‘I love you dearer than my own life’

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London - Today, when love letters are all but extinct, teenagers conduct their relationships in text-speak via mobile phones, Twitter and Facebook.

But 18-year-old Herbert Wilkins and Ethel Ormerod, 15, fell in love in the more innocent climate of Victorian England.

Herbert, a clerk, poured out his feelings for factory machinist Ethel in a series of romantic handwritten notes which have emerged after they were put up for sale on eBay and bought by archivists.

The heartfelt missives chronicle the forbidden affair between the young lovers who lived in neighbouring villages near Rossendale, Lancashire.

Beginning in September 1898 they reveal how the couple were forced to meet in secret because Ethel’s father didn’t approve of their relationship.

After a six-year clandestine affair, they eventually married in 1904 when Ethel turned 21 and no longer needed her parents’ backing. Addressed to “My dearest Ethel”, Herbert’s letters tell how the couple swapped locks of their hair as love tokens and tried to conceal their meetings from village gossips.

They include several poems, including one for A Love Valentine, and are signed ‘Yours Forever, Herbert’.

He went to great lengths to keep their liaison under wraps, sending notes via friends or hand-delivering them to Ethel at work. In one extract dated May 8, 1901, Herbert tells Ethel: “You are my own. No-one else in this world for me.

“If I cannot have you I will die not married. You will think I am deeply in love when you read this. But it does not matter, it is only what you know already.

“I think you love me as much as I love you. Hell I am certain. You would not have stuck so close to me all these years if you didn’t do and I know you will not give up now when it seems like being in Heaven now.”

On July 4 that year he wrote: “As I have told you many a time I love you dearer than anything in the world. I love you dearer than my own life.”

The 40-letter collection, found in a 1940s Cadbury’s Princess Elizabeth chocolate box, are to go on public display after being bought by Lancashire County Council’s archive service for £78 from a collector.

The Daily Mail tracked down the couple’s granddaughter, Christine French, 60, who said her family had known nothing about her grandparents’ secret affair.

She revealed that the couple had a daughter, Mary – Christine’s mother, who died in 1999 – and a son, Herbert, who died in infancy. They were together for 31 years before Mr Wilkins died, aged 48, of a heart attack in 1929. Ethel died three years later from cancer. Mrs French, a civil servant, of Rossendale, said her own mother believed her mother couldn’t live without her beloved and “simply gave up on life”.

She said the letters may have been thrown away by accident when she had a clearout of their parents’ home last year. Who found them, though, was a mystery to her. - Daily Mail

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