Red roses, chocolates and the promise of spring, when a “young man’s fancey turns to thoughts of love”, or so it is said.
St. Valentine’s Day and romance is in the air. This day is thought to owe its origins to a Roman pagan festival of fertility around this date, but who was Valentine? Well, Valentine was probably a Priest during the time of Emperor Claudius around the third century AD. Now, Claudius was reliant on his soldiers being of the best quality and was of the opinion that married men did not make good soldiers. Consequently, he banned his military men from marrying. Valentine, however, thought this very unfair and conducted such marriages in secret.
When Claudius discovered this, Valentine was thrown into gaol and sentenced to death. Valentine, whilst in gaol and awaiting his fate fell in love with the gaoler’s daughter and when he was finally put to death, said to be 14th February, he left a love letter for her signed “from your Valentine”. He was at some stage made a martyr and a tradition was born. Over the years, lovers have expressed their feelings for each other by offering gifts of flowers and confectionery and sending greeting cards known as “Valentines”.
Certainly, during the last century, when life was generally much more formal, it was also a chance for those “in love” to send a card to the object of their desire, not leaving a signature, but merely a clue to their identity, which hopefully the receiver would be able to decipher and perhaps encourage the start of a romance.
Perhaps you have noticed a small lane which runs between Wadham Street and Lower Church Road, known as Lover’s Walk. It is the kind of place where star crossed lovers may share a stolen kiss in the moonlight, though this is not how the name originates.
There was a local Lady by the name of Dame Sarah Wakeley (1732-1823) who lived on a farm, part of which was the present Grove Park. During the time in question, she was a widow and became a Tithingman (a person responsible for the smooth running of the services at the Church, a kind of under constable) at the Parish Church of St. John. It was very unusual at this time for a woman to hold this post, which says something of the esteem in which this Lady was held by the community. Dame Sarah loved to attend the weddings of the joyful young couples, dressed in their wedding attire, but as time passed and she grew older she was unable to make the journey to the Church. The house in which Dame Sarah lived was adjacent to the present car park at Grove Park and there she would sit at her window as the newly married couple walked along the lane to greet her. In return, she would present them with a small token or wedding gift. This became a local tradition and carried on, I understand, until her death. This is how Lover’s Walk got its name.
With grateful thanks to Brian Austin.