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‘They met at Term Tuesday fair’

Posted by on February 12, 2013

The theme of our blog posts this month is ‘romance’. The problem for me, in writing about my ancestors in nineteenth and twentieth century Cumberland and Westmorland, is that ‘romance’ may have been thin on the ground! Life was hard and marriages sometimes a matter of expediency.

This is not to say that my ancestors did not love one another. But we often forget the social and economic pressures that led people into marriage in the past.

My great-grandfather, Tom Robinson married his wife, Ann Holme, on 3 March 1900. He was twenty years old, Ann twenty-two. Ann already had a two-year-old daughter, Ethel, whose father is unknown. Tom and Ann had a reason to marry – their first son, Thomas Edward, was born six weeks after the wedding. Before the marriage, Ann Holme had been living with her mother, Agnes, the landlady of the New Inn in the village of Great Musgrave. Tom at that time was working as a thresher in fields near the village. Did Tom and Ann meet in the pub?

The New Inn, Great Musgrave - possible meeting place for Tom Robinson and Ann Holme. Now a private dwelling.

The New Inn, Great Musgrave – possible meeting place for Tom Robinson and Ann Holme. Now a private dwelling.


My grandmother, Nellie, married Oswald Wilson on 25 April 1935 in the Methodist Chapel in Newbiggin-on-Lune. They too had a good reason to marry. My mother, Mary, was born four months later. Oswald was then living in the market town of Penrith, about twenty miles away from Nellie’s home village and was working as a bus conductor. Nellie visited Penrith when she could to see her elder sister, Frances, and her husband. I have a postcard from Nellie to her sister, written while she was in farm service in the early 1930s, to inform her sister of an impending visit: ‘All being well and I can get off Gladys and I are cycling through on Sunday morning, leaving here at 10 o’clock, of course weather permitting. We will come to your house for lunch so don’t lie in bed so long.’ Perhaps Nellie met Oswald on one of these visits.

Nellie’s elder sister, Frances, and her husband, Billy, had met at ‘Term Tuesday’ fair in Penrith in 1927. They had just received their ‘Term Tuesday’ wages: £25 each for six months’ work as farm servants.  At the time of their deaths, only a month or so apart in 1987, they had known each other for sixty years and had been married for fifty-eight.


2 Responses to ‘They met at Term Tuesday fair’

  1. Margaret McAlpine

    So, sex before marriage was quite usual, even among religious people! Did nobody disapprove? Of course, children were an important reason to marry and proof of fertility perhaps no bad thing. Quite a few of my ancestors were childless and I doubt this was through choice.

    • Tracey Messenger

      To be fair, Tom and Ann’s marriage happened before his conversion to Methodism. I suspect his attitudes changed when he became a staunch Methodist. However, Cumberland and Westmorland had the highest illegitimacy rates in the country in the 1860s, despite high rates of religious attendance. The live-in farm servant system was seen as one reason for the high rate. My grandmother was in farm service when she became pregnant with her first child. I doubt her parents were very pleased but they nonetheless cared for the child when she was born.

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