A LATE Victorian love affair between a machinist and a clerk has been captured for posterity in the county archives.

Herbert Wilkins and Ethel Ormerod kept their relationship mostly under wraps, as they swapped romantic notes, after first meeting in Waterfoot in 1898.

County archives assistant Keri Nicholson said there are around 40 letters, which were found collected in a Cadbury’s Princess Elizabeth chocolate box.

The notes were acquired recently from an antiques dealer via the eBay website and are now available at Lancashire’s archives in Preston.

Keri said: “It is quite nice that they are just normal, everyday people, who talk about working in factories and what their lives were like around that time.”

Herbert was born in Stacksteads in 1880, to cotton twister Godfrey Wilkins and his wife Mary, and had a sister, Florence. Ethel was around two years younger and had a brother called Walter.

Ethel’s father William is not thought to have been impressed by the liaison, though her mother Jane was said to have been supportive. In one letter Herbert even advises Ethel regarding the ease with which their letters may be steamed open.

But despite their difficulties he talks of marriage as early as 1901.

Herbert remains gallant to the last, amid the small-town gossip, writing how he was ‘sorry through tittle-tattling tales to have caused you so much anxiety.’ In the end the couple, when Ethel had reached the age of 21 and did not need her father’s permission to wed, were married at St James the Great Church in 1904. Only one letter survives after this event, where it is apparent that the couple had a daughter, Mary, who was born in 1914.

The letters can be examined at the Preston archives, which reopened last autumn after a major overhaul.