Sunday, February 14, 2016

Love birds, hearts and Cupid's arrow


The summer of 2008 saw the BBC's Antiques Roadshow set up camp in the grounds of Lanhydrock, a country house in Cornwall where a piece of Lydiard Tregoze local history made a surprise appearance.

Expert Penny Britten provided a brief history of the printed Valentine and valued the 200 year old handmade one sent to Roadshow visitor Graham's great-great-great grandmother Alice Crook in 1803.

Alice Catherine Crook was born in Lydiard Tregoze in 1782, the daughter of Simon Crook and his wife the former Elizabeth Woolford.  Flaxlands Farm, part of the Lydiard Park estate owned by Lord Bolingbroke, was occupied by the Woolford family at the time of the couple's marriage in 1777, with Simon taking over the tenancy in 1782.

Although unsigned, Alice knew the sender of her Valentine.  Richard Hallilay, born in Greenwich in 1785, was the son of local girl Sarah Goddard and her husband, Richard Hallilay.  Graham supposes Alice and Richard might have enjoyed a holiday romance when the young Richard visited family at nearby Cliffe Pypard.

Richard had given Alice a writing case, some puzzles and a decorated poem as a Christmas present in 1802.  A comparison of the handwriting made it easy to identify the sender of the Valentine.


The intricate Valentine opens to reveal eight heart shaped sections on each of which the love struck Richard wrote a verse of poetry.  The poem opens with 'To you I write my dear A.C./Do not refuse the line./The boon I ask, pray will you be/My faithful Valentine.'  Each section is decorated with love birds, hearts and Cupid's arrows.

Sadly the romance ended and by 1804 Richard was employed as a paymaster in the navy.  Perhaps the star crossed lovers were separated by Richard's ambitions.  Naval records indicate that he went on to hold a senior administrative post and in 1851 he was Agent and Steward at the Royal Hospital at Haslar in Hampshire.

Alice went on to marry Robert Gray, a coach proprietor.  After their wedding on November 12, 1812, Alice moved to Robert's home at a busy coaching inn on Ludgate Hill in the City of London - a far cry from the farm in Lydiard Tregoze.


Graham believes that Alice died before 1837 and there is no evidence of her on the 1841 census.  The Valentine, preserved with other family letters and documents, has been passed down the generations from mother to daughter.  It is presently in the safekeeping of Graham's sister.

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