Vlog – finding Fred in Attercliffe and Darnall

After I visited Handsworth which I wrote about in a post called Becoming Jane, I also visited Attercliffe and Darnall to try and track down some of Fred’s haunts. With my cousin’s help we managed to track down the remains of Christ Church, Attercliffe, The Wellington in Darnall, and Fred’s house on a street formally known as Freedom Hill.

This June I ended up on a surprise trip to Sheffield. Most of the three weeks I stayed were spent in the library and in the archives doing research but some of that time was spent in visiting different locations around the city. The reason I had come to Sheffield was because I had recently inherited the love letters of my great great grandparents, Jane Warburton and Fred Shepherd, which were written over 135 years ago. When I started to read these letters, I found myself not only drawn in by my personally family connection but by the story that started to unfold in front of my eyes as I carefully unfolded each fragile letter in turn. In the sepia stained pages, filled with beautiful copper plate writing I found out about their daily lives, the dramas, the bereavements, the love, and the hopes and dreams that they nurtured together as they planned their future.

One of the places I wanted to find were the remains of Christ Church, Attercliffe, where several family members were buried but also where Fred sung in church – a moment of which he vividly brought to life when he wrote about on a particular New Years when he sang hymns with his friends.
“Tuesday, December 31 1878. Went to the children’s tea at Attercliffe, afterwards there was a “Magic Lantern”, after that Betsy Panton and myself, Will Meays and Miss Hopkinson, went on the top of our church steeple. Splendid view! could see all around. Coming down we had “Days and moments”, and “Now the day is over” in the bell chamber. Enjoyed ourselves immensely.”

Most of the church was lost in the Second World war but my cousin and I found the remaining wall and I found myself patting the wall in wonder, my imagination straining to hear the faint singing of hymns in a bell tower long gone.

After this we carried on into Darnall, where much has changed since my Fred and Jane’s day. The steel mills are gone and much of it has been rebuilt. The other two things on my list to find were The Wellington pub, once owned by Jane’s aunt – where Jane often helped out, and Fred’s family home where he lived with his parents and siblings.

We found The Wellington which was literally shrouded – with scaffolding and safety netting – it looked like it had been recently sold and was undergoing massive reconstruction. The back yard where once had been an orchard with pear trees was a barren plot and all that was growing were these poppies. On this busy road and with the destruction and chaos it was impossible to imagine former family members here, or to think of Fred popping in on his way home from work in the hope that Janie was visiting her aunt.

So on we went to find Fred’s house on Freedom Hill – which has a different name now. The family had originally lived at number 34 but that had obviously been pulled down and rebuilt. In the 1870s they had moved to the top of the hill when Fred’s father, Alfred bought number 94. And there it was, although now painted cream, a tiny red bricked terraced house with a passage and a tiny yard. With respect to it being a private home I discreetly patted the gatepost that Fred would have walked past every day he went to work. I could almost see him jauntily marching down the hill. I found myself welling up with tears as I finally felt a connection with Fred, my great great grandfather.

Now that I’ve visited the places they knew, when I read Fred and Jane’s letters they are suddenly filled with far more detail – I can place their experiences in the geography they knew. All their many walks from Darnall up to Handsworth – that was a good two miles – a long walk when you are on your own but far too short a journey when you are in love. All journeys are too short when you are in love – and Fred and Jane’s journey was no different – they were married for only 12 years before Fred was taken by tuberculosis at the far too young age of 35. Jane treasured their love letters for the rest of her life and before she died she gave them to her daughter Edith, who gave them to her daughter Mary, who in turn gave them to her daughter – my mother –  Jeannie.

I feel as if this love that Fred and Jane shared is somehow still alive even though they are long gone, and their love story is demanding to be told.

Which is why I’m sharing it with you.


The sad story of Emma Warburton (Part One)

The sad story of Emma Warburton (Part One)

Content warning: this post mentions domestic violence.

At some point in either 1876 or 1877 my great great grandmother, Jane Warburton, at 16 years old would have discovered that marriages were not always happy, in fact they could be ruinous, particularly for a woman.

