Stop all the clocks…

Stop all the clocks…

In my initial excitement at reading and starting to transcribe the letters and Fred’s diary, I wasn’t really aware of how much this was getting under my skin. So when I came across this entry I froze. And then I found myself full of tears:

Alfred's death Fred's Diary

Transcription: Friday October 4th. My father died on this day. Which threw the gloom over our house, I did not see Janey until Saturday, Octr 12, when she was dressed in black. A delicate mark of sympathy, which I appreciated.

This particular entry is stained and dirty and I can I think you can see from the photograph, starting to crumble. The rest of the diary in comparison is clean and in fairly good condition. It looks like this entry has been turned to and stroked many times. The stains of grief more eloquent than the sparse words written.

It seems ridiculous that a worn piece of paper can reveal someone’s emotional state from 135 years ago but when you look at it, it’s obvious.

Fred’s father (and my 3 x great-grandfather) was Alfred Shepherd. He was born Grenoside, Sheffield in either 1807 or 1808.  The 1861 Census records him as being a ‘Roll Turner’ and married to Ann, with 1 daughter and 5 sons – the youngest of which was Fred who had been born in 1860. The National Burial Index says he was buried on the 8th of October 1878 at Christ Church, Attercliffe, Sheffield (pictured above). Sadly the church was destroyed by bombing in WWII.

It is hard to say how much mourning was observed at this distance but this period is at the height of the Victorian cult of Mourning – which was a particularly heavy financial burden on poor families. However, Fred seems to have observed a week of social isolation and Jane has made ‘a delicate mark of sympathy’. Given that they only met two months earlier I think that a certain amount of mourning customs are being observed. This well researched post on Victorian Mourning and Funerary Practices provides a fascinating glimpse into the social norms of the time (and the rest of site is well worth your time).


Fred worriedly writes to Janie for the first time

Fred worriedly writes to Janie for the first time

The drama of Jane being hit by her mother for being seen with the wrong man really upset Fred. I’ve just finished reading, and have now transcribed his whole diary, and now realise he’s not given to writing his feelings down in it very much at all. It’s rare when he does and on one occasion the economy of his expression had me weeping. I’ll share that in more detail in another post. I think it’s also worth bearing in mind that these two are still quite young; in the autumn of 1878 Fred was 19 and Jane was 18. While Fred doesn’t seem to express things – he’s not backwards in resolving confrontation, perhaps even showing a little lack of judgement. Or he may be a believer in the idea of ‘faint heart never did win fair lady’.  Anyway for whatever reason, he tries to see Jane at the Cross Keys and unsurprisingly gets short shrift from her mother:

Wednesday, September 11.
The occurrence of last night completely upset me, so having half a day off Tom Hughes and I set off for Birely Spa by way of Handsworth and Woodhouse. I called in at the Cross Keys but did not see J. Her mother waited off me, and was I thought rather cruel.

Fred, clearly indignant, decides to write what appears to be the first letter between them, which I share here in its entirety:

September 11, 1878

Dear Janey,

I was compelled – though most unwillingly – to hear what your mother said on Tuesday week and as it was through me I have come to the conclusion that rather than you should suffer a repetition of the annoyance and indignity, I would discontinue my visits to Handsworth, at least for the present.

I also heard your mater familias say, that she would not have you walking out with me, and writing to another, at the same time. If this is correct, it must be the same one I heard of before, and of whom I spoke to you but you did not try to explain it; it appears now that would’ve been much better if you had, for, altho’ I do not want to preach, I cannot help saying, but I think you could not have expected good to come, through, or by, a deception practised on both of us.

However, I will forgive you this once. Why your mother should have allowed you to go to Wharncliffe and now to kick up this bother I cannot understand!

It would save misunderstanding if you would answer as to the receipt of this letter, and also say whether you agree with the conclusions I have come to. If you do not I shall be glad to place myself at your disposal, and at your earliest convenience. Do not think I am treating you lightly – far from it! – but it is better to look at it in a matter-of-fact sort of way, rather than in a romantic. You may think that I ought to have more perseverance as to coming up now that the weather is cloudy but if I did it would only cause you bother and trouble, so that it is as well I have not.

