After the lovely day when Jane came to visit Fred on his holidays at Bridlington, Fred sadly had to come home as “we could not stay any longer on account of the funds”.

While on holiday Fred wondered how long they might be staying as he noted the food was rather luxurious and must have been costing a lot but seemed neither to know or to be in any position of control. So I’ve always assumed that this was being paid for by his company. When I went to Sheffield Archives in June I was hoping to find some of the old Brown Bayley & Dixon steelworks paper work, uncover how they paid for staff holidays, perhaps even find some of it in Fred’s handwriting seeing as he was a clerk and was responsible for making up the wages. However none of the paperwork seems to have survived before the second incarnation of the company a couple of years later when they dropped Mr Dixon after liquidation and reformed as just Brown Bayley. It’s possible that all that has survived from that time are the few letterheads Fred purloined to use to write to Janie.

I did however find out more about that transition period of the works and how it directly impacted on Fred and Jane but that comes later in the summer of 1881.

So back to Fred’s diary and the (late) summer of 1879. The entries are short and the first is probably one of the more frustrating to read in terms of imparting minimum information. I’ve done a lot of reading around to fill in some of the colour so I’ve interjected with some of my findings and thoughts and towards the end, a moment of fantasy frankly:

   “Wednesday, August 27. Handsworth flower show. Saw Janie went for a short walk with her. Had a dance in the tent with Janie Reckless and Emma Hill.  It has been raining nearly all day consequently the flower show is a failure. Was almost assaulted coming home.”

So dances were held at flower shows, and dancing did not mitigate the failure of the show due to being rained out, Fred danced with Janie’s cousin (Janie Reckless) and another girl but not Jane herself? And the small matter of almost being assaulted coming home?! Was it a fumbled mugging? Did Fred cross the path of a drunken angry man?

   “Thursday, August 28. Went to a dancing at the Cross Keys.”

Presumably danced with Jane in her own home then?

“Saturday, August 30. Went to Sheffield with Tom Hughes and Kelsey. First tasted Australian ale. After 12 when I got back. Shall not go again with them.”

So I am assuming that Fred is blaming his work colleagues for encouraging him to stay out too late, rather than it being the fault of Australian ale. Is Australian ale actually lager?

   “Sunday, August 31 Went to church in the morning. In the afternoon went for a walk with J. And again with her in the evening.

   Monday, September 1. Saw Janie in the evening.

   Tuesday, September 2. Went with Willie Rennie and Harry Henderson round our works. They were much astonished.”

It was only after I went to the Sheffield Archives that I realised that Brown Bayley & Dixon had been in the vanguard of metallurgical development. The aforementioned Tommy Hughes was responsible for the quality of the steel on the foundry floor, and was able to judge by eye if the proportions were incorrect.  This was done by breaking up the pig iron and staring intently at the broken pieces. The foundry was insanely hot and the work was hard so the fact that Tommy Hughes, Kelsey and others liked their beer was perhaps unsurprising. There was a big culture of drinking in the steel works – with beer being drunk during shifts. It was one way to cope with the hellish work.

BB&D company managers C.B Holland and Arthur Cooper had developed a metallurgical technique based on one seen in Germany. They introduced this and other modifications to move towards commercial production of Bessmer Steel. The works site was vast and by the following year BB&D was making an average of 422 tons of basic steel in a week.

The noise and filth in the area due to the combined outputs of all the steel mills was famous. In 1874, John Murray wrote in his Handbook for Travellers in Yorkshire,
   “Sheffield, with the exception of Leeds, the largest and most important town in Yorkshire, is beyond all question the blackest, dirtiest, and least agreeable. It is indeed impossible to walk through the streets without suffering from the dense closes of smoke constantly pouring from great open furnaces in and around town”

Later J. B Priestly wrote “Sheffield, far below, looked like the interior of an active volcano…”

In the middle of this industrial revolution, my great great grandfather is diligently going on with his job, and self-educating himself to a university standard. I wonder how much Fred would observe his work mates like Tommy and Kelsey and realise that being able to access education had meant he’d escaped being foundry fodder.

   “Wednesday, September 3. Should have gone to Sheffield to pay my club money but had not any money so did not go. Went with Vincent John O’Donnell for a walk through Catcliffe, Treeton, Orgreave and Handsworth. The Moon shone splendidly. I did not see J, though should have liked.

