The sad story of Emma Warburton (Part One)

The sad story of Emma Warburton (Part One)

Content warning: this post mentions domestic violence.

At some point in either 1876 or 1877 my great great grandmother, Jane Warburton, at 16 years old would have discovered that marriages were not always happy, in fact they could be ruinous, particularly for a woman.

I promised in my Becoming Jane post that Emma, Jane’s older sister, deserved to have her own story told. I wanted to post about this now as in the chronology we are coming up to August 1879 and in the middle of Jane and Fred’s story, something unexpected happened to Emma and I felt it was time to give you some of her back story – tragic as it is.

Emma married John George Herrod in October of 1870. She was 18 years old and three months pregnant. Herrod, from Nottinghamshire, was the son of a farmer and had come to Handsworth to find work as a joiner. Given that Emma’s father was as a joiner before he became a maltster and publican, and her brother William still worked as a joiner, in a small village like Handsworth, their paths would have crossed soon enough.

Herrod was a smooth talker and a bit of a charmer. We don’t know if he had already asked Emma to marry him, but events later in his life suggest that he had form and wasn’t above promising marriage to take advantage of a young woman. I’m inferring Emma’s attitude to sex from Jane’s later behaviour, that before marriage it was ok-ish as long as a promise of marriage had been made. However their relationship came about, the marriage was speedily arranged and their first child, Maurice, was born in the following March.

The 1871 census records them all living with Emma’s parents in the Cross Keys at Handsworth but later Herrod was earning enough to set up home. For a time things went well; Edith Lillian (known in the family as Lucy) was born in the early summer of 1872 and then another son, Arthur James, arrived in 1874.

A couple of years later, Jane would have gone on one of her many visits to her older sister Emma, perhaps to assist with the dress making, or to help with the children – who she loved dearly.  Upon walking through the door, Jane would have found the house in some disarray, her little nephews and niece subdued, and her sister having suffered a severe blow to the head that had given her two great bruised eyes. If Jane hadn’t known things were bad before, she did now. The assailant was Emma’s husband, John George Herrod.

We don’t know if Herrod was at home when Jane found her sister in that condition. Did Jane rage at him, tell him to leave them so she could care for Emma. Or was she terrified, for Emma, for the children, for herself? Did she run to get William, their dependable older bother? Was it then that Emma told Jane about all the attacks? About being punched in the back for not getting dinner ready. About being beaten viciously with a stick after asking why he was late home. Or did Jane and her family already know and this was the latest trauma in a marriage that had turned far more than sour.

Some unknown time after arrival of little Arthur, John George Herrod became a heavy drinker and developed a gambling habit. It also seemed to be a contributory factor in him losing his job. It’s impossible to know if he had been in the habit of being cruel to his wife or if it came on insidiously and then grew in savagery during this period.

By 1877 John George Herrod’s gambling was so out of hand that an ‘execution’ was put on the house and all the furniture was sold. On the day the furniture went, so did he. He packed up all his clothes and left, without letting Emma or anyone else know where he was going or if he was ever coming back. The sale was most likely handled by William, while Emma stayed away from such a painful occasion. And it probably fell to Jane to take care of the children and distract them from all the unpleasant practicalities. Emma, presumably in some distress, with a 6 year old, a 4 year old and a 3 year old, moved back into the family home – the Cross Keys, back to the safety of her mother and father – Maria and James Warburton, but also back to sharing a home with her sister Jane and her other brother, also called John. As much as I want to imagine William and brother John, perhaps taking Herrod to one side for a quiet ‘chat’ I can’t possibly know if they ever did. But given Herrod’s disappearing act, I should imagine it was in part to avoid a possible confrontation with the Warburtons heading his way.

For Emma she must have felt relief but also great sadness and possibly even shame. It was a local scandal and by the standards of the day – while she would have been viewed with some sympathy, tongues would have wagged. Domestic violence today still carries with it a significant amount of victim blaming but it was much worse then. Being permitted to discipline your wife with a ’stick no thicker than your thumb’ was a myth, but it was believed by many at the time to be legal.

At home at least, her mother, Maria Warburton, treated Emma with a huge amount of tenderness and concern. However in years to come, as Emma developed her own problem with drink – no doubt as some kind of self-medication – this care from Maria became a kind of enabling and Emma’s victimhood became entrenched within the family dynamic. Dependent on her father, with no way of making her own way in the world and unable to remarry, no doubt Emma felt trapped and helpless.

