Unlawful Marriage at Gresford Parish Church 1855

On the 20th December 1855, a wedding took place at All Saints, the Gresford Parish church.  The wedding was conducted by the Curate, and was between William Mercer, who described himself as a cattle dealer from Rossett, and Ms. Mary Davies, also from Rossett.  Their Marriage Certificate shows that William Mercer’s father was Thomas Mercer, a Farmer, and Mary Davies’s father, William Davies, was described as a Gentleman.  The Marriage Certificate also showed that both the Bride and the Groom were both of “Full Age”.  At that time only those of “Full Age”, that is over the age of 21 years old, were permitted to marry without their parent’s permission.

Instead of being a joyous occasion for both families, the announcement of the marriage was a shock to Mary Davies’s family, who only discovered about the wedding after the ceremony.  Mary’s father resorted to alleging that the marriage was unlawful, leading to his new son-in-law appearing before the Courts.

In January 1856, less than a mere month after the wedding, the Groom, William Mercer stood before the courts accused of obtaining a Marriage License unlawfully by swearing that his Bride, Mary, was of full age, when in fact she was not yet 21 years old.  This was not a trivial matter for the courts.  When the first hearing of the case was unable to immediately resolve the matter, he was only granted bail on the condition that he obtained two sureties of £100 each, and £200 from himself for his appearance the following week.  The sureties were provided by John Roberts, an Innkeeper from Gresford, and Mr Samuels, of the Red Lion, Chester Street, Wrexham.  The size of the sureties demonstrates the gravity of the case to the courts, as the total sureties of £400, would be in excess of £20,000 in today’s money.

When Mercer appeared in the local court the following week, the court heard evidence from the Bride’s father, Davies, who gave his address as Stonewall, Burton.  He gave evidence that his daughter was born on the 27th August 1836, in Button Street, Liverpool.  Furthermore, that she was later baptized in St Peter’s Church, Liverpool.  Therefore, at the time of the marriage she was only 20 years old and was not of full age.  The law therefore demanded that the marriage required his permission, which he had not given.

The court then heard the evidence of Reverend G. Cunliffe, the Vicar of Wrexham.  Reverend Cunliffe told the court that at 11am, on the 20th December, the Groom, William Mercer had arrived at his home.  Mercer told him that he wanted a Marriage License as he wanted to be married later the same morning.  Mercer swore on oath, holding a the Bible, that he was of full age, aged 22 years old and was from Gresford, and furthermore, that his bride to be was also from Gresford and that she was also aged over 21 years old.  On finishing swearing the oath, Mercer kissed the Bible, and then signed all of the relevant paperwork.  On hearing the evidence in the case, the local court committed the case to the higher authority of the Assizes court.

The case was heard on the 22nd March 1856, at the Ruthin Assizes.  The charge against William Mercer was, “Taking a False Oath before a Surrogate”.  At the Assizes Court found Mercer not guilty of the offence.

The true reasons why Mr Davies brought the case against his son-in-law are not revealed in the surviving documents.  Possibly, he did not like his daughter’s choice of husband, or as a Gentleman, that his daughter had married below her station in life, as the 1861 census return shows William Mercer’s occupation as being an agricultural labourer, rather than a cattle dealer.  However, we can only speculate about these reasons.

What is quite clear is that it was not because his daughter subsequently regretted the marriage, for William Mercer and his wife Mary remained married and continued to live in Burton, subsequently having a large number of children.  It would be nice to think that the courts felt that the law should not stand in the way of true love.

All Saints Church, Gresford
All Saints Church, Gresford

Source: Written and researched by Wayne Cronin-Wojdat, B.A (Hons.), MSc – Historical Gems.

Picture – Postcard; All Saints Church, Gresford.


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