The Coming-Out Bridal tradition
Wedding clothes were not quickly laid away. Before honeymoons could be afforded and became popular, on the Sunday following the wedding — known as 'Coming-Out Bride' in America, 'Showing-Off Sunday' in England — the whole bridal party in wedding finery appeared at church, arriving after the start of the service to give the congregation the best chance to view their splendours. This seems a really good idea it's always struck me as a great pity that a wedding dress and the bridesmaids dresses are so beautiful and have had so much work put into them, not to mention the cost, and are only worn once. To me it seems a criminal waste. Is not the same for the men, who hire their suits. In the olden days they would have made their way majestically to the front pew or gallery, where during the sermon they rose to their feet and turned slowly about before admiring eyes. This display continued on each of the four honeymoon Sundays and the bride aimed at a new dress for each outing. At one Salem, Massachusetts, coming-out in 1810 the bride wore a delectable pink shirred plush bonnet, the bridegroom a matching pink plush hat and a coat of pink figured silk trimmed with pink plush. The men were no less gorgeous than the women. This shows that affluence doesn't always lead to better things. When people had limited money, they would make the most of everything. Furthermore, from Midsummer Music's point of view, it would be absolutely fantastic to be able to hire a string quartet for the wedding day, a ceilidh band for the evening reception and a jazz band to usher the couple to the church and play for their parade on the day after.
Elsewhere too, similar customs allowed the couple to recapture the pleasurable theatricals of the wedding day. In Ireland it was the 'Bride's Show'. On the way to church in England the husband walked in front to show he was master.
Rather sinister incident of this custom has told me by my father, who had been in the air force during the rising against King Farouk. When he had arrived there, it was traditional for the Arab wives to walk behind the husband, in the way described above, to show who was master. When the Civil War began, and there were landmines, the custom quickly changed to having the wives walking in front.
As many as twenty-five couples might be married at Mardi Gras in the Plougastel peninsula in northern France and at the 'bragaden' on the following Sunday, couples in full finery arrived fifteen minutes late at mass to show off the men's fancy waistcoats of violet, green and white, beneath their red wedding jackets. (25 couples getting married at one time we definitely be bad for business, one fee for playing for all 25 couples. Not good.)
The bride was privileged to select the text for the 'Coming-Out Bride' sermon and there was much earnest searching. Ecclesiastes 4, 9, 10 was considered a good choice: 'Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow . . .' (A more cynical minister recommended Ephesians 6, 10, n: 'Put on the whole armour of God . . .'—'to teach that marriage is a state of warfaring contention'). A bridegroom appositely named Asa chose Chronicles 2, 14, 2, and he and his bride Hephzibah (that was the name of my great-grandmother, and currently our satnav is named after her. Does that sound strange? Will you have to give a satnav a name, she talked to, so she's not just an inanimate object) - sat up proudly to hear 'And Asa did that which was good and right in the eyes of the Lord his God'. Until the eighteenth century English couples were regaled with the 'wedding psalm', 'Oh, well is thee, and happy shalt thou be' and the anthem 'Thy wife shall be as a fruitful vine'. Happiness and fertility were the great preoccupations. So nothing much has changed in modern life. But that's hardly surprising considering that we are here by process of evolution, and the only people, porcupines, parrots and penguins that are alive today are descended from those whose interest was reproduction, and those who enjoyed the whole process rather than becoming depressed about it. So really it's inevitable that happiness and fertility are just as much a preoccupation of the human mind as they ever have been. The only difference that I observed when I'm playing with my string quartet for wedding ceremony, is that sometimes fertility will be your future concern, and if the bridesmaids or pageboy is the couple's child, and that they've got there already.
If the marriage were successful the couple might apply for the 'Dunmow Flitch'. At least as early as the reign of King John, the monks of Dunmow Priory, Essex, England, (see string quartets in Essex) established the prize of a flitch of bacon, awarded to a couple able to swear the traditional oath administered by the clerk of the manorial court, before a mixed jury of maidens and bachelors:
You shall swear by Custom of Confession That you ne'er made nuptial transgression; Nor since you were married man and wife, By household brawls or contentious strife, Or otherwise, at bed, or at board, Offended each other in deed or in word; Or in a twelvemonth and a day, Repented not in thought any way; Or since the church clerk said 'Amen', Wished yourselves unmarried again, But continued true and in desire, As when you joined hands in holy quire.
Satisfactory respondents were given the bacon to the verse:
Since to these conditions, without any fear, Of your own accord you do freely swear, A whole gammon of bacon you do receive, And bear it away with love and good leave; For this is the custom of Dunmow well known; Tho' the pleasure be ours — the bacon's your own!
The couple were then chaired and carried shoulder-high through the village, with the bacon on a pole going before.
In 1701 the court heard the claim of William Parsley, butcher, of Much Easton, and his wife Jane, married without ructions for three years. There were other applicants from time to time. Fifty years later Thomas Shakeshaft, a woolcomber of Wethersfield, showed sound business sense by selling slices of his gammon to the 5,000 spectators. Presentations followed sporadically into the nineteenth century: when Queen Victoria had been married to Prince Albert for a year and a day the lord of the manor boldly but confidently offered her the flitch. The gift was coolly declined. The queen was not amused.
The ritual had its imitators. In Yorkshire (see Yorkshire wedding Jazz bands) in the eighteenth century a dinner was arranged at the Green Dragon, Harrogate, for Mr and Mrs Liddal who, far from repenting of their union, confidently asserted that they could take the oath for the whole seventeen years of their married life. After a handsome repast the following poem circulated:
Happy husband! Happy wife!
Happy, happy both!
Who, after a long married life,
Could take the Flitch-of-Bacon oath!
