Love is in the air…Victorian Valentines

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!)Victorian Valentines card

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.

Holy Trinity.

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.

womn street 1

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)

Railway arch hotel

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 the 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 the 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.

woman child sleeping

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, perhaps he couldn’t afford to buy his beloved the gift she so desired?

From the Western Gazette of February 1881.

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 in 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 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 out 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 ‘announce’ his next customer, because his next customer didn’t want announcing.

The light-fingered ‘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.

All because…..


(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.”

Victorian Valentines cards                                                               Happy Valentine’s Day






Trouble and strife…I’ve done for me wife! Weymouth 1895

On a beautiful clear but chilly Monday in January of 1895 a terrible scene took place on the normally peaceful Weymouth esplanade, one that shocked those out enjoying an afternoon strolling in the  crisp days sunshine.

Early that morning two persons ‘of a certain class,’ (according to the magistrate,) had boarded the train from their home town of Springbourne, just outside Bournemouth, they were heading for the delights of Weymouth.

The couple were 63-year-old John Pearce, (alias Leonard Cooper,) a rag and bone man and his lady companion, Sarah Avariss.

Having lived together for 5 years they were in effect common law man and wife, but this was a couple that knew a great deal of domestic violence and anger…

Wyke House hotel. 1

and both were more than partial to downing a few drinks.

Not surprisingly, John had already been before the courts many a time over the years for his drunken behaviour and mistreating his ‘wife.’ He’d also spent  time incarcerated for various misdemeanours, but love knew no bounds, Sarah, ever faithful, wrote to him while he was behind bars, professing her undying love.

That fateful January morning in 1895, their drinking had started early, way before they had even boarded their train.

According to Sarah’s own statement given in court, ‘They had whiskey before they started-two noggins each at Springbourne. They brought two with them in bottles in the trains, and had three in the public-house over the bridge at Weymouth, the name of which she did not know. She did not feel the effect of the drink until she got outside.’

Things were just fine and dandy at first, John and Sarah were fast becoming enveloped in that warm alcoholic glow, the one that also has a dark side, just waiting in the wings for a multitude of horrors to be released when fate steps in.

They had found themselves a nice warm and cosy pub just across the town bridge, it had a welcoming crackling fire and the atmosphere inside was jolly.

holy trinity and old town bridgeAs the steady stream of strong drink began to really take hold of the couple, fun and affection turned to fights and discord.

When the couple finally left the warmth of the hostelry, (one would assume that they had been asked to leave by mine host,) they staggered their way through the town, trying to find somewhere else that would serve them a drink, but to no avail.

Already well in their cups, they were turned away from pub after pub.

John and Sarah, by now feeling very cold and hungry, brought themselves something to eat, armed with a loaf of bread and cold meats, they walked the streets of the town, John cutting the meal up with his pen knife.

Things were rapidly turning sour between the two…no money left in their pockets, no way to get any more drink, no where to go to get warm.

It was only going to go one way!

A furious argument broke out between John and Sarah, one which was witnessed with shock and horror by many who were also strolling the shops in St Thomas Street that day.

Two of those bystanders who were keeping an eye on the warring couple was 50-year-old local man,  James Lowther, a painter, who lived in Wellington Place with his wife and family, and his male companion Chiddock ( or Jarrett, depending on which newspaper report you read!)

As the still fiercely bickering John and Sarah reached the Gloucester Hotel, Lowther and his companion were not far behind still closely observing the fractious pair.

By this time Sarah had had enough, shoving the rest of her uneaten lunch in her pocket, she stormed off, (as best as a drunk can,) and  staggered her way down the seafront towards St John’s Church.

By the time she’d  reached Brunswick Terrace,  John had caught up with her again…and so the vicious row continued.

Sarah, at the end of her by now somewhat short tether, told her quarrelsome lover in no uncertain terms ‘to go about his business as she wanted no more to do with him.’


With that cold dismissal ringing in his ears, an already furious John was tipped over the edge, he put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a knife…and ran it straight into her neck!

letter Civic Society.

Sarah clutched her hand to the wound, blood was pouring between her fingers and soaking into her clothes, she staggered across the road  uttering over and over ‘Oh, you have done it!’

Luckily for Sarah the two curious men had followed the quarrelsome couple along the esplanade.

Chiddock ran across the road and shoved John to the ground. With the help of his companion, James Lowther, they quickly disarmed the attacker. Then roughly pulling him to his feet again, one either side holding tightly to his arms, John was told that he was well and truly apprehended, ‘My man, I shall take you into custody.’

All the fight had left John’s body, he simply replied ‘ All right, my boy; I will give myself up. I have done it, and it is a bad job.’

Someone else on the spot that day who was quick to react to the horrific and bloody scene, was young Ramsay  Arbuthnot.

Sixteen-year-old Ramsay was visiting Weymouth at the time, he had relatives in the local area. Ramsay, or George Ramsay to give him his full name, was the grandson of Robert Bentley Buckle, who had been the rector at Upwey.

Ramsay whipped his handkerchief from his pocket and placed it over the gaping wound in Sarah’s neck, but still the blood kept squirting through. He shouted to the shocked bystanders for more cloths to press over the wound.

At last he managed to stem the flow of blood, by this time Dr Carter had arrived on scene and between them they moved Sarah to the nearby home of a Mrs East. Here the good doctor performed life-saving surgery on Sarah, he first had to enlarge the hole in her neck to be able to reach the bleeding vessels inside to tie them off before he could stitch up the gaping wound. Once he was satisfied that her life was no longer in danger, a cab was hailed and Sarah was moved to the Royal Hospital where she was cared for by Mr du Boulay over the next few days.

The quick thinking and swift actions of young Ramsay and Dr Carter had  saved Sarah’s life, without their intervention she would have literally bled out in mere minutes on Weymouth’s finely gravelled promenade.

The attacker, John, was handed over to P.C. Burt at Weymouth police station, which in those days was within the Guildhall in town. When he was searched several more sharply honed knives were found within his clothing, but very little else.

Still under the influence of alcohol John seemed to show no remorse for what he had done, in fact at one stage he commented quite coldly that ‘it was done in temper, but I meant to do for her.’

When the investigating officer, Detective Day, remarked about the attempted murder weapon, the knife, being razor sharp, John replied rather ominously that he had ‘sharpened it for the purpose.’

John found himself hauled before the local magistrates next day, but as Sarah was not well enough to attend court, he was remanded in Dorchester gaol for a further week.

This John was a very different character, he was sober and in a reflective mood, stating that ‘he was very much obliged to the doctors for saving the woman’s life, for they had not only saved her but him too.’

By the time a contrite John Pearce stood trial at the Dorset County Assizes in the June charged with the attempted murder of his lover, Sarah had already forgiven him.

Like so many victims of domestic abuse throughout time, her evidence changed to deflect the blame away from him and towards herself.

In court Sarah tried to explain away the situation by saying ‘ I did not see him come up. He was cutting his food, and when he got hold of me by my shoulder I turned round, and that is how it was done, I suppose. But I did not feel it. I think he was getting hold of me here (pointing to the collar of her dress) and I gave a turn and did not see anything in his hand. He had cut my food before then.’

John was found guilty and given 12 months imprisonment with hard labour.

The judge had not only taken into account the fact that he had been blind drunk at the time of the attack, but also that ‘punishment to the prisoner would to a certain extent be punishment to her.’

Before he was led away back down the steps to the cells below to start his sentence he asked to be able to speak to his beloved Sarah, he hoped with all his heart that she would wait for him.



As they say…love is blind!