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:
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).