The Vinegar Valentine

The Vinegar Valentine

The winter of 1878/1879 was one of the coldest on record with snow remaining on the ground for almost 4 months. During the first part of 1879 an unsettling coolness seems to creep in between Fred and Jane. In fact the more I re-read Fred’s diary for the first half of 1879, I’ve retrospectively grown a little concerned for the future existence of their descendants, including myself.

Fred continues to try to see Jane on Tuesdays and Sundays, but he has several fruitless visits to Handsworth as she starts to get evasive, and uncommunicative – which doesn’t seem like her at all. “Sunday. Jany 19th. Went to church in the morning. To Bible class in the afternoon, to church again in the evening with Janie. Had a conversation with her as to her great reticence. Could not understand it.”

The following Sunday Fred is skating on the Treeton Old River, sees Janie and they skate together – which must have been lovely, but the next week Fred endures a snub from Janie’s brother, “Monday Feby 10th. Went to the Entertainment at Darnall School with Lucy + Maggie Craven + Ted. Saw Janie’s brother there. He never recognised me. Put me out of temper.”  This has Fred brooding for a couple of days because on Wednesday he writes, “Went to see Janie. Lost my temper. Said something about “did her brother intend to slight or look down on me at all, if so I resented it. Left her in a very ungentlemanly manner .”

The Warburtons are looking like they’ve closed ranks on this issue and I’m wondering how much they are actively interfering with Jane seeing Fred and what kinds of things they are saying to her. Fred, understandably, is outraged – and in this day and age it’s easy to empathise with him. However, he is being rather determined, selfish even, to try and brazen things out in the face of such disapproval. I think its a bit unfair of him to be so hard on Janie too.

Fred soldiers on and decides to buy and send Janie a Valentine in shape of a pair of gloves – a popular design with Victorians because ‘glove’ contains the word ‘love’ without having to explicitly say it. Sadly on February 16th thing blow up in his face rather, as Jane suddenly sends back to him all the books he has lent her over their time together. He goes up to Handsworth to see her but she obviously doesn’t want to. Fred is completely at a loss until he finally manages to catch up with her several days later, “Wednesday Feby 19th. Went up with Ted to Handsworth, saw Janie + Miss Bray. Had an explanation with her. It turns out that someone had sent her a foul valentine which she thought had come from me.”

It was only after looking up Valentine’s traditions for this period that I discovered the concept of ‘Vinegar Valentines’. It appears to have been as much a tradition to send a mean Valentine to someone as sending the romantic kind. In fact some of the designs were downright cruel. I’m willing to bet that this ‘foul valentine’ was of the vinegar variety but of course, the identity of whoever sent it is lost to time. However I have my suspicions. The two most likely culprits are either Jane’s former finance, Walter Brookes, whom she jilted to walk out with Fred, much to the uproar of her mother, or, more likely someone in the family, possibly her older sister Emma, being mean and even divisive. If Janie’s been cowed and kept from seeing Fred, I personally wouldn’t put it past Emma to send a vinegar valentine and then try and convince her of it being sent by Fred. Why would Jane think that Fred had done something like that all by herself? Instinctively I feel as if someone has worked on Jane’s insecurities, pushing the buttons that only families know, encouraging her to doubt things and playing on her fears. I know this is all my own conjecture but I’m not sure how else to read Jane’s change of heart. She believed it enough that she got upset enough to send back all Fred’s books.

Fred saw her the next day, “Went up with Ted, saw Janie. Everything went off splendidly.” but then the day after sends a letter to Janie which would have been a repeat of everything that they had discussed, so Fred obviously feels the need to underline the truth and reassure her:

1879 02 21 FS to JW 1 of 2

“Feb 21 1879
8.20pm

Dear Janie,

You may be surprised at my writing to you after our late episode, but I am compelled to do so, for several reasons. One is that you may have another opportunity of comparing this with the Valentine that you received on the 14th, from which comparison you will be thoroughly satisfied that I did not send it, which, although not saying so / you seemed to doubt on Wednesday night. Examine the composition, spelling et cetera.

I shall come up on Sunday night (D.V. W.P.) I hope I shall see you, and will you bring that memorable valentine for me? I wish I had taken your letter back on Wednesday night. It would perhaps have pleased you, which I am always desirous of doing.

I think I did apologise for those hasty words that other night, if not, I do so now. I hope you will forgive me. I don’t know whether you have noticed it, but it is none the less a fact, that ‘Church Lane’ has not been properly utilised for 14 (fourteen) days. Prodigious! Likewise a shame!!

