The Craxford Family Magazine Red Pages

{$text['mgr_red1']} Research 5

Unholy Wedlock? - A discussion

by Alan D Craxford, Janice Binley, Stuart Cook and Helen Kerr


Other articles within the website which relate to particular aspects of this story are noted within square brackets in the text. Links to these articles can be found in the table towards the bottom of column 2

This article is a sequel to the recently completed "Unholy wedlock?" [Article A:]. The main emphasis there was a commentary on the criminal act of bigamy, the changing rules on the marriage to a dead spouse's sibling and how these affected some individuals in our own database. This current study will expand on these strands to include consanguineous marriages and other unions to close family members.


Pooh-Bah (i)

Ours is the study of an extended family looking mainly at the 200 years between the middle of the eighteenth and twentieth centuries. The website was started around a single source individual and new people were only added to it if they had a link to someone already in the database by direct descent or by marriage. This allows us to demonstrate a relationship between virtually any two individuals however distant and across unions. There are currently over 23,500 individuals and over 6,700 known marriages.

There are many authorities and personalities in the past who have made observations upon the social circumstances and activites of the Army, The Law, Politicians and The Establishment in their surroundings. One which has created a certain resonance with several generations of the author's family has been W.S. Gilbert, librettist, along with composer Sir Arthur Sullivan, of the Savoy operettas. Most of their works have a sprinkling of such notable comments. Little Buttercup in "HMS Pinafore" (opera 2) practiced baby farming; Reginald Bunthorne in "Patience" (opera 4) parodied the Aesthetic Movement and Oscar Wilde when "to rank as an apostle in a high aesthetic band - you walk down Piccadilly with a poppy or a lily in your medieval hand". Gilbert could also be said to have predicted the eventual fascinatiion with genealogy and the appearance of the likes of and DNA testing. He had Pooh-Bah, Lord High Everything Else in the town of Titipu, The Mikado (opera 7) issue the lines "I am, in point of fact, a particularly haughty and exclusive person, of pre-Adamite ancestral descent. You will understand this when I tell you that I can trace my ancestry back to a protoplasmal primordial atomic globule. Consequently, my family pride is something inconceivable. I can't help it. I was born sneering".

Some further thoughts on the crime of Bigamy

The act of bigamy is defined as going through a second or subsequent ceremony of marriage with another partner whilst still legally married to another. As noted previously it is often characterised by a marriage breakdown and separation. The second event may be accompanied by flight and subterfuge. However it has also been documented on occasions that family members of the perpetrator may have been well aware of what was happening and may even had a hand in facilitating the outcome. There does appear to be a disjunction between official legal rules and what happened on the ground. Some of these activities were carried out with intent but also others were probably due to the individual turning a blind eye to officialdom. It is also difficult to determine whether changes in legislation were brought about through a "catching up process" with what was happening in practice.

We encountered fifteen bigamists in our studies but a significantly larger number who had simply separated and gone to live with someone else. There was also one individual who maintained two families in nearby towns, having nineteen children between them, although he only married once. Only the first set have committed an illegal act. However a perhaps rhetorical question that needs to be asked is whether there is any moral or spiritual difference between the three as only the first had been to church or register office more than once.

Same sex marriages

Homosexuality was known and practiced in the ancient world. Henry VIII's Statute of 1533 made sodomy as it was then known a civil offence punishable by death. This remained the case in England until 1882 when it was readjusted to a felony punishable by imprisonment. The aforementioned Oscar Wilde was found guilty of gross indecency with men in April 1895 and sentenced to two years hard labour, eighteen months of which were served in Reading Jail. This remained the situation until homosexuality between consenting adults was legalised by the Sexual Offences Act of 1967. Over the next forty years that was an increasing demand for further recognition of same sex liaisons until this culminated finally in the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act of 2013. This allowed religious organisations to opt in to marry same-sex couples should they wish to do so and protected religious organisations and their representatives from successful legal challenge if they did not wish to marry same-sex couples. It also placed the same restrictions on same sex couples as on opposite sex couples when it came to the relationships they could and could not marry and also confirmed that bigamy was similarly illegal.


