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Two Unusual Marraiges at Worcester

  • 15 Dec 2018
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In the church records of All Saints Church, Worcester, is what looks like the usual details of a marriage which took place in the church in 1784. It reads:

James Grubb of this parish batchelor and Ann Hand, widow were married  in this church by license this twelth day of May in the year 1784 by me, Richard Harrison, Vicar of Crowle

But it was no ordinary marriage. The rector of All Saints was absent and had no hand in the marriage. He later inserted the following note:

Pd tax 3d Invalid, ride in from N.B. Ann Hand proves to be the wife of James Hand, the witness, not his widow, (he made his mark as witness to the marriage). He sold her.......

The selling of wives was fairly common in the north of the county, but not in the county town. Divorce was impossible for ordinary people, and the only way to get rid of a wife was to sell her, either privately or in the open market. The wife's consent was necessary, and the price paid must not be less than one shilling.

The selling of wives in the open market shocked church people, but most poor people believed that over the years, the practice had acquired legality, providing all the formalities had been observed. It was not till 1857 that the Divorce Court was set up. Previously, a special Act of Parliament had to be obtained, and was available only to the wealthy. As late as 1881, a women produced in the police court a stamped receipt for 25s, to prove that she was an honest woman, having been divorced by this method.