My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History

Gout, Guests, and a Grumpy Groom

October 01, 2023 Ingrid Birchell Hughes Season 5 Episode 4
Gout, Guests, and a Grumpy Groom
My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History
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My Love Letter Time Machine - Victorian History
Gout, Guests, and a Grumpy Groom
Oct 01, 2023 Season 5 Episode 4
Ingrid Birchell Hughes

Season 5, episode 4. September 20th-23rd 1882. Fred gets into a fine old mood over the course of these next letters, as the caliber of wedding guests being invited, by Janie’s Mother, not Janie I hasten to add, is making him fret. We also take a little look at the Derbyshire spa town of Buxton and the history of 'taking the waters'.

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Show Notes Transcript

Season 5, episode 4. September 20th-23rd 1882. Fred gets into a fine old mood over the course of these next letters, as the caliber of wedding guests being invited, by Janie’s Mother, not Janie I hasten to add, is making him fret. We also take a little look at the Derbyshire spa town of Buxton and the history of 'taking the waters'.

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, wedding clothes are on the agenda, and we take a little look at the Derbyshire spa town of Buxton.

[Gout, Guests, and a grumpy groom]

Fred gets into a fine old mood over the course of these next letters, as the number of friends being invited, by Janie’s Mother, not Janie I hasten to add, is making him fret. He’s really feeling the lack of control, not a comfortable place for our Fred. However what I love about this particular exchange is hearing about all the numerous little details of wedding organisation, or the politics of who or who shouldn’t be invited. Things like making sure cake boxes are ordered and tracking down people’s clothes sizes is so relatable. But first we start with Fred’s reaction to Janie wishing to by a dress for her Mother-in-law to-be, Anne, who didn’t want to come to their wedding in her only good dress because it was black:

Royal Exchange
Septbr 20th 1882
My own darling Wife
I received your welcome letter this morning for which I thank you. I am pleased to hear that you went down to our house love, but sorry to hear that mother and little Walter have been so [ill].

With reference to the dress which you suggest should be given to my mother. I did not know that that was her difficulty at all – I always thought that she was not great on weddings seeing she did not go to our Walt’s. If that is the only thing that prevents her from being there by all means let her have one. + as I don’t know much about such things will you kindly undertake to provide her with one darling – it will save the trouble of sending you some more money; or if you do not like to do this love, let me know abut how much it would be + I will forward it to her. I should like very much for her to be there love + I know you would; and I really am very pleased that you are willing to make the sacrifice you mention darling, for it will be one for you I know. 
With respect to giving her the difference what we should have spent – I am not decided upon yet – you see love the more I give her the less the others will give her.

I wish I could see you + thank you for your kindness to her darling, + talk everything over with you. I always felt my darling that you would be a different daughter to her than our Walt’s wife, + I am quite sure now wifie. I really did not know where her reluctance was caused or would have tried to remedy it before.

I expect Mr Gillingham + Mr Rennie will not be the only people who will want glasses at the wedding love.
I am grieved to hear your Emma is “on” again, but never mind darling, only three more weeks + then you will not be troubled with her.

I have received a letter from Tom Hughes today he will be pleased to be there + takes 7 ½ gloves. Will you kindly give the enclosed to your John for me love.

I have been to see the Vicar of St John’s today + have paid the necessary fees here, so that if you want to decline the ordeal of marriage love, you have not much time to change your mind.

I remain my darling Wife
Your loving true + faithful husband
P.S. I wish it was the marriage tomorrow love, I have been troubled these last two nights + it makes me feel so miserable.

September 21th 1882

My own darling husband
I have had Mrs Flear up this afternoon to fit my dress on, + our Polly from Sheffield came to dinner, she is very well + wishes to be very kindly remembered to you + she says I am to tell you that she does not like the idea of the 12th of October coming at all.

I received your letters on Tuesday + Wednesday love for which I thank you, I should like to go with you to hear our banns published love, I certainly should go here if I was not so well known it must be curious to hear oneself called out.

I have not forgotten about Ted + Miss Dalton love I thought I would send all the invitations out next Monday. Mother + our John wish me to invite Tom Wortley + Fred Senior you do not mind love do you?

Thank you for the dimensions of the windows. I can make it out all right love + will make the blinds all ready to put up + also for the addresses.

I shall be thankful love to have a decent bedroom to sleep in + I might say a very nice bedfellow, or it will be nice to sleep with my husband. Jinnie Reckless was asking me if I thought I shouldn’t feel queer the first night, I thought not particular.
I wish you had been with me on Saturday to cheer me up a bit, my troubles do vanish when you are by my side my darling. I do love you.

We shall very soon be together now, only three weeks, it will soon pass over.

