Deeping Heritage – Valentine’s Day Traditions

On Friday 10th February, our speaker will be Dr Ernest Warman who has previously given two interesting talks about aspects of Peterborough’s past. This time he will describe the social history of the city, which grew from a small fenland community into a railway hub in the 1850s, followed by industrial development and New Town expansion in the 1960s.

The traditional February event of St Valentine’s Day has also changed character over time. The romantic card shown above, was sent to a young man in Oakham in 1854. Its anonymous sender assured him that “Love will bloom and burn for ever, fixed and steadfast like a star”, but although he carefully preserved the card and its envelope, he remained single for the next seventeen years.

A few decades later in 1880, it was reported that among the valentines that passed through Market Deeping post office were “the usual complement of dolls, monkeys and other articles too numerous to mention..” It had become the fashion to send insulting gifts, like monkeys on sticks and wooden spoons to unwanted admirers. There were cards printed with cruel comments about the recipient’s habits and appearance, and they sometimes included removable attachments of teeth and hair. Known as vinegar valentines, surviving examples are rare, as few victims chose to keep them, but one typical verse began: I’m not attracted to your glitter, for well I know how very bitter my life would be if I should take you for my spouse, a rattle snake…

Also by 1880, the ancient tradition of ringing the pancake bell in churches on Shrove Tuesday was dying out, and the rector of St Guthlac’s was surprised to find it still continued in Deeping, marking the start of pancake-making and festivities. From medieval times, a rowdy version of football was played in the streets that day, and cock fights were held. Street football continued into the late 19th century, but cock fighting was outlawed in 1835, partly because it resulted in drunkenness and disorder.

A few men in Deeping St James tried to defy the law, and organised a cock fight on Shrove Tuesday in 1840, in a field opposite the George & Dragon pub in Eastgate. The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals had been forewarned, and two of their officers witnessed cockerels being fitted with spurs and set against each other. They stopped the fight and the law-breakers were fined twenty shillings each.

Nowadays, pancake races are a more civilised continuation of the sporting traditions.

Eric Warman’s talk will begin at 7.30 pm in the main hall of the Community Centre, Market Deeping. Everyone is welcome. Admission £3 for non-members.

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