Swapping Selfies in Sheffield – Victorian Style

Swapping Selfies in Sheffield – Victorian Style

This is Fred and Janie. They look very serious don’t they? It’s wondrous and puzzling to be looking at the photographs of my great great grandparents. These two between them gave me an eighth of my DNA.

I have later photographs of them both which are frankly more flattering but these are among the earliest, and clearly have been taken in formal fashion — having to sit or stand with a fixed expression for the exposure. Some photographers at that time even had a little device on a tripod that was positioned at the back of your neck to hold your head still. Literally ram-rod straight.

They look so young! At the end of 1879 Fred was 20 and Jane was 19.

I thought I would share these now as there is a curious mention of swapping photographs in Fred’s diary. During September 1879 He pays one of his regular visits to his friends, brother and sister Fred and Annie Johnson. The official reason he visits is to borrow the current best seller ‘Helen’s Babies’ from Annie – but at the same time he delivers his likeness to her to give to Jane. Annie already has Jane’s likeness ready to give to him. Which she does and Fred records that he “was obliged”.

Some setting up has gone on here. Now Fred and Jane have already swapped photos before – back in February when they decided to split up for a while, it was a parting act – giving each other a keepsake. This time Fred and Jane have clearly arranged to go to the trouble of getting Annie Johnson to deliver their photographs. Is this a public signal that they are officially courting? They now have a witness that they have exchanged photos.

No letters exchanged from this stage of their courtship has survived, but Fred’s recollections for September in 1879 show that they saw plenty of each other, gave each other gifts, shared books, went to the theatre and on one occasion endured the same sermon twice. Once was bad enough even then it would seem.

   Sunday, September 14. Was out by 7 AM went for a walk. Went to Attercliffe church in the morning; in the afternoon went with Fred Johnson for a walk to Handsworth, saw J went in with her. There was no one in but her. Did not stay long. In the evening went with J, to Darnall church. There instead of Mr Littlewood the vicar, was our curate Mr Bowen preaching the preached, the very sermon that he preached at our church the previous Sunday evening. So had to make the best of it.

In his diary Fred reports instances but not the feelings behind them. Annie Johnson’s unwelcome remarks about his spending seem to be linked with the seriousness of his relationship with Jane – he’s obviously not wanting to rush things – however Fred is thinking about getting married to Jane. He’s had a conversation with his sister, possibly Louisa – as he had a good relationship with her – which has resulted in Louisa lending him a book to lend to Jane called ‘Love, Courtship & Marriage’. The preface of the book I’ve linked to includes a section for Young Men but it’s from the 1881 edition so I am imagining that previous editions were for the instruction of young ladies. What conversations have taken place where Fred feels this is an appropriate course of action? Whatever they were, we are now at a place in their relationship where they are making their courtship public and seeking the advice of his family.

Below are the last two weeks of September 1879 from Fred’s diary. I’m finding the perfunctory entries frustrating, I have this window on their world but the glass is misted over. In this period of 12 days Fred and Jane see each other on 10 of them. Events rather than the words point to two young people who are besotted with each other. And while it is hard to see Jane’s character through Fred’s eyes, their differences are rather marked. While Fred lends her stories and buys her prayer books, Jane herself goes in for flower shows, shopping and buys Fred a smoking cap. Which I find both hysterical and rather enchanting.

   Thursday, September 18. Ted was coming up for a walk but had the diarrhoea so did not turn up. Fred came up to show me that he had got a second class certificate in Scripture knowledge. We went for a walk. Saw J. Had a few words with her; she soon found out that I had been smoking. When we came back we overtook Annie Johnson and Lucy Craven, we went for a short way with them. Annie’s always talking about my spending my money instead of saving it, as though a fellow was going to get married straight off. Went to the baths swam 16 lengths = 73 x 16 = 1168 yards.

   Friday, September 19. Went with J, to the theatre to see “Our Boys”. She was highly amused. She did not go home to Handsworth, but stayed at Darnall.

   Saturday, September 20. Went for a walk in the woods in the afternoon, the keeper came and turned me out. In the evening saw J went up at 7:30 but had to wait until 8 for her. Lent her the book my sister lent me viz “Love, Courtship & Marriage”.

   Sunday, September 21. John Meays, John Henry Chambers, Robert Maltby + myself went to Treeton church when we got there we found it closed for repairs. Went to Brimsworth, called at the Angel, had some rum + milk (which I think does not agree with me for I had a headache in the evening). In the afternoon it rained so did not go out. Went to Handsworth Church in the evening. Had a walk with J afterwards.

   Monday, September 22. J. went to a flower show at Mosbo. Ted came up after tea, so we had a short walk and then I met J at the station by the 8:20. We had a walk. J had a severe headache.

   Tuesday September 23. Was working until 8 PM. Went up Handsworth. Saw J. Went to Woodhouse Mill with John Warburton. Saw J when we got back. J said she couldn’t see me tomorrow as agreed.

   Wednesday, September 24. Went to Sheffield at 6pm for lamp.

   Thursday, September 25. Went to H. Saw J. Had a walk with her. Took her “Dombey and Son” and also a prayer book and hymn book I had bought her.

   Friday, September 26. Went to the Mathematic class at Carbrook Board School. Teacher Mr Harbour.

   Saturday, September 27. Played at cricket and football in the afternoon. In the evening saw J. who was rather slow at first but afterwards livened up a bit.

   Sunday September 28. Went to church in the morning. It rained from 12.0 until 8pm so never went out until after 8, and then went to see J. Saw her.

   Monday, September 29. Saw J at Darnall, she had been to Sheffield with Janie Reckless. She gave me a smoking cap, a very nice one. We went through the little wood and rested on the two bridges.