Friday 18 May 2018

By Clog and Shoe

 With all the excitement surrounding the imminent Royal Wedding, I thought it would be interesting to look at an older and less formal kind of marriage.

Black leather clogs
Black leather clogs
We are all familiar with clogs, the traditional northern wooden shoe, strengthened with iron or brass at the heels and edges. Perhaps less familiar is its use in an enigmatic entry in the Haworth parish register for 1733, which gives a list of ‘marriages at Bradford and by clog and shoe in Lancashire’.

This entry has been the subject of much conjecture over the intervening years. The 1867 Notes and Queries correspondent Llallawg asked about the meaning of the entry, noting that ‘in some parts of the West Riding it is customary to throw old shoes and old slippers after the newly married pair when starting on their wedding tour.’ They further mentioned an ancient custom of the forest of Skipton, which is near to Haworth, where in the reign of Edward II ‘every bride coming that way should either give her left shoe or 3s 4d to the forester of Crookryse, by way of custom of gaytcloys’ (here gate will be in the dialectal usage meaning ‘journey’).

I don’t know if they received any responses, but later The Derbyshire Times of 1894 carried a similar query, noting that at a time when legal marriage did not require a priest of religious ceremony (Hardwicke’s Marriage Act was still twenty years away) many people married clandestinely or by unusual methods (similar to 'jumping the broom' which was still referred to as a folk practice when I was growing up). Two solutions were then offered to the ‘clog and shoe’ conundrum. One suggestion was that a pub called the ‘Clog and Shoe’ in the Bradford area might have been operating as ‘marriage shop’. Apparently, taverns were often popular locations for clandestine marriages. This idea was supported by a (poorly cited, so I can’t track down the original) reference to ‘a book at Elwick, Durham’, which suggested that marriages were celebrated ‘by’ the clog and shoe, ‘with’ the clog and shoe and ‘at’ the Clog and Shoe, the constructions seeming to suggest a place such as a tavern.

Frontispiece and Title page from Richard Braithwaite, A Boulster Lecture, London 1640
Frontispiece and Title page from Richard Braithwaite, A Boulster Lecture, London 1640
An alternative was the custom of marrying by exchanging a man’s clog for a woman’s shoe in front of witnesses. A further illustration from Braithwaite’s A Boulster Lecture (1640) emphasizes the potential symbolism of some of these traditions:
When at any time a couple were married, the sole of the bridegroom’s shoe was to be laid upon the bride’s head, implying with what subjugation she should serve her husband.
Dr George Redmonds, the author of the Yorkshire Historic Dictionary, offers a less romantic explanation: it might simply have meant that the couple had walked over into Lancashire to get married. Haworth was, after all, right on the county boundary.

Allegations from CP.I.1110
Isaac Smith c. Benjamin Kennet, 1739
This more prosaic definition has some help from our archival records. In the 1730s, the minister to the Howarth curacy, Rev. Isaac Smith and the vicar of Bradford (its mother parish) Rev. Benjamin Kennet, engaged in a protracted dispute through the church courts around the issue of irregular marriages. Rev. Kennet was accused of conducting improper marriages, by marrying a couple without the publication of banns and out of ceremonial hours (after 12 noon on a Sunday), and by receiving additional payments for doing so. The couple in question, John Arthington and Ann Swaine, had been forbidden permission to marry by her father. When the case was brought several years later, Kennet attempted to clear his name by producing a witness, Lucy Brigg, who swore that she remembered the banns being read at Bradford church sometime in the June, July or August before the wedding but unfortunately it was shown that at the time she was confined to a room for lunacy. I don’t know what punishment, if any, was meted out to Kennet but he didn’t lose his position as he continued as vicar to Bradford until his death in 1752 (outliving Smith, I’m sure to his great satisfaction, by ten years).

The papers for the numerous back-and-forths in the church courts between Smith and Kennet (which include the memorable occasion when Smith hired the Bradford town crier to tell Kennet’s parishioners what he thought of him) are freely available online under the references CP.I.1739; CP.I.1099; CP.I.1100; CP.I.1101; CP.I.1102; CP.I.1103; CP.I.1104.

It’s interesting that we have a verifiable recorded case of improper marriage at exactly the same date as the ‘clog and shoe’ marriages. The situation in Haworth perfectly illustrates the motivation behind Hardwicke’s Act for the Better Prevention of Clandestine Marriage in 1754, to tighten up the legal definition of a marriage service once and for all.

Can you help us to tighten up our definition of clog? Do you know what marriage ‘by clog and shoe’ means? I’d love to hear from you!

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Edit 25/01/2019 The Yorkshire Historical Dictionary is now available online at

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