Let’s call the whole thing off (but I’ll see you once a week)

Let’s call the whole thing off (but I’ll see you once a week)

Trying to work out just how much (and why) the early days of Janie and Fred’s relationship were blighted by the disapproval of Janie’s family, the Warburtons, is tricky when the only lens I’ve got for this time are the sporadic entries from Fred’s diary. Fred is feeling that his shortcomings in the eyes of Mrs Warbuton (whatever they were) are insurmountable and it seems to be Janie that is holding fast to the idea of being with Fred. It’s frustrating to have so little of her voice as this point but she’s coming across to me as knowing what she wants – which is Fred, and strong willed to the point of crossing her mother:

“Thursday December 19th. Told Janie that the future was so unsatisfactory that I thought it would be advisable to part. She said we had better not. So we agreed to think about it.
Sunday Decr 22. Had another interview with Janie, when it came out that her mother offered serious objections, which she thought might be got over in time. A desperate bit of kissing etc ensued we thought it was going to be the last.”

I’m now wondering what the “etc” meant. More than kissing clearly.

Fred then throws himself into the Christmas season and the following entries provide a tantalising portrait of  Christmas activities in a working class community in Sheffield. There is plenty of ‘bumping’ into Janie too.

“Monday. December 23rd. Went to the [Sheffield] Albert Hall to hear Mendelssohn’s Elijah. [Charles] Santley as Elijah.
Wednesday. December 25. Christmas Day. Went to church in the morning, in the afternoon walked round Tinsley, Brinkworth, Catcliffe + Handsworth. Evening, saw Janie again, had an understanding with her, that I was to see her once a week.
Thursday, December 26. Had half day holiday. Tom Hughes and I went to O’Donnell’s to tea, played at cards until 10 PM, I would not play for money but lost all my nuts.
Friday, December 27. Went to the entertainment after the Social tea at Darnall school. Saw Janie there.
Saturday, December 28. Went to see the ventriloquist (Maccabe) at the Albert Hall, Sheffield.
Sunday 29th December. Went to church in the morning, in the afternoon to my brother Walter’s to dinner and tea, night to see Janie.
Monday, December 30. Went with Janie and Miss Bray to the entertainment at our school.
Tuesday, December 31. 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. Proper girls to go at that time after 9.0 pm.”

Fred’s New Year’s eve sounds rather lovely including rounding it off with a bit of a sing. I’ve found out that Fred was a baritone and singing and music feature a lot in his writing and letters. I have spent several fascinating hours finding out about Charles Santley – the most eminent opera singer in the UK at that time, Frederic Maccabe, who wrote an important book on ventriloquism, watching videos about Magic Lanterns and finding recordings of some of the music mentioned. Listening to a crackly recording of Santley’s voice and knowing that my great great grandfather listened to him makes me feel a sudden unexpected connection.

Below are some links to Youtube videos of some of the music I’ve found. I can almost see Fred in the bell chamber of the church in Attercliffe, contentedly singing “Now the Day is Over” with his friends.

British Film Industry video about adapting Charles Dickens for the Magic Lantern
Charles Santley singing ‘Though art passing hence my brother
Alex Lawrence, Baritone, sings Lord God of Abraham from Mendelssohn’s Elijah
Recording of Now the Day is Over

Magic Lantern Image source: http://www.libraryofbirmingham.com/christmascards “The Best Wishes of the Season to You (c.1885) Christmas card produced by A.L & Co. The illustration features a magic lantern show, which was a very popular form of entertainment in the days before cinema. Location: Francis Parker Scrapbook. Parker Collection. Early and Fine Printing Collection Item Number 698218”


Burning with the power of 8000 candles…

Burning with the power of 8000 candles…

Following the somber events of early October, Fred + Janie resume seeing each other and I have one short letter from Fred who pleads to see Janie again from the time around the death of his father. There is an initial discussion about the different trains he tried to ‘accidentally’ meet her from and this confused me at first until reading some of the later letters it became clear that one of the ways they contrived to see each other, was to let each other know about their train journeys to and from town and ‘just happen’ to be at the station when the train got in.

After the discussion about Sheffield timetable logistics Fred decided to restart the letter:

“I suppose I ought to have started in a different manner, such as,

“Angelic Janey, could you so far forget yourself as to honour a poor misguided but devoted admirer a distant glimpse of your entrancing and soul inspiring person on the 6th day of this week commonly called Friday, or on the 11th day of the month of October inconvenience yourself in any way as it will be a walk if I do not see you. Until then I remain your – I do not know what to call myself in relation to you except that I am ‘myself’,
that most important person

Fred – ever the practical romantic:  “as it will be a walk if I do not see you”. I do love how he sends himself up too.

Frustratingly after this the rest of 1878 goes dark, no letters and no diary entries until the Christmas season and the New Year where Fred starts to write his diary in real time, rather than retrospectively.

