Jack Valentine, NorfolkThe Norfolk I grew up in was a practical place, in those days concerned with North Sea rigs, the end of the fishing era, and the start of the giant agri-businesses. But it had one special romantic tradition that seems unique to the county, that of Jack Valentine. It is said that in Victorian times Valentine's Eve was as important as Christmas in Norfolk, with lavish present exchanged anonymously between lovers, and children given presents by their parents.
As far as present for children were concerned, this was still very common in the 1960s. As incomers to the area my parents were unaware of the custom, and so I would jealously listen to my schoolmates speaking about what Jack Valentine had brought them. It may only have been some chocolate or a book, but it was the principle of the thing - they had another Father Christmas figure and I was missing out!
Depending on family tradition and where in the county you live, Jack Valentine can metamorphose into Old Father Valentine, or Old Mother Valentine, knocking on the door and leaving presents on the step to be collected by the expectant child. In a cruel variation on the theme, another and somewhat darker character appears at times, Snatch Valentine. Snatch sounds like a character from a Raymond Chandler novel, and acts like one from a Roald Dahl story: there is a knock at the door; child opens door; a package sits on the step; child reaches for it and...Wham! the string attached to it is yanked hard and the present disappears behind whatever cover is to hand. This rigmarole continues several times, and the child, who has been warned of dire consequences (sleep well children) if he or she should follow the present, becomes more and more agitated, until finally the string is not pulled, and the present sits safely in the youngster's hands.
Some families continue with the tradition, though social mobility and the dominance of the day by slushier happenings has lessened its importance and reduced observance. Why this custom grew in Norfolk nobody can explain, but it's good that we still have regional differences, and long may it continue to be so.
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30 Responses to Jack Valentine
From linda grimmer on 14th February 2014
My family always did Jack Valentines and still do. I am now doing it for my grandaughter.
From Ilene Kittner on 12th February 2014
I just found this article today. When I was kid living in California USA we had a visitor on valentines night that left candy and toy in a brown bag on the porch. My mom who is 82 also remembers the visitor on valentines, but the family never spoke of where the tradition came from. I am so glad to have found this and I called my mom to share it with her. I have continued the tradition with my children going on 23 years now and this year we add a new grand-daughter. I beleive we are into 8 generations now passin on the tradition. My gr gr gr grandfather is David West fron Deberyshire 1824 and he's the one who introduced it to my family. I loved reading all the stories here.
From Juanita on 9th February 2014
I was born in Lowestoft in 1962 Valentines presents and sweets at the door what exciting and scary mystery to us children.... Mother and father will be with us when the door would knock knock knock.... I would timidly open the door to find the gift. My sister and I would always ask our next door neighbour if she had seen or heard anything, obviously she said not but I'm still assume she was the deliverer really...... Unless of course he does exist
From tracy Steverson on 8th February 2014
This is still a wonderful tradition for our family! My mum & dad did this for me & my sisters & I have carried it on with my twins. My husband is from Lowestoft & didn't know of this tradition either. My dad bring in the forces we moved around alot and I wad always seemed to be the only one that received a small brown package on my doorstep. My heart would always pound when I heard that loud knock! I would alway get a box of maltesers, colouring book & a small toy. My two are 2 1/2 this year so they will be super excited. Good old Jack valentine xxx
From Tim Williamson on 19th February 2013
My parents used to knock on the door and leave a small parcel behind when I was a kid in the sixties. The knocks and presents would keep appearing until I'd open the door and a broom fell in. My mum was a Norfolk lass, but it was my dad who introduced us to the tradition... and he was from Bethnall Green, East London. (Now we've bought the tradition to Brighton.)
From Angie Porter on 17th February 2013
I was born in Great Yarmouth and I remember clearly Jack Valentine knocking on the door and leaving presents in brown paper bags for my sisters and I on the front door step, this would have been in the late 60's. I now live in Henley-on-Thames and carry on the tradition for my Grandson but no one here has heard of it.