I promised in my Becoming Jane post that Emma, Jane’s older sister, deserved to have her own story told. I wanted to post about this now as in the chronology we are coming up to August 1879 and in the middle of Jane and Fred’s story, something unexpected happened to Emma and I felt it was time to give you some of her back story – tragic as it is.

Emma married John George Herrod in October of 1870. She was 18 years old and three months pregnant. Herrod, from Nottinghamshire, was the son of a farmer and had come to Handsworth to find work as a joiner. Given that Emma’s father was as a joiner before he became a maltster and publican, and her brother William still worked as a joiner, in a small village like Handsworth, their paths would have crossed soon enough.

Herrod was a smooth talker and a bit of a charmer. We don’t know if he had already asked Emma to marry him, but events later in his life suggest that he had form and wasn’t above promising marriage to take advantage of a young woman. I’m inferring Emma’s attitude to sex from Jane’s later behaviour, that before marriage it was ok-ish as long as a promise of marriage had been made. However their relationship came about, the marriage was speedily arranged and their first child, Maurice, was born in the following March.

The 1871 census records them all living with Emma’s parents in the Cross Keys at Handsworth but later Herrod was earning enough to set up home. For a time things went well; Edith Lillian (known in the family as Lucy) was born in the early summer of 1872 and then another son, Arthur James, arrived in 1874.

A couple of years later, Jane would have gone on one of her many visits to her older sister Emma, perhaps to assist with the dress making, or to help with the children – who she loved dearly.  Upon walking through the door, Jane would have found the house in some disarray, her little nephews and niece subdued, and her sister having suffered a severe blow to the head that had given her two great bruised eyes. If Jane hadn’t known things were bad before, she did now. The assailant was Emma’s husband, John George Herrod.

We don’t know if Herrod was at home when Jane found her sister in that condition. Did Jane rage at him, tell him to leave them so she could care for Emma. Or was she terrified, for Emma, for the children, for herself? Did she run to get William, their dependable older bother? Was it then that Emma told Jane about all the attacks? About being punched in the back for not getting dinner ready. About being beaten viciously with a stick after asking why he was late home. Or did Jane and her family already know and this was the latest trauma in a marriage that had turned far more than sour.

Some unknown time after arrival of little Arthur, John George Herrod became a heavy drinker and developed a gambling habit. It also seemed to be a contributory factor in him losing his job. It’s impossible to know if he had been in the habit of being cruel to his wife or if it came on insidiously and then grew in savagery during this period.

By 1877 John George Herrod’s gambling was so out of hand that an ‘execution’ was put on the house and all the furniture was sold. On the day the furniture went, so did he. He packed up all his clothes and left, without letting Emma or anyone else know where he was going or if he was ever coming back. The sale was most likely handled by William, while Emma stayed away from such a painful occasion. And it probably fell to Jane to take care of the children and distract them from all the unpleasant practicalities. Emma, presumably in some distress, with a 6 year old, a 4 year old and a 3 year old, moved back into the family home – the Cross Keys, back to the safety of her mother and father – Maria and James Warburton, but also back to sharing a home with her sister Jane and her other brother, also called John. As much as I want to imagine William and brother John, perhaps taking Herrod to one side for a quiet ‘chat’ I can’t possibly know if they ever did. But given Herrod’s disappearing act, I should imagine it was in part to avoid a possible confrontation with the Warburtons heading his way.

For Emma she must have felt relief but also great sadness and possibly even shame. It was a local scandal and by the standards of the day – while she would have been viewed with some sympathy, tongues would have wagged. Domestic violence today still carries with it a significant amount of victim blaming but it was much worse then. Being permitted to discipline your wife with a ’stick no thicker than your thumb’ was a myth, but it was believed by many at the time to be legal.

At home at least, her mother, Maria Warburton, treated Emma with a huge amount of tenderness and concern. However in years to come, as Emma developed her own problem with drink – no doubt as some kind of self-medication – this care from Maria became a kind of enabling and Emma’s victimhood became entrenched within the family dynamic. Dependent on her father, with no way of making her own way in the world and unable to remarry, no doubt Emma felt trapped and helpless.

