In the last post I wished I could have known more about the “Dramatic Entertainment” that Fred had persuaded Janie to come to at the end of February 1879. I was delighted to have that wish granted during some searching through the British Newspaper Archive, I actually found a write up of that event in the Sheffield Independent on the 26th of February 1879:
“Attercliffe Parish Church. — Last evening, a dramatic entertainment was given in the Church schools, Lord street, Attercliffe, by some of the members of the Mutual Improvement Society, in the presence of a large and appreciative audience. Mr Pinder (vice president) occupied the chair. The first part of the entertainment was a comedietta entitled “A Cup of Tea,” intended to show how petty jealousies, like “great events, from little causes spring.” The character of Sir Charles Seymour, the head of the house, a ”man about town,” was well delineated by Mr. John Meays, and Mrs. Gill (who, in the absence of Miss Johnson, was entrusted with the part at the last moment) was most successful as Lady Clara Seymour, his loving spouse. Joseph, the footman, was entrusted to Mr. H. Meays. The character however, that was productive of the most amusement was that taken by Mr. Gent, viz., Scroggins, a gentleman who succeeded in mixing himself up in other people’s business. A similar piece, entitled “Family Jars,” provided a great amount of genuine fun. Mrs Gill, Miss Lucy Craven, and Messrs. John Meays, Hitchin, and Johnson were the dramatis personae.”
I’ve since found out that “Family Jars – a farce in one act” was written by dramatist Joseph Lunn and while I’ve not found an author for “A Cup of Tea” I have found a script (pdf). Online searches pull up newspaper reports of other amateur performances of both plays on either side of the atlantic during the late Victorian period.
Fred’s diary mentions Lucy Craven – who he walked out with for a short time the previous year, but remains part of his social circle. John Meays was clearly good friend, we have a couple of his letters and he is one of the witnesses who signed Fred and Jane’s wedding certificate when they eventually married in October 1882. The only John Meays I can find in that area at that time is a pawnbroker – who has a brother called Harry (the article mentions Mr H. Meays) and also an apprentice called Alfred Panton. Fred and Jane’s letters sometimes mention a Betsy Panton (probably a relation of Alfred) in the same breath as John Meays so I have to conclude that it’s the same person.
“Johnson” is Fred Johnson – part of the three ‘Fred, Fred & Ted’ group of which our Fred was one. A later entry about another evening of entertainment Fred mentions helping Johnson with fixing scenery so I am assuming that our Fred was usually part of the back stage crew.
Aside from social events, the Attercliffe Parish Church Mutual Improvement Association was chiefly about adult evening classes – adult education was undergoing a huge surge in interest at that time in Sheffield, and was part of the wider ‘knowledge revolution’ in the late nineteenth century¹. Fred, who seems to have had a brain like a sponge, forever demanding input, sized all the education opportunities he could, attending both his local Mutual Improvement Association and participating as one of the nearly 400 students at the Sheffield Church of England Educational Institute at that time².
Reading that newspaper article slotted into place for me the people in Fred’s social life – It’s now clear to me that Fred’s friends are drawn mainly from his fellow students, although he also socialises with some of his colleagues from work as well.
Fred goes walking a lot with Fred Johnson, they seem to think nothing of doing huge loops of nearly 20 miles encompassing Canklow, Whiston, Ulley, Treeton, and back home to Darnall via Handsworth – the last stop obviously hoping to ‘bump’ into Jane. Fred J and Ted seem to be our Fred’s main confidants.
Over the course of March and April 1879 Fred joins Darnall Cricket Club and he starts dancing classes – sometimes partnering with Fred J’s sister Amy. Fred settles into a pattern of seeing Jane for a walk most Sunday evenings, and they seem to by getting quite close because they start to get “awfully spooney”[sic]. On Tuesday, April the 22nd, Fred writes, “Wrote a long letter to Ted – in the afternoon – telling him that I was in the point of making a confession of love to Janie. Went up with Janie in the evening made the confession referred to, received a reciprocative reply. She’s promised to be my good angel!”
Fred’s diary for the spring and early summer of 1879 is mostly full of having walks with Janie. Given that he can’t call for her without reminding the Warburtons – Jane’s family – of his ‘unsuitability’, the pair of them must have had to arrange things with an element of subterfuge. Something that Fred seems to send up in the following letter:
“Darnall, April 30, 1879.
When I got home last night I found that Ted had returned and had been up to our house, ten minutes after I left, of course he failed to overtake me.
My brother Arthur saw him today (Wednesday) and he (Ted) told him that he should come up tomorrow evening at 7:30, if so I have not the least doubt that cricketing will have to stand over.
If you and Miss B, go to Sheffield, as you mentioned, it may possibly happen that you will return by the 7.20. if so there seems the faintest probability that D.V.W.P. Ted and myself may see that particular train arrive, although, as you are well aware it will be against my inclination. If you should not go to Sheffield, it may never – the – less, notwithstanding possibly happen that you may make an extraordinary effort to be travelling down the street about 8.0.
I am in a desperate hurry just now 7.0pm, also I should experience great pleasure in lengthening this note saying that it is so seldom that I write to you, but you can imagine it extended (ad-libitum) with the practical outpouring of an overburdened heart and also innumerable (buzzes). through which agony, I shall still remain, your disconsolate lover, (until tomorrow night)
I can not work out what ‘buzzes’ are – perhaps a way of describing having ‘butterflies’? But whatever it is, he’s crazy about Jane – and I love the way he’s using humour to deflect the deep feelings he clearly has.
A lot more walks in May and June follow, including “a most enjoyable day” at Roche Abbey (pictured above) which seems to have become a favourite place to visit for them. On one occasion Fred writes “Janie came to our church in the evening, we had a delightful walk home through the wood. It was beautifully clear, the moon was at full. It was splendid.”
July brings the village feasts and dancing and Fred’s dancing lessons pay off when he gets to dance with Janie at the Darnall Feast on the cricket field, and a few days later at a dance on the village green. Jane seems to have an irrepressible spirit and energy and Fred gets “considerably put out at her dancing with several other gentlemen.” But Jane is clearly just as besotted with Fred because when Fred misses going up to see Jane one evening due to feeling ill he not only “had to ask my friend Ted Watts to do duty” but the next day – “Had to see J. to quieten her as she was uneasy”.
After what is clearly the spring and summer that they fell in love with each other I was gratified to read that the Warburton’s might be thawing a tiny fraction because at the beginning of August, Fred writes, “Sunday, August 3. Went up in the evening. It rained so was invited by J inside. Went + spent a very enjoyable evening.”
Actually invited inside! Wonders will never cease…
Image source: Wikimedia Commons; View of ruined transept at Roche Abbey Yorkshire by Cartwright 1807
1. Steel City Scholars, The Centenary History of the University of Sheffield. Helen Mathers.
2. Sheffield and Rotherham Red Book 1881