You did quite right to mention it about Mr Glover + Annie love, I have nothing to forgive, if I had love I would kiss you if you were her, I have all most forgotten what a kiss is like, ours will be a glorious meeting darling, with no more partings love. 
We shall want a few more cake boxes love there is twenty nine of your friends + a few of mine. I should like to send it in boxes.
I am thinking of asking John + Louisa, Jane + Walter, Lucy + her husband, but he may not come for he is very bad with the gout he has been at Buxton a fortnight, + I cannot leave him out + ask the others, + what about Arthur? You say love you do not care about Selina coming, do you think if I ask Arthur without Selina he will be offended.
I am sure the papers for our house will look nice love I did like Mr Marstons.
I will now turn to this mornings letter.

Oh love what would you put on the invitations. I will ask Polly to night but tell me what you think.

My darling I shall be very happy to undertake to provide your mother with a dress, I believe that is the only objection she had about coming. I believe she really wants to come but did not like to in black. I know love if you had thought of it before you would have tried to remedy it, I do want her to come.
I am sure love I will try my best to be a good daughter to your mother she will soon be my own now, I think nearly as much about her as my own + I believe she does care for me.

I wish you could be here love to talk everything over, I miss you more than ever now.
I shall not need to ask either John Meays or Tommy Hughes again shall I love? did you not tell them what time to be at our house, I thought we would be married at quarter to eleven love, so they must be here at half past ten at the latest. I am glad Tom as consented to come. I want you to have all your old friends love if possible. I should think if I get 7 ½ gloves for John Meays they will be right. I am going to Sheffield tomorrow.
I have not much desire to run off change my mind love now, have you? You must say now, or hereafter hold your peace. I am sorry you have been troubled again love, I wish it was next week for your sake.

I remain always my darling husband
Your loving true + faithful Wife

The little detail of Lucy’s husband (Fred’s brother-in-law) going to Buxton for a fortnight for his troublesome gout made me want to find out a bit more. I’ve mentioned him before, his name was Charles Lister and I have a couple of photographs of him - he has a round jolly face with a big smile, he looks very affable. Charles was a fireman on the railways - a physical job spent on the footplate of steam engines, repeatedly shovelling many tons of coal from the tender into the firebox. For him to be risking his long-term employment for treatment at Buxton, well I imagine that his gout was pretty serious. The condition is excruciatingly painful and can result in permanent disability. 

Buxton, perhaps the most famous Spa town in the north of Englands is situated in Derbyshire in the heart of the Peak district, approximately 25 miles to the west of Sheffield and has been known for its warm spring waters since before Roman times. So I thought it might be interesting to have a little look into the history of taking the waters at Buxton:

Every day half a million gallons of effervescent water rise from Buxton’s geothermal spring at a temperature of 27 degrees celsius (or 82 degrees fahrenheit). It has a naturally high magnesium content from percolating up through the local rocks after it first fell as rainwater 5000 years ago. The waters’ health giving properties have been written about for many hundreds of years. The chronicler William Worcester writing in the 1460s described the spring waters in Buxton as "Memorandum that Holywell ... makes many miracles, making the infirm healthy, and in winter it is warm, even as honeyed milk." In the 16thC during her captivity, Mary Queen of Scots was given special permission by Queen Elizabeth the first to visit the town every year for the treatment of her rheumatism. However it was in the Georgian and Victorian periods that Buxton developed into a booming Spa town. In the first half of the 19thC doctors Sir Charles Scudamore, and William Henry Robertson, both wrote about how the waters were particularly effective at treating gout, in fact Robertson’s ‘Guide to the use of Buxton Waters’ was reprinted 24 times. Robertson, in very flowery language, describes in his guide that treatments were usually a combination of baths and taking the waters to a schedule. Patients were encouraged to immerse themselves in the waters twice a day, with the addition of a hose spraying the warm spring water at the effected area of the body at the same time. They were also prescribed several glasses of the water to be taken before breakfast and again a few hours after. Starting at a quarter of a pint and over the course of their treatment working their way up to a pint of the stuff every day.

Magnesium is an essential mineral for the human body and even in today’s modern diet magnesium deficiency is not uncommon. Beans, nuts, seeds and leafy green vegetables are the main sources of dietary magnesium, not things to be found all that frequently in the Victorian diet. Mind you just because Janie and Fred never mention cabbages in their letters, doesn’t mean that they weren’t actually eating them. So to drink water rich in Magnesium it’s unsurprising that people over the course of history have found the water at Buxton brought them relief. Ironically, in Fred’s brother-in-law Charles’ case, some studies suggest that Magnesium can actually aggravate gout, however if gout patients were drinking an extra pint of water a day during their visits, that would definitely go someway to helping dilute the amount of the uric acid in the blood (drinking more water is recommended on the page about gout on the current NHS website) and do I wonder if that was the main reason that Buxton became known as a good place for a gout cure. 