Family tree chart

There are no same sex marriages currently in our database. However the following section aims to highlight the possible compications which might appear in one or two generations time. The scenario is hypothetical although the structure of the family illustrated is factual. The relationships are shown on the attached chart.

Mr A married Miss B and had two daughters (1, 2)
Mr C married Miss D and had one daughter (4)
Both couples subsequently divorced, following which
Mr C married ex-Miss B and had one daughter (3)
Mr A married ex-Miss D and had one daughter (5)

Daughter (1) has one full sister (2); one half sister (3); one step sister (5) and one unrelated "sister" (4). Could daghter (1) marry any of the other sisters? Presumably legal rules would prohibit marriage to full and half sister but allow marriage to her step sister and unrelated sister. If daughter (1) did enter into an opposite sex marriage which then ended in the death of her husband, presumably the Deceased Brother's Widow's Marriage Act of 1921 would allow her to marry her dead spouse's sister.

An avunculate marriage

The Book of Common Prayer, the official Prayer Book of the Church of England, published in 1662 contains within it the Table of Affinity and Kindred. This contains a list of those people, mostly blood relatives, that a person is forbidden to marry. This list also details those between whom sexual relations are forbidden. One such entry for a man is his brother's daughter. Such a union between an uncle and his niece is called avunculate.

Case study: Robert Charles Skelding

Robert is included in our family database because he was the uncle of Thomas Samuel Skelding who married Mary Ann, the sister of George Cook mentioned elsewhere in this article. Thomas and Mary Ann were married in April 1904 but sadly she died of tuberculosis less than three years later. Robert married Georgina Skelding, Thomas' older sister by three years on December 26th 1896 at St Pauls Church, Leicester. Her baptism record from St Leonard's Church, Leicester in March 1890 shows that Georgina was born on May 8th 1875. The Skelding family originated in Birmingham in the West Midlands. At the time of the marriage they were living with Georgina's father (Robert's brother), also named Thomas Samuel, on King Richards Road.

St Pauls

Left: The Church; Right: Canon J. Mason; Rev G. Brooks; Rev J. Murray (1)

The Cook family lived for a time in Tudor Road and then Bosworth Street in the West End of Leicester [Articles B:; C: and D:]. The author's own family spent near forty years on Fosse Road North and St Paul's Church was the family place of worship. The church was built to accommodate the swelling population of the West End in the second half of the nineteenth century and was consecrated in 1871. The first incumbent, who held the post for forty years was Canon James Mason. He was assisted by a number of assistant priests over the years including the Reverend James Murray who performed the marriage ceremony for Robert and Georgina. Mason was a noted tractarian who decried the perceived weakness of the church and its increasing liberalism. Under his guidance St Pauls followed an Anglican doctrine of sung Eucharist, six altar candles, incense and red altar lights.

Georgina was 21 years and 9 months old at the time of the marriage. There is no way of assessing how long prior to the date of the marriage the couple had been associating. It was clear that the rest of the family were well aware of what was going on and fully supportive of them. Georgina's brothers Thomas and Albert acted as witnesses. Did the clergy know of the relationship? Such a knowledge would not appear to be in keeping with their prevailing beliefs. Or did the family fail to mention it when they booked the ceremony. The marriage does not appear to have been preceded by the calling of Banns. The probable paradox of this though is that if their avuncular marriage had become known and declared void, if the couple so chose, it would not affect their lives together. This remains the situation to this day. The age of consent at the time was 16 years so their relationship, if consensual, would not have deemed incestuous. Incest was only made a crime by the Punishment of Incest Act 1908 but uncle - niece; aunt - nephew relationships did not apply.

Robert and Georgina had moved a few hundred yards south to Braunstone Gate in 1911 to live with Georgina's parents. They had no children. Robert died in the City General Hospital and was buried in Gilroes Cemetery on December 8th 1930. Georgina died just over four years later and was buried in Section cM plot 942 of Welford Road cemetery on January 9th 1935 (the prefix "c" indicates that the plot was in a consecrated section of the grounds)


Rural life may have appeared simple but there was grinding poverty and rampant disease for the peasantry to contend with. Attitudes to class and crime were far different to the present day. Nineteenth century families were typically large; double digit numbers of offspring were not uncommon. A casual observer might conclude that it was de rigueur for a young female to have at least one child before she entered marriage. Many more of these girls were in the later stages of pregnancy when the ceremony took place.

