The Daily News (Perth, WA)

The Daily News (Perth, WA) Friday 7th May 1909, page 4







LONDON April 4

An extraordinary disclosure, seriously affecting the legality of some thousand marriages contracted over the last 50 years, has just been made at Stantonbury, a village in Bucks;

Consternation has been spread through the district by the discovery of the church of St james is not duly licensed for the performance of the wedding ceremony and that if the marriages celebrated there are to be immediately there are to be binding immediate steps must be taken to legalise them. Somerset House has promptly ordered that no further weddings must take place and no more banns must be published at the church until the difficulty is cleared up. Irreproachable members of the congregation, including church-wardens and sidesman, whose lives have been patterns of conventional domesticity for many years, are now wondering whether they are really married at all.

It was the vicar himself, who made the revelation in the course of his sermon on Sunday evening, He said he had discovered a flaw in the title of a document in connection with which it had become necessary to communicate with the Registrar-General, and of the secretary of the Oxford Diocesan Registry. The latter had searched into his own archives and found that apparently no licence for mariages was ever issued at the consecration of St. James Church, Stantonbury.

Married Folks Dismay

Scores of couples in Stantonbury, after a long enjoyment of wedded life have heard with pained surprise that they are not really married at all.

“My husband has been telling me that he could leave me if he wished” said one woman. She was standing on her doorstep surrounded by her three children, all waiting for “daddy” to come home from his day’s toil. She said it gaily, with a smile; but one could discern beneath her words a strain of anxiety.

To two young couples who had arranged to be married at St Jame’s Church at Easter, the announcement which the vicar was compelled to make on Sunday has naturally come as a great shock. The banns had been called, and all the necessary arrangements made. When, however, the vicar broke the painful news, they saw no other alternative than a postponement of the happy day.

But it is pleasing to know that they will not be disappointed after all. The vicar, who has been taking a kindly interest in the young people, has made arrangements for the marriages to take place by special licence at the appointed time at the old church of St Peter. He himself conveyed the joyful tidings to one of the prospective brides. She was very downcast when he entered her home; a moment later she was radiantly happy.

“Oh I am so glad,” she said, with laughter in her eyes. “My sweetheart will be calling shortly: won’t you stay and tell him the news?” No, the vicar thought that she herself should be the medium of the happy intimation; and so he left her.

The news that the Ecclesiastical Commissioners intend to obtain a from Parliament a Special Act of Indemnity, which will legalise the marriages at St Jame’s has been received with much relief.

How the Error was Discovered

By a strange irony, the first man to be married in the unlicensed church was a lawyer. That was in October, 1857. From that time until a few weeks ago the status of the church, as regards the celebration of marriages, was never questioned.

The discovery when it came was of an accidental character. Mr Guest, the vicar, came to Stantonbury from Stamford Hill, London, about six months ago, Soon after his arrival it became necessary for him to write to the Registrar-General for a new marriage register.

“When it came to hand,” said Mr. Guest, “I noticed that it bore the name of St Peter’s. I wrote to the Registrar-General pointing out the error, and then I began to examine the papers belonging to the church. Further correspondence passed between myself and the authorities at Somerset House, with the result that last week I received a notice that no marriages were to take place at St James until an order of registration had been made. The corollary to that, of course, was that all previous marriages at the church were illegal.

“It was not pleasant to have to break the news to my parishioners at church on Sunday; I tried to make the announcement as reassuring as possible; but the bare truth that the previous marriages were illegal could not be disguised. Many of the people, I know, were considerably distressed.

“But why Somerset House (which is usually so careful) had never spotted the discrepancy in the certificates in all those fifty years I can’t imagine.


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