IN one matter London may safely be asserted to be quite unlike Heaven, for nowhere is there more marrying or giving in marriage. The mere wedding statistics compare favourably—or from the misogamist’s point of view unfavourably—with every other great city in the world, while not even in the capital of the land of the stars and stripes is there to be found a greater diversity of hymeneal ceremonies. In no European town, moreover, can a marriage be celebrated at less cost and with less “fuss” than in London, or with more pomp, and, from a pecuniary point of view, more extravagant splendour.


Every kind of wedding, whether celebrated in Hymen’s classic temple, St. George’s, Hanover Square, in the now more fashionable St. Paul’s, Knightsbridge, amid the matter of fact surroundings of a Registrar’s office, or in one of the characteristically plain meetinghouses of the Society of Friends, exercises a curious fascination on a London crowd. A really great marriage—where the contracting parties are well known in political or social life—will bring together thousands of eager sightseers, who will stand patiently for hours outside the church where the ceremony is about to take place, in order that they may catch a glimpse of the blushing bride and gallant bridegroom; and few men and women hurrying to daily work or pleasure but will pause a moment to watch the passage of even a humble wedding party.

As we have said, St. Paul’s, Knightsbridge, is now the most fashionable church, but those noble dames who belong by feeling and tradition rather to the 19th than to the 2Oth century, still prefer St. George’s, Hanover Square; and no other London church can show a more interesting marriage register, for there took place many of the more notable weddings of the Victorian era. It was at St. Paul’s that were first permitted the rehearsals which now precede some fashionable weddings. Many of those who admire the gracefully-composed fashion in which not only bride and bridegroom, but the whole wedding party, go through what after all is a somewhat intricate performance, are unaware that every step of the proceedings, with the exception of the actual wedding ceremony, may have been carefully rehearsed by the whole party.

Of late years flowers have played an increasingly important part at great Society weddings; sums varying from £100 to £1,000 being expended on the floral decorations of the church and of the house where the reception is held. It has also become a habit for the bride and bridegroom to present a piece of plate to the church in which they were married. At one time it was usual to provide for the execution of a very elaborate musical programme during the ceremony, but this was in the days when fashionable weddings still took place in the morning; now the actual service is as short as possible.

At military weddings a pleasing feature is the presence, of course in full uniform, of the non-commissioned officers and men belonging to the gallant bridegroom’s regiment. Tall, well-proportioned warriors are naturally chosen to fill the important office of lining the aisle, and their scarlet uniforms form a brilliant background to the bridal cortege.

In almost violent contrast to the West-End London wedding is the multiple ceremony as constantly performed east of St. Paul’s, and in the poorer quarters of the great city. A batch wedding, as for lack of a better term it may be styled, is quite a feature of slum life, though probably there are tens of thousands of Londoners who are unaware that such a ceremony can be legally performed. Perhaps the batch wedding is only a survival of other and less reverent days, when the notorious Alexander Keith, the incumbent of St. George’s Chapel, Hyde Park Corner, actually advertised his quick performances of the marriage ceremony. On one occasion, in the March of 1754, he married sixty couples—a day’s record before which pales even that of the Rev. Arthur W. Jephson, of St. John’s, Walworth, who has, however, in the course of his ministrations, joined together over 8,000 couples. Mr. Jephson is a hard-working clergyman, and it is his misfortune, not his fault, that he has sometimes united as many as forty-four couples, the same Marriage Service serving for them all, though the actual binding words were in every case uttered separately by each couple. Nowadays this marrying in batches is discountenanced by some of the clergy, but time was when “Penny Weddings ” (so-called because in those days each of the contracting parties paid this modest sum for the privilege of being united in the bonds of matrimony) were encouraged rather than otherwise. The “Penny Wedding” is of the past—a fee of about six shillings being the lowest that is customary at the present time; but not a few marriages of this remarkable type still take place in London, particularly at Christmas, Easter, Whitsuntide, and on the August Bank Holiday. (One of the photographic reproductions on the opposite page depicts an Easter Sunday batch wedding of ten couples at St. John’s, Walworth ; while in the other a similar ceremony, with a group of five couples, at St. John’s, Hoxton—of which the Rev. Eric Farrar is the vicar—is shown.)


