50. “Yours with Increasing Affection”: the Courtship Letters of Isaac Holden and Sarah Sugden

For the 50th Object (half-way through!), a first glimpse of a family whose letters are a treasure house of rich detail about 19th century Bradford, the wool trade, religion, politics: the Holdens.

Detail of letter from Isaac Holden to Sarah Sugden

Detail of letter from Isaac Holden to Sarah Sugden (HOL 1/1/2/2).

In 1848, Isaac Holden was just over forty years old and running a woollen mill in Pit Lane Bradford.  His first wife, Marion Love, had died the previous year, leaving four children.   He was thinking about expanding or moving the business and was to move to St Denis in France.  He was also writing to the woman who was to be his second wife: Sarah Sugden of Dockroyd, Keighley.

Five letters between Isaac and Sarah from this period survive in the large collection of Holden papers held by Special Collections.  There were clearly many others, but the survivors do give an idea of the story and of the characters of the couple.  Isaac’s writing is larger, written with a thicker pen and has a hastier quality than the more regular measured writing of Sarah.  His letters appear more passionate, but this may reflect that such a way of writing might be more appropriate for a man at that time than a woman.  Sarah definitely comes across as a strong-minded Yorkshirewoman which I think is borne out by her photograph, below.

The first, from Isaac to Sarah, is a hasty note dated in the December apologising to “Miss Sugden” for missing a visit because of an “unavoidable circumstance”.  In the second letter (detail above), dated July 1849, Isaac refers to his dear Sarah and has moved to St Denis.  During this time, he must have proposed marriage, as he is calling for the event to take place in August 1849.

Detail of letter from Sarah Sugden to Isaac Holden

Detail of letter from Sarah Sugden to Isaac Holden (HOL 1/1/2/4)

We have two letters from Sarah from that September and October (detail above), to her “dear Mr Holden”.   The decision about the marriage date relied on her own brothers and the making of the marriage settlement: it appears they did not want her to marry until the Winter.

Sir Isaac Holden

Sir Isaac Holden in later life

In the final letter of the set, in March 1850, Isaac hopes they will marry that Spring, as indeed they did.  He looked forward to “the happy period approaching, which shall permit the unrestricted and familiar enjoyment of each other’s society” and to selecting French shawls for Sarah and her sisters.

Sarah Holden

Sarah Holden in later life (1870s or 1880s from the dress style)

The marriage lasted forty years, until Sarah’s death in 1890.  At first they lived in France, where Sarah did not settle well and yearned for “a right good English servant”, but they later moved back to England, where Isaac became an incredibly successful and rich business man and moved into politics.   We will explore the family, their trade, and Isaac’s political career in later Objects about this wonderful archive.

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8 responses to “50. “Yours with Increasing Affection”: the Courtship Letters of Isaac Holden and Sarah Sugden

  1. fascinating
    almost an arranged marriage
    i look forward to hearing / seeing more of the archive
    cheers
    mary (MA student)

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