With Valentine’s Day this month, love is in the air, and the archives! Our object of the month is a beautiful wedding dress, worn by Emily Clara Brougham when she married Robert Henry Pentleton in Wallington in 1912. From looking at the wedding dress worn by the happy bride, we can see how wedding fashion has changed over time. Following the trends of the early 1900s, it was still important for women to have a natural look, hence Emily’s fresh face and little make up in the photograph. Hair in the 1910s was worn big, curly and pinned so that it could still be seen under the large veils that were commonly worn. Dresses were generally detailed with intricate lace, pearls, and were white- a look that was popularised by Queen Victoria, who is credited for beginning the ‘white wedding’ concept after wearing a white dress during her wedding to Prince Albert. Although one thing that really changed after Victoria’s reign was the absence of gloves; gloves before the 1910’s were very significant in women’s wedding fashion as they were considered a gift of courtship.
The pair were married on July 27th 1912, in the Holy Trinity Church in Wallington, which still stands today. Interestingly, on the certificate, Emily is described as a spinster with no profession, whereas Robert is described as a bachelor and surveyor. The term ‘spinster’, though not a term of outright abuse, was often seen as having some form of stigma attached to it, with the implication that you were not good enough to get a husband. At 28 years old, Emily was 3 years older than Robert when they married- unusual for the early 1900s when women were primarily married to older men. In the early twentieth century, women had a very stereotypical role in British society; if married, they stayed at home to look after the children while their husband worked and provided for the family.
There were two options for marriage in Edwardian England; by marriage or by banns. Emily and Robert were married by Banns, as seen written on the middle right of the certificate. The ‘banns,’ from an Old English word meaning ‘to summon’, were the public announcement in church that a marriage was going to take place between two specified persons. They were required to be published in three consecutive weeks prior to the marriage in the parish in which the groom resided, and also that in which the bride resided. Both bride and groom were advised to reside at least fifteen days in their respective parishes before the banns were announced.
Also found in the archives was the couple’s wedding invitation, which resembles the traditional design that is still used today. Similarly to weddings nowadays, there was a reception after the vowels. However the invite, unlike today, is sent from the parents of the bride, asking their guests to attend their daughter’s wedding. Woman hadn’t yet gained suffrage in England and would still have been seen as the property of their fathers. By the late 1900s, afternoon weddings had become very popular in Edwardian England, with 2:30 pm, the time of Robert and Emily’s wedding, as the most fashionable time, despite the legally recognized time for marriage ceremonies being between 8 am and noon.
The last of our objects is Emily’s deposit book, detailing the finances of the bride, who states her occupation in it as a scholar. Named the Post Office Savings Bank, the book allowed savers to deposit and withdraw small amounts of money at the post office. The scheme was first introduced in 1861; backed by the Exchequer, the money deposited in the Post Officers was used by the Chancellor to offset against public spending. This was a simply way for the government to borrow money and thus the POSB could afford to pay a good rate of interest. The aims of the POSB were to provide a secure place for people to save, backed by the Government, and to provide the Exchequer with a source of funding – public borrowing.
This blog was written and researched by Nonsuch High School for Girls students and Whitehall volunteers, Yasmin and Natasha Truelove. You can see the February Object of the Month and all of the objects discussed here in their accompanying display currently on at Cheam Library(Church Rd, Sutton, SM3 8QH) during regular library opening times.