Case history: Mary Ann Crane ([Article E:])

Mary Ann, born in Cottingham Northamptonshire in 1813, was typical of many thousands of pregnant unmarried women of the past. She is also one of those who took drastic action to avoid the financial burden and social stigma of an illegitimate child. She had at least six illegitimate children: five who lived and another child who died nameless, its body tossed into the River Welland. The names of the men who fathered her children are unknown. It might have been one man (unlikely) or two or more. Although there is no evidence that Mary Ann resorted to the services of a baby farmer, the risks of some of these often unconscionable women is described in the accompanying article. Mary Ann married late in life. Aged 42, she married John Sculthorpe, a local man 11 years her junior. They did not marry until 1855, and Mary Ann's known children were born between 1834 and 1852. Three of the children took on the surname Sculthorpe, but it is possible that John unofficially adopted, rather than fathered, them. Absorbing step-children into a family and giving them the step-father's name was a common procedure at this time.

South Normanton

A case in point was highlighted by Pamela Sharpe [Further Reading 1]. The town of South Normanton in Derbyshire was known to have a high illegitimacy rate, particularly in the young. "In 1852 16 out of 54 children baptised were illegitimate ... a self perpetuating subculture of continued poverty promoted generation after generation of illegitimate children in certain families. In South Normanton the Ball family seem to have been the major example. Illegitimacy seems to rise from 1795 and the unmarried mothers who claimed relief at this time belonged to families whose names recur in poor relief documents - Ball, Hind, Kite, Marriott, Bacon, Hill (add Gaskin and most of these surnames feature in our our database!!! - Ed) Many were sisters or "repeaters" who had one or more illegitimate children".

These incidents can confuse issues in later generations. It might be known that there are two children attributed to a Jane Ball and three children attributed to a Hannah Ball in the Parish records between 1800 and 1810 - all without a named father; we also know from Bastardy records that a Jane Ball had received maintenance for a child from Thomas Kyte and a Jane Ball had received maintenance from a William Marriott. What we don't know is that in a village 121 houses and an estimated population of 588 (in 1788), how many individual Jane or Hannah Balls there might be of young child bearing age living there at the same time. There cannot be that many totally unconnected and unrelated Ball families. Also the resultant children were usually sent off into forced apprenticeship so it is almost impossible to follow what happened to them. One possible upshot of this is that when there is a marriage pattern between the Ball / Marriott; Ball / Kyte or Marriott / Kyte families midway into the next century (ie two generations further on) these are almost certainly (and more than likely unknowing) marriages between cousins or even half siblings. As more and more of the parish, bastardy and removal records are pieced together and compared more and more unions from this area which fall into this category may be discovered.

Older illegitimacy - Case studies

The bearing of illegitimate children was not confined to teenagers and young women. There are some examples of married women who have been widowed when still of childbearing age doing the same.

1. Fanny Brewster ([Article F:] Column 1)

Fanny, was born in the village of Lyddington, Rutland in 1866 the fifth child of six of Henry Brewster and Amy Waterfield. Fanny married John Swann, the pharmacist in charge of the dispensary at the local Infirmary in Leicester in 1886 where they had two children. Their happiness however was shortlived. Fanny was left a widow in the Spring of 1893 when John died of heart disease at the young age of 32 years. Fanny became pregnant in early 1894 and gave birth to a daughter Nellie in October. She had been working as a caretaker at the time of the 1901 census on the premises. Also noted on the same return was a lodger, John Youle, a gas fitter.

