The Escutcheon

Volume 4

Number 2 – Lent Term, 1999

Eighteenth Century Marriages in Cambridge College Chapel Registers

The Society’s Library is lodged with the archivist of Sidney Sussex College, Mr Nick Rogers, a past President of the Society. During a recent visit to the Library, Mr Rogers showed us the old 18th century marriage register for Sidney Sussex College chapel, which he thought had never been published.

This old register contained 47 marriages which had taken place between 1729 and 1751, mainly of people from Cambridgeshire and the surrounding counties, who did not appear to have any connection with the College. As these would appear to be ‘lost’ marriages, in a genealogical sense, I thought it might be a worthwhile project to transcribe and index the entries.

Before commencing the project, however, I checked with staff at the County Record Office that this information had not been published previously. They confirmed that was the case and added that, as far as they knew, Queens’ was the only College for which there was a published transcript of its marriage register (Proc. Camb. Antiq. Soc., 40). I have indexed the latter in addition to preparing the Sidney Sussex transcript and index.

The Rev. J.F. Williams, who had transcribed the Queens’ Register, stated in his introduction that:–
“Before the passing of Lord Hardwicke’s Marriage Act in 1753, it was legal for a marriage, by a duly authorised minister, to be celebrated in a College chapel just as in an ordinary parish church. Apparently all that was required was either a licence from the Bishop’s registrar, or else certificates from the incumbents stating that banns had been published in the parish churches of the parties concerned. After the ceremony the marriage was registered in the ordinary way in a book provided for the purpose …
“… It is noticeable that in every case but one, when in 1753, Mr Roper, Vicar of Melbourne conducted the marriage, the officiating minister was a Fellow of the College, though he might be incumbent of a neighbouring parish and signs as such. In some cases one cannot help feeling that it was for the convenience of the minister that the contracting parties were asked to come to the College chapel to be married, rather than in their own church. For instance, Henry Crownfield, who held the vicarage of Sawston together with his fellowship between 1723 and 1731 officiated at fourteen marriages in the College chapel, and in seven of them the brides were from his own parish of Sawston, where one would have expected the marriages to have taken place. The same thing happened after 1731 when Crownfield was appointed Rector of Little Eversden, still retaining his fellowship. Between then and 1734 he took three marriages in the College chapel, and in each case the bride came from Little Eversden. It is the same in the case of Walter Post, Fellow of the College, 1721–1732, who was appointed Vicar of Oakington in 1727. In half of the marriages at which he officiated in the chapel between 1728 and 1731, the brides came from the parish of Oakington.”

Before proceeding further with the project I cross-checked the marriages at Queens’ and Sidney Sussex Colleges with entries in Boyd’s Marriage Index to Cambridgeshire Parish Registers. Some of the marriages were listed and several were not, regardless of whether the marriage was conducted by licence or after banns.

Taking the parish of Oakinton as an example I then double-checked those marriages where one or both parties came from Oakington, and again some were listed and others were omitted. The interesting point which emerged was that there were occasional differences in dates, by a day or two, and differences in the spelling of the names. I concluded, therefore, that the officiating minister entered the marriage in the chapel register as the marriage occurred, and if he remembered later, would also include it retrospectively in the parish register (i.e. the parish of which he was the incumbent and not the parish in which the College was located). Although several of the marriages were recorded in the parish registers there would appear to be several omissions.

As it was likely that there might be similar registers at some of the other older Colleges, I made enquiries of the remaining pre-1800 foundations. The chart below sets out which Colleges have chapel registers which I have started to transcribe and index. In several cases there were no known 18th century chapel registers. Weddings did take place in College chapels during the 19th and 20th centuries but details were entered in the registers of the local parish churches.

CollegeMarriages: dates (numbers)
Clarenone (all at St Edwards’s)
Corpus Christi
Emmanuel1736-53 (33)
Gonville and Caiusnone (at St Michaels or Great St Mary’s)
King's1710-1721 (15)
Peterhousenone (at Little St Mary’s)
Queens'1723-1753 (140)
St Catharine's1734-1752 (6)
St John'snone (at Parish Church)
Sidney Sussex1729-1751 (47)
Trinity Hallnone
Trinitynone (at All SS)

Eve Logan

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