Thursday, June 19, 2014

Weddings Scottish Miner Style

My family tree is rife with Scottish coal miners from my Muir line. I recently purchased a used book entitled, The  Lanarkshire Miners: A Social History of their Trade Unions, 1775-1874, by Alan B. Campbell. In this book Campbell includes a description of miner weddings:

"Descriptions of the marriage celebrations of the miners, or 'pay weddings' (so called because the guests gave money to the couple), also evoke a semi-rural atmosphere. The bride and groom, according to Miller, were escorted to the church by a fiddler and twenty to thirty couples. After the ceremony they paraded the countryside, with their followers firing off shotguns by way of celebration.  After a wedding supper there followed dancing and drinking, culminating in the ceremony of 'bedding the pair.' The 'backing' of the wedding, however, might consist of several more days' carousing. An old Lanarkshire collier recalled his own wedding about the year 1820 in very similar terms. On his return to work in a pit near Hamilton, he was seized at mealtime by his workmates. After being bound hand and foot, he was placed in a coal hutch and pulled from the pit to his home by thirty fellow colliers, the remainder of the day being spent 'backing up the wedding' with liberal supplies of whiskey."

It certainly gave me a new mental image of a Scottish collier wedding than I had before. Looking at what seems like a hundred marriage registration records, I thought weddings were small affairs. Only the bride and groom, their parents, the minister, two witnesses and the registrar were listed. The description of the wedding is a bit dry as well: "After banns and according to the forms of the established church of Scotland" or "By declaration in front of witnesses."

1939 wedding in Blantyre, Lanarkshire, Scotland;
courtesy Bla'an'tir's Ain and submitted by Jimmy Whelan

I also ran across several marriages that occurred on December 31st. I learned at the Fairfax Genealogical Society Spring Conference that Christmas was considered a work day but New Year's Day was a holiday. After reading the above description of a wedding, I can see that extra day would be important for continued celebrations!

Under early modern Scottish law, there were three forms of "irregular" marriage:
  1. By public promise 
  2. By cohabitation
  3. By repute
All but the marriage by repute were abolished by the Marriage (Scotland) Act of 1939. Prior to that law, any citizen was able to witness a public promise. Marriage by repute, or simply living publicly together as a married couple, was abolished with the passing of the Family Law (Scotland) Act of 2006.

I also began to believe that illegitimate children were not necessarily a stain on a young woman's character. This was confirmed in my Scottish genealogy class. Our instructor referred to it as "try before you buy!" Typically the couple would marry right before or soon after the baby was born. What is more unusual is to see a birth registration for an illegitimate child without a father listed.

I found the cultural acceptance of "irregular" marriages and illegitimacy quite refreshing!

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