The Vinegar Valentine

The Vinegar Valentine

The winter of 1878/1879 was one of the coldest on record with snow remaining on the ground for almost 4 months. During the first part of 1879 an unsettling coolness seems to creep in between Fred and Jane. In fact the more I re-read Fred’s diary for the first half of 1879, I’ve retrospectively grown a little concerned for the future existence of their descendants, including myself.

Fred continues to try to see Jane on Tuesdays and Sundays, but he has several fruitless visits to Handsworth as she starts to get evasive, and uncommunicative – which doesn’t seem like her at all. “Sunday. Jany 19th. Went to church in the morning. To Bible class in the afternoon, to church again in the evening with Janie. Had a conversation with her as to her great reticence. Could not understand it.”

The following Sunday Fred is skating on the Treeton Old River, sees Janie and they skate together – which must have been lovely, but the next week Fred endures a snub from Janie’s brother, “Monday Feby 10th. Went to the Entertainment at Darnall School with Lucy + Maggie Craven + Ted. Saw Janie’s brother there. He never recognised me. Put me out of temper.”  This has Fred brooding for a couple of days because on Wednesday he writes, “Went to see Janie. Lost my temper. Said something about “did her brother intend to slight or look down on me at all, if so I resented it. Left her in a very ungentlemanly manner .”

The Warburtons are looking like they’ve closed ranks on this issue and I’m wondering how much they are actively interfering with Jane seeing Fred and what kinds of things they are saying to her. Fred, understandably, is outraged – and in this day and age it’s easy to empathise with him. However, he is being rather determined, selfish even, to try and brazen things out in the face of such disapproval. I think its a bit unfair of him to be so hard on Janie too.

Fred soldiers on and decides to buy and send Janie a Valentine in shape of a pair of gloves – a popular design with Victorians because ‘glove’ contains the word ‘love’ without having to explicitly say it. Sadly on February 16th thing blow up in his face rather, as Jane suddenly sends back to him all the books he has lent her over their time together. He goes up to Handsworth to see her but she obviously doesn’t want to. Fred is completely at a loss until he finally manages to catch up with her several days later, “Wednesday Feby 19th. Went up with Ted to Handsworth, saw Janie + Miss Bray. Had an explanation with her. It turns out that someone had sent her a foul valentine which she thought had come from me.”

It was only after looking up Valentine’s traditions for this period that I discovered the concept of ‘Vinegar Valentines’. It appears to have been as much a tradition to send a mean Valentine to someone as sending the romantic kind. In fact some of the designs were downright cruel. I’m willing to bet that this ‘foul valentine’ was of the vinegar variety but of course, the identity of whoever sent it is lost to time. However I have my suspicions. The two most likely culprits are either Jane’s former finance, Walter Brookes, whom she jilted to walk out with Fred, much to the uproar of her mother, or, more likely someone in the family, possibly her older sister Emma, being mean and even divisive. If Janie’s been cowed and kept from seeing Fred, I personally wouldn’t put it past Emma to send a vinegar valentine and then try and convince her of it being sent by Fred. Why would Jane think that Fred had done something like that all by herself? Instinctively I feel as if someone has worked on Jane’s insecurities, pushing the buttons that only families know, encouraging her to doubt things and playing on her fears. I know this is all my own conjecture but I’m not sure how else to read Jane’s change of heart. She believed it enough that she got upset enough to send back all Fred’s books.

Fred saw her the next day, “Went up with Ted, saw Janie. Everything went off splendidly.” but then the day after sends a letter to Janie which would have been a repeat of everything that they had discussed, so Fred obviously feels the need to underline the truth and reassure her:

1879 02 21 FS to JW 1 of 2

“Feb 21 1879

Dear Janie,

You may be surprised at my writing to you after our late episode, but I am compelled to do so, for several reasons. One is that you may have another opportunity of comparing this with the Valentine that you received on the 14th, from which comparison you will be thoroughly satisfied that I did not send it, which, although not saying so / you seemed to doubt on Wednesday night. Examine the composition, spelling et cetera.

I shall come up on Sunday night (D.V. W.P.) I hope I shall see you, and will you bring that memorable valentine for me? I wish I had taken your letter back on Wednesday night. It would perhaps have pleased you, which I am always desirous of doing.

I think I did apologise for those hasty words that other night, if not, I do so now. I hope you will forgive me. I don’t know whether you have noticed it, but it is none the less a fact, that ‘Church Lane’ has not been properly utilised for 14 (fourteen) days. Prodigious! Likewise a shame!!