I grew up hearing from my mother the family stories of Aunt Emma; how she was a drunk, how the family believed it was due to the sight of the gravestones out of her bedroom window that had driven her to the consolation of the bottle. While I was first reading the letters and coming across accounts of Emma’s intoxicated behaviour I found it funny and a little salacious. Now that I have recently found out exactly what happened to Emma, I realise she was more sinned against than sinner. Emma often in lashed out with a sharp tongue – I think everyone got the benefit of Emma’s opinions but it was Jane that was nearest and so she bore the brunt, and the rest of the family let Emma get away with that because of what had happened. Poor Jane. Poor Emma.

I think I now also see that the Warburtons’ concern about Fred courting Jane, was not just about snobbery, it was also in part protectiveness. Emma had fallen for someone outside their ‘set’ and it had gone wrong in the worst possible way. They were understandably keen that Jane would not meet a similar fate.

In 1878 the UK Matrimonial Causes Act made it possible for women in the UK to seek legal separation from an abusive husband, however this would have given Emma little comfort given that she had no idea where John George Herrod was.

Image source: James Collinson – Answering the Emigrant’s Letter


Becoming Jane

Becoming Jane


A visit to Handsworth
The landlady of the Cross Keys throws open the back door of the pub for me and I am confronted by a green green view of trees and grass and gravestones – the latter of which are jutting up like a snaggletoothed smile. Behind me I can hear the laughter of the customers and the music on the cd player. Ahead of me I can make out the leaves rustling and bird song.

I stand on this threshold where she that came before me, must have stood so many times and I suddenly resent all the noise getting in the way of me wanting to reach across to her, 135 years or more away. But then I remember Janie resented the noise and clatter too. The endless stream of guests who wanted waiting on and entertaining with piano playing. The many nights when she would try and rest while drunken customers would set to on the piano and sing raucously out of tune. Jane Warburton grew up in this pub and came to loathe the inn-keeping trade.

The Cross Keys at Handsworth is set in consecrated ground so on three sides the ‘garden’ is the graveyard. Looming above is the church of St Mary’s where Jane was baptised and later where she married Fred. Mother church is an oppressive building so close to this doorway. Maria Warburton (nee Carnall), the then landlady of the Cross Keys, and Janie’s mother loomed heavily also as she dictated nearly every spare moment of Janie’s life.

Many of Janie’s letters to Fred have scrawled across the top left hand corner “in haste” often with a qualifying remark such as “Have to help Mother with the waiting” or “Had to do the dinners”. Over the course of reading them, I’ve learned that Janie finds it difficult to find private time to write – and when I read Fred’s constant pleas for Janie to send him longer letters, I get a bit cross with him as he doesn’t seem to grasp that’s she doing her best.

As I read more and more of the letters I can see how much she was entirely co-opted by the inn-keeping business – not just for the Cross Keys but also for the Wellington in Darnall where she helps her cousin Janie Reckless do the ironing every week.

A tale of two sisters
This week I got a wonderful bit of context when I visited the Handsworth Museum. It is a tiny room in the Rectory presided over by local historian and writer Sandra Gillot. I’d written ahead and when I got there she had already reached out for me a pile of documents that she thought I might be interested in. Among these was a book called Sicklesmiths and Spear Carriers by Rosamund Du Cane about the Staniforths of Darnall; a large local family of some note. It included details of the time that Jane was going down to help at the Wellington in Darnall which at the time was run by Mary Staniforth – also nee Carnall.

Mary Staniforth nee Carnal as an old lady.jpg
Mary Staniforth nee Carnall as an old lady. Janie’s Aunt and my 3 x Great Aunt.

It is clear, confirmed by both the records and Jane’s letters that Mary is Maria’s older sister. So we have two sisters running both the The Wellington in Darnall and The Cross Keys in Handsworth. A large part of the shared workforce is supplied by their respective daughters and in Mary’s case, also granddaughters. This explains why Janie Reckless (Mary’s granddaughter) and Janie Warburton are forever walking back and forth between Darnall and Handsworth together. Jane also often stays over mid-week, which she mentions in letters that are addressed from Darnall rather than Handsworth. I might need to check this, but the Darnall letters often seem longer so I get the impression she gets to pause a little longer.

