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Chapter 27. Fleet Marriages John Gaynam. - John Ashton 1888

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But the Act of 1712 failed to stop these illicit marriages, for one John Mottram was tried at Guildhall, before Lord Chief Justice Parker, found guilty, was suspended from his ministerial functions for three years, and was fined L200. Of this case there is an account in the _Weekly Journal_, February 13, 1717.

"John Mottram, Clerk, was tryed for solemnizing clandestine and unlawful marriages in the Fleet Prison, and of keeping fraudulent Registers, whereby it appear'd that he had dated several marriages several years before he enter'd into orders, and that he kept no less than nine several Registers at different houses, which contained many scandalous frauds. It also appeared, that a marriage was antedated because of pregnancy; and, to impose on the ignorant, there was written underneath this scrap of barbarous Latin, "Hi non nupti fuerunt, sed obtinerunt Testimonium propter timorem parentum," meaning that they were not marryed, but obtained this private Register for fear of their parents. It rather appeared from evidence, that these sham marriages were solemnized in a room in the Fleet they call the Lord Mayor's Chappel, which was furnished with chairs, cushions, and proper conveniences, and that a coal heaver was generally set to ply at the door to recommend all couples that had a mind to be marry'd, to the Prisoner, who would do it cheaper than any body. It further appear'd that one of the Registers only, contained above 2,200 entrys which had been made within the last year."

Pennant, writing at the end of the last century, gives us his personal reminiscences of Fleet Parsons ("Some Account of London," 3rd ed., 1793, p. 232),

"In walking along the street, in my youth, on the side next to the prison, I have often been tempted by the question, _Sir, will you be pleased to walk in and be married?_ Along this most lawless space was hung up the frequent sign of a male and female hand conjoined, with, _Marriages performed within_, written beneath. A dirty fellow invited you in. The parson was seen walking before his shop; a squalid profligate figure, clad in a tattered plaid night gown, with a fiery face, and ready to couple you for a dram of gin, or roll of tobacco."

Burn gives a list of Fleet Parsons, first of whom comes John Gaynam, who married from about 1709 to 1740. He rejoiced in a peculiar soubriquet, as will be seen by the following. In the trial of Ruth Woodward for bigamy, in 1737, he is alluded to by a witness:--

"_John Hall._ I saw her married at the Fleet to Robert Holmes; 'twas at the Hand and Pen, a barber's shop.

"_Counsel._ And is it not a wedding shop too?

"_Hall._ Yes, I don't know the parson's name, but 'twas a man that once belonged to Creed Church, a very, lusty, jolly man.

"_Counsel._ Because there's a complaint lodged in a proper court, against a Fleet Parson, whom they call The Bishop of Hell."

Some verses, however, absolutely settle the title upon Gaynam.


A Tale,


Some errant Wags, as stories tell, Assert the gloomy prince of Hell In th' infernal Region has His Officers of all degrees, Whose business is to propagate On Earth, the interests of his State, Ecclesiastics too are thought To be subservient to him brought; And, as their zeal his service prize, He never fails to make them rise As Dignitaries in his Church, But often leaves them in the lurch; For, if their Fear surmount their Zeal, (They) quickly his resentment feel; (Are) sure to meet with dire disgrace, (And) warmer Zealots fill their place. (To) make these Vacancies repleat, He borrows P----ns from the Fleet, Long has old G----m with applause Obeyed his Master's cursed Laws, Readily practis'd every Vice, And equall'd e'en the Devil for device. His faithful Services such favour gain'd That he, first B----p was of H--l ordain'd. Dan. W----e (rose) next in Degree, And he obtained the Deanery. Ned Ash----ll then came into grace, And he supplied th' Archdeacon's place, But, as the Devil when his ends Are served, he leaves his truest friends; So fared it with this wretched three, Who lost their Lives and Dignity."

There is mention of Gaynam in two trials for bigamy--first in chronological order coming that of Robert Hussey.