From Martin rendle-hunt on 14th February 2013
I remember jack visiting as a child I used to get some sweets and normally a small gift of colouring pens and a book .I have spoken to many people who have no idea of jack visiting I loved this as a child
From Kim on 14th February 2013
Such an interesting article and comments especially for a newcomer to the Great Yarmouth area. I hope Jack visits me in future!
From elizabeth mcmanus on 14th February 2013
I was born in north norfolk and always had a visit from father valentine, I am in my 50s now and always kept up the custom with my children even though I moved to wisbech cambs Now I do it for my granchildren, in fact they are coming to visit today and the presants are all ready . the idea is He knocks on the door and runs away leaving presants for the children
From Paul Gray on 14th February 2013
Coming from Gorleston, near Gt Yarmouth, I can remember the loud 'knock' on the front door on Valentine's evening after dark. There was always a small bag containing sweets and maybe a book, game or model plane to build. This was in the 1960's. Usually a neighbour was coerced to knock and deliver. My wife and I carried on the tradition in exactly the same way for our twins (Good ol'Reg!)- but as Reg was not as sprightly as he once was, we had to hold the twins back for a few seconds to allow Reg to slip into the shadows. As far as I was told, the custom doesn't extend the Norwich-Lowestoft-Yarmouth area.
From Leanne Tink on 14th February 2013
We used to look forward to Father valentine visiting more than Christmas day !It was always so exciting. I always used to think oh mum has missed him coming again !! I carried on this lovely tradition with all three of my children up until a few years ago and still do get them a small gift. My daughter has promised she will make sure that our new little grandson will get a visit from Father Valentine next year!
From amanda mirza on 14th February 2013
Jack Valentine has just visited, knocking on the door and running away, leaving a present for my 4 year old son, just like he used to for for me. How much more charming than the sickly OTT and overpriced valentines gifts for adults in all the shops!
From Carrie Larsen on 14th February 2013
I have been looking for my old tradition (in the 60's and 70's) We would get our valentines ready and take them around to all of our friends homes. Put the valentine in front of the door - knock and run. It was always such a thrill to open the door and see who got a valentine. Everyone I talk to here in Utah haven't heard of this... How unfortunate! Happy Valentines Day! Knock Knock -- : )
From sandra west on 12th February 2013
we are leaving a small gift wrapped in brown paper on our grandchildrens doorsteps, again this year. As we do every year on Valentines day. My mum and dad did this for me in the 50s and 60s, and my grandparents did this in the 1930s for their children.We are Norfolk born and Bred.
From Tracey on 8th February 2013
I can't believe anyone is calling into question the existance of Jack Valentine, I have heard his knock many a time, and tasted his paper bag of sweet shop penny sweets and lucky bag gifts..... He often threw in a cheap game as well. Good on yer Jack, I now live in London and have spoken to my partner abouit this custom...and thought it had died out. I hope it is still going strong in Lowestoft where I grew up.
From carol on 25th January 2013
I was just talking to a friend about jack today. Both of us grew up in lowestoft and waited in anticipation for that knock on the door, however both our husbands who are not local have never heard of it.
From amanda woodhouse on 31st December 2012
I was so happy to find this after my husband not believing me about having father valentine visiting on valentines night! Although my brother and I would get some good presents and some bad ones as our parents always said he was 'naughty' I have just had my first child so will definatly be keeping the tradition up!
From David on 24th December 2012
I was a child in the 1960s in rural Norfolk and we had Jack Valentine at our door foray years. It certainly isn't an old wives tale contrary to some of the earlier comments.
From Tony Hazell on 21st February 2012
I was really pleased to find this piece so I could prove to my Hertfordshire-born wife that there was a Jack Valentine. I well remember the anticipation on Valentines night waiting for the ring of the doorbell and running to find which of us had been left a present on each ring. I was a youngster in then1960s. I wonder how many parents in the area keep up the traidtion today
From Matthew Benns on 14th February 2012
Long live Jack Valentine. I remember the terror and excitement of Jack Valentine's knock as a child in Norfolk so well. Now in Australia the custom has been transported here for my daughters - although with the warmer weather "snatch's" repertoire has been expanded to include various other tricks involving buckets of water and the garden hose!
