In which we admire smoking caps, royalty and take a trip to Chatsworth.

In which we admire smoking caps, royalty and take a trip to Chatsworth.

Peering into the past of 137 years ago, the windows on my Victorian Tardis are often fogged up. So it’s delightful when the picture clears after a bit of recorded history pops up in Fred’s diary and I can find lots of pictures to share with you. So here is an illustrated blog of my great great grandfather’s doings in the October of 1879.

After the gift of a smoking cap from Janie, Fred comes to the point where he decides he might be letting appearances slip: “Bought wood pipe to smoke out-of-doors as a clay pipe is not very respectable looking”. You’re not telling me that Fred wouldn’t have taken a quiet moment in front of a mirror to pose with his smoking cap and wood pipe like a proper gent? He might even have shown off the whole ensemble to Janie – which I imagine must have caused outbreaks admiration and hilarity in equal measure.


The pair of them are continuing to invent plausible excuses to ‘bump’ into each other and on one occasion, Jane, after visiting family in Woodhouse, instead of walking the 2 miles up the east side of the hill – on the brow of which is her home in Handsworth, gets on the train to Darnall to meet Fred so that he can escort her the 2 miles up the west side of the hill to Handsworth instead.

Fred, for one of his class, seems to be living a charmed life. He’s got a good job as a clerk at the steel works, he’s in love with his devoted girl, who he sees nearly every other day. He’s taking advantage of the adult education movement through his Mutual Improvement Society, and he has got just enough cash to go on excursions. He heads up to a Fine Art Exhibition in York with two of his work colleagues one Saturday which he thoroughly¬† enjoyed.

Another opportunity for having an outing turns up in the shape of the royal visit of Prince Leopold to Sheffield on the 18th of October 1879.

Prince Leopold, youngest son of Queen Victoria.

Fred went up to see him arrive and joined the crowd at Sheffield station. Fred got to see him and decided “He is very nice looking”.

On Monday a local public holiday was declared on account of the royal visit and the opening of the new Firth College – which was the precursor to Sheffield University.

Firth College

“Monday, October 20. Prince Leopold opens Firth College today. And in consequence there is a general holiday. A party of us walked to Baslow. It rained a little all else it would have been pleasant. We got to see Chatsworth house. It was after 11 PM when I got home.”

I’ve just looked up on the map how long it takes to walk from Darnall to Chatsworth. 18.5 miles – approximately 5 hours each way. I found out that two different Omnibus companies ran a service to Baslow for two shillings and sixpence for the return journey. However Fred and his friends feel that their only option is to walk – which perhaps puts into context how much pressure there is on each shilling. By contrast Jane’s mother, Maria, when she was a young girl, took a similar trip with her just married sister and new brother-in-law to Chatsworth with family and friends – in carriages. I think this particular detail more than any other has shown me the contrast in social standing between Fred and Jane.

However a lowly clerk may look at a prince.


Picture credits:
Main Image: Detail from L’Annunciazione by Antonello Da Messina 1475

Smoking Cap
By MooSzyslak – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

The Firth College in Sheffield, opened in 1879 by Mark Firth.
John Taylor – The illustrated guide to Sheffield and the surrounding district

Photographie de Leopold Duc d’Albany

Chatsworth: This 19th century engraving is from “Morris’s Seats of Noblemen and Gentlemen” the book was published 1880, the engraving would be earlier.