And the Bride wore white….


The Shaw Wedding, 5 Nov 1913

As we pick our way through the larger glass plates, yet to be digitised, we are finding a number of wedding images hidden within the envelopes. This is a particularly exciting discovery as not only does it offer us a number of larger formal group shots along with beautiful wedding attire and floristry but it also moves us away from the Studio where the vast majority of Knights-Whittome’s subjects are photographed.  We will feature some of these weddings in more detail in due course, as and when we have had time to research them properly, but in the meantime I thought it would be interesting to look at some of the traditions and customs associated with weddings prior to WW1, and the changes that war brought to the ritual.

The following text, explaining just how the wedding was arranged has been taken wholesale from the website Edwardian Promenade, whose fabulous research I see no need to repeat:

“Traditionally weddings in England were by “banns” or by license. The “banns,” from an Old English word meaning “to summon”, were the public announcement in church that a marriage was going to take place between two specified persons. They were required to be published in three consecutive weeks prior to the marriage in the parish in which the groom resided and also that in which the bride resided, and both bride and groom were advised to reside at least fifteen days in their respective parishes before the banns were announced. A marriage by license was a bit quicker, as either the bride or the groom were required to reside in their chosen parish for at least fifteen days prior to the application for the license, either in town or in the country. This £2 license was obtained at either the Faculty Office, the Vicar-General’s Office, the Doctor’s Commons, or at the chosen church where the bride and groom were to be married. On top of these fees, the officiating clergyman needed to be paid (usually according to the position and means of the groom), and the clerk who legalised the marriage required a tip. Interestingly, in Britain, all fees relating to marriage were paid by the groom, and most of the marriage details were left on his shoulders, including the purchase of the bride’s wedding ring and her bouquet, as well as the bouquets and trinkets for the bridesmaids!”

“..Marriage was legal between 8am and noon. By the late 1900s, afternoon weddings had become very popular, with 2:30 pm as the most fashionable time. To counteract this legality, a special license was obtained (during most of the 19th century, only a few were in position to obtain them) from the Archbishop of Canterbury, after application at the Faculty Office – though a very special reason had to be given to meet with his approval. This license cost on average about £30.”

The tradition of the ‘White’ wedding was borne out of Queen Victoria’s choice of a white lace dress at her wedding in the mid 19th century. Her floral choice of Orange Blossom also sparked a long running trend for the bloom in bridal bouquets, corsages and headdresses. However as war broke out in Europe, the necessity for frugality meant that brides often broke with this tradition, wearing gowns of whatever fabric was available, or even just their Sunday best.

Today most weddings are celebrated, post ceremony with a formal meal or party.  Traditionally however, the English fashion was for wedding-breakfasts – where prior to the wedding the bride, groom, and their families, sat down to brunch to toast the impending wedding. In contrast to most events today the bride and groom would then be waved on their way by guests immediately after the ceremony to begin their honeymoon and married life.

The outbreak of WW1 naturally saw a change in many peoples attitudes towards marriage. Established relationships were formalised by marriage far quicker than under normal circumstances, understandably given the uncertain times people found themselves in, but it has also been demonstrated from research into contemporary newspaper records that new relationships were formed and hastened by “the loneliness felt amongst the men on the front line and the women left behind.”  This feeling of panic and of desperation apparently “encouraged relationships to start via letters, with many couples getting engaged despite never meeting face to face.”  Telegraph, Oct 2013

Contemporary newspaper records from the period, which are available to search online at the family history website Genes Reunited, reveal that women were encouraged by local communities to form friendships with lonely soldiers by writing to them.

Newspapers also published lonely heart adverts from soldiers in columns titled “Matrimonial” where men would attempt to meet young girls with the view to marrying them. The correspondences between young girls and lonely soldiers were considered by many as having disastrous consequences with couples mistaking lust for love.

In 1915 the Hull Daily Mail reported that through a local scheme, a housemaid named Mary was able to win the heart of a lonely soldier through sending cigarettes and a bottle of whisky concealed in a cake. The young soldier was so thrilled by her gesture that when on leave he paid Mary a visit and the pair got engaged within 72 hours of first meeting.

In 1915 Bishop Frodsham raised concern in the Cheltenham Chronicle about young girls being allowed to answer advertisements from ‘lonely officers’ without any supervision from wiser women. He described the outcome as often ‘disastrous’ with girls mistaking ‘lust for love’. “Is it wonderful to learn that some such hastily made wife has sought protection in a court of law against a relationship that became intolerable almost at once?”

In 1916, the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette reported that a Miss Alice May Bishop attempted to sue a soldier named Edgar Johnson “for a breach of promise on his part to marry her.” Johnson had repeatedly promised to marry her in various letters until he decided to marry someone else.

Despite the moral outrage, women were still encouraged to write to lonely soldiers. In 1914 the Western Daily Press published an article titled “Friends wanted for lonely soldiers” in which they were calling out for friends for lonely soldiers on the front to come forward. “There are many lonely men, who have no friends able to send them small comforts in the shape of tobacco, cigarettes, socks, scarves, gloves.”

In 1915 the Manchester Evening News reported that many soldiers who longed for a companion to write to “communicated privately to any kind-hearted woman or girl who would make herself a godmother.” The willingness to have a male companion meant young women in their droves signed up to be a ‘godmother’. “In a very short time 90,000 godmothers have each adopted a lonely soldier, and the extravagant letters of gratitude with which they receive prove the comfort and joy they are able to give.”

Marriage was certainly a source of hope to the millions of men in the trenches. In 1916, a Clara E.D Moleyns commented in the Woman’s World Western Daily Press that, “In those blood stained trenches, dreams will come to those soldiers that whisper of love and marriage”

She felt that it was not anybody’s place to decide if these war weddings were right or wise because of the ‘abnormal times’.

So far, we have no clues about the stories behind the weddings we have in the collection. Work is still ongoing to research individuals and we hope to move onto some of these exciting events in the near future. We can only hope that these stories had happy outcomes.

Knights-Whittome had closed his photography business down by 1918. Although this film from the Sutton Archives Moving Image collection dates from 1931, it gives a flavour of the joy that weddings brought to local communities in the post and inter-war years in a Britain recovering from the hardships of war.

The following images of a couple of rather grand looking weddings, although undated, would have been taken by Knights-Whittome between 1906 and 1917. Sadly, we do not know the sitters, but hope that as we work through the larger format material we may uncover some more clues to their identities.  In the meanwhile, they offer us a flavour of the kind of material yet to be uncovered in the collection.

Unknown, undated wedding. Photographed by Knights-Whittome.

Unknown, undated wedding. Photographed by Knights-Whittome.

Unknown, undated wedding. Photographed by Knights-Whittome.

Unknown, undated wedding. Photographed by Knights-Whittome.

Unknown, undated wedding. Photographed by Knights-Whittome.

Unknown, undated wedding. Photographed by Knights-Whittome.

As always, if you recognise anyone pictured in any of our glass plates then please get in touch. Most of these individuals would have lived locally. Knights-Whittome had studios in both Sutton and Epsom, and while he travelled widely photographing houses and estates, his portraiture work, and we assume wedding photography, would largely have documented the local population.

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