I grew up hearing from my mother the family stories of Aunt Emma; how she was a drunk, how the family believed it was due to the sight of the gravestones out of her bedroom window that had driven her to the consolation of the bottle. While I was first reading the letters and coming across accounts of Emma’s intoxicated behaviour I found it funny and a little salacious. Now that I have recently found out exactly what happened to Emma, I realise she was more sinned against than sinner. Emma often in lashed out with a sharp tongue – I think everyone got the benefit of Emma’s opinions but it was Jane that was nearest and so she bore the brunt, and the rest of the family let Emma get away with that because of what had happened. Poor Jane. Poor Emma.

I think I now also see that the Warburtons’ concern about Fred courting Jane, was not just about snobbery, it was also in part protectiveness. Emma had fallen for someone outside their ‘set’ and it had gone wrong in the worst possible way. They were understandably keen that Jane would not meet a similar fate.

In 1878 the UK Matrimonial Causes Act made it possible for women in the UK to seek legal separation from an abusive husband, however this would have given Emma little comfort given that she had no idea where John George Herrod was.

Image source: James Collinson – Answering the Emigrant’s Letter https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:James_Collinson_-_Answering_the_Emigrant%27s_Letter.JPG

The Spring, clad all in gladness, Doth laugh at Winter’s sadness

The Spring, clad all in gladness, Doth laugh at Winter’s sadness

In the last post I wished I could have known more about the “Dramatic Entertainment” that Fred had persuaded Janie to come to at the end of February 1879. I was delighted to have that wish granted during some searching through the British Newspaper Archive, I actually found a write up of that event in the Sheffield Independent on the 26th of February 1879:
“Attercliffe Parish Church. — Last evening, a dramatic entertainment was given in the Church schools, Lord street, Attercliffe, by some of the members of the Mutual Improvement Society, in the presence of a large and appreciative audience. Mr Pinder (vice president) occupied the chair. The first part of the entertainment was a comedietta entitled “A Cup of Tea,” intended to show how petty jealousies, like “great events, from little causes spring.” The character of Sir Charles Seymour, the head of the house, a ”man about town,” was well delineated by Mr. John Meays, and Mrs. Gill (who, in the absence of Miss Johnson, was entrusted with the part at the last moment) was most successful as Lady Clara Seymour, his loving spouse. Joseph, the footman, was entrusted to Mr. H. Meays. The character however, that was productive of the most amusement was that taken by Mr. Gent, viz., Scroggins, a gentleman who succeeded in mixing himself up in other people’s business. A similar piece, entitled “Family Jars,” provided a great amount of genuine fun. Mrs Gill, Miss Lucy Craven, and Messrs. John Meays, Hitchin, and Johnson were the dramatis personae.”

I’ve since found out that “Family Jars – a farce in one act” was written by dramatist Joseph Lunn and while I’ve not found an author for “A Cup of Tea” I have found a script (pdf). Online searches pull up newspaper reports of other amateur performances of both plays on either side of the atlantic during the late Victorian period.

Fred’s diary mentions Lucy Craven – who he walked out with for a short time the previous year, but remains part of his social circle. John Meays was clearly good friend, we have a couple of his letters and he is one of the witnesses who signed Fred and Jane’s wedding certificate when they eventually married in October 1882. The only John Meays I can find in that area at that time is a pawnbroker – who has a brother called Harry (the article mentions Mr H. Meays) and also an apprentice called Alfred Panton. Fred and Jane’s letters sometimes mention a Betsy Panton (probably a relation of Alfred) in the same breath as John Meays so I have to conclude that it’s the same person.

“Johnson” is Fred Johnson – part of the three ‘Fred, Fred & Ted’ group of which our Fred was one. A later entry about another evening of entertainment Fred mentions helping Johnson with fixing scenery so I am assuming that our Fred was usually part of the back stage crew.

Aside from social events, the Attercliffe Parish Church Mutual Improvement Association was chiefly about adult evening classes – adult education was undergoing a huge surge in interest at that time in Sheffield, and was part of the wider ‘knowledge revolution’ in the late nineteenth century¹. Fred, who seems to have had a brain like a sponge, forever demanding input, sized all the education opportunities he could, attending both his local Mutual Improvement Association and participating as one of the nearly 400 students at the Sheffield Church of England Educational Institute at that time².