I hope your father is better than he was when I saw you, so that you may have an opportunity of seeing our Dramatic (very dramatic!) Entertainment on Tuesday Night. If I should not see you I suppose you will be at Darnall Church by 7pm as promised. As to yourself, how shall I wish you? Answer. As before. If so, I remain yours in a state of some disconsolancy.
P.S. 1. I had to work late, so could not write this at home. Hope it will not make any difference to you.
2. do not write back, there is not delivery at Darnall on Sundays.
3. Hope this will find you well as it leaves me at present. (This is the set school formula).”

The Church Lane mentioned, I think, is where they go to be alone. I love Fred’s ‘had to write this at work, on work’s headed paper, and remind you that I am employed in a respectable position at a swanky big firm’ in the PS. I’d love to know what these Dramatic entertainments were too.

Things are wavering for the rest of February and most of March. They decide not to walk out with each other any more which must have made Fred very sad, but given the atmosphere Janie must have been living under, might have been the driver behind the decision. The pair of them obviously decide to do the ‘sensible’ thing under the circumstances and stop the courtship. However, they only manage a month. I’ll let Fred finish this post:

“Tuesday Feby 25. Dramatic Entertainment in connection with our Mutual. Janie + Miss Bray came to it. When going home I had a conversation with her as the desirability of our not being so intimate for a time, as long courtships were never much good. She agreed with me, we were to finish on the Sunday following.

“Saturday Mch 1. Ted + Fred came up. We went to Handsworth. Saw Janie. Salary Increased to 28/-

“Sunday Mch 2. Went to church in the morning, stayed to communion. Afternoon a walk. Night. Went to Handsworth. Saw Janie, had a long walk with her. We’re not going to be more than friends in future. I promised to send her my photograph. She is to send hers in return. Had a very affectionate parting.

“Sunday Mch 9th. Saw Janie in a friendly manner.

“Saturday Mch 22nd. Ted went down South to his sister’s home for a short period.

“Sunday Mch 30th. Went to sister Louisa’s in the afternoon, at night went up to Handsworth. It was late when I got up there but saw Janie. She consented to have a short walk, which was delicious. It resulted in a return to the old manner of parting.”

Image source: An illustration from Jules Verne’s novel “Off on a Comet” (French: “Hector Servadac”, 1877) drawn by Paul Dominique Philippoteaux.


Becoming Jane

Becoming Jane


A visit to Handsworth
The landlady of the Cross Keys throws open the back door of the pub for me and I am confronted by a green green view of trees and grass and gravestones – the latter of which are jutting up like a snaggletoothed smile. Behind me I can hear the laughter of the customers and the music on the cd player. Ahead of me I can make out the leaves rustling and bird song.

I stand on this threshold where she that came before me, must have stood so many times and I suddenly resent all the noise getting in the way of me wanting to reach across to her, 135 years or more away. But then I remember Janie resented the noise and clatter too. The endless stream of guests who wanted waiting on and entertaining with piano playing. The many nights when she would try and rest while drunken customers would set to on the piano and sing raucously out of tune. Jane Warburton grew up in this pub and came to loathe the inn-keeping trade.

The Cross Keys at Handsworth is set in consecrated ground so on three sides the ‘garden’ is the graveyard. Looming above is the church of St Mary’s where Jane was baptised and later where she married Fred. Mother church is an oppressive building so close to this doorway. Maria Warburton (nee Carnall), the then landlady of the Cross Keys, and Janie’s mother loomed heavily also as she dictated nearly every spare moment of Janie’s life.

Many of Janie’s letters to Fred have scrawled across the top left hand corner “in haste” often with a qualifying remark such as “Have to help Mother with the waiting” or “Had to do the dinners”. Over the course of reading them, I’ve learned that Janie finds it difficult to find private time to write – and when I read Fred’s constant pleas for Janie to send him longer letters, I get a bit cross with him as he doesn’t seem to grasp that’s she doing her best.

As I read more and more of the letters I can see how much she was entirely co-opted by the inn-keeping business – not just for the Cross Keys but also for the Wellington in Darnall where she helps her cousin Janie Reckless do the ironing every week.