Mary’s husband, John Staniforth, had originally bought The George in Woodhouse – the next village after Handsworth but observing the massive development going on in Darnall, cannily sold it in 1861 for £800 and bought The Wellington. He died in 1870 and Mary kept it on until she retired in 1901. After the sad death of Jane’s father in 1883, Maria also became the sole inn-keeper for the Cross Keys and the matriarchy that had clearly run both businesses for many years became recognised in name. The heart of the family dynamic here is the links between all the women – which of course doesn’t usually get revealled through the traditionally patriarchal recording of family history.

The book also gave me the name of Mary’s mother – Jane Staniforth (who married John Carnall in 1810) – and doing a bit of record sifting I eventually managed to connect her as Maria’s mother too (up until now our family trail had gone cold on Maria’s mother). The research in the book makes claim for cousins marrying several times here which I won’t go into because it is complicated but what it means for our story is that Maria knew herself to be descended from the prestigious Staniforths as well as having her sister marrying back into them. Bringing this back to Jane, I think it might provide an explanation as to why Maria was so anti-Fred – she may well have believed that Fred was beneath Jane. It definitely provides more context for that awful start to the relationship when she so publicly struck Jane, in the street, for walking out with him. I think it also makes it more clear how far from hope Fred felt about ever being able to marry Jane.

Up until now I suppose I thought Jane’s background was more humble than it actually was. Prior to the 1820s the Staniforths were landed gentry going back into Tudor times and while I don’t think the Warburtons were particularly rich, I’m starting to understand that they were probably getting by fine.

Jane however definitely seems to be a little exploited. Maria only employs one servant, the rest of the work is done by herself, occasionally Jane’s older sister Emma (when she can be persuaded) Janie Reckless and Jane. I know that Jane does the washing, the dinners for pub guests, the ironing for both pubs, dress making and mending, waiting on tables, playing requests on the piano in between times and helping care for Emma’s two youngest children. Emma is not very nice to Jane and causes her a lot of misery but Emma deserves to have her story told in detail so I will get to her in another post.

On Sundays Jane teaches in the Sunday School which was in the school room across the road opposite the Cross Keys. She seems to love teaching the little children in particular and often refers to them as “my little family”. When she gets time to herself she likes to visit friends, go into Sheffield to do “Shop Window Gazing”, take lessons in new needlecrafts, and play the piano. She seems to try and get involved in anything that gets her out of the pub.

Janie had a quick wit about her, she could always rouse Fred from his depressed mood, she had a fondness for inventing daft new words – she refers to Fred’s melancholy as his ‘Lemonkolly’ (we still do this in our family – it’s dangerously close to a dialect of our own), she comes across as cheerful and kind to people.

I can see that part of falling in love with Fred, over the years becomes falling in love with the idea of making her own home and family, away from the unhappiness at home. When I stood in the doorway at the back of the Cross Keys I wondered how many times she must have stood there longing to get away. And then I know enough now to be confident that she would have shaken the sad moment off, pinned on a big smile and gone back inside to whatever demand was being made.

Many thanks to the current landlord and landlady of The Cross Keys at Handsworth for letting me wander about and take pictures. They even gave me a photograph.

Many thanks to Sandra Gillot of the Handsworth Historical Society who was a wonderful mine of information and incredibly helpful.

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

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.

My very own time machine

My very own time machine

Last week my mother finally handed me the giant blue concertina folder. “Here you go”, She said, “They’re yours now – you’re the eldest daughter and they’ve been passed down from eldest daughter to eldest daughter.” In the folder are over 200 letters, the bulk of which date from 1878 to 1882 and are almost a complete correspondence between Fred Shepherd and Janie Warburton, my great great grandparents, during their courtship.

Apparently it is quite rare to have both sides of a correspondence and even rarer to have such a detailed record of two working class people.

I’ve known about the letters all my life. Both my mother, my sister and myself have picked over them in the past, meaning to transcribe them and then daunted by the task only to put them away again. But now I’ve decide that if I can share them online, I could create a kind of scrap book that other people might be interested in.

There’s the a personal reason, we are all older now and the urge for familial connection to the past is stronger. I am descended from Janie down the direct maternal line. Most family history focuses on the male surname that passes down, but often the strongest cultural influence you have is what passes to you from your mother. Janie is my mother’s Great Grandmother, she feels very close. She died before her grandaughter Mary was born. Sadly Mary, who in turn is my grandmother, died not quite a year before I was born. So this line of daughters has had two sad breaks of contact and it’s tempting to think these letters will shed light on our maternal family culture. I wonder how much we take after her. Is the wicked sense of humour from her? The fierce independence of spirit? Family legend says so. I can’t wait to find out when I read her letters.