On the Buxton Museum and Art Gallery website they have shared a letter that was donated to them by the writer’s grandson. It’s from a James Brown who I suspect was probably working class like Charles Lister. He must have been writing at some point between 1880 and 1920 and was obviously staying at Buxton to benefit from the spa treatments. It reads as follows: 

“3 Leyland Cottages
Hardwick Square

Dear Mamma, Richard, Will, James, Alice and Grandma

I am here alright as you will see and have got beautiful lodgings with a very nice family, and I think I shall be very comfortable. It is a bonny place and a lovely ride to it after you leave Manchester district. I have seen John in the hospital, he is not very much better yet. I shall go and see the doctor tonight or in the morning to see what baths I ought to take. This will cost me five shillings but I think it will be best and then I shall make no mistake. Give kind regards to all enquiring friends and a kiss for all my own.

With best love
Hoping the lads will be very good while I am away and that I shall derive much good from my visit.
James Brown”

By the turn of the Twentieth century the number of visitors seeking health benefits in Buxton meant that more than 75,000 baths were being taken every year. Today you can still bathe in the original thermal pool in the Buxton Crescent Health Spa Hotel, which was renovated and reopened in 2020 and since researching into all this, is now firmly on my personal bucket list - it looks amazing. You can still drink the water directly from the St Ann’s Well in Buxton should you so choose, but bottled Buxton Mineral Water is a household name and is available in pretty much every supermarket in Britain. 

Fred’s next letter must be in response the recent one Janie sent about Emma drinking to excess and the family row that ensued, in it he hints at his only family experience of that kind of situation, which is a new developement:

Albert Terrace
Linthorpe Road
Septbr 21st 1882
My own darling Wife
I received your welcome but sad letter this morning love for which I thank you.
I am so sorry my darling that you are so unhappy […] I do wish I could come over + comfort you little wife – but bear up a little while longer my love, three weeks today + then we shall be together for life. I am so sorry to hear that your Emma is so bad love I think she is a regular bad lot + I almost think the only way to deal with her is to let her go her own course, that is when you have left the place for good.

I am not surprised at your mother sticking up for her love, because I know how my mother used to get on to me whenever I said anything about our Harry’s doings, she would not hear of him doing anything that was wrong – still I am sorry that your father + mother should fall out about her love for she is not worth it. Besides things ought to go smoothly with him now instead of being irritated like that. But be brave a little while longer my darling wife, the dark cloud has a silver lining + that is our marriage, + I know my brave little darling will keep up until then.
I am glad that you rely on my love and sympathy darling that is what I want you to do, + I will try to merit it love + then we shall be really happy for I am sure you will make me happy wifie, + then you will be.
I think I shall be able to come on the Tuesday love, + then we can talk over all your arrangements as you suggest. 

I am going to write to Pawson + Brailsford’s about the cards, they have sent me a sample which is really nice. I enclose it to you – ours will be of similar style but with the words your gave me.
We have been very busy this last week trying to get out a Balance we have at last made it prove for which I am very thankful. I love you more than ever. Good night. (x)

Sept 22/82
My darling
I received your loving letter this morning for which I thank you. I should think your wedding dress will be a great effort on Mrs Flear’s part love. Kindly remember me to Polly love + say that of course I am very sorry to + for her sake that you have to leave Handsworth, but for my own I am only too glad.
With reference to the invitations of course I have no particular objection to Tom Wortley + Fred Senior being there, tho I do not see the necessity. If it had been your John’s it would have been different + I am not aware that they are such particular friends of yours love. Beside I did not know that it was intended to invite all friends, I thought it was originally intended to invite only those friends who were to take part in it, such as Annie Laverack, Annie Wortley, Tom Hughes + John Meays. If you go + invite friends that are no more to you than Fred Senior + Tom Wortley you will have the house full + I dont know where you will stop. As it is, I dont know where you will put them all there are such a quantity of relations – I hope half of mine will not turn up or I shall lose my nerve.

With reference to the Cake Boxes I only intended the ones (/) ticked to have boxes (about 16) but I have ordered another dozen, so that we shall perhaps have plenty then.
With reference to my sweet relations I hope my sister Lucy’s husband […] + Selina will not come – but I think you had better write then as I don’t think they will come.