   Thursday, September 4. Saw J in the evening at 7:30 to 10.

   Friday, September 5. Went to a meeting of our Mutual Improvement Society which was not well attended. John Meays refused to retain the Secretary’s office so I was chosen but declined and eventually the matter was left over.

   Saturday, September 6. Did not play at cricket in the afternoon but did some Arithmetic instead. In the evening went to see J. We went down Grange Lane – or ‘Spooner’s Road’ – and then towards Woodhouse across the fields, rested on a stile – in a style – about half an hour.
Went towards Woodhouse through the fields. Moralised a little on the bridges in the woods and then went towards Orgreave then Handsworth.”

“Rested on a stile – in a style” Smooching was definitely happening here…

   “Sunday, September 7. Got up at 6.0. Went to Catcliffe, Handsworth, Woodhouse, Richmond and then through the fields to Darnall, the sunshine shone magnificently. Then went to church after breakfast. After dinner went to see J. Took her to Carbrook to her relations, then went home. Went to Attercliffe church with her in the evening afterwards went to Handsworth with her. It seems that her former admirer Mr Walter Brooke is at their house, which causes me some uneasiness. Mr Parr, Miss Bray’s lover – Janie tells me – is at Bray’s today too, which proves that Warburton’s don’t consider me sufficiently eligible to invite me either to dinner or to tea; but perhaps in time I may overcome their dislike.

   Monday, September 8. Went to the baths at 6 PM. When I got home I found my sister Louisa and my sister-in-law Jane so went out at 9.0 for a walk. Saw Rennie, had a walk with him. He is going to the classes at Carbrook Board School.”

Fred would often visit Louisa so I’m assuming from this that he may not be particularly fond of his sister-in-law – but I’ve noticed when there is a houseful, Fred often makes himself scarce. On balance, he definately seems to prefer one-to-one company.

   “Tuesday, September 9. Went to see J, had a very enjoyable evening with her. Coming home met Rennie who lent me his books. One about Acoustics, Light and Heat and the other called “English Pictures – drawn with pen and pencil” a very good one.”

I’ve found an archived copy of Elements of Acoustics, Light and Heat by William Lees which I think was originally published in 1876, but other books about ‘Acoustics, Light and Heat’ (what is now called Physics) also existed at the time.

English Pictures Drawn with Pen and Pencil has also been archived and was published in 1879. It’s beautiful and I’m trying hard to push myself to understand that books like this would have been a really important way that my great great grandparents and people of the time would have got to know about their country.

“Wednesday, September 10. This being Doncaster St Leger day I had done at 5 PM so went to the baths, and afterwards did some Decimals and Proportion sums. I entered in a sweep but did not win anything.

Thursday, September 11. So J. in the evening. She has got a Zulu hat which I tried on. It just suits me! It rained a little so did not stay as long as usual. Although it rained we did not forget the stile.”

Mentioning that stile again eh? It’s after coming back from holiday that Fred first starts obliquely referring to his and Janie’s relationship getting a little more physical. I know from later notes in Fred’s diary and in the letters that these two do not restrict themselves to a bit of chaste kissing.


Anyway, despite Fred’s earlier dismissive opinion of Zulu hats, Jane evidently enjoys being fashionable and is rather persuasive where Fred is concerned. I wish I could have been a fly on the wall for that little exchange. If you’ll indulge me:

Janie: So I know you didn’t think much to them, but I tried one on in Sheffield and I rather liked it – everyone’s wearing one, I know – why not try it on Fred?
Fred: I don’t think I could possibly…
Janie: Oh go on Fred, here let me [puts the hat on Fred, adjusts it, stands back and admires her handy-work] Gosh Fred – it suits you, you know, I think you look rather dashing.
[Fred goes to look in the mirror, turns himself this way and that]
Fred: You know what my dear, I think you are right, I think I am rather dashing in this, I could win a fine young woman in this couldn’t I?
[Jane snatches it back off Fred’s head and puts it back on her own]
Janie: And I’m sure I could win a fine young man in it too….

Sadly, despite extensive digging around, I have not yet been able to work how what the heck a Zulu hat is.

Image source: Brown Bayley & Dixon advertisement 1876. From Grace’s Guide to British Industrial History.


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