In search of St Valentine's old bones
When I went looking for St Valentine, it was not a quest for romance but rather a sifting of historical detritus in three countries - four when Rome comes into the equation - and not being too dismissive of some lovin' feeling emanating from the birds of the air.
Although the British Postal Museum says the St Valentine 'letter from the heart' link was because he signed one to his Roman jailer's daughter whom he had befriended, an English writer on religious matters, Christopher Howse, says this is stuff and nonsense and that it all has to do with the fact that birds are pairing off and starting to build their nests.
The earliest known 'Valentine' was a letter sent in 1477 from Margery Brews to her young man which began: "Unto my right well-beloved Valentine, John Paston." Valentines were chosen and messages sent down through the centuries with a flood of mail in London in 1835 when postmen were given an allowance for "refreshments" because they had to move 50,000 extra letters.