Clandestine Marriages

A bit of historical romance to celebrate International Women’s Day, from the wonderful Highways & Byways series:

One of the famous images of 18th century England, often repeated in cheap novels was the young heiress inveigled by an unscrupulous seducer to flee with him to be married at Gretna Green, pursued by relatives attempting to save her from ruin.

But Gretna Green was not the only place for such flights, due to the 1757 Marriage Act which prevented clandestine marriages in England but they continued to be legal in Scotland as late as 1856. 

This is from H&B in Northumbria:

Lamberton [a small village on the coast to the north of Berwick] was notorious in the early half of the 19th century for the uproarious race meetings held on the moor and the Border marriages celebrated at the toll-bar. Both were vigorously condemned by the righteous through there are unregenerates who still cherish memories of the former ad philosophers who condone the later. “A toll wedding is better than none,” said a comfortable-looking village woman to the writer; “they just used to gan thegither in my young days and if after they went sundry nobody cared.” She was a village pagan who did not greatly believe in the niceness and fancy of he generation growing up beside her!

Lamberton and Coldstream bridge ere not gilded with the same air of romance as Gretna. At one period waters of novels were never tired of making he handsome young ensign run off to the Cumberland Border with the rich heiress, pursued , as often as not but the irate father in his chariot Very few adventures of this kind are staged at Lamberton. But in the early half of the last century it was not uncommon for the Northumbria yokel who still is very secretive about his love affairs to steal out at one end of the village while his nymph took the opposite direction, the two meeting at an appointed place, whence they trudged together to the toll. at Coldstream the priest was usually a blacksmith. His shop and shoeing forge continued to be used as a smithy up to a very recent date. At Lumberton Toll the ritual was performed by men of various occupations. …

It was the simplest of ceremonies Legal marriage in Scotland did not require more than a simple declaration on the part of the band and won Andrew  Lyons ‘Hymeneal Altar’ led to many irregularities, yet she regarded its abolition as a mistake because “couples might ha’ done war”! Marriage was marriage even when performed by a barber on the open moorland An irregular kind of register was kept and is still in existence, although its interest diminishes as the actors die and are forgotten.

A jeweller who is now in a large way of business in another part of the country told the present writer that he served his time in Berwick-on-Tweed and is indeed a freeman. He recollected that on market days and holidays the form for which he worked would sell from 12 to 18 wedding right in a morning for use at Lamberton Toll. He also remembered the famous notice stuck in the window of the tollhouse:

“Ginger beer sold here and marriages performed”!

This is from H&B in The Borders:

..down to as late as 1856, when clandestine weddings were prohibited by Act of Parliament it was a common sight to see a post-chaise come racing over Coldstream Bridge, or in days before the bridge existed, splashing through the water from the English side bering in it she for couple… flying on love’s wings from some stony-hearted parent or guardian. Coldstream was almost as famous a place for runway marriages as was Gretna Green itself. At the former place, the ceremony was usually performed in the toll-house at the Scottish end of he bridge, where “priests” were always in readiness to tie up the runaway couples, and to issue the thereafter a Certificate of Marriage, such as the following, which is a copy of one issued in 1836: “This is to certify the John Chambers, Husbandman, from the Broomhouse, …with Mary walker from Kelso in the parish of Kelso, in Roxborough, was married by me this Day. As witness to my hand William Alexander Coldstream 15th Dec 1836. Witness names Miss Dalgleish, Miss Archer”

But though for convenience’s sake and probably for speed of dispatch, the tollhouse was chiefly patronised, those who had command of money and were not unduly pressed for time could arrange to have their nuptials celebrated in less public fashion the would probably be the case at the bridge-end. It is I believe an undoubted fact tat in 1819 Lord Brougham was married in the chief in of the village.

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