Well, as Valentine’s Day is fast approaching, I eagerly await to see what glittering jewels and delicious delights my beloved will present to me early that morn…(don’t even go there!)
It might surprise you to know that celebrating St Valentine’s Day is nothing new, it has been observed for centuries, apparently made popular by Geoffrey Chaucer during the High Middle Ages. Even those well-pomandered Georgians were well and truly versed in the art of affairs of the heart. Presenting their paramours with tokens of their undying love, sweet little boxes of confectionary accompanied by beautifully handwritten cards.
But what of our Victorian ancestors? First let’s start with those lithesome lothario’s of the seven seas.
Portland Roads had been used as a naval base ever since the time of Henry VIII, this sheltered haven filled with many great sailing ships of the fleet, and of course on board, their resident sailors, true Romeo’s every one ‘o them.
Is it any wonder then that these Jolly Jack Tars, with their gals in every port, would be busy scribing romantic messages to (all) those they loved, so much so that in 1871, the Western Gazette reported
“VALENTINE’S DAY-More than ten times as many missives passed through the post office on the 14th as on ordinary days, the sailors of Her Majesty’s Fleet sending three sacks of Cupid’s messages to the Castletown office.”
(pictured below courtesy Pam Oswald)
Then what of those romantics who were to marry on this day of lovers? Love of course being not just the prerogative of youth. On Valentine’s Day 1872, 54-year-old widow, William Lovell Zelley waited patiently down the aisle of Weymouth’s Holy Trinity Church for his new wife-to-be.
William, a mariner by trade, had been a widow for a while, he led a very lonely life, boarding in a single room down in Hope Street. But faint heart never won fair lady, William found love a second time and grasped it with both hands. It arrived in the comely form of Ann Purchase, spinster of the town.
Sadly, despite being nearly 15 years younger than her husband, their life together came to an untimely end when Ann went to meet her maker in 1879 aged just 47. Here’s hoping that they managed to enjoy their seven years of companionship and happiness.
Another couple tied the knot on Valentine’s Day, many years later, in 1899. Theirs was also to be a tale of happiness and joy mingled with sadness and grief. Nellie was the daughter of Samuel and Susan Stoodley, who in 1891 were running the Railway Arch public House in Town Lane.(modern day Chickerell Road)
Nellie’s beau was Albert Ernest Yeatman, a coppersmith. But life had already taught Albert that love could be a rocky road indeed. In April of 1889, he had married 20-year-old Alice Emily Rabbets and the young couple set up their happy household on the North Quay, where they had two their children, Emily Maria (1890) and George Ernest (baptised on the 24th September 1893 at holy Trinity.)
Then heartache struck the family in 1896, when their youngest child, 3-year-old George passed away.
Still reeling from the loss of their precious son, Albert was dealt a second blow the following year. In 1897, he was away serving with the Territorial army. Alice had been taken ill and needed an operation, from which she seemed to be recovering satisfactorily. Having gone to bed that fateful night in good spirits, young Alice was not to see dawn.
Now alone with a small child, Albert had to take the heartbreaking decision to give his only remaining child, Emily, over to the care of her Grandmother, Emily Rabbetts, who ran a boarding house along Brunswick Terrace.
By the time of the 1911 census, his daughter Emily had moved away to Wales along with the extended Rabbetts family.
However, in the meantime, Albert was to get a second chance at happiness, he met and fell in love with Nellie Stoodley. Ten years after he had first tentatively walked down the aisle, Albert was treading those very same steps, were his feelings of joy mingled with sorrowful memories. On the 14th February 1899 Albert and Nellie exchanged their vows at Holy Trinity. Time for a fresh start.
Albert set up home with his new wife at no 9 Portland Buildings, (now 15-19 Custom House Quay.) He was running his own business and life was good again, though the sadness still lay deep in his heart, time was slowly softening the wounds. Then along came children, but with that joy came unbelievable grief. Their first child, Susan Nellie Doris was born on the 9th Jan 1900, the little mite only survived a few months, Susan died that summer.
Two years later, and little Violet Rose Iris arrived. Oh how those grieving parents must have held their breath, and watched over their precious bundle, only too aware how suddenly and cruelly they could be snatched away.
By the time Albert Samuel arrived on the 5th April 1904 their hopes were high, 2-year-old Violet was thriving, surely fate couldn’t be that cruel?
Of course it could! Albert junior never even made his second birthday.
Perhaps the famous quote from Tennyson’s poem,”In Memorium” just about sums up love.
But of course being Valentines Day we must end on a lighter note. One young man made a daring robbery on a Weymouth’s jewellers which was reported in the Western Gazette February 1881, perhaps he couldn’t afford to buy his beloved the gift she so desired?
Earlier on the Monday evening, a fashionable young man had entered the jewellery store of Mr Thristle in St Thomas Street. He was there, so he declared, to buy himself some shirt studs. As old Mr Thristle rummaged around the counters looking for the perfect items for this young gentleman, so the ‘gentleman’ was doing a spot of rummaging too. While Mr Thristle had been otherwise engaged the young man was tinkering with the shop bell that hung above the door, somehow he managed to jam it so it wouldn’t ring out as a customer entered the store.
Having left the store with no studs, Mr Thristle was left to mourn the loss of a sale to that nice young gentleman, but that was life as a merchant, you won some, you lost some. Little did he know he was about to loose a great deal more!
A little while later the jeweller was busy out the back sorting his stock, all the while keeping a keen ear open for the shop bell to ring, announcing his next customer. Only problem was, the bell wasn’t going to ring or make any announcement, because his next customer didn’t want announcing. The light-fingered ‘young gentleman’ had been concealed patiently outside, biding his time. Once the coast was clear, he slipped undetected into the premises and helped himself to a hearty selection of sparkling jewels.
Hopefully your Valentine won’t need to raid the nearest jeweller to fulfil your wishes,
He’ll deliver you a box of choccies and lots of kisses.
(other brands are available…)
“Last Valentine, the day when birds of kind
Their paramours with their chirping find,
I rose early, just at the break of day,
Before the sun had chased the stars away:
A-field I went, amid the morning dew,
To milk my kine, for so should housewives do;
Thee first I spy’d, and the first swaine we see,
In spite of fortune, shall our true-love be.”
Happy Valentine’s Day
If you enjoy reading tales of your Weymouth ancestors why not grab a copy of my book Nothe Fort & Beyond. Don’t be lulled into the idea it’s all about the military, it’s more about what life was like living with soldiers and their families in town. Murder, mysteries, love, sorrow…its all in there. You’ll discover what life in Weymouth and Portland was really like in times past.
Available from the Nothe Fort and Weymouth Museum bookshops or online at Amazon