Ye Olde Wedding Transport
Summing up the style of Yorkshire weddings (see string quartets in Yorkshire) in the mid-nineteenth century, Canon J. C. Atkinson wrote in Forty Years in a Moorland Parish:
The most typical Dales wedding I ever remember having witnessed was nearly forty years ago and on Martinmas Day. I should not have spoken of the event in the singular number, for there were in point of fact, four weddings, all to be solemnized co-incidentally. And, whether by arrangement or by chance, all four of the couples, with their attendants, came up to the church in one cavalcade. First, there were not less than seven horsemen, each with a pillion-borne female behind him. Three of these were brides; the others attendants. Of other attendants, male and female, there must have been at least as many more, and then came those who had gathered to see the wedding, and so forth. But besides, there were from a dozen and a score men, mostly young, who carried guns, and who, as the weddingers passed down the little slope leading to the churchyard gate, fired a salvo. As may be supposed, more than one or two of the horses, being neither sobered by age and hard work, nor yet trained to stand fire, were startled and began to plunge or rear. I fully expected a disaster. However, with the exception of one of the pillion ladies, who slid gently — though not without raising her voice - backwards down over the crupper of her steed, no casualty occurred.
Today a fortunate bride or groom sees a grey horse in road or field on the way to church. In the days of horse transport, grey horses were chosen for the bridal carriage if possible. (At Harpenden (see string quartet in Hertfordshire) it was said that 'Ole Grey Will', an aged nag from the Railway Hotel, attended every wedding.) Among those keeping the tradition lively is Stroud Riding and Driving Stables in Gloucestershire, (see string quartets in Gloucestershire) which provides carriages and matched grey horses for weddings. The horses wear orange blossoms and white satin rosettes, drivers and guards wear white carnations: posies are attached to landholders. At first real flowers were used, but the horses had always tasted them before the wedding was over. The luckiest horseshoe to give a bride comes from the near hind foot of a grey mare but at weddings a silverfoil-covered cardboard horseshoe is substituted, attached to the bouquet, presented to the bride at the church door, or appearing on gift cards or as a cake decoration. The horseshoe's lunar shape makes it a growth and fertility symbol.
One thing that I can't find in any as reports and books about wedding customs and horses, is the good luck brought about by the depositing of horse droppings. When I was a young child, there were such things as milkmen. Our milkmen didn't arrive in electric milk cart or van, but had horse and milk cart. This was far superior to a vehicle, in that it was a completely automatic vehicle, something the car manufacturers are still trying to achieve. The milkmen would take bottles from the cart and take them to the front doorstep the houses. As he worked up the road, so the horse strolled slowly along with him. Of course, the thing with holes is that you put food in at one end and get compost out at the other end. Whenever some compost was produced, the housewives, who had been watching from behind net curtains, would dash out with shovel and bucket, a race to get the horse droppings first. Practically, it was because it was good for the rhubarb, but in traditional folklore style it was deemed to be lucky to get there first.
Beliefs attaching to horse-drawn bridal carriages were readily transferred to cars. The white-ribbon decorated bridal carriage must never be turned at the church gate, within sight of the couple, lest they suffer a 'reversal'. Chauffers of hired bridal cars still heed the old tradition. If the horses refused to start on the journey to church Jeremiahs wagged their heads; the match was doomed. Mechanical difficulties are just as ill-omened. A hired Rolls-Royce would not start at a recent Buckinghamshire wedding (string quartets in Buckinghamshire) and the bride was late: 'Are we embarrassed?' said a mechanic at the garage, 'It's such bad luck for her.'
This however, is not true. I played with my string quartet, many years ago, the 2 friends who were getting married, (and also play in the string quartet). They had hired a vintage car to bring out of the church and take them both away. I remember playing for quite a long time as the guests waited for her to turn up. She was normally a punctual sort of person, so this was a surprise to everyone. It turned out that the car wouldn't start when it picture up at her house. At the end of the service, the car wouldn't start again, and guests pushed it to get it going. They're still married after many years. I would call that lucky, though I suppose some might suggest that was rather unlucky, but am I cynical? Never.
