My colleague Roz and I have in recent weeks begun to undertake a project which will hopefully increase the usage and visibility of the archives – importing volunteer enhanced records onto our database. Over the next few months, we aim to import much of the hard work our volunteers have put into making our collections more detailed and accessible for researchers.
Our first project was marriage licence allegations and bonds. These are useful additions to marriage registers, as an allegation or bond can provide details such as place of residence, occupation, age, and the occasional family member. As such, they can be a great resource. Or rather, they can be a great resource once you have sifted through thousands upon thousands of entries. To help mitigate this, our volunteers had painstakingly listed each and every entry for the usage of our visitors, and now they have been imported onto our online catalogue for you to see. If you click this link, then enter GDR/Q1, or GDR/Q2, or GDR/Q3 in the Finding Ref field, then click search, you can see for yourself the records, and refine the search by year, narrowing down the massive series.
Therefore, if you search for GDR/Q1, you will find over 21,300 individually recorded entries for each marriage bond we hold, from 1730 to 1823. If you search GDR/Q2, you will find over 18,400 marriage licence allegations (or affidavits) sworn before surrogates, from 1747-1837. Some of the allegations from September 1822 to March 1823 have certified copies of the baptismal entries of both parties attached, as required by the Confirmation of Marriages Act 1822. If you search for GDR/Q3, you will find over 36,800 entries from our volumes of marriage licence allegations (or affidavits) sworn at the Diocesan Registry in Gloucester before the Chancellor and his surrogates between 1637 and 1823. The records have been transcribed in their entirety, and as such there is now no need for the originals to be brought out to view in person. All the information provided in these documents is contained in each entry on our database.
So, let’s provide some context and more details for these records.
There were several pieces of legislation that changed the way marriages were done throughout the 18th and early 19th centuries. The two that are most relevant for the GDR/Q1-3 records that have been now imported to our database are the Marriage Acts of 1753 and 1823.
The Marriage Act of 1753, otherwise known as “An Act for the Better Preventing of Clandestine Marriage”, was one of the first pieces of legislation that required marriages in England and Wales to have a formal ceremony. It came into force the following year on the 25 March. It’s worth keeping in mind that this only applied to Anglican marriages. Jews and Quakers were exempt from these rules, and it would be a bit longer before non-conformist churches were properly acknowledged by the state.
Before this Act, for a marriage to be valid it required that either banns should be called, or a license obtained before the couple could get married. Additionally, the couple had to get married in the parish where one of them was resident. However, none of this was enforced or even mandatory. Many got married with neither banns nor a licence, nor got married in a church, as lacking any of these aspects did not render the marriage void. The only aspect that could was if the marriage was not done by an Anglican clergyman.
After the Act, for a marriage to be valid it had to be performed in a church and after the publication of banns or the obtaining of a licence. Those under the age of 21 had to have parental consent if they married by licence and the parents did not object to the banns.
The 1823 Marriage Act ended the practice of marriage bonds. These were essentially a contract between the groom and a witness, whether it be the groom’s father, the bride’s father, a friend or even someone less well known to the groom, promising that the bride and groom were due to be married at a parish church. The amount sworn was a type of insurance between the groom and witness, and amounts of £500 (roughly over £100,000 in today’s money) promised was not uncommon. This makes one think that marriage bonds were more of a formality than anything else, and the groom was not very likely to get cold feet and abandon the bride at the altar. In fact, if you look at the date given in the bond, then look in the marriage register, a wedding usually takes place soon after the signing, sometimes on the same day. Clearly by 1823 this type of insurance was deemed unnecessary, and they was abolished.
These marriage allegations are an excellent resource for family historians, but they also happen to contain some hidden gems. My personal favourite that I came across whilst uploading was a case of seeing double and can be seen at GDR/Q1/1751/entry number 245 and 246. In number 245, on the 12 of December a bond between groom Henry Tomkins, a yeoman of Newland, and witness John Smith, a yeoman of Coleford, for £500 was made for Henry to marry a Sarah White of Coleford at English Bicknor. The very next entry, in 246 details a marriage bond between the pre-mentioned (now the groom in this entry) John Smith, and witness George White, a yeoman of English Bicknor, for £500 for John to marry…Sarah White of Coleford at English Bicknor. Needless to say my first reaction was either a mistake had been made or Sarah had somehow married two men in the same place on the same day.
I jumped over to the marriage register to see that these two marriages had taken place one after the other in English Bicknor on the 12 December. My next thought (and the more logical and sound idea) was that the Sarahs were perhaps cousins or unrelated residents of Coleford who had been married together. A look at GDR/Q2, our marriage licence series, revealed that the Sarah who married Henry was 25, and the Sarah who married John was 33, confirming for sure that one Sarah White from Coleford did in fact not marry two men on the same day in the same place. All of this makes one wonder how common joint marriages were in the 1750s, as well as the relationship between the two Sarah Whites. Unfortunately these kinds of questions cannot be answered through marriage allegations, but in the meantime, there are 76,500 new records to have a casual browse through…
By Abigail Hartley
Collections Management Archivist
If you are interested in becoming a volunteer with Gloucestershire Archives and to work on projects like this, check out our volunteering page on our website for details on how to get involved, and a massive thank you to our volunteers who contributed, not only to this project, but also to other records which will be updated over the coming months.