Friday, 24 April 2009

A mystery marriage in Barton-under-Needwood (Part 4)

I found the following discussion of Victorian marriage customs on Literary Liaisons, an online resource for romance writers by M. Hoppe. Although written primarily with 19th Century North American practices in mind, it refers to English customs of the time.

Before the 1880s, a couple was required by law to have a morning ceremony ... In the Eastern United States, the fashionable hours were between 10:00 a.m. and Noon because it was an English custom ... The marriage ceremony took place either at home or in church ... In the 1850s, weddings were almost always held in church, and it was customary to use the bride's parish. The clergyman and parish clerk were in attendance. After the ceremony, the couple signed their name in the parish register in the vestry. The bride signed her maiden name. Flowers decorated the church.
In English parish registers, from 1812 onwards, there was also a requirement after marriage ceremonies for the signature of two witnesses. In my experience of transcribing thousands of marriage register entries, by the 1860s and 1870s, these witnesses were usually relatives of the bride and groom. In some cases, such as with wealthier families, additional witnesses often signed the register.

In England, a country bride and her wedding party walked to church on a carpet of blossoms to assure a happy path through life. For the wealthier, a grey horse pulling the wedding carriage was considered good luck. Church bells pealed forth as the couple entered the church ... After the ceremony, the bride and groom walked out without looking left or right. It was considered bad taste to acknowledge friends and acquaintances. The bride's parents were the first to leave the church, and the best man the last after he paid the clergyman for his services. From a custom dating back to Roman times when nuts were thrown after the departing couple, the practice continued, but in the form of rice, grain or birdseed, a symbol of fertility.

Bridal Toilettes, Harper's Bazaar, 2 August 1870
Victorian Fashions from Harper's Bazaar 1867-1898, by Stella Blum (ed.)

Because of the early hour for weddings, the reception was traditionally a breakfast. It was an English custom to have a Noon ceremony with the breakfast thirty minutes later at the bride's home. There, the couple received the guests and accepted congratulations.

The bridal couple usually left for their honeymoon after the wedding breakfast ... If changing into the traveling costumes, the bride and groom did so immediately after the cake was cut ... bride wore a traveling dress, which may have been her wedding dress, especially if the wedding had been an intimate affair with few family and friends, or they were traveling by train or steamer immediately after the reception. Colors for the dress were becoming and practical - brown or black for mid-Victorian ... If changing into the traveling costumes, the bride and groom did so immediately after the cake was cut. Bridesmaids went with the bride to help her, at which time she gave them each a flower from her bouquet. By the time the couple was ready to depart, only family and intimate friends were present.

Image and collection of Brett Payne
Carte de visite portrait of an unidentified wedding group
Taken c. 1867-1873
by William Farmer of Barton-under-Needwood

In the previous three parts (1, 2, 3) of this article, I identified a number of marriages between residents of the Barton-under-Needwood area which might have been recorded by the photographer William Farmer in the image shown above, and subsequently narrowed down my list to just three of the most likely couples, in chronological order.

Image © Geoff Pick and courtesy of
St. Michael & All Angels Parish Church, Tatenhill
Image © Copyright Geoff Pick, courtesy of
Licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Samuel Archer m: Wednesday, 4 March 1867 St Michael Tatenhill, Staffs. Caroline Ball
The Derby Mercury 13 March 1867: On the 4th inst., at Tatenhill, by the Rev. W.P. Smeeth, M.A., Mr. Samuel Archer, of Burton park, to Caroline Ball, of Barton-under-Needwood
Caroline Ball was the 39 year-old daughter of James Ball (1783-1870) and Elizabeth née Brown (1786-1864). She had two sisters, one older, one younger, but apparently no brothers. James Ball was a farmer who lived on the Main Street of Barton-under-Needwood, although he had earlier farmed 18 acres at Tatenhill. The groom Samuel Archer, a farmer of 230 acres at Barton Park, was a widower two years her senior, with five children (aged from 7 to 16) from his first marriage.