Reading that newspaper article slotted into place for me the people in Fred’s social life – It’s now clear to me that Fred’s friends are drawn mainly from his fellow students, although he also socialises with some of his colleagues from work as well.

Fred goes walking a lot with Fred Johnson, they seem to think nothing of doing huge loops of nearly 20 miles encompassing Canklow, Whiston, Ulley, Treeton, and back home to Darnall via Handsworth – the last stop obviously hoping to ‘bump’ into Jane. Fred J and Ted seem to be our Fred’s main confidants.

Over the course of March and April 1879 Fred joins Darnall Cricket Club and he starts dancing classes – sometimes partnering with Fred J’s sister Amy. Fred settles into a pattern of seeing Jane for a walk most Sunday evenings, and they seem to by getting quite close because they start to get “awfully spooney”[sic]. On Tuesday, April the 22nd, Fred writes, “Wrote a long letter to Ted – in the afternoon – telling him that I was in the point of making a confession of love to Janie. Went up with Janie in the evening made the confession referred to, received a reciprocative reply. She’s promised to be my good angel!”

Fred’s diary for the spring and early summer of 1879 is mostly full of having walks with Janie. Given that he can’t call for her without reminding the Warburtons – Jane’s family –  of his ‘unsuitability’, the pair of them must have had to arrange things with an element of subterfuge. Something that Fred seems to send up in the following letter:

“Darnall, April 30, 1879.

Dear Janie,

When I got home last night I found that Ted had returned and had been up to our house, ten minutes after I left, of course he failed to overtake me.
My brother Arthur saw him today (Wednesday) and he (Ted) told him that he should come up tomorrow evening at 7:30, if so I have not the least doubt that cricketing will have to stand over.
If you and Miss B, go to Sheffield, as you mentioned, it may possibly happen that you will return by the 7.20. if so there seems the faintest probability that D.V.W.P. Ted and myself may see that particular train arrive, although, as you are well aware it will be against my inclination. If you should not go to Sheffield, it may never – the – less, notwithstanding possibly happen that you may make an extraordinary effort to be travelling down the street about 8.0.
I am in a desperate hurry just now 7.0pm, also I should experience great pleasure in lengthening this note saying that it is so seldom that I write to you, but you can imagine it extended (ad-libitum) with the practical outpouring of an overburdened heart and also innumerable (buzzes). through which agony, I shall still remain, your disconsolate lover, (until tomorrow night)

I can not work out what ‘buzzes’ are – perhaps a way of describing having ‘butterflies’? But whatever it is, he’s crazy about Jane – and I love the way he’s using humour to deflect the deep feelings he clearly has.

A lot more walks in May and June follow, including “a most enjoyable day” at Roche Abbey (pictured above) which seems to have become a favourite place to visit for them. On one occasion Fred writes “Janie came to our church in the evening, we had a delightful walk home through the wood. It was beautifully clear, the moon was at full. It was splendid.”

July brings the village feasts and dancing and Fred’s dancing lessons pay off when he gets to dance with Janie at the Darnall Feast on the cricket field, and a few days later at a dance on the village green. Jane seems to have an irrepressible spirit and energy and Fred gets “considerably put out at her dancing with several other gentlemen.” But Jane is clearly just as besotted with Fred because when Fred misses going up to see Jane one evening due to feeling ill he not only “had to ask my friend Ted Watts to do duty” but the next day – “Had to see J. to quieten her as she was uneasy”.

After what is clearly the spring and summer that they fell in love with each other I was gratified to read that the Warburton’s might be thawing a tiny fraction because at the beginning of August, Fred writes, “Sunday, August 3. Went up in the evening. It rained so was invited by J inside. Went + spent a very enjoyable evening.”

Actually invited inside! Wonders will never cease…

Image source: Wikimedia Commons;  View of ruined transept at Roche Abbey Yorkshire by Cartwright 1807
1. Steel City Scholars, The Centenary History of the University of Sheffield. Helen Mathers.
2. Sheffield and Rotherham Red Book 1881