I cannot give you any information what to put on the invitations love, as I have not the least idea.
You will not need to ask either Tommy Hughes or John Meays I shall write to them again + will inform them what the time is. You say you want all my old friends there – I dont – or you would have too many.
I think John Meays takes eights’ in gloves but I will enquire. I expected you would not have much desire to change your mind love, I haven’t any + will hearafter hold my peace as you say.
How many do you expect to be there altogether love. I wish the whole thing was over or else that there were only going to be we two + your William + Polly there – for I really don’t see any necessity for half the fuss + show there is over weddings; what has anybody got to do with is except us But I suppose I really have not anything to do with it, as it is of no use grumbling. I wish we were going to be married here love, it would save all the row + drunkenness there is sure to be at yours house on that day. What are you going to do with them all, all the day love? I will not undertake to have anything to do in it. 
I remain as ever
Your loving true + faithful husband
Excuse the dismal tone of my letter love, I feel irritable + put out tonight. I want you to soothe me darling.

Tracking down wedding invitation traditions for non-middle class Victorians proves to be rather challenging. Janie and Fred don’t seem to have a resource to turn to and it’s not as if they are in the habit of reading any of the many etiquette guides that were published at the time. Mind you I’m not sure they’d have been a great help as the ones I looked in have no suggested wording for wedding invitations either. I found a few examples of invitations from around that time and the wording is very similar to what it would be now so perhaps Janie and Fred;s invitation might well have read something like this:

Mr & Mrs James Warburton 
requests your presence 
at the marriage of their daughter 
Frederick Shepherd
on Thursday October Twelfth 1882
at quarter to eleven o’clock
at St Mary’s the Virgin Church
Handsworth, Sheffield 

Janie’s next continues with more wedding details — of both the fancy, and eminently practical kind:

September 23rd 1882
My own darling husband
I received your very welcome letter this morning for which I thank you.
I went to Sheffield by the ten minutes to eleven train + met Polly at Brookes. We intended ordering the cake but did not settle about it. I have to let them know on Tuesday. We shall want one a good size. We went from there to Horwins. I bought your shirts love, the printed ones I promised to get for you + the white one, + also towels + other neccesaries.

I bought our Chamber service which you will have got before you get my letters, it is the very same pattern love that we liked so much at Lancaster. Mother gave me money to get it yesterday so I let them send it straight off. I expect they will pay the carriage. I would not unpack it love. I did not go up to our Pollies so could not write to let you know it was coming. She was obliged to go to Mrs Ridges so I left her + went to pay my long promised visit to Miss Mottershed. I have not been since Carrie went away. 

Our John was in the town so he went there as well, we came back by the seven twenty train to Darnall + I had to go up to your house to take Louisa her a hat that I had bought for her, the shape does not suit her very well so we are going to change it on Monday. I asked Louisa about your Mother’s dress + she said she thought it would be best for me to buy her one, she thinks if she had the money she would not spend it in a dress but save it for other purposes, so Louisa + I thought if we went to change the hat we would bring it as a surprise on Monday. I have to go down on Monday to finish packing the dinner service. We found it was too heavy to send it all in one tin trunk, so I have taken half of it out + filled it up with lighter things + the other half I am going to pack in a tin trunk from home + a lot more things.

I am thinking of sending them both on Tuesday to Middlesbro to be delivered at your lodgings so that you will not have any trouble in getting them from the station.

My darling I am afraid I made you feel rather gloomy with giving you such a dismal letter there is a silver lining to every cloud love + the silver lining is our marriage love we must bear bare the parting a little longer then we shall be together to comfort each other always.

The cards will be very nice love. I like the sample.

I do not really see the necessity of Fred Senior + Tom Wortley coming myself love but still mother seems as though she would like them inviting, you know they are not particular friends of mine. I will give you a list of who I intend inviting besides relations, Jinnie would like me to invite Blessman, he took her down to Darnall last Saturday. We shall put them all in the clubroom what do say if we have old Charley to fiddle, you know you promised him, then it would find them something to amuse themselves with.

We shall have quite plenty of cake boxes with the other dozen love.
I wish it was over love but soon will be now, there would not be half the bother if we could have been married at Middlesbrough. My darling I wish I was near you to soothe all the irritableness away. I wish we were going for a nice walk it is such a nice night love, we should enjoy it but we shall soon be able to have one together now.
There is a cricket match to day between Catcliffe + Handsworth it is the last of the season I think. I love you more than ever my darling
+ remain your loving true + faithful wife

I’m very much admiring Janie’s unflappability in putting Fred’s woes to bed and coming up with helpful solutions to entertain potentially troublesome guests. Next time Fred has further troubles to bear as his clothes keep going missing in the laundry, and more seriously, an industrial accident involving a crane takes place at the North Eastern Steel Works. 

Thank you so much for listening to My Love Letter Time Machine. I’d very much like to get the podcast up the charts a bit more, 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 with the algorithm. I’m still putting excerpts of Fred and Janie’s letters on instagram at my love letter time machine all one word and you are very welcome to write to me at my love letter time machine at gmail dot com.

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