However while I have an information black-out for the rest of October & November 1878, things were literally brightening up in Sheffield and the rest of the UK.  This was the time the advent of electricity in public spaces blazed its way in to Janie and Fred’s (and everyone else’s) lives.

The world’s first floodlit football match
Set up as a joint venture by electrical companies and football clubs, with the idea of both increasing football attendance and to prove the potential of electric lighting in the public arena, it was on the 14th of October in 1878 in Bramall Lane where they staged a unique event – the world’s first ever floodlit football match.

From The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent: “Football by the Electric Light. — The interest arouse by the application of the electric light to social uses was strikingly apparent at Sheffield on Wednesday night, when nearly 30,000 people gathered at the Brammall[sic] lane Grounds to witness football match by means of the electric light. The match which was played by two teams belonging to the Sheffield Football Association commenced at half-past seven o’clock. The electric light was thrown on the ground from four lamps thirty feet from the ground, and the rays, which were of great brilliancy, lighted nearly the whole of the ground, and the players could be seen almost as clearly as at noonday. When the light was turned on the crowd cheered loudly, and then watched the game with great interest. Some amusement was caused by the brilliancy of the light, which dazzled the players somewhat and caused some strange blunders. Behind each goal was placed a portable engine, each of which drove two dynamo-electric machines, one for each light. The illuminating power was equal to 8000 standard candles, and the cost per hour for each light was 3 1/2 d.”

The Sheffeld Telegraph reporting the event wrote, “There was an overwhelming interest in the experiment, and excursionists arrived in large numbers from distant grounds. Between six and seven o’clock, it seemed as if all Sheffield was heading for Bramall Lane. The streets were thronged from all directions. At the game curiosity conquered customary courtesy[*], and the few who were really interested in the play were obliged to give way to the many who had eyes only for the new lights. Many of the ladies, once within the rays, shot up umbrellas as they would parasols to shield them from the sun at mid-day!”

Fred was a keen footballer, playing at different times for Attercliffe and Darnall, and was in demand by the different captains for the Cup-Tie the following year. There is no doubt in my mind that he would be been completely aware of this event, clearly the whole of Sheffield was – and beyond – but I wonder if he was actually there. I’m certain several of his friends would have made sure they were there – they were part of the Sheffield footballing world.

[*] It would be intriguing to think that “curiosity conquered customary courtesy” for Fred also but his father had been buried less than a week before and I don’t know how much mourning Fred was observing. It was unseemly to attend social events for months after the death of a parent, and I feel rather sad at the idea of Fred missing out on such a treat. As he was recording his diary retrospectively for that period, an eyewitness account of a floodlit Bramall Lane would surely have been worth a mention? Two years later when he sees the Blackpool Illuminations (first switched on in 1879 – perhaps conceived of because of the Bramall Lane event) he is very impressed with them in his letter to Janie. Knowing what I know of Fred – in terms of his character – I think that with deep deep regret, he would have stayed at home. But I’m sure he lapped up every detail from everyone he knew who did go.

In later letters Janie + Fred both mention fiddling with the gas for more light while writing – electricity not being part of their domestic sphere. However on the 14th of October they would have known, beyond any doubt, that their world was changing forever.


Stop all the clocks…

Stop all the clocks…

In my initial excitement at reading and starting to transcribe the letters and Fred’s diary, I wasn’t really aware of how much this was getting under my skin. So when I came across this entry I froze. And then I found myself full of tears:

Alfred's death Fred's Diary

Transcription: Friday October 4th. My father died on this day. Which threw the gloom over our house, I did not see Janey until Saturday, Octr 12, when she was dressed in black. A delicate mark of sympathy, which I appreciated.

This particular entry is stained and dirty and I can I think you can see from the photograph, starting to crumble. The rest of the diary in comparison is clean and in fairly good condition. It looks like this entry has been turned to and stroked many times. The stains of grief more eloquent than the sparse words written.

It seems ridiculous that a worn piece of paper can reveal someone’s emotional state from 135 years ago but when you look at it, it’s obvious.

Fred’s father (and my 3 x great-grandfather) was Alfred Shepherd. He was born Grenoside, Sheffield in either 1807 or 1808.  The 1861 Census records him as being a ‘Roll Turner’ and married to Ann, with 1 daughter and 5 sons – the youngest of which was Fred who had been born in 1860. The National Burial Index says he was buried on the 8th of October 1878 at Christ Church, Attercliffe, Sheffield (pictured above). Sadly the church was destroyed by bombing in WWII.

It is hard to say how much mourning was observed at this distance but this period is at the height of the Victorian cult of Mourning – which was a particularly heavy financial burden on poor families. However, Fred seems to have observed a week of social isolation and Jane has made ‘a delicate mark of sympathy’. Given that they only met two months earlier I think that a certain amount of mourning customs are being observed. This well researched post on Victorian Mourning and Funerary Practices provides a fascinating glimpse into the social norms of the time (and the rest of site is well worth your time).