Mr Smiles and I celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary this month. We have a tradition of staying the night back at the Baytree Hotel where we got married. We take our wedding photo album with us and fondly look back on a wonderful day. I am a sentimental soul and love social history so I have been researching the wedding days of my direct ancestors. I am starting with my great Grandparents’ wedding in the late Edwardian Period. Watch out for other Blog posts from other Eras!
Ethel Spice and Henry Berry – 7 June 1913
Ethel and Henry were my Great Grandparents. Ethel Spice was born in the rural village of Bapchild, Kent in 1884. Her father George Spice was a gardener at Hempstead House and together with her mother Maria they lived in one of the cottages near Hempstead House. The family moved to Lower Clapton, Hackney in the 1890s. I presume they moved to Hackney as George found new work with the florist and garden contractor Owen C. Greenwood of 27 Upper Clapton Road, Hackney, London. It is likely that George started work at the Pond Lane nursery on Millfields Road.
Henry Berry was born in the Lea Bridge area of Hackney in 1884. His father Walter Harris Berry had been a ropemaker in Brixham, Devon. Walter had married Henry’s mother Louisa Rundle in Devonport, Devon. In the late 1860’s Walter and Louisa moved to Hackney. Again it is likely that Walter came to London to take up a job as an engine driver for the East London Water Board. Henry was brought up by his father and older sisters as his mother died of breast cancer when he was 12 years old.
Ethel and Henry were married on the 7 June 1913 at St James the Great Church, Lower Clapton. The church is still there in the heart of Clapton today, although now surrounded by tower blocks.
I don’t have photos of their wedding so I have had to do a bit of detective work about their wedding day.
Both Ethel and Henry were living in Lower Clapton at the time of their marriage. Henry was living in Millfields Road and Ethel had been living in Rushmore Road and then High Road. Clapton has been completely transformed over the last century. The 1913 Ordnance Survey Map shows that Millfields Road had been built on the extensive open fields of the Millfields Recreation Ground. The last vestiges of the area’s agricultural past were vanishing and making way for Edwardian suburbs. However Booth’s Poverty map of 1898 shows that the areas that Henry and Ethel were living in had a comfortable standard of living and some were classed as middle class and well to do.
Edwardian Wedding Transport
What I do know is Ethel arrived for her wedding ceremony in a hired `Brougham and Pair‘ as I have the original receipt. In today’s terms the transport cost would have been about £135. This was actually similar to my Wedding Car cost! A brougham is a closed four-wheeled carriage with an open driver’s seat in front. Ethel’s carriage was pulled by a pair of horses. This is an example of the kind of wedding transport Ethel’s father George paid for.
This old postcard shows the Lower Clapton Road in 1910. It’s interesting that there are quite a few horse-drawn carriages on the road. The view includes St James the Great Church on the left and Clapton Pond is on the right.
I don’t have details of the guests at the wedding, but I imagine it was a fairly large family affair as Henry had 9 siblings and Ethel had a brother and 3 sisters. In later years they were known for large family outings to the coast and pic-nics in Epping Forest. Ethel’s friend Beatrice Hungate was bridesmaid and a witness at the wedding. Beatrice lived fairly close by in Stoke Newington and in the 1911 cenus is listed as working in shirt manufacturing. Ethel is listed as a shirt finisher in 1901 and a shirt examiner in 1911. I am surmising that Ethel met Beatrice at work in the shirt manufacturing business and became close friends. Christopher Howland is listed as a Shirt Manufacturer in 1913 on the Lower Clapton Road next to the Asylum for the Deaf and Dumb.
Edwardian Engagement Ring
I am the proud owner of my Great Grandma Ethel Spice’s engagement ring which I cherish and wear regularly. My grandma gave me her ring for my 18th birthday. Here is a portion of a photo taken with Ethel wearing her ring in 1915.
The Chester hallmarks show the 18 carat gold engagement ring was manufactured by Henry Williamson Ltd between 1911-1912.