"_Dr. Gainham._ The 9th of September, 1733, I married a couple at the Rainbow Coffee House, the corner of Fleet Ditch, and entered the marriage in my register, as fair a register as any Church in England can produce. I showed it last night to the foreman of the jury, and my Lord Mayor's Clerk, at the London Punch House.

"_Counsel._ Are you not ashamed to come and own a clandestine marriage in the face of a Court of Justice?

"_Dr. Gainham_ (bowing). _Video meliora, deteriora sequor._

"_Counsel._ You are on your oath, I ask you whether you never enter marriages in that book, when there is no marriage at all?

"_Dr. Gainham._ I never did in my life. I page my book so, that it cannot be altered."

The other case is from the trial of Edmund Dangerfield in 1736.

"_Dr. Gainham._ I don't know the prisoner. I did marry a man and woman of these names. Here, this is a true register: _Edwd Dangerfield of St. Mary Newington Butts, Batchelor, to Arabella Fast_. When I marry at any house, I always set it down, for I carry one of the books in my pocket, and when I go home I put it in my great book.

"_Court._ Do you never make any alteration?

"_Gainham._ Never, my Lord. These two were married at Mrs. Ball's, at the Hand and Pen, by the Fleet Prison, and my name is to her book.

"_Counsel._ 'Tis strange you should not remember the prisoner.

"_Gainham._ Can I remember persons? I have married 2000 since that time."

We have heard of Alley, who married from 1681 to 1707; of Elborrow, 1698 to 1702; and of Mottram, who flourished between 1709 and 1725.

Of Daniel Wigmore, the Dean of the previous poem, we know little except that he married between 1723 and 1754. The _Daily Post_ of May 26, 1738, says of him, "Yesterday Daniel Wigmore, one of the parsons noted for marrying people within the Rules of the Fleet, was convicted before the Right Honourable the Lord Mayor, of selling spirituous liquors contrary to law."

The third dignitary, Edward Ashwell, the Archdeacon, was notorious, and some of his misdeeds are recounted in a letter from Wm. Hodgson, to his brother, a Clergyman. (Lansdowne MSS., 841, fol. 123).

_June_ 21, 1725.

"REVEREND SIR,--There was lately, at Southam, in Warwickshire, one Edward Ashwell, who, in my absence, got possession of our School, and preach'd in Several Churches in this Neighbourhood. I take the Liberty to Inform you, Since I hear he is at Kettering, that he is A Most Notorious Rogue and Impostor. I have now certificates on my hand, of his having two wives alive at this present time, and he was very Near Marrying the third, in this Town, but the fear of a prosecution upon the Discovery of the flaming and Scandalous Immoralities of his life, forc'd him away from us. In a short time Afterwards, in a Village not far from us, he attempted to Ravish a Woman, but was prevented by a Soldier then in the house. I Can assure you he is in no Orders, tho' the Audacious Villain preaches when he Can get a pulpit. I have a whole packet of Letters by Me, all tending to the Same Character, which I think Exceeds, for variety of all Manner of Inormous practices, what Can be Charg'd upon the very Scum of Mankind. The Accounts are from persons of integrity and known Reputation.

"I prevented him preaching one Day at Brawnstin, Mr. Somes's parish. It would be A very kind and Christian Office to give some information among the Clergy, that they may not be Impos'd upon by him, particularly to Mr. Heyrick, for I Married Mr. Allicock's sister of Loddington. I know you will pardon this trouble if the fellow be amongst you.

"I am, your affectionate Brother,


We hear occasionally of this "professional beauty" in the Registers, and give two or three examples:--

"June 21st, 1740. John Jones of Eaton Sutton in Bedfordshire, and Mary Steward of the same, came to Wood's in Fleet Lane about six o'clock in the morning. Mr. Ashwell and self had been down the Market. Wood called him, and I went with him there, found the said man and woman, offer'd Mr. Ashwell 3 shilling to marry him; he would not, so he swore very much, and would have knocked him down, but for me. was not married. took this memorandum that they might not Pretend afterwards they was married, and not Register'd."

