The Spring, clad all in gladness, Doth laugh at Winter’s sadness

The Spring, clad all in gladness, Doth laugh at Winter’s sadness

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.

Dear Janie,

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


The Diary of Fred Shepherd, aged 19 and a half…

The Diary of Fred Shepherd, aged 19 and a half…

Fred’s entries for the first three days of January 1879 are by far the longest entries he writes, taking up several pages and include lists of resolutions, a passage on personal “stocktaking”, and several tables reviewing his work attendance, study, and a breakdown of his expenditure. (I’ll split this into two posts, or it will get very long, and take a look at what he was spending his money on next time.) It’s a beautiful window into how Fred sees himself, and the hyper-focus on self-improvement seems almost overwhelming. I think Fred tried very hard to be ‘a good boy’.

After quoting a verse from Alfred Tennyson’s poem ‘Ring Out Wild Bells’ (who was the Poet Laureate at the time) Fred writes:
“This is the day in which (figuratively) speaking people “turn over new leaves “, and I conform to the general custom, not because it is a general custom, but because I firmly believe it to be a means of good. For instance, if a person is of a ruminating turn of mind, he or she may, on the last day of the old year look back through the past; perhaps with regret for the lost opportunities, time wasted, and it may be with pleasure for some things that may have been done or said, then from the past examine the present, physically, morally, intellectually, socially, + financially.

Then from the present look forward to the future, perhaps making good resolutions for the future observance and guidance, and confirming old ones, I will endeavour to carry out this plan.”

Fred is definitely coming across as a person of “a ruminating turn of mind” which I can see is both a wonderful strength because it seems to be his foundation of soaking up every learning opportunity, and something of a weakness because it causes him much worry. (I wonder if I have inherited this set of particular chunk of DNA)

Fred then has “A brief retrospect of the past” in which he mentions his regret in courting a Miss Clara Beck of Worksop who never spoke to him after he sent her a valentine, and that he attended the Sheffield Church of England Institute to study Mathematics. He doesn’t touch on the subject of Janie at all, but dives straight into:
“Now for the present (this would be called in commerce, stocktaking.)
(a) Physically. Height 5’.9”. Best of health. Weight 10 stone 13 lbs. Can play Cricket, Football, swim, skate, row. etc. Chest measurement [space left but not filled in]
(b) Morally. Never swear, or have any intercourse with women.
(c) Intellectually. Above average. I have fair knowledge of Arithmetic, Algebra (as far as equations), Shorthand (Correspondence style) Grammar (cannot parse or analyse) Euclid ([up] to Propositions of 1st book).
(d) Socially. Lower class. Have a good many acquaintances, but few friends. Reckoned good conversational powers. A lot of information, but it is not classified, and not very ready. Trade Clerk, doing Rail Mill work, at Messrs Brown, Bayley and Dixon’s, Attercliffe. Financially. Not very prosperous. Ready money 5/11 in Post office 2/5. Total total 8/4. 25/- per week salary 14/- per week board.”

The average height of a man in the UK in the 1870’s was 5’5” so Fred was tall by the standards of the day. I need to do more research but his study appears to be heading into higher education territory. ‘Euclid’s Elements’ was still used at a textbook for teaching mathematics and geometry well into the first half of 20th century. This page on wikisource rather pleasingly features the beginning of Propositions – which is the point Fred had reached in 1879. At the time all university students were expected to have an understanding of at least part of ‘Elements’. While Fred didn’t go to university – it would have been difficult to get there from his starting point – it looks like he is endeavouring to educate himself to that level.

My heart aches a little for Fred, he seems to be trying to be fair but humble in his description of himself. He’s proud of his achievements but from this and future letters, I get the feeling he feels his class and lack of opportunities – but it also drives him to push himself. I want to find out more about the educational establishments in Sheffield at the time where men like Fred could continue to study after leaving school. As to his conversational powers and friendships, I get the impression that while Fred may have lacked confidence here, people liked having him around and sought him out despite an element of natural shyness.

In the next section Fred sets out his plans:
“Now as to the future. I make the following resolutions, which with the help of God I intend to keep.

1. That I get up every morning at 5.0am, and I go to bed at 10pm, and be at work at 9am.
2. That I practice the utmost economy of time and money.
3. That I never swear, or use bad language of any kind, nor lose my temper on any pretext whatever.
4. That I will not read over meals, and not eat too much at meals, nor have more than three meals a day.
5. To endeavour to get complete control over myself.
6. That I will read as few novels as possible, but rather incline to Biography.
7. That I get as much study as possible, I propose to carry out the following plan.

Fred's diary study timetable
Fred’s study timetable – with key

8. That I refrain from speaking ill of anyone.
9. That I get as much muscular exercise as possible, having due regard to Res 7.
10. That I will be at church on Sunday morning not later than 10:30 AM, not 6:30 PM.
11. That I endeavour to learn something.
12. To enter up every day particulars of the previous day’s Events and Expenditure. The result of the system of taking account of the time that I get up, get to work, go to bed; is as follows, a. b. + c. being the several times, mins late.

Fred's diary lateness table
Fred’s timekeeping table

I did not commence very well this year as it was 7’.40” this morning when I got up and 11.45 when I went to bed. Had a long walk with Janie in the evening from 8.0 to 10.15, 2’1/4 hours of bliss.”

Fred’s plan to get up at 5am every morning, when he’s not risen before 6am for the last 3 years seems a little ambitious. However the fact that he’s kept records of his getting up and going to bed times and worked out his average lateness for the last 3 years seems, well, obsessive. It’s revealing but I’m not entirely sure of what – a need for control? A methodical approach to everything? The timetable is carefully drawn up – for a private diary – I get the impression he rather enjoyed ruling it out in red pen and working out a key and planning it out so carefully. I can almost hear him humming.

Fred’s resolutions feel like a perfectionist’s straightjacket to me but I don’t know how much this was to do with the expectations of young men at the time and how much to do with Fred’s own personality. I will come back and edit this post when I find out more from later letters.

Other things that struck me, I suspect that No. 5 may be about masturbation, that novels are another guilty pleasure, and that Fred has actually a pretty nice life for a young man of that class – he has a job that gives him enough disposable income and enough free time to pursue his studies and sports, which must have been relatively rare in Attercliffe/Darnall at the time.

These are obviously my first impressions of Fred from this diary entry and I’d be fascinated to find out what other people think we can tell about Fred – do please leave your thoughts in the comments below.