View Larger Map
Barton Park Farm, near Barton-under-Needwood
from GoogleMaps

From a recent satellite image of the area on GoogleMaps (above) and an aerial shot from Panoramio (below) it appears that Barton Park Farm is still a working farm, and may well have some farm buildings that have survived largely intact from the 1860s/1870s.

Image © jmhall & courtesy of Panoramio
An aerial view of Barton Park Farm, facing south-east
Image © jmhall & courtesy of Panoramio

Image © J147 and courtesy of
St. Mary the Virgin Parish Church, Weston-on-Trent
Image © Copyright J147, courtesy of
Licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Jacob Botham Smith m: Wednesday, 23 February 1870 at Weston-upon-Trent, Derbys. Mary Ann Hoult
The Derby Mercury 23 February 1870: On the 22nd inst., at Weston-upon-Trent, by the Rev. J. Wadham, Mr. Jacob Botham Smith, to Mary Ann, eldest daughter of Mr. James Hoult, of Blakenhall Farm, Barton-under-Needwood.
Mary Ann Hoult, aged 35 and a spinster, was the eldest child of James Hoult (1803-1882), tenant farmer of Upper Blakenhall Farm, west of Barton-under Needwood, and his wife Abigail née Abell (1815-1874). Her husband Jacob Botham Smith was 29, and one of four children of Jacob Botham Smith senior (1801-1864), farmer of Aston-upon-Trent, and Anne née Hardy (1798-1873). Mary Ann had seven younger siblings, of whom only a brother William James, aged 27, was married, and farming in Cranage, Cheshire. Her remaining four sisters and two brothers were living with their parents at Upper Blakenhall, in Burton-on-Trent or working as housekeepers on other farms further afield (Hoon Hay, Derbyshire and Over Whitacre, Warwickshire). Jacob had three older brothers, all of whom were farming - in Alvaston, Shardlow and Wilne - and a sister who was married to a Derby grocer, chandler and tea dealer, Charles John Storer. After the wedding the couple settled at Glebe Farm in the parish of Weston-on-Trent, where a daughter Mary Hardy Smith was born in about April 1870.

View Larger Map
Upper Blakenhall Farm, near Barton-under-Needwood
from GoogleMaps

A satellite image from GoogleMaps (above) shows a similar group of oldish looking farmhouse and outbuildings at Upper Blakenhall Farm, identified by reference to both a 1932 1" to 1 mile (1:63,360) Ordnance Survey map and a 1883 6" to the mile (1:10,560) scale Ordnance Survey map, shown below.

Image © Ordnance Survey and courtesy of Nigel Aspdin
Upper Blakenhall Farm, near Barton-under-Needwood, extract from One-Inch OS Map of Burton upon Trent (Sheet 120), Ordnance Survey, 1932

Image © Ordnance Survey and courtesy of OS Old Maps
Upper Blakenhall Farm, near Barton-under-Needwood, extract from Six-Inch OS Map, Ordnance Survey Old Maps, 1883

Image © Copyright Stanley Walker and courtesy of
St. Modwen Parish Church, Burton-on-Trent
Image © Copyright Stanley Walker, courtesy of
Licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Samuel Coulson m: Wednesday, 17 December 1873 at St Modwen's, Burton-on-Trent, Staffs. Eliza Marshall
The Derby Mercury 17 December 1873: COULSON-MARSHALL - Dec 9, at the parish church, Burton-on-Trent, by the Rev. C.F. Thornewill, M.A., vicar, Mr. Samuel Coulson, of Alverton House, Denstone, son of the late Mr. Samuel Coulson, of Barton-under-Needwood, to Eliza, youngest daughter of Mr. William Marshall, of Burton-on-Trent.
Samuel Coulson, a 32 year-old maltster, brickmaker and farmer, formerly of the Main Street, Barton-under-Needwood, married Eliza Marshall of Burton-on-Trent. Eliza was one of four children - she had an older sister and brother and a younger brother - of a master currier and leather merchant William Marshall (1815-1886) and his wife Hannah (1819-1852/55). After their marriage Samuel and Eliza settled at Alvaston House, Denstone on a farm of some 110 acres.

