Avoiding a Wife’s Debts

In my research for wife selling I came upon several mentions that if a woman had debts, she could be freed of them by marrying in a shift. This was widely mocked, but his comes from the 1932 5 May Hartlepool Northern Daily Mail 

“IN HER SHIFT ONLY”

Another correspondent writes: With respect to the letter by Mrs Acworth in your issue of May 4 the following extract gives another reason for the wearing of the “Shift”. Dr Charles Cox (in his work on the Parish Registers of England) quotes from Prescott’s Journal Feb 12 1774, the following passage: “On Tues sennight was married at the Parochial Chapel of Saddleworth Abraham Brooks, a widower of abut 30 years of age, to Mary Bradley a Widow of near 70, but as the bride was a little in Debt, the Bridegroom obliged her to be married in her shift, and the weather being very severe thew her into such a severe fit of shaking as induced the compassionate minister to cover her with his coat whilst the marriage was solemnised”

This does not suggest that the parson approved of or believed this, merely that he was sorry for the poor frozen pensioner.

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