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
8.20pm

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.
Fred.
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.

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4 thoughts on “The Vinegar Valentine

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