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


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

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.
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.

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.

Let’s call the whole thing off (but I’ll see you once a week)

Let’s call the whole thing off (but I’ll see you once a week)

Trying to work out just how much (and why) the early days of Janie and Fred’s relationship were blighted by the disapproval of Janie’s family, the Warburtons, is tricky when the only lens I’ve got for this time are the sporadic entries from Fred’s diary. Fred is feeling that his shortcomings in the eyes of Mrs Warbuton (whatever they were) are insurmountable and it seems to be Janie that is holding fast to the idea of being with Fred. It’s frustrating to have so little of her voice as this point but she’s coming across to me as knowing what she wants – which is Fred, and strong willed to the point of crossing her mother:

“Thursday December 19th. Told Janie that the future was so unsatisfactory that I thought it would be advisable to part. She said we had better not. So we agreed to think about it.
Sunday Decr 22. Had another interview with Janie, when it came out that her mother offered serious objections, which she thought might be got over in time. A desperate bit of kissing etc ensued we thought it was going to be the last.”

I’m now wondering what the “etc” meant. More than kissing clearly.

Fred then throws himself into the Christmas season and the following entries provide a tantalising portrait of  Christmas activities in a working class community in Sheffield. There is plenty of ‘bumping’ into Janie too.

“Monday. December 23rd. Went to the [Sheffield] Albert Hall to hear Mendelssohn’s Elijah. [Charles] Santley as Elijah.
Wednesday. December 25. Christmas Day. Went to church in the morning, in the afternoon walked round Tinsley, Brinkworth, Catcliffe + Handsworth. Evening, saw Janie again, had an understanding with her, that I was to see her once a week.
Thursday, December 26. Had half day holiday. Tom Hughes and I went to O’Donnell’s to tea, played at cards until 10 PM, I would not play for money but lost all my nuts.
Friday, December 27. Went to the entertainment after the Social tea at Darnall school. Saw Janie there.
Saturday, December 28. Went to see the ventriloquist (Maccabe) at the Albert Hall, Sheffield.
Sunday 29th December. Went to church in the morning, in the afternoon to my brother Walter’s to dinner and tea, night to see Janie.
Monday, December 30. Went with Janie and Miss Bray to the entertainment at our school.
Tuesday, December 31. 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. Proper girls to go at that time after 9.0 pm.”

Fred’s New Year’s eve sounds rather lovely including rounding it off with a bit of a sing. I’ve found out that Fred was a baritone and singing and music feature a lot in his writing and letters. I have spent several fascinating hours finding out about Charles Santley – the most eminent opera singer in the UK at that time, Frederic Maccabe, who wrote an important book on ventriloquism, watching videos about Magic Lanterns and finding recordings of some of the music mentioned. Listening to a crackly recording of Santley’s voice and knowing that my great great grandfather listened to him makes me feel a sudden unexpected connection.

Below are some links to Youtube videos of some of the music I’ve found. I can almost see Fred in the bell chamber of the church in Attercliffe, contentedly singing “Now the Day is Over” with his friends.

British Film Industry video about adapting Charles Dickens for the Magic Lantern
Charles Santley singing ‘Though art passing hence my brother
Alex Lawrence, Baritone, sings Lord God of Abraham from Mendelssohn’s Elijah
Recording of Now the Day is Over

Magic Lantern Image source: “The Best Wishes of the Season to You (c.1885) Christmas card produced by A.L & Co. The illustration features a magic lantern show, which was a very popular form of entertainment in the days before cinema. Location: Francis Parker Scrapbook. Parker Collection. Early and Fine Printing Collection Item Number 698218”