If you do write – I hope you will – you can either direct it to 34 Freedom Hill, Darnall or to Messrs Brown, Bayley & Dixon Ltd, Attercliffe.

If you do not write the probability is that I should never know whether you had received it or not as I do not know whether they open your letters or not at home.
But believe me I shall ever remain your sincere friend, admirer, and well wisher

P.S. I have to thank you for the many happy hours I have spent in your company.

We don’t have Jane’s reply but she did send one as Fred records it in his diary:

Friday, September 13.
Ted bought me a letter from J. In it she says “that when her mother is vexed she does not think what she says. That it is quite correct she was engaged but intended breaking it off in July but had been prevented. However it is now broken off. As I had had so many pleasant hours with her, she hoped I should have many more, and also that the expedition to Woodhouse church which have been proposed should not fall through.”

My sister and I have been speculating on the circumstances of this ‘Mr Bricks’ that the Warburtons seem so keen on Jane marrying – to the point of preventing Jane ‘breaking’ with him. He obviously had an attraction – most likely of the financial kind, but not of much else as far as Jane was concerned.

It’s clear that there is enormous attraction between Jane and Fred for them to be exercising their own wills so strongly in the face of objection (confound it, I’m picking up Fred’s idiom in my writing) and I’m having fun trying to work out exactly what it is. From the in-jokes they share in their later letters, humour seems to be very present. I’ve found myself giggling at their turns of phrase – which seem so comfortably familiar. In the truest sense of that word.

Anyway, the letters smooth the way and and two days later it’s is all back on:

Sunday, September 15.
It rained very hard at 5:30 so did not go to H[andsworth] until after our church at eight. Saw J, had a walk with her, who was on very delicate ground, but eventually cleared of all doubts and enjoyed myself immensely.

In which we meet Fred, and Jane gets into trouble

In which we meet Fred, and Jane gets into trouble

Along with the letters, we also have a diary that Fred kept for about 2 years – which looks like he started it on his 19th birthday – May 16th 1878. Between May and August he is courting, on and off, Miss Lucy Craven, a “fine looking girl about 17 years old. Tall and well made. Dark hair and eyes, a brunette” However it seems to have been a little stormy duing that time as in this entry:
Whitmonday. June 10th. I and Fred (Johnson, my chum) carried the flag – the first they have had at Attercliffe – for which we had a rosette each, made by the fair hands of the above lady. Our intimacy continued unbroken for a week or two, when we had a slight difference over a hat. Small cause!
And in July, after a holiday in Blackpool he had to make amends with her again which only lasted a week.

On 1st August, Fred and his chum Fred decide to go for a walk in Bowden Housteads Wood, where “We met Janey Reckless of the “Wellington” Darnall and were introduced by her to her companion Miss [Janie] Warburton of the “Cross Keys” Handsworth (her cousin) with whom I paired off.”  (Yes, I know two Freds and two Janies is confusing – I’m sure it was a wonderful ice-breaker).

The photo above is of the Cross Keys, Handsworth, Sheffield, which was run by Janie’s father and where the family lived. It’s still there and the only pub on consecrated ground in the UK.

Fred sees her again the next day and helpfully “Strange to say Miss Bray (with whom Ted [another friend of Fred] had been getting thick) made a friend of Miss Warburton, so that Ted and I were companions in love, and took every opportunity of seeing them”.

All goes well, until in September, when things start to go wrong, “Old Ted was thrown over by Miss Bray for some unaccountable reason. I stuck to it until one night Mrs. Warburton came out and kicked up around about her daughter walking out with one fellow, and writing to another, to whom she was engaged. An explanation followed and Mr Brick (the man’s name) was given up; but I was told that he would have been if I had not been in it at all.”