Ethel’s beautiful ring is a 5 stone diamond claw set half hoop ring. I am not an expert on antique jewellery. However from what I have read the half hoop ring in which half the circumference of the piece is set with stone is typical of the Victorian period. Running from 1901 to about 1920, the Edwardian era is perhaps best known for extensive use of filigree techniques. Scrollwork in the mountings became popular. Ethel’s engagement ring seems therefore to be a typical design of the Early Edwardian period. Victorian in style with fancy Edwardian scrollwork. I do enjoy wearing Ethel’s ring as it connects me with my family history!
I have no photographs of Ethel’s wedding dress. In the 19th century not all wedding gowns were white. Because many brides could not afford to invest in an impractical dress that could only be worn once, a dress in a pleasing colour was chosen which would then become a new `best dress’. Brides adapted their bridal wear by adding floral springs to their hair, especially orange blossoms. The White wedding dress and orange blossoms were popularized when Queen Victoria married Prince Albert in 1840. Wedding gowns reflected the latest fashions of the era. Wedding Photos give a clue to the date by the silhouette, sleeve style, neck line etc. However many brides of the 19th and 20th centuries chose to wear their mother’s wedding gown so this can get confusing when dating old photographs! Vintage Wedding gowns tend to be four or five years behind the latest fashion.
Throughout the Edwardian Period there were a lot of changes in women’s wear. Early 1900s styles were dramatically different from their 1919 counterparts. A Bride of the 1900s era may have been a vision in lace in an Edwardian style. She would have a corseted bodice and romantic ruffles, a tiny waist encircled with a satin ribbon above a lavish skirt, perhaps carrying a parasol as an accent. This era also offers brides a Gibson Girl look for hairstyles, soft and upswept.
The Gibson Girl began appearing in the 1890s and was the feminine ideal of beauty portrayed by the satirical pen-and-ink illustrations of illustrator Charles Dana Gibson during a 20-year period that spanned the late nineteenth and early twentieth century in the United States. The artist saw his creation as representing the composite of “thousands of American girls.”
A mid-decade bride would wear “cutting edge” fashions of the day from Paris, a neo-Empire style. Late decade styles simplified dresses and brought about a slimmer silhouette, with less fabric in the skirts, foreshadowing the changes yet to be seen in the 1920s. Do check out my board on Pinterest `The History of Wedding Fashion’ where I have gathered lots of images from different decades including the Edwardian Era.
Flowers and wreaths were worn at weddings as far back as the ancient Greeks. They believed that the floral scents would ward off evil spirits. The practice of wearing flowers continued throughout history with the belief of safety from spirits as well as repelling infectious diseases. Usually these bouquets were made from very pungent herbs, spices and even garlic! Another reason that brides carried bouquets was born out of the ‘necessity’ of covering odor, trying to smell pretty on their special day. In the 1600′s and for a very long time afterwards, people bathed extremely infrequently. According to the Huffington Post, during the 15th century, people took their yearly baths in May and would generally get married in June. Just to be safe, brides carried bouquets to mask the smell of body odor. In ancient times, a bride was considered especially lucky on her wedding day. So guests tore off parts of her dress to obtain a good luck talisman for themselves! Not all brides cared for this activity, as it wasn’t very pleasant to have your clothing ripped bit by bit, compliments of the guests. So it evolved, that the bride outsmarted her guests by giving an offering of herself; enabling a guest to obtain a lucky talisman and allowing herself to keep her clothing intact: she starting throwing her garter and bouquet in lieu of pieces of her dress.