Less interesting, because less picturesque, but none the less important from the numerical point of view, are those London marriages celebrated before the Registrar. An increasing number of people, wishful to secure exceptional quiet and privacy, and thinking to save themselves the expense which they imagine incidental to a church wedding, are now married by the Registrar rather than by a clergyman; and, as is always the case with persons dealing with crude human nature, Registrars can tell of innumerable pathetic as well as grotesque episodes connected with their calling. It is the Registrar’s privilege, for instance, to see his clients far more at their ease than they would dare to be    before a clergyman or a minister, The prospective bridegroom  of the  lower classes is well   aware   that   when dealing with   the Registrar he is dealing with a paid servant of the   State,  accordingly   he   does not   mind giving   considerable   trouble.

It not infrequently happens that a young artizan, after every formality has been gone through, save that of paying the fee, casually adds that he does not yet know if he will gain the consent of his prospective bride, as he has not yet put the fateful question ! Then, again, sometimes the bride-elect will give the requisite notice and be prepared with the fee, but at the last moment she will find it impossible to persuade the bridegroom to carry out his part of the contract.

The Quaker form of marriage ceremony is exceedingly   simple;   there is   no   officiating clergyman, the contracting parties practically marrying themselves by repeating a form of words   not   lacking   in   stately   beauty,  and symbolically indicative of all that matrimony should signify.

The Salvation Army have always made a great point of the marriage ceremony, and a wedding is generally made the occasion for as much display as possible. The actual ceremony is lengthy and elaborate, there being seven ” articles of marriage ” which must be read over to the contracting parties before the actual binding form of words is used by bride and bridegroom. In each of these articles reference is made to the Salvation Army, and both bride and bridegroom promise solemnly never to interfere with or do aught but assist the other in his or her work for the Army. The celebrant is generally the Commanding Officer of the regiment or corps to which the contracting parties belong. No rice “or other folly” is allowed at a Salvation Army wedding.


Each religious body naturally has its own forms and marriage ceremonies. Perhaps the most picturesque and individual are those which are connected with the celebration of a Jewish wedding. The Jewish Marriage Service differs in many respects from that of the Church of England, and it includes the reading of the marriage contract or Kethubah, in which occur the beautiful words, ” I will work for thee, honour thee, support and provide for thee, according to the manner of Jewish husbands, who work for their wives, honour, support, and provide for them.” The costume of the Jewish bride is that of her Christian sister, but the bridegroom throughout the whole ceremony wears his hat, as no prayer is offered by a Jew with uncovered head. During the ceremony also the contracting parties stand under the canopy styled a Chuppah, and this canopy, at a fashionable Jewish wedding, is sometimes exquisitely ornamented with white flowers.


The actual form of words used at Roman Catholic weddings is extremely brief, and in the case of a mixed marriage—that is, when one of the contracting parties is a Protestant— the Marriage Service is reduced to the shortest and baldest dimensions, and no music is performed. On the other hand a great Roman Catholic wedding at such a church as the Oratory is very imposing, and is even more elaborate, as well as infinitely more lengthy, than a similar ceremony at St. Paul’s, Knightsbridge. One of the most picturesque Roman Catholic weddings that ever took place in London was the bicycle wedding which was celebrated at Notre-Dame de France, Leicester Square. The happy pair rode to the church from a neighbouring restaurant on a sociable charmingly trimmed with orange blossom and white satin streamers. They were followed by their friends mounted on sixteen single bicycles and twelve sociables, and, it need hardly be added, by an enormous crowd of sightseers. The bride wore the orthodox white satin wedding gown and tulle veil, and the bridegroom a frock coat and tall hat.

No doubt during the course of the present century motor car marriages will become usual in London, and some of us may even live to see balloon weddings grow into favour.

Source: Living London Edited by George R. Sims. Cassell and Company, Limited. 1902.

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