On further research it appears that, although Samuel Coulson was living in Barton-under-Needwood when the 1871 Census was enumerated, by the time of his marriage, he had moved some fourteen miles (23 km) away to Denstone, on the border between North Staffordshire and Derbyshire.

My research into the families of both bride and groom in each individual marriage has resulted in several observations which may or may not be pertinent.
  • The wedding party appears to have included three young or middle-aged men, apart from the groom, and I would expect these to have been family members. The Archer and Ball families from the first marriage do not appear to include any likely male candidates and, while it does not completely exclude the marriage from consideration, it does make them less likely candidates.
  • With the Coulson-Marshall marriage, although Eliza had male siblings, since her family was from Burton-upon-Trent and the marriage took place there, it seems likely that they would have commissioned a photographer from one of several studios in Burton.
  • If the marriage procedure in our photographs adhered to the protocol outlined earlier in this article - and that might not necessarily have been the case - then it seems likely that the wedding party would have retired to the home of the bride after the service. The photographer would probably have been engaged to take portraits of the wedding party at this stage of the proceedings. Only in the cases of the Archer-Ball and Smith-Hoult marriages were the brides' parents from farming backgrounds.
  • James Ball appears to have been a relatively small-scale farmer, and may not have had farm buildings as extensive as those pictured in the photographs.

The only marriage which doesn't appear to have any negative points against it at this stage in the investigation is that between Jacob Smith and Mary Ann Hoult in February 1870. The Archer-Ball wedding comes a close second, while the Coulson-Marshall wedding is regarded as least likely.

That is about the limit of the research that I've been able to conduct remotely, in other words, via the internet from the other side of the world. In Part 5 of the investigation, we take to the road.


International Genealogical Index (IGI) from the LDS Church at FamilySearch
Index to GRO Births, Marriages & Deaths from FreeBMD
UK Census 1841-1901 indexed images from Ancestry
Stella Blum (1974) Victorian Fashions from Harper's Bazaar, 1867-1898, Dover Publications, ISBN 0486229904
The Victorian Wedding, Part 1 (The Preparation) & Part 2 (The Ceremony and Reception), by M. Hoppe on Literary Liaisons
Six-Inch Ordnance Survey Maps, 1:10,560 Scale Ordnance Survey Old Maps, publ. 1883
One-Inch OS Map of Burton upon Trent (Sheet 120), Scale 1:63,360, Ordnance Survey, Surveyed 1917-1917, with minor corrections 1932, publ. 1932, courtsey of Nigel Aspdin.


  1. I think that the Smith/Hoult couple are the one in the photo. What swayed me was the age of the bride. I think that she looks younger than 39 or 35, but since those are the top two choices on my list, I am going with the 35 year old.

    Did you make it to Scanfest? I was able to get to a computer in time to attend. I spent the weekend looking at 25 homes to rent. Only 1 really met our needs and finances. I hope to hear back from the owners soon with some good news.

  2. Thanks very much Sheri - it's good to have your input, and your comments are very much along the lines of what I was thinking. I'm not going to say any more for fear of spoiling anything ... all in good time ;-)

    I was at Scanfest only for the last half hour - the time zone differences make it rather impractical for me - and sad not to see you there. Perhaps next time you can return to liven things up again. Best of luck with the house hunting.

  3. wow great- hoping its a Smith. My great granddad was Smith Follows Smith from Lower Blakenhall Farm. Really impressed with your research. My father left me some old photographs from about the same time and I'm, clueless as to who they are.

  4. Hi feralivin. I hope that you've managed to follow the links to the remaining articles in this series (Part 5). I eventually concluded that the marriage was indeed the SMITH-HOULT one. However, I somehow doubt that there is a direct link to the SMITHs of Lower Blakenhall Farm.

    Perhaps you would like to email me with further details of your SMITHs?

    Regards, Brett


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