FOR centuries, February 14 has been a very special day for people in love, but not many lovers realise why.

The origin of St Valentine's Day goes back to 270 AD, when, so it is told, a Christian named Valentine was condemned to die on February 14.

While he was in prison he restored the sight of the jailer's blind daughter, with whom he had fallen in love. The night before he died, he sent a poem to his love, signing it 'from your Valentine'.

In medieval times, there was a romantic belief that birds chose their mate in February. Later, in the 16th century, an English custom borrowed from Roman times was the drawing of lots for sweethearts. As well as romantic messages, the person drawn received a present, usually of some value, such as a piece of jewellery.

This custom continued until the end of the 17th century. In 1537 by Royal Charter King Henry VIII made St Valentine's Day official in England and since then the idea has spread.

At social gatherings eligible gentlemen would draw lots bearing ladies' names on the eve of St Valentine's Day.

Each man would wear his lady's name on his sleeve for days.

It is thought the expression 'he wears his heart on his sleeve' comes from this custom.

Among the wealthy, gala balls were given in honour of a young man's Valentine, while in other circles romantic messages were often sent to the lucky lady with elegant jewellery pieces, often set with diamonds.

The first paper cards appeared towards the end of the 18th century. Many were ridiculous, with vulgar cartoons that probably brought about the practice of the sender remaining anonymous.

Cards became more romantic during Victorian times And grew very ornate, with sentimental pictures, lace edges and lavish silk and velvet backgrounds.

It was during the late Victorian period that gold charms worn on bracelets were considered suitable gifts on St Valentine's Day.

They were not very varied in design and the emphasis was on good luck charms such as four-leaf clovers, horseshoes and wishbones, again set with tiny diamonds.

Hearts have traditionally been regarded as the most appropriate theme for a romantic gift.