I hope your father is better than he was when I saw you, so that you may have an opportunity of seeing our Dramatic (very dramatic!) Entertainment on Tuesday Night. If I should not see you I suppose you will be at Darnall Church by 7pm as promised. As to yourself, how shall I wish you? Answer. As before. If so, I remain yours in a state of some disconsolancy.
Fred.
P.S. 1. I had to work late, so could not write this at home. Hope it will not make any difference to you.
2. do not write back, there is not delivery at Darnall on Sundays.
3. Hope this will find you well as it leaves me at present. (This is the set school formula).”

The Church Lane mentioned, I think, is where they go to be alone. I love Fred’s ‘had to write this at work, on work’s headed paper, and remind you that I am employed in a respectable position at a swanky big firm’ in the PS. I’d love to know what these Dramatic entertainments were too.

Things are wavering for the rest of February and most of March. They decide not to walk out with each other any more which must have made Fred very sad, but given the atmosphere Janie must have been living under, might have been the driver behind the decision. The pair of them obviously decide to do the ‘sensible’ thing under the circumstances and stop the courtship. However, they only manage a month. I’ll let Fred finish this post:

“Tuesday Feby 25. Dramatic Entertainment in connection with our Mutual. Janie + Miss Bray came to it. When going home I had a conversation with her as the desirability of our not being so intimate for a time, as long courtships were never much good. She agreed with me, we were to finish on the Sunday following.

“Saturday Mch 1. Ted + Fred came up. We went to Handsworth. Saw Janie. Salary Increased to 28/-

“Sunday Mch 2. Went to church in the morning, stayed to communion. Afternoon a walk. Night. Went to Handsworth. Saw Janie, had a long walk with her. We’re not going to be more than friends in future. I promised to send her my photograph. She is to send hers in return. Had a very affectionate parting.

“Sunday Mch 9th. Saw Janie in a friendly manner.

“Saturday Mch 22nd. Ted went down South to his sister’s home for a short period.

“Sunday Mch 30th. Went to sister Louisa’s in the afternoon, at night went up to Handsworth. It was late when I got up there but saw Janie. She consented to have a short walk, which was delicious. It resulted in a return to the old manner of parting.”

Image source: An illustration from Jules Verne’s novel “Off on a Comet” (French: “Hector Servadac”, 1877) drawn by Paul Dominique Philippoteaux.

Fred worriedly writes to Janie for the first time

Fred worriedly writes to Janie for the first time

The drama of Jane being hit by her mother for being seen with the wrong man really upset Fred. I’ve just finished reading, and have now transcribed his whole diary, and now realise he’s not given to writing his feelings down in it very much at all. It’s rare when he does and on one occasion the economy of his expression had me weeping. I’ll share that in more detail in another post. I think it’s also worth bearing in mind that these two are still quite young; in the autumn of 1878 Fred was 19 and Jane was 18. While Fred doesn’t seem to express things – he’s not backwards in resolving confrontation, perhaps even showing a little lack of judgement. Or he may be a believer in the idea of ‘faint heart never did win fair lady’.  Anyway for whatever reason, he tries to see Jane at the Cross Keys and unsurprisingly gets short shrift from her mother:

Wednesday, September 11.
The occurrence of last night completely upset me, so having half a day off Tom Hughes and I set off for Birely Spa by way of Handsworth and Woodhouse. I called in at the Cross Keys but did not see J. Her mother waited off me, and was I thought rather cruel.

Fred, clearly indignant, decides to write what appears to be the first letter between them, which I share here in its entirety:

September 11, 1878

Dear Janey,

I was compelled – though most unwillingly – to hear what your mother said on Tuesday week and as it was through me I have come to the conclusion that rather than you should suffer a repetition of the annoyance and indignity, I would discontinue my visits to Handsworth, at least for the present.

I also heard your mater familias say, that she would not have you walking out with me, and writing to another, at the same time. If this is correct, it must be the same one I heard of before, and of whom I spoke to you but you did not try to explain it; it appears now that would’ve been much better if you had, for, altho’ I do not want to preach, I cannot help saying, but I think you could not have expected good to come, through, or by, a deception practised on both of us.

However, I will forgive you this once. Why your mother should have allowed you to go to Wharncliffe and now to kick up this bother I cannot understand!

It would save misunderstanding if you would answer as to the receipt of this letter, and also say whether you agree with the conclusions I have come to. If you do not I shall be glad to place myself at your disposal, and at your earliest convenience. Do not think I am treating you lightly – far from it! – but it is better to look at it in a matter-of-fact sort of way, rather than in a romantic. You may think that I ought to have more perseverance as to coming up now that the weather is cloudy but if I did it would only cause you bother and trouble, so that it is as well I have not.

If you do write – I hope you will – you can either direct it to 34 Freedom Hill, Darnall or to Messrs Brown, Bayley & Dixon Ltd, Attercliffe.