2. Fanny Wymant ([Article G:] Column 2)

There were at least four Wymant households in Gretton mainly derived from the offspring of Thomas Wymant and Frances Clipson. Of these, perhaps the most fascinating from a family history point of view is Fanny (Clipson) Wymant. She had four children with her husband Joseph before he died in 1874 aged 32 years. Fanny was already pregnant with her fourth daughter, Sarah Jane, when she was left a widow. She did not stop there for the census return of 1891 shows her living in Craxford Lane with five more children all under the age of 14 years. Admittedly one of these, Jacob, was proved to be the son of her eldest daughter Mary born before her marriage of 1890, although a report in 1903 newspaper of his 'very serious injuries' at work described Joseph as the son of Mrs Fanny Wymant, widow, Gretton. The birth certificate proves youngest daughter Gertrude Clara to be Fanny's and all these children were baptised with her named as mother. Most curious is that when Sarah Jane married Henry King, the space for her father's name on the registration form was left blank.

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Added: March 15th 2022

Continued in column 2...

Illegitimacy (Continued)


If pregnancy did not result in marriage, there were several ways in which the spurned woman would seek some form of recompense. A common alternative was that the child would be baptised with the mother's surname but was given the putative father's surname as a second name. There was no way to prove this to be the truth. Births were registered with the General Register Office after the autumn of 1837 but when no father was known (and confirmed) the column for the father's name was usually left empty. One curious entry from the database where this did not happen was the case of Matilda Tansley and her daughter born in Cottingham in 1858. She was named Ann Elizabeth Darker Tansley after putative father John Thomas Darker. The story is told in [Article H:]

There have been a few occasions when the abandoned woman has taken the man before the Courts and sued for breach of promise of marriage. One good example who won her case was Martha Eizabeth Kemshead, born in 1881, who sued china dealer William Rumbold in Leicester in 1903. She was awarded eighty five pounds and eleven shillings in damages and costs [Article I:].

The other official route was to sue for child maintenance. With the passing of the Bastardy Act in 1845, the financing of a bastard child became a civil matter conducted at petty sessions between the mother and accused man. In addition to child maintenance payments of up to five shillings for 13 years, an unmarried mother could also apply for costs resulting from solicitor's and midwives' fees and burial fees if necessary. This is not always successful as in the case of Henrietta Craxford, whose six year old half-brother Thomas Christopher Claypole was murdered by Mary Ann Crane's brother Henry in 1875. In 1900, Henrietta applied for an affiliation order against Peter Reynolds, a Leicester shoehand, but had her case dismissed, presumably there was insufficient corroborative evidence.

Consanguineous relationships

"If we could only get into God's memory we would find that eighty per cent of the world's marriages have been between second cousins. In a population of three to five hundred people, after six or so generations, there are only third cousins or closer cousins to marry, and you end up with generalised altuism because everybody is equally related. During most of human history the people in such finite isolated communities have probably been the genetic equivalent of first cousins, because of their multiple consanguinity. In rural England for instance the radius of the average isolate or pool of potential spouses was about five miles - the distance a man could comfortably walk twice on his day off when he went courting - his roaming area by daylight. Parish registers bear this out. Then the bicycle extended the radius to twenty five miles, to include four or five villages". [Further Reading: 2.]

In this short quote, the history of Cottingham and the complex, entangled relationships between the families who lived there over the centuries have been encapsulated. Cottingham, and its historically adjacent and now conjoined neighbour, the hamlet Middleton in Northamptonshire, did indeed have a fairly constant population of just over 600 during the nineteenth century. The villages which crop up time and again in our researches are indeed within a five mile radius of Cottingham, even though county boundaries probably meant little to the average inhabitant. Individuals had a limited pool of resources into which they could marry. Potential spouses would come from the same family that their own sibling had married into, the household of a near neighbour or a fairly close family member.

It is not quite true, however, that our families "just stayed put". As we shall see, because of changing social and political circumstances, many individuals and family groups were caught up in mass migrations both near (to the nearest big town 25 miles away) and far (to the other side of the world). Even there, though, their sense of kinship and family bonds appear to have persisted.

The final part of the discussion is about liaisons with blood relations which are one step outside of the immediate family. As indicated in the heading these detail marriages between cousins. Relationships outside the nuclear family can cause confusions and misunderstandings as they use a two stage nomenclature of "degree" and "removed" leading to such expressions as second cousin three times removed and third cousin twice removed. At its most basic, a cousin is someone in the family tree who shares a common ancestor with the subject. The "degree" describes of the relationship of these two to that common ancestor. The "removed" element is applied to the descendent children of one of the cousins and describes the number of generations there are between that specific cousin pair. The cousin marriages in our database are listed in the accompanying table. To date there are 100 of which 40 are between first cousins once or twice removed.

