So I now know is what was concealed in the shorthand written by my great great-grandfather Fred in his diary of 1879. I owe a debt of thanks to Margaret Robertson, who I was introduced to via Facebook, and who kindly spent a lot of her free time going through and deciphering my great great Grandfather’s archaic shorthand.
Fred was studying Pitman shorthand at the Sheffield Church of England Educational Institute. His diary up until now has been in longhand with the odd shorthand line here and there. However using shorthand for whole diary entries is new and as it turns out, to add a level of security so that Fred can talk about intimacies with Jane. I feel a little guilty that his careful effort only kept prying eyes out for 136 years but at the same time, my research into Fred and Jane is also rewriting my understanding of Victorian courtship – lover’s lanes are well in use.
I confess, after getting so fond of Fred – who is so funny, kind and conscientious – I am a little disappointed to discover that he is a man of his time with the expected attitudes towards women, their sexuality and their interests. However to watch him wrestling with his own preconceptions and the actually reality of a living breathing woman who he clearly adores is fascinating. I know that Jane, just by her own goddamn breathing is going to educate Fred and confound his expectations. And if the culture that has been handed down to me from her, via the three women between us, has survived relatively undiluted, I imagine she’ll have had no patience with any restrictions that didn’t suit her.
Below is most of the shorthand transcript. ‘__’ denotes a word that has been difficult to decipher. Words in brackets denote the most likely word.
“Tuesday, October 28
Went to H. Saw Jane at Darnall we had a very nice walk but rather uncomfortable on account of a conversation similar to Sunday nights thus: She said that Miss Gibbons at Darnall holy went into her young man’s room (for/after) (dressed/dressing). I said that she ought not to talk about such things. I also said that I was of the opinion that people never did anything before marriage but that I was gradually losing that opinion. From her manner I thought that she would not take much persuading to do the same thing between us, so I said that I hoped we should never have anything of the same (opinion). Afterwards I questioned her about her former admirers thinking that I should find out whether they had taken liberties with her. I didn’t find out. I didn’t ask her point blank, but nothing today, so another time.
Wed Oct 29th
I am very uncomfortable today owing to our conversation last night. Though no doubt like for us both to be a little sensual, it is not very nice to think of one’s wife as being too fond of it.
5.00 pm I almost feel inclined to go up tonight although it is not my night, I may see her and that will perhaps ease me a little.
Thursday Oct 30th
I went up to Handsworth last night as I thought I should but didn’t say anything about the subject mentioned before. Janie was so nice that I couldn’t say anything to her. I met her coming down the street. She said she thought that I should come up so went to meet me. I promised to go up tonight to see her. I also promised to bring up the Organist and the (Choir) which I intend taking next year.
Friday Oct 31st
Went up to Handsworth last night. I saw Janie just through the hotel bar exactly at 7.30.
We went down Grange Lane where we met Miss__ and Mr__ They did not seem to be getting on very well together. I thought Miss__ looked rather sulky and low. She always seems so bitter against the parson. Speaking of parsons, I told Janie the story about Dr Gates son at Bradfield who was going to see the (beggars/boxers) fight. And all young (Houseman) said was, he was tired of preaching to such a lot of soft (Devils).
Janie was rather amused but at the time I hoped she would not be, as I think women ought not to take any interest in such matters.
We had a very nice walk down Woodhouse Mill and then of course we had to have the usual swooning and kissing until my trousers almost burst. I am afraid Janie will feel something some night it gets so strong. My love for her until now has been very __ but now it’s like a raging fire. I don’t know what to do with myself seriously. I sincerely hope that passion will not carry us too far some night as from her manner I think she is as passionate as myself. I couldn’t get married even if I wanted.
Sat Nov 1st
Played at football with St Judes__ rising star for the new season cup. We lost. It was a most disreputable match both on account of the foul play and also the foul language.
Sunday Nov 2nd
Went to Darnall church with Janie in the evening. And afterwards went for a walk but didn’t get on so well as I should have liked as I thought she didn’t want to see me before Thursday and I wanted to see her on Monday. At last I persuaded her to see me on Monday night when I expect we shall be alright.
Monday Nov 3rd
As I was going home to dinner I met Janie who was going to Rotherham, it being the Fair there. I saw her after by the train and promised to fetch her. I went down by the 6.40 to Rotherham to fetch Janie and came back by the 7.10. I never went out of the station. Afterwards went up to Handsworth with her. We had a very enjoyable walk. I am to go up on Thursday night.”
Image Credit: The Kiss Stealer by Edmund H. Garrett (1853-1929)