From Dave Tong on 14th February 2012
Jack is definitely not the stuff of Old wives tales. We felt as you do at christmas - both excited and almost sick, waiting for the knock on the door and the present of marbles, plasticine or maybe even gun caps if you were really lucky. A neighbour knocked on our door and later my dad did the same for their family. This was in the 60s and we still carry on the tradition with our own children today. The reason some in Norfolk haven't heard of it is I think because it came out of Norwich where my parents lived and so has only spread slowly outside the confines of the City.
From jo on 14th February 2012
i live in Norwich & my nanny & grandad did this for my mum, mum & dad did it for me and my sister, and as parents me and kev now do it for our children, and i'm sure when they have their children they will do it for them, the knock on the door valentines nite was so exciting, and everyone in the house was there when there was a knock at the door, everybody needs good neighbours,
From Martin on 16th August 2011
As the author I feel I must reply to Julie King's comment doubting the veracity of the custom. In Gorleston of the 1960s it certainly existed as I witnessed with my own envious incomer-child eyes. And the various other comments remembering it rather add to the evidence. Perhaps it was just the generous spirited who carried on the tradition.
From Sue Deacon on 14th February 2011
I too used to enjoy this custom and carried on the tradition with my own children. Although they are grown up now, they still get small presents from Jack Valentine. It was only when I first started teaching in London many years ago that I realised that most people were unaware of his existence.I come from Gorleston and my parents from Gt Yarmouth and I was under the impression that the custom was localised to this area of Norfolk. I used to be so excited anticipating the knock on the door and opening my little bag of sweets and cheap toys. Crafty parents would enlist the help of neighbours, so dad need not be out of the front room. I would love to know how and why this custom started. My father, who is 85, often used to tell me of the May day custom of visiting "Old Mother Brown", when hordes of youngsters would spend the day walking from Yarmouth to Burgh Castle. This had died out by the time I was a child and I have no idea who the lady in question was, although I was under the impression she was some kind of wise woman or witch.
From Ann Raymont on 14th February 2011
I was so happy to find an artical on Jack Valentine as a child i enjoyed with my brother and sisters the excitment of valentines night we would inturn answer the door to find a small chocolate bar on the step, when i had my own children i continued the tradition although i had moved to the midlands, my children could not understand why they were the only children at school that Jack Valentine visited so i explained it was because i came from caister-on-sea and he knew where we lived. I encourage my son to do the same for his children even though they live in australia i think it is majical for children and hope that there are still lots of families in norfolk that follow this tradition.
From Monica Hillman on 14th February 2011
Just read this article,I have never met anyone who knew of the custom. Father Valentine visited my sisters and I in the 40s in Mundesley where the whole street where we lived was in uproar on Feb14th. I carried on the tradition for my own children in Suffolk. The neighbours thought we had gone mad.
From Bob on 10th March 2010
Good article. I wonder if "snatch" is from East Norfolk; as an outsider (here since 1959) I was intrigued to hear my mother in law talking about it - email@example.com
From Julie King on 26th February 2010
I have lived in Norfolk all my life and my Mum and Dad are in their eighties and we have never heard of this. I think its a old wives tale.
From Anne Burden on 15th February 2010
As a child I remember Jack Valentine visiting my brother and I, now I do this for my own children, but I never really knew what it was all about so it has been good to read this article and find out all what Jack Valentine is really about. I do find though that there is only a few people who know about and get visits from Jack, most people have never heard off him which I think is a real shame. So much is made of valentines day that it has become more about making money. Thanks for a great article now I can tell people who Jack Valentine is
From Hilary Wright on 4th January 2010
Good to read about this custom. My parents moved to the Midlands in 1940, and brought the Valentine tradition with them.There would be a knock at the door and there was a little gift on the mat. Strangely my Dad always missed the event! Hilary