Cousin Hebe

Cousin Hebe (ii)

Sir Joseph Porter KCB

Sir Joseph Porter KCB (iii)

"... And so do his sisters, and his cousins, and his aunts!
His sisters and his cousins, Whom he reckons up by dozens,
And his aunts!"

So sang Cousin Hebe and the chorus of female admirers accompanying Sir Joseph Porter, KCB, First Lord of the Admiralty, as he came aboard H.M.S. Pinafore. More than once, W.S. Gilbert had his operatic characters remark on matters genealogical. This reference suggests the size and intermingling of the extended Victorian family - and, indeed Sir Joseph marries Hebe at the end of Act 2.

Genealogy is defined as an account of the descent of a person, family, or group from an ancestor or from older forms (3). The fundamental presumption is that all individuals in a family line share a consanguineous or blood relationship which confirms a genetic link between them. The way in which any individual is related to any other individual in this scheme is described as his / her kinship. In kinship terminology, a cousin is a relative with whom one shares one or more common ancestors although the term is not usually used when referring to members of the immediate family.

The Slow decline in family size

The Cook family originated in the village of Grandborough near Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire ([Articles J: and K:]. During the mid seventeeth century they were a close knit family grouping who remained in the locality. As before, they were also noted to breed large families. This part of the research was carried out in tandem by three of their descendants from different branches who had not been aware of one another previously.

Three cooks

Three Cook fathers - LEFT to RIGHT: Vincent; Walter; George

Three girls

Three Cook daughters - LEFT to RIGHT: Annie; Maud; Evelyn

It was noted early on that there were facial similarity in photographs from each of our lines. We studied the photographs of three girls, one from each line, taken about 1910. One of the girls was the sister of Mary Ann who married the previously mentioned Alec Skelding. Although their grandfathers were brothers and two of their fathers were born in Grandborough, the third had moved away to Leicester - a distance of 86 miles between them. The relative size of their families was reducing by the generation too. The couple who produced the three brothers (Walter, Vincent and George) had ten children and sixty grandchildren. Vincent had seven children and nine grandchildren; George had five children and seven grandchildren, Walter had five children and four grandchildren.

The Photographs

(i) Pooh-Bah: "It is very painful for me to say 'How de do, little girls, how de do?'", played by G.W. Clark in The Mikado, a season at the Royal Opera House, Leicester, by The Leicester Amateur Dramatic Society in 1923. Photograph from George Cook's collection, who also played the lead tenor role, Nanki-Poo. See also [Article L:].
(ii) Cousin Hebe: "I'll not desert you", played by Dorothy Barfield, and (iii) Sir Joseph Porter KCB: "A British sailor is any man's equal excepting mine". , played by J.H. Taylor in H.M.S. Pinafore, a season at the Royal Opera House, Leicester, by The Leicester Amateur Dramatic Society in March 20th to 26th 1922 See also [Article M:].

i."For I hold that on the sea": Song No 9a "Exit for the Ladies" sung by Sir Joseph, Hebe and the Chorus: Act I HMS Pinafore. WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan: 1878
ii. "I'll not desert you": Dialogue between Hebe and Sir Joseph Porter: Act I HMS Pinafore WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan: 1878
iii. "A British sailor is a splendid fellow, Captain Corcoran" Sir Joseph Porter (examining a very small midshipman)Act I HMS Pinafore. WS Gilbert and Arthur Sullivan: 1878

Links to the articles mentioned in the text are in italic capitals below:

