Wedding invitations with a Cumbrian twist

Wedding invitations are a mixed blessing for the recipient (I am not alone in thinking this, right?!). You have to set aside a weekend and spend a fortune on accommodation, getting there and back, a new outfit, and a present. For the dubious pleasure of sitting through a short service, then hanging around for what seems like hours for The Photos. And finally finding yourselves sitting round a table with people you may never have met, eating a meal you haven’t chosen, listening to awful speeches, then dancing to music you don’t like.

All while the ‘happy couple’ are having an incredibly anxious day, and so wrapped up in the organisation they wouldn’t notice if you were there or not.

And the average cost of a wedding, in the UK, in 2018, was more than £27,000.

Wedding invitations pre-1803

Rather than asking for a toasting fork* or a wine rack, canny Cumbrian brides and grooms opted for cash – or grain they could sow.

*the toaster wasn’t invented till 1893.

Up to1803 (an 1889 article claims) weddings in Cumberland and Westmorland were advertised, with a plate or bowl put out for people to drop coins in. 

Bride-wains were sent out: waggons to collect grain for the couple’s first sowing.

After the wedding feast, a pair of gloves would be auctioned off, with the highest bidder winning the privilege of kissing the bride.

Eden trifles*

In fact, this ran beyond 1803, given a handbill from 1820 illustated a ‘bidden wedding’ at Lamplugh. 

Notice was given that Isaac Patterson was to wed Frances Atkinson on Tuesday, May 30. Followed by a celebration with ‘a variety of novel entertainment’.

Then come, one and all. At Hymen’s soft call:

From Whitehaven. Workington, Harrington, Dean, Haile, Ponsonby, Blains, and all places between ; From Egremont. Cockermouth, Paston, St Bees, Cint, Kinnyside. Calder, and parts joining these;

And  the country at large may come if they please.

Such sports there will be as have seldom been seen;

Such wrestling, and firing, and dancing between; 

And races for prizes, for frolic, and fun,

By horses, and asses and dogs will be run,

That you’ll all go home happy as sure as a gun.

In a word, such a wedding can ne’er fail to please,

For the sports of Olympus were trifles to these.

*ok, Lamplugh is about 50 miles from the Eden Valley, but c’mon, it’s a good heading.

Who needs wedding invitations?

Giving gifts to the bride and groom is nice. But there was another wedding custom in old Cumbria that has shades of the reivers about it.

For it is a reiver ‘claim to fame’ that they were the originators of blackmail. 

Unjust impediment

In 1893, a variation on the wedding custom drew approbation of Brampton magistrates. It was the custom in Irthington to bar the church doors until a ceremomy ‘which is probably not wholly unconnected with drink money’ was gone through. 

Mr Dacre, the vicar, summoned two leaders of one barring party before the bench. The magistrates fined them and said they’d deal sternly with such cases. As the would with the custom in another local village (unnamed) of putting a rope across the road to stop the wedding party on its way to the church.

Two years later, there were cases at Cockermouth and Dearham of bridal parties being stopped by ropes across the streets – the West Cumberland Times calling it tantamount to highway robbery.

The Times refers to another ‘old custom’: a bride entering church either partly or completely undressed. Under belief that doing so would free their intended of their debts. There was said to have been ‘a case on record in Whitehaven’.

William Dacre, the vicar of Irthington who objected to be barred from his own church, is worthy of a separate post.