If you do not write the probability is that I should never know whether you had received it or not as I do not know whether they open your letters or not at home.
But believe me I shall ever remain your sincere friend, admirer, and well wisher
Fred

P.S. I have to thank you for the many happy hours I have spent in your company.

We don’t have Jane’s reply but she did send one as Fred records it in his diary:

Friday, September 13.
Ted bought me a letter from J. In it she says “that when her mother is vexed she does not think what she says. That it is quite correct she was engaged but intended breaking it off in July but had been prevented. However it is now broken off. As I had had so many pleasant hours with her, she hoped I should have many more, and also that the expedition to Woodhouse church which have been proposed should not fall through.”

My sister and I have been speculating on the circumstances of this ‘Mr Bricks’ that the Warburtons seem so keen on Jane marrying – to the point of preventing Jane ‘breaking’ with him. He obviously had an attraction – most likely of the financial kind, but not of much else as far as Jane was concerned.

It’s clear that there is enormous attraction between Jane and Fred for them to be exercising their own wills so strongly in the face of objection (confound it, I’m picking up Fred’s idiom in my writing) and I’m having fun trying to work out exactly what it is. From the in-jokes they share in their later letters, humour seems to be very present. I’ve found myself giggling at their turns of phrase – which seem so comfortably familiar. In the truest sense of that word.

Anyway, the letters smooth the way and and two days later it’s is all back on:

Sunday, September 15.
It rained very hard at 5:30 so did not go to H[andsworth] until after our church at eight. Saw J, had a walk with her, who was on very delicate ground, but eventually cleared of all doubts and enjoyed myself immensely.

In which we meet Fred, and Jane gets into trouble

In which we meet Fred, and Jane gets into trouble

Along with the letters, we also have a diary that Fred kept for about 2 years – which looks like he started it on his 19th birthday – May 16th 1878. Between May and August he is courting, on and off, Miss Lucy Craven, a “fine looking girl about 17 years old. Tall and well made. Dark hair and eyes, a brunette” However it seems to have been a little stormy duing that time as in this entry:
Whitmonday. June 10th. I and Fred (Johnson, my chum) carried the flag – the first they have had at Attercliffe – for which we had a rosette each, made by the fair hands of the above lady. Our intimacy continued unbroken for a week or two, when we had a slight difference over a hat. Small cause!
And in July, after a holiday in Blackpool he had to make amends with her again which only lasted a week.

On 1st August, Fred and his chum Fred decide to go for a walk in Bowden Housteads Wood, where “We met Janey Reckless of the “Wellington” Darnall and were introduced by her to her companion Miss [Janie] Warburton of the “Cross Keys” Handsworth (her cousin) with whom I paired off.”  (Yes, I know two Freds and two Janies is confusing – I’m sure it was a wonderful ice-breaker).

The photo above is of the Cross Keys, Handsworth, Sheffield, which was run by Janie’s father and where the family lived. It’s still there and the only pub on consecrated ground in the UK.

Fred sees her again the next day and helpfully “Strange to say Miss Bray (with whom Ted [another friend of Fred] had been getting thick) made a friend of Miss Warburton, so that Ted and I were companions in love, and took every opportunity of seeing them”.

All goes well, until in September, when things start to go wrong, “Old Ted was thrown over by Miss Bray for some unaccountable reason. I stuck to it until one night Mrs. Warburton came out and kicked up around about her daughter walking out with one fellow, and writing to another, to whom she was engaged. An explanation followed and Mr Brick (the man’s name) was given up; but I was told that he would have been if I had not been in it at all.”

September 10th, Fred and Ted head up to Handsworth to try to sort out their love lives but things take an upsetting turn for Fred, “Ted walked off with Miss Bray; but Janie not being there, I waited until she came out. It seems that Tuesday is washing day at their house, and, as they were rather late she could not get out at the time. Her mother it seems did not wish her to come out at all but she would persist in coming out to see me. Although I could see that she had been crying. About half-past nine we returned, and I had taken leave of her when just as she got to the door who should come out but Mrs Warburton, who, I think, struck her but as I could not interfere between mother and daughter I walked on, and came up with Ted. It seems that Janie hurried after us but did not overtake us.”

Poor Janie. Poor Fred. When I first read this I felt suddenly shocked – witnessing that Mrs Warburton and Janie had come to blows. At the moment it’s hard to say if Mrs Warburton was primarily concerned about her daughter’s reputation or if Mr Bricks was considered a far more attractive prospect than Fred. Clearly Janie didn’t think so.

I’m also experiencing a strange split here – part of me is fascinated by an event that seems so vivid and another part of me is thinking, hang on, this is my family, which feels weird.