Article A: Bigamists and people who married their dead spouse's sibling Unholy wedlock?
Article B: An account of the West End of Leicester with map Concerning the Beadsworth family in Leicester: Part 2
Article C: Featuring George Cook as NankiPooh Too many Cooks ... spoil the brats?
Article D: The Cook siblings and Alec Skelding A Cook's tour of my family
Article E: A large illegitimate brood Mary Ann Crane and her "misbegotten" children
Article F: Older illegitimate pregnancy: 1 Auntie Nellie's story: Nellie Youle Swann (1894 - 1970)
Article G: Older illegitimate pregnancy: 2 Craxford Lane: A Genealogy
Article H: Registering an illegitimate birth The Cottingham Tansleys 2
Article I: A breach of promise case The Cottingham Tansleys 2
Article J: Hertfordshire to Watford What's cooking in Hertfordshire? Cousins All! (Part 2a Vincent)
Article K: Herttfordshire to Kings Langley What's cooking in Hertfordshire? Cousins All! (Part 2b GEORGE)
Article L: Images from George Cook's collection A photograph album of Gilbert and Sullivan Characters: 1922 - 1924
Article M: Images from George Cook's collection A photograph album of "HMS Pinafore": 1922

Further Reading

A Village of Considerable Extent


The book 'The Mountain of Names: A history of the human Family' with introduction by Robin Fox


The book 'Kinship and Marriage: An Anthropological Perspective'


Marriage Law




The Changing Face of Legal Regulation


The book covers

1: "A Village of Considerable Extent" John Murfin & Associates, Riddings 1982 ISBN 0952156504

This small volume written by Pamela Sharpe which originally started life as an 'A' level project contains a wealth of information about the history of the village concentrated within its pages. The quote comes from Chapter 8 "Poor Relief - The Rice Dole". Pamela Sharpe is Adjunct Professor at the Australian Academy of Humanities and has held the post of Professor of History at the University of Tasmania.

2: "The Mountain of Names" Kodansha International 1995 ISBN 1568360711
3: "Kinship & Marriage" Cambridge University Press 1967. ISBN 052127823-6;

We thank Robin Fox for his permission to use the quotation (page 231) from his chapter in Part II, "The Kinship of Mankind" in the book "The Mountain of Names" by Alex Shoumatoff. Robin is an anthropologist, historian and author of many books on kinship systems. His work, "Kinship and Marriage" is recognised as an established classic in the literature of social science. He is Professor of Social Theory at Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA.

4: "Marriage Law for Genealogists: the definitive guide. Revised Second Edition" (2016) Takeway Publishing, Kenilworth, Warwickshire. ISBN 978-0-9931896-2-3.
5. "Divorced, Bigamist, Bereaved? - The family historian's guide to marital breakdown, separation, widowhood and remarriage from 1600 to the 1970s"; Rebecca Probert (2015) Takeaway Publishing, Kenilworth, Warwickshire. ISBN 978-0-9931896-0-9
6. "The Changing Legal Regulation of Cohabitation: From Fornication to Family, 1600-2010" (2012) Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-1-107-53630-2.

Rebecca Probert is Professor of Family Law at the Law School at the University of Exeter. She has written a number of textbooks and books of general interest including the one listed here. It is an indispensable guide for everyone tracing the marriages of their English and Welsh ancestors between 1600 and the twentieth century. It explains why, how, when and where people in past centuries married. Of particular interest to this article is the marriage of John Ball to Rose Hudson in South Normanton in December 1883 when Rose was 15 years of age. Of note is The Registrar General's report for 1894 which notes that only 19 15 year olds married that year. It is perhaps surprising that it remained the law into the twentieth century that girls aged twelve and boys aged fourteen could validly marry. It was not until the Age of Marriage Act 1929 that the minimum age of marriage was raised to sixteen years for both sexes. The second volume is a critical overview of the legal and social aspects of cohabitation and illegitimacy over four centuries. Rebecca had been able to offer help and advice on legal aspects of several issues raised in our pages for which we are always grateful.


1. Photographs of the Church and the clerical staff in 1903: from Fifty Years of Church, Men and Things at St Pauls, Leicester, 1871 - 1921 by John Edward Hextall and Arthur L Brightman, Published by L. Bell & Co, Leicester 1921
2. "Now give three cheers" (or "I am the Monarch of the Sea"): Sir Joseph Porter KCB, Cousin Hebe and chorus: Act 1: 'HMS Pinafore': W.S.Gilbert & Sir Arthur Sullivan (1878)
3. Genealogy: a definition in The Free Merriam-Webster Dictionary An Encyclopaedia Britannica Company

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