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.