TEASING THE VICAR
Wedding parties were seldom subdued by ceremonial and snatched the chance to tease anyone that they could. At Gaillac, France, in Roman style, a rain of luck-giving nuts fell about the pair as they knelt at the altar. At Llanedy, in Wales, (see string quartets in south Wales) in the early nineteenth century, matters were out of hand. The parson, rather than the couple, was bombarded with an accurate salvo of nuts and apples. 'The easy-going clergyman would take no other notice of it than brushing these missiles off the open page of his prayer-book. But a young curate named Morris. . . put a sudden and final stop at such interruptions. At the first marriage that he celebrated, on being struck by some nuts, he looked up, marked a prominent offender, closed his book, jumped over the chancel rails, seized the man, and flung him neck and crop right through the window . . . .' The culprit suffered three broken ribs and not surprisingly the custom ceased forthwith. At Donington-on-Bain, Lincolnshire (see string quartets in Lincolnshire), all the old women of the parish, 'with an ardour unabated by the chill of age', tossed hassocks at the bridal party. All went well until about 1780 when the rector was accidentally hit by a flying hassock. Again the custom halted abruptly.
In Scotland (see string quartets in Scotland) and the north of England (see string quartets in Yorkshire) the parson, however shy, was expected to kiss the bride. A Durham lady, (see string quartets in Durham) marrying away from home and banking upon the customary salute, 'after waiting for it in vain. . . boldly took the initiative and bestowed a kiss upon the astonished south country vicar'. Another clergyman was told by a dawdling bridal party 'Please sir, you've no kissed Mollie.' It was lucky to kiss the bride before her husband could do so, but if the parson were not shy there was another problem: a Scottish bridegroom stated the difficulty:
It's no very decent for you to be kissing,
It does not look well with the black coat ava,
'Twould hae set you far better tae hae gi'en us your blessing,
Than thus by such tricks be breaking the law.
Dear Wattie, quo' Robin, it's just an old custom, An' the thing that is common should ne'er be ill ta'en, For where ye are wrong, if you had na a-wished him, You should ha' been first. It's yoursel' is to blame!
DOES MARRIAGE PUT THE MAN IN CHARGE?
Marriage is a battlefield as much as an amicable partnership and charms determine who will rule the roost. A Swedish bride secures supremacy by setting her right foot ahead of the bridegroom's at the altar rail and contriving to see him on the wedding day before he sees her. As a Syrian, Cypriot or Turkish couple arrive at their new home, one tries to tread upon the other's foot — the winner controls the household.
Leaving church was once less a moment for smiles and photography than for action. American brides believed that whichever of the pair made the first purchase after marriage would rule — and swiftly bought a pin from a bridesmaid at the churchdoor. At a wedding in Orange City, New Jersey, about 1890, a spectator remarked that it was a pity that the bride had stepped over the church doorsill with her left foot for 'Now she'll always be under his thumb.' In Scotland, (see string quartets in Scotland) at double weddings, the first couple to get out of church would walk off with the blessing and unseemly scurries were common. In the Vosges the leading couple's reward would be a boy as their first child. (It's difficult enough backing up the string quartet after church wedding ceremony, sneaking out the back door and getting past guests who are posing for photographer, in order to get the quartet set up at the wedding venue ready for guests to arrive. Imagine what it be like if one had to fight one's way through a battlefield of fighting guests!)
Some gestures towards mastery were more disciplinary than magical: a Russian bride presented her husband with a whip she had made herself and he struck her lightly three times, saying: 'I love thee like my soul, but beat thee like my fur cloak'.
Among the Mussulmans of Sindh a contest decides the knotty question of household leadership. If the bridegroom can, with one hand only, seize a date grasped firmly in the bride's fist, he will rule; otherwise he is doomed to henpecking. If the Scandinavian bride can trap her new husband into picking up her dropped handkerchief her triumph is complete and he will 'bend his back all his life'. A sheep is often included among the bridegroom's betrothal gifts in Morocco; the bride adorns herself in ritual makeup, climbs upon the surrogate's back and urges it forward, saying:
If I tell thee to move, go on,
If I say hold, then stop,
If I tell thee to sleep, then slumber,
If I bid thee wake, open thine eyes.
She next plucks a little wool from the sheep's head, mouth, belly and tail and binds it into a magical sachet which is secretly hidden away. Its preservation, she believes, maintains her ascendancy. But the charm, although powerful, can be overturned. When the Moroccan husband first enters his wife's bedroom, he carries his right slipper in his hand; she, armed with her own slipper, awaits him. They both strike out: whoever gets in the first blow will dominate the household. (Gosh, this sounds really exciting, much more fun than a conventional English wedding.) In China the bridegroom has the advantage if he can sit upon a part of his wife's dress as they seat themselves upon the bridal bed. She, of course, does her best to anticipate him.
Obviously these charms can have no intrinsic effect on the household's true hierarchy: but like much magic they are an important part of a psychological battle of wits. The successful practitioner is made confident, the loser demoralised - surely an important step along the road to marital mastery?