Which by all other couples fairly taken,
How very few there are would 'save their bacon'.
THE SALE OF WIVES
What if the marriage turned out to be a mistake? The old remedy of wife-selling offered informal divorce to at least a section of the population until the late nineteenth century, and so deep-seated was it that popular indignation was great when Joshua Jackson was sentenced to imprisonment at the West Riding sessions in Yorkshire (see string quartets in Yorkshire) on 28 June 1837, for attempting a wife-sale. No one believed that he was breaking the law. Joseph Thomson, a Cumberland farmer, sold his wife in Carlisle market on 7 April 1832, with the regulation straw halter (an essential detail) about her neck. The halter 'validated' the deal. She was offered with the uninviting testimony that she was a 'born serpent' and a 'domestic curse', but her virtues were not overlooked: she could milk cows, read novels, make butter, scold maids and sing. A deal was clinched for twenty shillings and a Newfoundland dog. At Hereford (see jazz band and Herefordshire) market in 1876 the crowd advised a husband, bid only one shilling for his wife, to 'Keep her, master, keep her for her good looks,' but he retorted grimly, 'Good looks won't put victuals on the table without willing hands.'
Henry Frise of Lew Trenchard, Devon (see barn dance bands in Devon), bought his wife for half a crown at Okehampton market about 1840 and led her twelve miles home, watched in the final stages of the journey by a fascinated village. Despite remonstrances of parson and squire, Frise maintained stoutly: 'Her's my wife, as sure as if we was spliced at the altar. For and because I paid half a crown and never took off the halter till her was in my house!' When the 'wife' died about 1843 there was difficulty about the death registration: the parson would not and could not enter her as Anne Frise and after a heated argument Henry Frise, taking umbrage, buried his acquisition elsewhere.
We do often played for wedding anniversaries, occasionally with a string quartet for the anniversary meal, but more often with one of our jazz bands providing background music and then dancing later, or a full ceilidh or barn dance. The custom of celebrating wedding anniversaries by name is 'apparently of German origin. Every wedding anniversary until the tenth has its motif; and thereafter named anniversaries occur at five-year intervals: the list varies (and may be expanded) but it usually reads:
first being paper then going through all kinds of natural and man made materials to the seventy fifth, which gets to the most precious, diamond.
Since few couples can hope to reach their seventy-fifth wedding anniversary, the diamond wedding is usually celebrated after sixty years. Celebrants receive gifts of appropriate materials: the Ontario County Historical Society, New York, owns the complete set of tin articles given in 1867 to Mr and Mrs F. F. Thompson on their tenth wedding anniversary, a splendid blend of the practical and the humorous:
Crown, spring bonnet, two stove-pipe hats, egg cooker and timer, strongbox, fruit dish, pipe, handmirror, rosary and crucifix, pudding mould, cookie cutters, tray, birdbath, watch and chain, playing cards, picture frames, lady's slippers, necktie, funnels, bookcovers, teaspoons, goblet, stein, fan, bric-a-brac shelves, toys, miniatures.
But in the main it is the silver, golden and diamond weddings which attract attention today, though wedding anniversaries are often taking as an excuse to get friends and family together, especially if people are separated in different parts of the country or even in different parts of the world, so we often play with our jazz bands or ceilidh bands for every flavour of wedding anniversary, including 2nd 3rd and 4th anniversaries with some people. When on 20 November 1972 Queen Elizabeth II and the Duke of Edinburgh celebrated their silver wedding, (regrettably they didn't invite our string quartet to play for them, even though we had on one occasion played for Prince Charles and Lady Camilla at an event – maybe that's why they didn't ask us!), they both received gifts of silver and gave them to others. A hundred couples also married on 20 November 1947 attended a service in Westminster Abbey with the royal couple, lunched at the Savoy Hotel and received silver dishes as mementoes.
American couples are sometimes given a tall white 'memory candle' which when lighted exudes a scent of lilies of the valley, a wedding flower. The candle is lighted at the couple's wedding reception and again at each anniversary. As it will burn for over 300 hours it will still be burning on the golden wedding day.
Sometimes the bride brings her wedding dress out for anniversary parties. President Hayes' wife wore her white silk dress at her silver wedding party at the White House in 1877, attended by the minister who had performed the marriage ceremony and family and friends from twenty-five years earlier. Often part of the wedding cake is laid away for these occasions, typifying the enduring qualities of marriage. In 1972 Mr and Mrs Eric Smith of Bournemouth, England, cut into the top tier of their wedding cake from forty years before: 'Over the years it had matured. . . and it all tasted delicious'; words, by fortunate chance, just as descriptive of a happy marriage.
So there you have it. This is all the stuff that I managed to dig up from a whole variety of sources about wedding traditions, beliefs, superstitions, customs and what have you. It was very interesting researching this. And now that I've done it is truly amazing that I spent so many years performing with my barn dance band for wedding receptions, playing with my string quartet for church weddings and civil wedding ceremonies, without knowing most of this. I'm even married, and looking back now realise the significance of some of the things that just seem to be "the done thing," but were really parts of age-old superstitions and traditions. I guess that with the father-in-law who was a Cornishman, I should have known that there would be a lot of superstition involved. But that's a good thing I think, tradition is appropriate for a wedding. It marks the occasion in a very memorable way, just as having live music at your wedding marks it in a memorable way. The more memories you have to take away from your wedding day, the better will be when you look back on it over the coming years. With is a string quartet for the wedding ceremony, a jazz band during the drinks reception and a ceilidh or barn dance in the evening, or all 3 if you really want to go for it, it doesn't really matter, it will spew something out of the ordinary and it's always things that are out of the ordinary that stick in one's memory.