheffield if it should be the Parish Church it would be of the Parish of Middlesbrough Janey says you reside near All Saints if so it will be of the Parish of All Saints Middlesbrough.
I did not know it was on the 12th Oct they would not say only that it was Oct we have had Jennie Reckless up to try her Hat +c on also Annie Laverack I expect they we shall have a lot of that before the day. You must let us know as early as possible the Parish the latest he can allow is Saturday morning I must now conclude has I have a few more to write.
Trusting you are quite well and I will endeavour to have them put in right according to promise.
In the midst of all the business and optimism for their new life, the tragic situation with Emma rears its head again. Please be aware that this next letter of Janie’s paints a very clear and shocking picture of alcohol abuse within the family. Maria, Janie and Emma’s mother, through her own misguided way of caring, is revealed to be Emma’s enabler (although she and no one else would have understood it like that then) and the divisions in the family are laid bare in this account. I found this letter particularly distressing to read.
September 19th 1882
My very dear husband
I do wish you were here if only for a few minutes, I do want to see you; you would be such a comfort darling, you don’t know how I long for you, it is such happiness to be together, + there is not much happiness or comfort here without you but I have only three more weeks to wait before I am with you for ever, I shall be so thankful when the time is over, for love, you do not know what miserable days we have through the way in which our Emma goes on she get worse + worse.
I have not been looking after the bar much to day I have been upstairs most of the day + father has been to Sheffield + our John has been busy, so [Emma] has had the run of the bar + she has made use of every opportunity, she is getting worse + worse,
Mother has not told my father to night, it is right he should be told but it is so hard to see him suffer it nearly kills him,
we had a terrible row about her last Sunday night, she had had some drink then, at noon she said she would not wait, she got some of the drink first thing in the morning — she gets up early + goes down into the cellar + gets a lot of cellar beer + then it makes her crabby + she tries to quarrel with everybody.
Mother never can see it or she won’t see it, she went to Treeton a little before half past two she said to me before she went out, our Emma [was] not very well — if she asks for […] a little sup you must give it to her, at the same time Kate told me she had taken a pint mug down in the cellar + had had a lot of cellar beer + then either some gin or whiskey, + yet, if I tell Mother she flies at me + says I always say she has had some. She did not ask for anything so of course she did not get it, so I locked the bar cellar door as we generally do on a Sunday afternoon + kept the keys in my pocket.
I got the tea ready (+ Annie Laverack came to[o] + had a cup with me) except a tract [of water] at the fire which I left for Annie to attend to, but our Emma of her own accord took to the washing + told mother a lot of fibs about it when she came back. She sat like a great bull at the table + never spoke to Annie. She was vexed at me because she saw I had the keys + she could not get in [to the cellar] to have some more and yet we had no words for I did not speak to her.
Father could see she had had some so when Mother came back he told Mother she had, she stuck up for her + father swore + then they quarrelled,
father + I did not go to bed until half past twelve, I felt so miserable I could not go to bed, so I sat up with him,
I feel so sorry for him darling you have no idea what he has to put up with,
I did wish I could be with you for a few minutes. I felt as though I would give all I had to speak to you love just then, I do love you my darling + it is a comfort to have somebody that loves me to sympathise with me when troubles come. She is in bed now she could hardly get into bed she is so drunk, but love you will be tired of hearing about her + I am tired of writing about her love for at the best she is but a bad subject.
How nice it will be when we get our home settled love to be always together, there will be no more partings then, we shall have some happy evenings, it will be an agreeable change my darling for me, I shall try to make you so happy love + I think I shall succeed, only three more weeks to wait to our wedding day, do you think you will get off on the Tuesday night love, I should like you to be here for one day before […] all our arrangements. I expect Carrie will come the day before but I am expecting a letter from her every day,
It is bed time good night my darling good night (x) I wish I could kiss you really it would do me good.
We have got the dinner over love.
I received your letter this morning but have not time to answer it.
I remain always my darling husband
Your loving true + faithful wife
Poor poor James must no doubt, have been bitterly regretting the day that he gave John George Herrod permission to marry his eldest daughter. The alcohol dependence that emerged from Emma trying to cope with the abuse she suffered at her ex-husband’s hands is so very understandable and so very tragic. But it was this particular account from Janie that really revealed to me the dysfunctional family dynamic that had developed by this point. The bit of this letter that really got to me was Janie talking about her just sitting quietly with her father after the huge quarrel. I’m imagining them sat in front of the fire, absolutely wrung out with the emotional fallout, perhaps holding hands and saying nothing at all. It speaks so much of helplessness and defeat. Witnessing Janie’s instinctive compassion for her father is so very moving.
Her actions reminded me of the words of one of my favourite writers, John Green, when he wrote,
“What we really need in this world, and all in the end we can give each other — is accompaniment and attention. To walk with each other, and to listen to each other so that none of us has to go through everything that we will have to go through, alone.”
Thank you for listening to My Love Letter Time Machine.
Next time we find out about how Fred feels about getting a new dress for his mother so she can go to their wedding, and Janie continues shopping for wedding clothes.
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Until next time, take care.
© Ingrid Birchell Hughes 2023