Archive for the ‘Georgian Stories’ Category

GG 1I’m putting another comma in Harriette’s story today, and sharing something else I discovered recently.

Last month I travelled up to Gretna Green to do a little research. I’d been  trying to find out what actually happened when couples arrived there for ages, and I’d found nothing valuable on the internet so I thought, right, get in the car and go there, and they’ll be something around there I’m sure. Oh, I can’t tell you how right I was. We discovered this fabulous little museum set up in an old ironmonger’s forge, one of the places where marriage ceremonies used to take place.

I learned so much I didn’t know.

Prior to the 12th Century, a man could just take a woman to his home and call it marriage. But the church, being more powerful than kings at the time, wanted some control over who married who, and so they began introducing formal religious ceremonies.

In 1563, the Church then became even more defiant over its role in marriage, and said that marriages would only be deemed valid if they were recognised by the Church. But even so Civil Law still stated that if a man and woman made a declaration before two witnesses, that was enough.

So there was a divide then, in places where the Church had no sway, people could be deemed officially married under civil law, on ships for instance. But what I didn’t know was about the industry which developed in London for quick marriages, in the Fleet Prison.

Apparently by the 1700’s jailed priests, who did not care about any reprisal from the church, had expanded their illicit marriage business from the prison chapel to sixty ‘Fleet marriage rooms’ outside the jail. They’d set themselves up there to perform hurried weddings, and people would elope and run to the Fleet Prison.  Men even went out touting for business to encourage couples in off the street. And there was no care about who they married, numerous bigamous marriages took place, and marriage certificates might be backdated, to avoid having an illegitimate child. Or marriages, as they were performed anytime of the day or night, might be a drunken couple, who’d regret it in the morning.

GG 2So in 1754, Hardwicke’s Marriage Act was voted in by the House of Lords, whose daughters were often caught out by the seduction of penniless men, and when they only had to persuade the woman to go as far as the Fleet, their angry family didn’t have much chance to catch them up before the deed was done.

The Act introduced three distinct changes to marriage law. Couples had to marry in a church, and secondly, they had to be 21 to marry without the written consent of their parents, and lastly they had to give notice of their marriage, so bans would be read in parishes, to ensure both couples were eligible for marriage.

In a rush to beat the deadline for the new law 217 marriages took place in and around the Fleet Prison on 25th March 1754. But the law only changed in England, and once it had, so Gretna Green came into its own. As Gretna was the first place people reached when they came over the eastern Scottish border, this was the place couples wishing to marry without parental consent started rushing up to. Scottish marriages were recognised in England, and Scottish law still allowed anyone over sixteen to marry, just with a statement before witnesses.

GG 3Therefore anyone could set themselves up as the person to host marriages, and many people did in Gretna, to satisfy demand. Including the ironmonger, at the forge I went to. The museum had records of thousands of marriages, and details of the history of some of those who undertook marriages there.  And here’s a picture of the anvil the ironmonger used.

The ironmonger ‘the anvil priest’ is believed to be the most remembered because of the symbolism of metal being forged together, as two people might be in marriage, and a mystical element grew up around this. There were letters there, written to the ironmonger of Gretna, mostly by women, asking for good luck in winning the man they chose, or advice, or even asking him to help plot their elopement.

GG 4An artist eloped with the daughter of a friend he’d been staying with in Carlisle, in the early 1800s. And later he painted pictures of his experience, they were the most telling thing for me. There was an image of their hurried coach ride.  Then one of the couple arriving at the ironmonger’s forge, standing on a mud track outside as he walked out with his leather apron on, wiping his hands. They merely stood before the man in the squat old building as they made their declaration and he declared them  forged together in marriage, and then banged his anvil to declare it. There weren’t a lot of houses around the forge, and no one else there, just the ironmonger and his family. When her father arrived the couple are merely walking back and the ironmonger is turning his back and leaving the couple to it.

So that’s the experience of a couple visiting Gretna Green, until in 1856, when the cooling off Act was introduced and Scottish marriages only became recognised in England when one of the marriage parties had been born in Scotland, or had resided there for 21 days.  And that was the end of the booming marriage trade in Gretna Green…

More of Harriette’s story at the weekend.