A tale of two sisters
This week I got a wonderful bit of context when I visited the Handsworth Museum. It is a tiny room in the Rectory presided over by local historian and writer Sandra Gillot. I’d written ahead and when I got there she had already reached out for me a pile of documents that she thought I might be interested in. Among these was a book called Sicklesmiths and Spear Carriers by Rosamund Du Cane about the Staniforths of Darnall; a large local family of some note. It included details of the time that Jane was going down to help at the Wellington in Darnall which at the time was run by Mary Staniforth – also nee Carnall.

Mary Staniforth nee Carnal as an old lady.jpg
Mary Staniforth nee Carnall as an old lady. Janie’s Aunt and my 3 x Great Aunt.

It is clear, confirmed by both the records and Jane’s letters that Mary is Maria’s older sister. So we have two sisters running both the The Wellington in Darnall and The Cross Keys in Handsworth. A large part of the shared workforce is supplied by their respective daughters and in Mary’s case, also granddaughters. This explains why Janie Reckless (Mary’s granddaughter) and Janie Warburton are forever walking back and forth between Darnall and Handsworth together. Jane also often stays over mid-week, which she mentions in letters that are addressed from Darnall rather than Handsworth. I might need to check this, but the Darnall letters often seem longer so I get the impression she gets to pause a little longer.

Mary’s husband, John Staniforth, had originally bought The George in Woodhouse – the next village after Handsworth but observing the massive development going on in Darnall, cannily sold it in 1861 for £800 and bought The Wellington. He died in 1870 and Mary kept it on until she retired in 1901. After the sad death of Jane’s father in 1883, Maria also became the sole inn-keeper for the Cross Keys and the matriarchy that had clearly run both businesses for many years became recognised in name. The heart of the family dynamic here is the links between all the women – which of course doesn’t usually get revealled through the traditionally patriarchal recording of family history.

The book also gave me the name of Mary’s mother – Jane Staniforth (who married John Carnall in 1810) – and doing a bit of record sifting I eventually managed to connect her as Maria’s mother too (up until now our family trail had gone cold on Maria’s mother). The research in the book makes claim for cousins marrying several times here which I won’t go into because it is complicated but what it means for our story is that Maria knew herself to be descended from the prestigious Staniforths as well as having her sister marrying back into them. Bringing this back to Jane, I think it might provide an explanation as to why Maria was so anti-Fred – she may well have believed that Fred was beneath Jane. It definitely provides more context for that awful start to the relationship when she so publicly struck Jane, in the street, for walking out with him. I think it also makes it more clear how far from hope Fred felt about ever being able to marry Jane.

Up until now I suppose I thought Jane’s background was more humble than it actually was. Prior to the 1820s the Staniforths were landed gentry going back into Tudor times and while I don’t think the Warburtons were particularly rich, I’m starting to understand that they were probably getting by fine.

Jane however definitely seems to be a little exploited. Maria only employs one servant, the rest of the work is done by herself, occasionally Jane’s older sister Emma (when she can be persuaded) Janie Reckless and Jane. I know that Jane does the washing, the dinners for pub guests, the ironing for both pubs, dress making and mending, waiting on tables, playing requests on the piano in between times and helping care for Emma’s two youngest children. Emma is not very nice to Jane and causes her a lot of misery but Emma deserves to have her story told in detail so I will get to her in another post.

On Sundays Jane teaches in the Sunday School which was in the school room across the road opposite the Cross Keys. She seems to love teaching the little children in particular and often refers to them as “my little family”. When she gets time to herself she likes to visit friends, go into Sheffield to do “Shop Window Gazing”, take lessons in new needlecrafts, and play the piano. She seems to try and get involved in anything that gets her out of the pub.

Janie had a quick wit about her, she could always rouse Fred from his depressed mood, she had a fondness for inventing daft new words – she refers to Fred’s melancholy as his ‘Lemonkolly’ (we still do this in our family – it’s dangerously close to a dialect of our own), she comes across as cheerful and kind to people.

I can see that part of falling in love with Fred, over the years becomes falling in love with the idea of making her own home and family, away from the unhappiness at home. When I stood in the doorway at the back of the Cross Keys I wondered how many times she must have stood there longing to get away. And then I know enough now to be confident that she would have shaken the sad moment off, pinned on a big smile and gone back inside to whatever demand was being made.

Many thanks to the current landlord and landlady of The Cross Keys at Handsworth for letting me wander about and take pictures. They even gave me a photograph.

Many thanks to Sandra Gillot of the Handsworth Historical Society who was a wonderful mine of information and incredibly helpful.