"July 15 (1744). Came a man and wooman to the Green Canister, he was an Irishman and Taylor to bee married. Gave Mr. Ashwell 2: 6. but would have 5s., went away, and abused Mr. Ashwell very much, told him he was a Thief, and I was worse. Took this account because should not say they was married, and not Registered. N.B. The Fellow said Mr. Warren was his relation."

It was the custom for these Fleet Parsons to carry with them pocket books, in which were roughly entered the names of the Married Couple, and, occasionally, if they wished their names to be kept secret, and paid, of course, a proportionate fee, their full names were not transcribed into the larger Register, as the following shows:--

"September y^e 11th, 1745. Edwd. ---- and Elizabeth ---- were married, and would not let me know their names, y^e man said he was a weaver, and liv'd in Bandy leg walk in the Borough.

Pr. E. Ashwell."

He was so famous that he was honoured with an obituary notice in the press, _vide_ the _General Advertiser_, Jan. 15, 1746.

"On Monday last, died, in the Rules of the Fleet, Doctor Ashwell, the most noted operator in Marriages since the death of the never-to-be-forgotten Dr. Gaynam."

John Floud, or Flood, did a good business from the time of Queen Anne, 1709, to Dec. 31, 1729, when he died within the Rules of the Fleet. He was a very queer Character, keeping a mistress who played jackall to his lion, and touted for couples to be married. He died suddenly whilst celebrating a wedding. Yet even he seems to have had some compunction as to his course of life, like Walter Wyatt: for, in one of his pocket books is the following verse.

"I have Liv'd so long I am weary Living, I wish I was dead, and my sins forgiven: Then I am sure to go to heaven, Although I liv'd at sixes and sevens."

John Floud had a peculiarity; if ever he wanted to make memoranda, which were not convenient to introduce into his ordinary Register he partially used the Greek character, as being "Caviar to the general," thus:

"13 Jan. 1728. [Greek: marr]: [Greek: t]h[Greek: ree s]h[Greek: illings] & [Greek: one] [Greek: d]^o [Greek: cherti]_f_[Greek: ichate]. Th[Greek: e] [Greek: bridegroom] w[Greek: as t]h[Greek: e brot]h[Greek: er] o_f_ [Greek: t]h[Greek: e memorable] J[Greek: onat]h[Greek: an] W[Greek: ild] E[Greek: chechuted at] Ty[Greek: burn]."

Marr.: three shillings and one ditto Certificate. The bridegroom was the brother of the memorable Jonathan Wild, Executed at Tyburn.

"8 Mar. 1728. [Greek: Not]h[Greek: ing but a note o]_f_ h[Greek: and] _f_[Greek: or t]h[Greek: is marriage] wh[Greek: ich]h [Greek: neuer] w[Greek: as phaid]."

Nothing but a note of hand for this marriage, which never was paid.

"27 August, 1728. [Greek: marriage t]h[Greek: irteen s]h[Greek: illings] & [Greek: one] & [Greek: sichphenche cherti]_f_[Greek: ichate. t]h[Greek: e] w[Greek: oman not charing to be married in t]h[Greek: e phleet] I h[Greek: ad t]h[Greek: em married at mr bro]w[Greek: ns at mr] H[Greek: arrisons in pheidgeone chourt in t]h[Greek: e Old Baile]y [Greek: at] _f_[Greek: our achlochch in t]h[Greek: e morning]."

Marriage thirteen shillings, and one and sixpence Certificate. The woman not caring to be married in the Fleet, I had them married at Mr. Brown's, at Mr. Harrison's in Pidgeone Court, in the Old Bailey at four a'clock in the morning.