September 10th, Fred and Ted head up to Handsworth to try to sort out their love lives but things take an upsetting turn for Fred, “Ted walked off with Miss Bray; but Janie not being there, I waited until she came out. It seems that Tuesday is washing day at their house, and, as they were rather late she could not get out at the time. Her mother it seems did not wish her to come out at all but she would persist in coming out to see me. Although I could see that she had been crying. About half-past nine we returned, and I had taken leave of her when just as she got to the door who should come out but Mrs Warburton, who, I think, struck her but as I could not interfere between mother and daughter I walked on, and came up with Ted. It seems that Janie hurried after us but did not overtake us.”

Poor Janie. Poor Fred. When I first read this I felt suddenly shocked – witnessing that Mrs Warburton and Janie had come to blows. At the moment it’s hard to say if Mrs Warburton was primarily concerned about her daughter’s reputation or if Mr Bricks was considered a far more attractive prospect than Fred. Clearly Janie didn’t think so.

I’m also experiencing a strange split here – part of me is fascinated by an event that seems so vivid and another part of me is thinking, hang on, this is my family, which feels weird.

A first look at a family treasure

A first look at a family treasure

Fred writes in the most beautiful copperplate. He has access to good paper and ink from his works at Brown Bayley & Dixon, Attercliffe – where in 1878 he worked as Trade Clerk for 25 shillings a week. Given that while coming from a poor area, he’s done well with education to the point that he’s landed a desk job. I’ve not found out yet if he had some sort of grammar school scholarship. His letters are in relatively good condition and I find them fairly easy to read. The folding of the paper and the choice of side to write on threw me a bit and then I started to understand how it was done. Fold the paper like a book and write on the front. If you have more to say, write on the back. If you have even more, open the ‘book’ up and write in the middle. Continue with extra sheets in the same way and put them inside the ‘book’.

Sometimes there’s a space on the back for the address so that the letter can be folded into itself if you are not using an envelope.

Janie’s handwriting is much harder to read (although better than mine!) and she doesn’t use full stops. Ever. So consequently it takes much longer to understand what she’s saying. She actually apologies to Fred for not understanding how to use full stops properly. Clearly she’s not had nearly the education that Fred has had and she feels it. The paper is also very flimsy and falling to bits. The ink has faded badly. Given that the letters have been kept in the same place together for over 135 years – it’s probably testament to the fact that Janie didn’t have very much money and so quality paper and ink are out of the question. I noticed that half way through the stack of correspondence, Janie’s letters are in much better condition (and on blue paper) and I’m willing to bet that Fred has bought her some as a gift at some point. Speculation at this point I know.

I’m going to photograph each letter as I transcribe from it so that I handle each one only once. And I need to invest in adhesive free archive boxes to help stop them disintegrating anymore.

My very own time machine

My very own time machine

Last week my mother finally handed me the giant blue concertina folder. “Here you go”, She said, “They’re yours now – you’re the eldest daughter and they’ve been passed down from eldest daughter to eldest daughter.” In the folder are over 200 letters, the bulk of which date from 1878 to 1882 and are almost a complete correspondence between Fred Shepherd and Janie Warburton, my great great grandparents, during their courtship.

Apparently it is quite rare to have both sides of a correspondence and even rarer to have such a detailed record of two working class people.

I’ve known about the letters all my life. Both my mother, my sister and myself have picked over them in the past, meaning to transcribe them and then daunted by the task only to put them away again. But now I’ve decide that if I can share them online, I could create a kind of scrap book that other people might be interested in.

There’s the a personal reason, we are all older now and the urge for familial connection to the past is stronger. I am descended from Janie down the direct maternal line. Most family history focuses on the male surname that passes down, but often the strongest cultural influence you have is what passes to you from your mother. Janie is my mother’s Great Grandmother, she feels very close. She died before her grandaughter Mary was born. Sadly Mary, who in turn is my grandmother, died not quite a year before I was born. So this line of daughters has had two sad breaks of contact and it’s tempting to think these letters will shed light on our maternal family culture. I wonder how much we take after her. Is the wicked sense of humour from her? The fierce independence of spirit? Family legend says so. I can’t wait to find out when I read her letters.