A Victorian Valentine’s story

It’s the new year and Valentines Day is almost upon us. It is a holiday that did not exist in the 1840s, but that did not stop romances from blossoming. Josiah Chater, a young 16-year-old drapers apprentice, recorded in his diary a new girl he liked. Just in time for Valentines Day, our Research Volunteers, who are transcribing Josiah’s diaries, have come across this new fancy in Josiah’s life. – Liz, or, Lizzy.

Josiah first mentions Liz early into the new year. On 2nd January 1846 he writes:

‘right there in the street I had such a lark Just as Miss Johnson was coming out of the passage down she came such a thump we broke up a little after eleven there were about 4 & twenty altogether 12 young ladies & 12 Gentlemen & out of the whole there was not one to equal Lizzey & certainly have not spent such a merry evening for many a day’

Then as now, Josiah talks about who he likes with his close friends. Unfortunately for Josiah, this secret seems to get out of the bag. On Sunday 11th January 1846 we read from his diary:

‘After Chapel this morning J C & H Smart & William went for a walk round Burrels Walk Henry & I walked together & we got talking about pretty Girls he told me who he liked best & I told him who I liked best which is Lizzy.

Later, however, he write ‘the consequence was in the afternoon I heard about it again which I expected’.

From what we can tell from his diaries, Josiah seems to have admired Lizzy from afar. However, this did not stop him from feeling the pangs of love. He was delighted when on 18th January 1846 he recalled how:

‘after breakfast when we came out of chapel went for a little walk round Kings when we came out in the evening my pretty Liz hailed me with a delightful smile & nod which I with all the grace I could summons returned she is a little beauty’

In the following weeks, his diary suggests Lizzy had some feelings for him. On his brother’s birthday, William walks back home with Liz and informs Josiah.

‘Went round to William & he gave me a jolly good piece of plum pudding which he had sent on his Birthday he also told me that he went to Miss Read last night & had a good bit of fun he walked home with Liz who asked how I was & hoped I should join the Singing class next quarter & several other things which convinces me it is as I thought’

Alas, Josiah and Lizzy were not to be together. Josiah had already met his future wife at this point. A few years later, he would marry Agnes Barrett who he had fallen deeply in love with. It was almost not to be. 1849 had presented Josiah with many challenges what with his apprenticeship coming to an end and having to find a new job. It may have been that he had to leave Cambridge, Agnes and all his friends behind. However, his fortunes turned around, and in 1850 he went into business with his brother William on Sidney Street.  In 1853, he married Agnes, and they remained devoted to one another. The picture below is an incredibly rare photograph of Josiah, one of the very few we have of the diarist. It seems fitting that it shows him seated alongside his beloved Agnes on their golden wedding anniversary.

A Victorian Valentine’s story