"12 Aug. 1729. [Greek: phd] _f_[Greek: iue s]h[Greek: illings pher total]. N.B. Th[Greek: e] 28th o_f_ [Greek: Aphril 1736 mrs bell chame and Earnestl]y [Greek: intreated me to Erase T]h[Greek: e marriage out o]_f_ [Greek: t]h[Greek: e booch] for [Greek: t]h[Greek: at] h[Greek: er] h[Greek: usband] h[Greek: ad beat and abused] h[Greek: er in a barbarous manner].... [Greek: I made] h[Greek: er beleiue I did so,] _f_[Greek: or] wh[Greek: ich]h I h[Greek: ad] h[Greek: al]_f_ [Greek: a guinea, and s]h[Greek: e same time deliuered me uph] h[Greek: er cherti]_f_[Greek: ichate. No pherson phresent (Achchording to] h[Greek: er desire])."

Paid five shillings per total. N.B.--The 28th of April, 1736, Mrs. Bell came and earnestly intreated me to erase the Marriage out of the book, for that her husband had beat and abused her in a barbarous manner.... I made her believe I did so, for which I had half a guinea, and she, at the same time, delivered me up her certificate. No person present (according to her desire).

Perhaps, next to Dr. Gaynam, the bishop, no one did more business in Fleet Marriages than Walter Wyatt. We have already read some of his moral apothegms. He made a large income out of his Marriages, and, looking at the value of money, which was at least three times that of the present time, his profession was highly lucrative. Take one Month for instance. October, 1748--

Oct. y^e 1 at home 2 11 6 abroad nil. 2 " 5 13 6 " 11 6 3 " 2 15 6 " 16 0 4 " 12 3 " 10 0 5 " 1 5 6 " nil. 6 " 10 6 " 1 4 6 7 " 1 8 6 " nil. -------------------- Total... 17 19 3 From 8th to 15th " ... 17 6 6 " 15th " 21st " ... 10 0 6 " 21st " 27th " ... 6 17 0 " 28th " 31st " ... 5 9 6 ---------- L57 12 9 ==========

Or nearly L700 a year--equal to about L2,500 of our Currency. No wonder then, that when he died, March 13, 1750, he left a will behind him, which was duly proved; and by it he left his children in ward to his brother, and different legacies to his family--to his married daughter Mary, he bequeathed five pounds, and his estate at Oxford.

He describes himself, on the cover of one of the Registers, as "Mr. Wyatt, Minister of the Fleet, is removed from the Two Sawyers, the Corner of Fleet Lane (with all the Register Books), to the Hand and Pen near Holborn Bridge, where Marriages are solemnized without imposition." But there seem to have been other establishments which traded on Wyatt's sign, probably because he was so prosperous. Joshua Lilley kept the Hand and Pen near Fleet Bridge. Matthias Wilson's house of the same sign stood on the bank of the Fleet ditch; John Burnford had a similar name for his house at the foot of Ludgate Hill, and Mrs. Balls also had an establishment with the same title.

He seems to have attempted to invade Parson Keith's _peculiar_ in May Fair, or it may only be an Advertising ruse on the part of that exceedingly keen practitioner, in order to bring his name prominently before the public. At all events there is an Advertisement dated August 27, 1748. "The Fleet Parson (who very modestly calls himself Reverend), married at the Fleet, in Mr. L----yl's house, Mrs. C----k's, at the Naked Boy, and for Mr. W----yt, the Fleet Parson. And to shew that he is now only for Mr. W----yt, the Fleet Parson's deputy, the said W----yt told one in May Fair, that he intended to set up in opposition to Mr. Keith, and send goods to furnish the house, and maintains him and the men who ply some days at the Fleet, and at other times at May Fair. But not to speak of the men, if he himself was not a Fleet Parson, he could never stand in Piccadilly, and run after Coaches and foot people in so shameful a manner, and tell them Mr. Keith's house is shut up, and there is no Chapel but theirs; and to other people he says, their Fleet Chapel is Mr. Keith's Chapel, and this he hath said in the hearing of Mr. Keith's clerk, and it is known to most of the people about May Fair, and likewise Mr. Keith appeals to the generality of people about the Fleet and May Fair, for proof of Mr. Reverend's being only W----yts, the Fleet parson's deputy."