Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Cohabitation in Victorian England

From History Extra:
These findings of very low levels of cohabitation are supported by the conclusions of the more measured Victorian commentators (as opposed to the hysterical polemicists who were responsible for a genre of ‘slum’ literature that makes today’s tabloids seem restrained). Charles Booth, who carried out his survey of working-class life in London between 1886 and 1903, noted that legal marriage was the general rule even among the “roughest class”. Tracing a ceremony of marriage, of course, is no guarantee that a couple were legally married: bigamists abounded, and there are plenty of examples of a man entering into a prohibited marriage with his deceased wife’s sister. But the relatively high incidence of bigamy only serves to underline the significance Victorians attached to marriage. If cohabitation had been acceptable, there would have been no need to risk criminal penalties to secure respectability.
 
So did couples live together before they married, as is the norm today? Some historians have noted Booth’s comment on the frequency with which bridal couples gave the same address, and the marriage registers support his observation. But when addresses in the marriage register are checked against census returns, it turns out that the great majority who claimed to be living together were actually residing at different addresses. Here, the census is likely to be the more reliable. There was, after all, no advantage to be gained from concealing a cohabiting relationship from census-takers. And there was a very practical reason why couples might wish to appear to be living at the same address even if they were not: vicars – and even civil registrars – faced with a couple apparently living together unwed, would often waive the marriage fee. Even though Victorians married late – when compared to the mid-20th century – it was still rare for couples to set up home in advance of the wedding. (Read more.)
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1 comment:

Helen Davis said...

There was a fairly well known double standard in Victorian times. This is not an era I would,wish to return to or emulate.