Manuscripts and Special Collections

Love found and love spurned in Manuscripts and Special Collections

February 13th, 2011 at 12:02

Valentine’s Day set me to thinking about items in the archives relating to love and romance.

I’m in the process of cataloguing the papers of the Lawson family of Leeds and Nottingham. This sprawling collection covers over seven generations of a middle class family through their correspondence, vital records and ephemera. John Lawson (1878-1969) is the most present character in the archive.  He was a pharmacist who worked for Boots for many years, but his father and grandfather were all part of the textile industry in Leeds, weaving carpets in the Woodhouse area of the city.

So where does love come into all of this?

Well, John Lawson’s father (confusingly also called John) married a woman named Sophia Parker Gardner whose sister was named Leah Gardner (b. 1843). Amongst the Lawson papers are a fascinating collection of Victorian Valentines sent to the lucky Leah Gardner from various admirers.

Selection of Valentine's Day cards from the Lawson Collection

Valentines cards at this time were a very intricate affair – none of the tacky pink flowers and teddy bears that you see in the shops today – these are made of card embellished with fine paper lace. Admittedly the poetry in Victorian cards is just as twee as in the twenty-first century.

Who wrote these cards? We simply don’t know. But then again, that is generally the idea of sending Valentine’s messages…

However, Leah Gardner’s life was not a fairy tale romance. A note in the collection refers to a secret engagement she contracted with a man named John William Kendall in 1862. His father was not happy with their intentions of marriage, believing Kendall to be too young and so the couple decided to keep their tryst secret for a year, so long as he remained faithful to her.

The documents do not reveal what happened to Kendall but the young love tragically did not last, Leah Gardner died unmarried on September 5th 1868, aged just 24.

A verse from one of the Valentine Day cards

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