A crisp February day, letters between lovers are set to arrive across the country the next morning, but Norfolk children and sweethearts are already eagerly finding heartfelt surprises on the doorstep.
“Old Mother Valentine
Draw up your window blind
You'll be the giver
And I'll be the taker”
Versions of verses like this could be heard sung by little ones in the street, attempting before the dawn rose, to garner pennies and sweets from their neighbours.
February 13th marks a unique tradition in the county. On this day, the eve of Valentine's, people could expect a visit from the playful, amorous figure of Jack Valentine.
Also known as Old Mother Valentine or Old Father Valentine, this mysterious gifter, would rap at the door and disappear before the recipient could open it and reveal the note of affection left for them.
Norfolk, and Norwich in particular, were unusual for gift giving at this time, while most of the country sent only valentine cards. It was a booming time for local shops and gift makers, to fulfil the needs of the more extravagant wooers, as well as the trinkets for youngsters.
It seems it was a celebration of love in all varieties rather than a romantic preserve. In-keeping with the romantic nature of the county from which the earliest known Valentine card was sent in 1477 - Margaret Brews later married her ‘well-beloved valentine’ John Paston.
You would however need to keep an eye out for opportune pranksters and Jack’s more nefarious alter ego Snatch Valentine. You might open the door to an excited knock only to see the gift before you snatched away on a string before you could reach it. Other times a beautiful box might be empty besides more empty boxes, or a nasty note, or even something more unpleasant. Pennies thrown to those singing children before dawn might be warmed in the fire before being tossed out, so they'd be dropped from the little fingers that tried to pick them up.
Fortunately, despite the mischievous edge to the celebrations or maybe partly because of its playfulness, the character of Jack Valentine continued to return to share affections for many years.
Whilst not as common now in Norfolk, the tradition does live on. Deliberate efforts to preserve its history have been made by places like the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell.
- Written by Gaby Copeman.
Petra Boase will be taking part in celebrating this fun local heritage with a drop-in pop-up shop at the Museum of Norwich on Saturday 10th Feb 10-3pm. Join in to make a free origami heart and write a love note so you’re prepared for Jack to deliver your gifts to someone close to your heart. There’ll also be magic stitch demos and fortune cookies alongside an abundance of cards, prints, patches and more.
You can also view the entire Valentines Day collection here.