Saint Valentine’s Eve and the Victorians of Norwich

Make-your-own-Vic-style-ValentinesCelebrating Saint Valentine’s Eve – a new idea perhaps, but not so, in fact an old local Norwich jollification. During the evening of February 13th wrapped gifts labelled with ‘Good Morrow Valentine’ were left on doorsteps all over the city.  Anonymous admirers then knocked on front doors and hastily retreated. In 1862 one local resident Helen Downes commented, 

‘We do not here content ourselves with lace-cut papers, but everybody sends everybody real presents anonymously; and, as on all gift-bestowing occasions, the children come in for the lion-share.’

During the Victorian times in Norwich the weeks before Valentine’s Eve found the shops so busy with extra trade that additional temporary sales assistants were hired. The folks of Norwich were shopping for Valentine’s gifts. The grander gifts on offer included workboxes, vases, tea caddies and umbrellas or for a very lucky lady a ‘Norwich Shawl’.

Norwich Argus newspaper
Local retailers advertise their Valentine’s gifts in the Norwich Argus, Saturday, 5th February 1876.

However, the most typical gifts were gloves and perfume together with the familiar Valentine’s day card. Victorian Valentine’s cards were elaborate affairs with embossing, paper lace, feathers and even hand stitching.

According to the information at Norwich’s Bridewell Museum both young and old took part in celebrating St Valentine’s Eve. The museum is dedicated to the history of Norwich and as part of displays showing the story of local commerce it has a superb collection of high quality Victorian hand stitched Valentine’s card. Similar examples are sometimes sold nowadays by antique dealers and I’ve also found a few vintage survivors (pictured above and below) on Etsy from Moon Maiden Emporium, The Jewel Mystique and SCDVintage.

I couldn’t help but think how we so often assume we are living in the most consumer conscious times, but nothing is new and the Victorian Norwich shopkeepers obviously spotted a lucrative opportunity over a hundred years ago. Of course, you could just have a go at making your own version! (Sorry no delicate sewing with silk and lace trim just wrapping paper, doilies and reproduction Victorian scraps.)

Vic-style-homemade-Valentines

Author: agnesashe

Artisan, blogger and passionate East Anglian working from home.

3 thoughts on “Saint Valentine’s Eve and the Victorians of Norwich”

  1. That’s a lovely idea. And it may have been commercial, but it was keeping LOCAL traders in business, not multi-national producers of dubious chocolates and cheap tat from goodness-knows-where.

    1. I think it was probably quite amusing too and not entirely taken seriously as apparently ‘Jack Valentine’ didn’t always leave genuine gifts. Young pranksters attached string to pretend parcels, knocked on doors and when householders went to pick up the parcel it was whisked away. I think there’s a hint of the US ‘trick or treat’ going on here!!
      I agree with you about the chocs and cheap tat – I suppose people find it quick and easy, but in which case why bother.

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