Worshippers of the medieval church, St Mary’s, standing on a lofty eminence above the River Bure, Wroxham could be forgiven their confusion during the month of October 1843 when marriage banns were read for three members of the same family on three consecutive Sundays with two sets of the betrothed couples named William and Maria. The “unusual ceremony” took place on Tuesday 31 October and received a brief mention in the Norwich Mercury, Saturday 11 November 1843:
“On Tuesday se’night, the inhabitants of the quite village of Wroxham were somewhat enlivened with the ringing of bells, occasioned by the unusual ceremony of three marriages taking place, in which were three members of the same family: William, second son of the late Mr J Booty to Maria Woodcock; George, third son of the above to Caroline Jermany; and Maria, eldest daughter of the above to William Hendry, all of Wroxham.”
The following excerpts taken from “The Norfolk Garland” by John Glyde Jr., provide an insight into the customs of the day:
“The attendance at the weddings of agricultural labourers is naturally very small and remarkable that neither father nor mother of the bride or groom come with them to the church. I can hardly recollect more than one instance of any of the parents being present at the ceremony”;
“At labourers’ weddings the father is frequently an attendant, the mother very seldom, yet I have known two or three cases in which the mother has been present and signed the register”.
Bridal attendants are usually an engaged couple “who purpose [propose] in a short time going to the altar or the communion rails on a similar errand upon their own account”.
Reference is made to exiting via the south porch, through the magnificent Norman south door of St Mary’s surviving from the twelfth century. “As the wedding party came out at the south porch, the girls of the village lined the pathway, strewing the gravel walk with fern leaves. They had mustered all the handbells of the neighbourhood to greet the happy couple with a wedding peal”.
No three or four tier wedding cake for the newly-weds, just a home-made flat cake of flour, water and currants into which is put a wedding ring and sixpence. Before the wedding party retire, the cake is broken and distributed amongst the unmarried females. “She who gets the ring will shortly be married and she who gets the sixpence will die an old maid.”
The Victoria & Albert Museum, Bridal dress – Collections. The wedding dress worn by Sarah Maria Wright in 1841 reveals the type of clothing women of the rural labouring class might wear for their wedding. The dress made of printed cotton has a low neckline, gathered shoulders and full skirt and is worn for Sunday best long after the event.
Much is learned from the past. Today, there is a growing, world-wide movement working to encourage sustainable clothing choices; use of natural fibres; reduce use of synthetic materials; reduce landfill by recycling or re-purposing old clothing.