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark


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Mill 1Again I’m slipping a post in between the progression of Harriette’s story and taking you back to the middle of last week, when I spoke about Quarry Bank Georgian Mill and the history of spinning and weaving cotton. Today I am going to tell a bit about life at the mill in the 18th Century.

There’s an amazing Apprentice House just up the road from the mill, sadly I couldn’t take any pictures inside, so you are going to have rely on me verbally painting the scene for you.

In this period of the 18th Century industrialisation had put many people out of work and the poor houses were overflowing with men, women and children in need of food and shelter. So men like Samuel Greg, who built Quarry Bank Mill, saw an opportunity for cheap labour, they went to the poor houses to obtain children who would work for food and board under the definition of being apprenticed to learn a trade (exactly Oliver Twist style).

They were taken away from their parents at seven or eight and brought to the Apprentice House miles away from home, and they would then be asked to sign away their lives until they were sixteen, when they would be employed or leave. They were literally asked to sign a contract which said they agreed to be Samuel Greg’s possession for that period of their lives, it gave them no rights and no wages for their labour, beyond a bed, a roof, and food; they became slaves basically.

The boys and girls were kept in separate rooms in the house. The girls all slept in one large whitewashed dormitory with a hatch to let them in and out, which was locked when they went in at night and opened again at five in the morning when they had to get up to go to work. The girls were crammed into rows of beds, with straw pallets and a single blanket, wide enough to top and tail three, and you can imagine when the locks were secure, the bitter arguments and bullying the younger ones perhaps endured. As far as possessions, they had a single peg for spare clothes and nothing more.

The boys were split across three rooms, because they’d fight, but again were locked away at night, like animals.

They worked, then breakfast was taken down to the mill, and again just like Oliver Twist, they ate gruel, a dollop of porridge, not from a bowl, but placed into their hand. They had the same for lunch, another dollop, but this time seeds or vegetables had been mixed into it as the Gregs were emancipists and believed in keeping their apprentices healthy (we were told most apprentices would only be fed once a day). Their evening meal was more substantial and two or three times a week they had meat. The real difference from Oliver Twist though was that they were allowed more. The Gregs believed the children could do more work if they weren’t hungry.

DSC_0031But the negative aspect of the Gregs emancipation, was that Samuel Greg’s wife Hannah believed the children should be educated. So after a gruelling ten-hour day at the mill, the children came back to the Apprentice House and had to do their chores, planting and tending the vegetables, feeding animals, cleaning rooms, emptying out the toilet pits… And then after all this Hannah Greg insisted they had lessons to teach them how to read and write. They must have been too exhausted to learn a thing.

You might think Sunday, a day when the mill stopped running, would be a day they could recoup but no, on a Sunday, they had to wash and put on a clean outer layer of clothes and then walk six miles to church. Then for the only time in their week they had a few hours to play or do as they wished after a meat dinner, before they had to walk another six miles back to church for the evening service.

Were the children happy? Certainly some of them weren’t as they ran away, but in comparison to other mills, or the poor house,  or having nowhere to live… Their lot was better than most.

While the children were working Hannah Greg enjoyed a social life which was equivalent to any ton society madam in London, she gathered together the bright and artistic of Manchester, and invited them to her home to debate and discuss common interests. She was highly respected in the area, but the fabulous thing was she wrote lots of letters and journals recording all she did and what she thought. One of those characters from history that I love, as I find these the best way to really discover how people lived and what they were like, by reading their thoughts.  So of course, I bought the book, maybe more on Quarry Bank Mill, and Hannah Greg, at a later date then…

Come back on Sunday for Harriette’s story.

Jane Lark is a writer of authentic, passionate and emotional love stories.

See the side bar for details of Jane’s books, and Jane’s website www.janelark.co.uk to learn more about Jane. Or click  ‘like’ on Jane’s Facebook  page to see photo’s and learn historical facts from the Georgian, Regency and Victorian eras, which Jane publishes there. You can also follow Jane on twitter at @janelark


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