I am sure that Ethel would have carried a Bridal Bouquet. Bouquets of the Edwardian Era were large and trailing. They often had yard long trailing greenery of maidenhair fern. Edwardian bouquets were traditionally wired posies with a small collection of flowers. The maidenhair fern usually acted as the filler foliage. To echo this in your bouquet use traditional English Garden favourites, Roses, Spray Roses, Sweet Williams, Carnations and Gypsophila… Ethel’s dad George Spice was a gardener and worked in the market gardening and floristry trade. My Grandma remembered the Greenwood’s florist shop in Upper Clapton Road where she used to visit her Grandad George at work. It was a large shop with an enormous fountain in the middle which she thought was amazing.
I can imagine that Greenwoods did Ethel proud supplying the flowers for her wedding in 1913. This picture from Lovedaylemon on Flickr gives an idea as to what the flowers would have looked like in Edwardian England. Apart from the bride’s bouquet Edwardian ladies often wore elaborate corsages. A corsage originally referred to the bodice of a woman’s dress. Since a bouquet of flowers was often worn in the center of the bodice, the flowers took on the name “corsage.” Our modern sense of the corsage comes from the French “bouquet de corsage,” meaning “a bouquet of the bodice.” Corsages are made from a small bunch of flowers or a single bloom. The corsage was originally worn at the waist or the bodice of a dress. Later, it became common to pin flowers to the shoulder or on a handbag. Although the placement of the flowers might have changed, the name stuck and is still used to refer to any small bouquet of flowers worn on the body. In weddings a corsage identifies members of the wedding party. The mothers’ and grandmothers’ corsages are usually different and more elaborate amongst the guests at the wedding party.
In this Edwardian image the ladies have elaborate corsages pinned to the front of their dresses.
George Spice always took pride in his appearance and even when retired wore a flower in his buttonhole. I am sure he looked very dapper at his daughter’s wedding.
Edwardian Society expected all guests to provide a wedding present. If the engagement was not going to be long, guests sent presents as soon as the engagement was announced. The bride’s family then exhibited the gifts the day before the wedding at an afternoon tea. They displayed the gifts on linen or velvet-covered tables, choosing dark cloth for silver plate. People of “aristocratic tastes” surrounded the presents with flowers, especially roses. Every present bore the giver’s card and name so present giving could become quite competitive. These days wrapped presents tend to be displayed on a table at the wedding.
I love the conversation between Violet, The Dowager Countess and Lady Edith Crawley in Downton Abbey where Lady Edith is arranging the Wedding Presents for her elder sister Mary:-
The Dowager Countess : ` Your turn will come.’
Lady Edith: `Am I to be the maiden aunt? Isn’t this what they do? Arrange presents for their prettier relations?’
The Dowager Countess: `Don’t be defeatist dear, it’s terribly middle class.’
I have to make a guess at the presents Ethel and Henry would have received. Not as grand and expensive as Lady Mary! However Ethel’s brother-in- law George Read worked for a towel manufacturer in 1911. It is highly likely therefore that they received towels from Ethel’s sister Kate and her husband George. My grandma received towels from George as a wedding gift in 1936. At this time George was working for Christy, the towel manufacturing business. Christy Ltd is a long-established manufacturer of household linens and is known as the inventor of the first industrially produced looped cotton towel.
What I do know is that Ethel had a very lovely tea set which was still in use when I was growing up. All that remains now is a beautiful jug which I treasure.
Ethel’s tea-set was made by Samuel Radford Ltd.The jug can be dated to around 1913 from the Maker’s Mark printed on the bottom. I therefore presume the tea-set was a wedding gift. The jug is made of a beautiful white porcelain with pretty pink roses and pale sage green swag decoration. The handle was edged in gold but has been care worn over the last 100 years. I’m sure if Ethel’s jug could tell her history it would be a fascinating story. What I find interesting is that the design is called `Milton’. Bapchild, where Ethel grew up, was in the district of Milton, Kent. I am guessing that a family member such as her Aunt Eliza, gave this gift to Ethel with fond memories of Ethel’s childhood in Bapchild.
I hope you have enjoyed my thoughts on Weddings from the Edwardian Era based round my Great Grandparents Wedding. Look out for my Grandparents 1930s wedding next!