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Why did a church have multiple weddings on Christmas Day in 1890?

18 December 2020

Email if you have any answers to the questions, below

Investigating my family history, I came across 36 weddings all con­­ducted on Christmas Day 1890 in St John’s, Hoxton, London. The regis­ter was signed by the vicar, the Revd Mr Cooke, on all occasions. Did the Victorians have a different (shorter) marriage service? How did he fit them all in?

Your answers:

Christmas Day and Boxing Day were bank holidays and in that year were followed by a Sunday, thus allowing three days for a celebration.

Henry James Cooke is identified by the 1893 Crockford as then being curate of St John’s, Hoxton, the incumbent from 1864 being George Purves Pownell. I assume that a parish clerk would have prepared the register entries in advance so that they needed only to be signed by the couple concerned, their witnesses, and the officiant. At that time, all marriages had to be solemnised be­­tween the hours of 8 a.m. and 3 p.m., allowing seven hours, permit­ting each couple, if married separ­ately, about 11 minutes for the cere­mony, and assuming that others were queuing beforehand.

It is more likely that couples were taken in batches, perhaps six or so couples, at a time. This was the practice at Manchester Collegiate Church, now the cathedral, when all those who lived in its former parish, even though they lived in the area of a district church, had the right to be married in the mother church.

George Huntington, later Vicar of Tenby, was a clerk in ordinary or curate in the collegiate church from 1855 to 1867, and in his book, Random Recollections, of 1896, he wrote about Canon Cecil Wray, who had served that church in various capacities from 1809 to 1866. At one stage, he claimed to have married there 13,186 couples, and did so in batches or “wholesale”.

An older colleague, Jonathan Brookes, also noted in Richard Parkinson’s book, The Old Church Clock, was notorious for his haste during these “wholesale” marriages. It was said that when one bride pro­tested that she had been married to the wrong man, he replied that they should sort themselves out on the way out. Incidentally, Huntington claimed that he, too had married 57 couples in a morning.

Roger L. Brown, Welshpool

The eccentric Warden of Man­ches­ter Collegiate Church, the Revd Joshua Brooks, who died in 1821, would conduct multiple marriages on Easter Monday (P. H. Ditchfield, The Old Time Parson, Methuen & Co., 1908). “Easter Monday was the great day for weddings at the old church, and large numbers flocked to be married, and with so many couples it was rather difficult to get them properly sorted, as one read­ing of the service sufficed for all. . .”

Could it be that this practice con­tinued throughout the 19th century? One can understand the desire of young couples from poor back­grounds to be married on a day when they would not lose a day’s wages.

Allan Arrowsmith, Manchester

I discovered a very similar situation in the registers of marriage for St Paul’s, Maryland, Stratford, London E15, when I was there. The original church was built in 1864, becoming a parish in its own right in 1865. When I became Vicar there in 2006, lots of the original records were still in the Victorian safe.

Old photos stored in the safe showed that this original church was huge. Registers of ser­vices be­­tween 1864 and 1910 showed that the average Sunday attendance was 900 (yes, seriously, 900), 250 boys recorded attending Sunday school (there were no records for the girls’ Sunday school).

It had its own school, nurses, brass band, football, and cricket teams. It was a community predom­inantly made up from the local rail­way workers who were building trains and rails in the metal works at Stratford, and the women were pre­dominantly domestic servants. Dur­ing the building of the London 2012 Games, the area was excavated, and, as I was also the senior chaplain for the Olympic construction workers, I had ample opportunity to see the archaeologists working on the site, who found much evidence of the old railway yards and smelting shops.

During the Victorian period, Stratford was a like a small town in its own right, and, for the working-class, St Paul’s was the heart of their community. Lots of the housing was multi-occupancy boarding houses. My wife, the author Jean Fullerton, was researching the electoral rolls of the area for one of her novels and found that many single people were drawn to Stratford because of the oppor­tunity to work in either do­­mestic service or on the railways.

The sexes were lodged in separate houses, but it was common for people to share rooms with people they didn’t know; so accommodation would probably be cramped. St Paul’s provided a refuge for those who didn’t want to go drinking every night, and, obviously, single men and women met, fell in love, and wanted to get married.

During the Victorian period, people didn’t get holidays as we do now: a day off wasn’t truly a day off; it might be a half-day, which would allow the workers to go to church either morning or evening. Christ­mas Day and Boxing Day were likely to be the only proper full day of holiday that the working class would get off. Hence they would all pack into church to get married on the only two days available to them.

St Paul’s wedding registers showed that on Christmas Day and Boxing Day for some 15 years con­­tinuously in the late 18th to early 19th century, there were approxim­ately 25-40 weddings on each day. Not all were conducted by the Rector, but were shared between him and his team of clergy, which was quite large. Looking at the registers of marriage for the period, the only way to have so many in one day was to do them in groups; how many at a time, I don’t know.

Sadly the original church was destroyed by a V bomb in 1945, but was replaced by the church now in Maryland Road in 1953.

(The Revd) Kelvin Woolmer, Bedford

Often, in England and here in Aus­tra­lia, in earlier days, a large number of weddings were solemnised at the same service.

(The Revd Dr) John Bunyan Campbelltown North, NSW



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