Bristol marriages and illicit marriages

It was a common thing for couples from Nailsea as well as from many other villages in the area, to marry in one of the Bristol parishes. No doubt the motivation of the bride and groom for not marrying in their local parish varied from one case to another, and in many cases the excursion to Bristol was probably viewed as romantic or fashionable. The bride and groom nevertheless put themselves to some trouble. They had to present at least one of themselves as resident in the parish where the marriage was to take place, in order for banns to be read. Usually both claimed residence in the same parish (to avoid two banns fees, and perhaps to minimise the chance of awkward questions being asked) and often would give the same address. In some cases, however, the couples concerned had very particular reasons for marrying away from home.

In 1843, Thomas Thorpe, Archdeacon of Bristol, brought a complaint against the Rev. Gorges Irvine, curate of St. Mary Redcliffe, that he had solemnised a marriage between William Redgers and Charlotte Durbin, knowing that neither was a resident of St. Mary Redcliffe parish and moreover that they were within the prohibited degrees of affinity for marriage. William and Charlotte were in fact both residents of Nailsea, and Charlotte was the sister of William's recently deceased first wife Jane Durbin. The complaint was investigated by commissioners appointed by the Bishop of Gloucester who established that Irvine had indeed known of the circumstances of the marriage, having been told the full details by no other than the curate of Nailsea, 10 days before the marriage service. Irvine was fined 5 and suspended from his curacies at St Mary's and the Bridewell house of correction for one year. Irvine stated in his defence, that he was acting under instruction from the vicar; that marriages were routinely practised in this way at the parish; that he was ignorant of the law and the punishments for disregarding it. A petition signed by over 1000 parishioners was presented to the bishop by the vestry and churchwardens in support of Irvine, but the bishop was unmoved.

William's second marriage was conducted in some haste; Jane was buried at Nailsea on November 8th 1842, and Charlotte and William married on 29th January 1843 - a gap which appears all the shorter when you remember the 3 weeks or more required for banns to be called. However, the speed of events was perhaps brought about by pragmatism and need. William had three children in need of a mother, while Jane was unmarried and presumably willing to look after them.

By 1851, Dr. Irvine was again a curate, but now in the backwater of Sancreed, Cornwall. Despite the fact that their marriage was irregular, there is no indication that William and Charlotte Redgers suffered any penalty. In 1851 they were living together in Nailsea, with their two children as well as William's three children by Jane. The curate of Nailsea did not forget the incident however, and the baptisms of their children are annotated "Charlotte is sister of William Redgers deceased wife".

Perhaps William and Charlotte sought out St. Mary Recliffe as a parish where the incumbent was known to be sympathetic to such irregular marriages. The bishop stated that routine enquiries were not made, nor an address demanded, and the system contrived to allow such misuse. But lest you think this the only motivation for a Bristol marriage it is worth pointing out that on Christmas Day in 1837, William Redgers had married his first wife Jane Durbin ... at St Philip and St Jacob.