After I visited Handsworth which I wrote about in a post called Becoming Jane, I also visited Attercliffe and Darnall to try and track down some of Fred’s haunts. With my cousin’s help we managed to track down the remains of Christ Church, Attercliffe, The Wellington in Darnall, and Fred’s house on a street formally known as Freedom Hill.
This June I ended up on a surprise trip to Sheffield. Most of the three weeks I stayed were spent in the library and in the archives doing research but some of that time was spent in visiting different locations around the city. The reason I had come to Sheffield was because I had recently inherited the love letters of my great great grandparents, Jane Warburton and Fred Shepherd, which were written over 135 years ago. When I started to read these letters, I found myself not only drawn in by my personally family connection but by the story that started to unfold in front of my eyes as I carefully unfolded each fragile letter in turn. In the sepia stained pages, filled with beautiful copper plate writing I found out about their daily lives, the dramas, the bereavements, the love, and the hopes and dreams that they nurtured together as they planned their future.
One of the places I wanted to find were the remains of Christ Church, Attercliffe, where several family members were buried but also where Fred sung in church – a moment of which he vividly brought to life when he wrote about on a particular New Years when he sang hymns with his friends.
“Tuesday, December 31 1878. 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.”
Most of the church was lost in the Second World war but my cousin and I found the remaining wall and I found myself patting the wall in wonder, my imagination straining to hear the faint singing of hymns in a bell tower long gone.
After this we carried on into Darnall, where much has changed since my Fred and Jane’s day. The steel mills are gone and much of it has been rebuilt. The other two things on my list to find were The Wellington pub, once owned by Jane’s aunt – where Jane often helped out, and Fred’s family home where he lived with his parents and siblings.
We found The Wellington which was literally shrouded – with scaffolding and safety netting – it looked like it had been recently sold and was undergoing massive reconstruction. The back yard where once had been an orchard with pear trees was a barren plot and all that was growing were these poppies. On this busy road and with the destruction and chaos it was impossible to imagine former family members here, or to think of Fred popping in on his way home from work in the hope that Janie was visiting her aunt.
So on we went to find Fred’s house on Freedom Hill – which has a different name now. The family had originally lived at number 34 but that had obviously been pulled down and rebuilt. In the 1870s they had moved to the top of the hill when Fred’s father, Alfred bought number 94. And there it was, although now painted cream, a tiny red bricked terraced house with a passage and a tiny yard. With respect to it being a private home I discreetly patted the gatepost that Fred would have walked past every day he went to work. I could almost see him jauntily marching down the hill. I found myself welling up with tears as I finally felt a connection with Fred, my great great grandfather.
Now that I’ve visited the places they knew, when I read Fred and Jane’s letters they are suddenly filled with far more detail – I can place their experiences in the geography they knew. All their many walks from Darnall up to Handsworth – that was a good two miles – a long walk when you are on your own but far too short a journey when you are in love. All journeys are too short when you are in love – and Fred and Jane’s journey was no different – they were married for only 12 years before Fred was taken by tuberculosis at the far too young age of 35. Jane treasured their love letters for the rest of her life and before she died she gave them to her daughter Edith, who gave them to her daughter Mary, who in turn gave them to her daughter – my mother – Jeannie.
I feel as if this love that Fred and Jane shared is somehow still alive even though they are long gone, and their love story is demanding to be told.
Which is why I’m sharing it with you.