Stephen Wainwright looks back on how Valentine's Day was celebrated in St Helens 150 years ago).

The marking of Valentine's Day goes back hundreds of years with the sending of cards increasing after 1840 when postal rates became cheaper.

By the 1870s the practice had become hugely popular in St Helens with the poorly paid postie's bulging mailbag more than doubled by the addition of Valentines cards.

For example, on Wednesday February 14 1872 the town's post office reported that they had delivered a total of 7,709 items – compared to the average Wednesday delivery of 3,075.

But not all cards were despatched with romantic overtures in mind, as the St Helens Newspaper described: "Severe moralists have condemned the custom of sending valentines, because it leads to the transmission of malevolent rubbish for the gratification of jealousy or hatred."

In the following year the Newspaper provided an example of a malevolent valentine after Margaret McDonald had appeared in St Helens Petty Sessions charged with threatening to assault Jane Twist.

"The paper's edition of March 1 1873 said: "She [Jane Twist] opened her door to a knock, and the defendant, who was outside, called her insulting names, and threatened to assault her.

"The affair, it seems, arose out of an uncomplimentary valentine received by the defendant and credited to the complainant.

St Helens Star:  Dromgoole's stationers in Hardshaw Street where many Valentines were sold Dromgoole's stationers in Hardshaw Street where many Valentines were sold (Image: Stephen Wainwright)

"Police Constable Millet had been called in to give his opinion of the missive, and he pronounced it to be a most disgusting production."

The anonymous nature of most Valentines could lead to all sorts of accusations being made when an uncomplimentary card was received.

In February 1883 Sarah Moran from Atherton Street in St Helens appeared in court charged with assaulting her neighbour Emily Seton. The latter claimed to have found a Valentine card stuck to her door that made reference to a jackass. Mrs Seton told the court that she had ripped the card off her door and thrown it away and it had inadvertently flown in the direction of Mrs Moran's house.

Sarah Moran found the card and believing her neighbour had sent it to her immediately bashed Mrs Seton over the head with a brush! There was then a lot of hair pulling and scratching until the pair could be separated. The bench accepted Mrs Seton's unlikely story of a Valentine's card with wings and her neighbour was fined 30 shillings.

Most people bought their cards from Dromgoole's shop in Hardshaw Street which operated out of the same offices as the St Helens Newspaper.

In 1870 their advert offered Valentines for sale from a halfpenny to ten shillings each "in the greatest variety, and of the choicest and most comical kinds."

Four year later their Valentines advert in the Newspaper reported that business was so brisk that part of their premises were now devoted to the display of such cards, writing: "Mr. Dromgoole begs to inform the young ladies and gentlemen of St Helens and the district, who have favoured him with their patronage in former years, that in order to afford them ample accommodation for the selection of their love missives he has set apart, as a Valentine Showroom, a large part of his shop in Hardshaw Street, and trusts that his endeavours to meet their wishes may give satisfaction to all."

In 1875 the Newspaper lamented how more Valentines that celebrated the pagan festival were being received in the town than cards that commemorated Christmas.

They also stated that the total number of Valentines that had passed through the St Helens Post Office that year over three days had been 15,360, with what they considered to be a surprisingly high number sent into the town from other places: "A fact which speaks volumes for the bewitching beauties who may henceforth claim to be the greatest attraction the town can boast of."

Stephen Wainwright's three books The Hidden History Of St Helens Volumes 1 to 3 are available from the St Helens Book Stop, The World of Glass and online.