Methodist Marriages and Sticklepath

With grateful thanks to Anthony Marr (@ChalfontR) and Rebecca Probert (@ProfProbert), gurus on marriage registration and law, from whom I have learnt most of this. I strongly recommend attending their lectures and reading Prof Probert’s books given a chance. Pharos also run helpful courses eg regards non-conformity

(The photo above is the wedding of Fred Taylor and Nell Bowden 1913, note it includes the minister, and next to him the only photo I have of Emanuel Bowden my great grandfather. )

1920 Ralph Finch married “Lynette” (Violet Maude Lucy Shaw)

Many of us are aware of changes in the marriage laws which have taken place in our own lifetime – it is only since 1994 that a wide variety of wedding venues could be licensed. In 2005 Civil Partnerships became legal, followed in 2014 by Same Sex Marriages.  Most recently, in 2021 there were changes to the information on the marriage certificate, including the mothers’ names for example and changes to the system of recording.  Additionally certificates are now printed, unlike the handwritten copies our parents and ancestors received.

Look at all the details on this certificate.

Understanding some of the history can help us make the most of marriage records, understand and take note of all the details, and help us understand our ancestors marriage experience.  Historically in England the Church governed marriage through ‘Canon law’ from 1700 until parliament stepped in with Hardwicke’s Marriage Act 1753.  This stated that, with the exception of Jews and Quakers, marriages had to be within the Church of England, in the parish of residence.  (The Clandestine Marriages Act 1753 etc etc are beyond this brief summary). 

All family historians are aware that civil registration became a legal requirement for marriages from 1 July 1837. The 1836 Act also stated who could marry a couple, and that marriages could be outside the Anglican Church, but had to be in ‘a registered place of worship’.  To apply to be registered, dissenting churches had to worship in ‘a separate building’, and needed 20 householders to state this was their regular place of worship.

Ideally a couple would be married in their usual place of worship.  If that was not registered they could get married in a different church in the same district (from 1840 it could be a different district but was then required to be the usual place of worship of the couple). Alternatively a registered church of a different denomination could be used. So you could, for example, find baptists being married in a Methodist chapel or vice versa. 

Marriages were only allowed between 8am and 12 noon, which is why some registers state the time. A minister was not legally required, but the presence of a Registrar was.  

The marriage register, held by the local Registration Office, had to be completed in special non-fading Registrar’s blue/black ink, and a copy sent to the General Register Office. A copy of the entry was given to the couple and that is what we think of as the marriage certificate. 

Tom Hill and Elsie May Bowden 1923

For a marriage to be valid the couple had to both be of age, or have parents consent and be above the minimum age. They each had to freely consent to the marriage.  They should not already be married to each other or anyone else, and should not be too closely related (e.g. siblings).  Notice was to be given, banns read or a licence purchased.

The initial declaratory vow the bride and groom make during the wedding ceremony states that they fulfil these criteria “I know of no lawful impediment why I (name) may not be joined in matrimony to (name)”. 

The second vow is the contract – “I take thee to be my lawful wedded husband or wife”, which must be formally witnessed by at least 2 people.  These witnesses may have been members of the church, perhaps strangers at times, but often were relatives of those getting married, so genealogists ignore the witness names at their peril.  The Minister or even the registrar may also have been well known to our ancestors, as many people’s social life centred around their church or chapel. 

So, after lengthy discussion and numerous re-wordings of the Act, when parliament did finally agreed to legalise non-conformist marriages, we might expect to find the Methodists rushing to register their chapels so they could perform their own marriage ceremonies.  But this did not happen. By 1851 only about 1 in 20 was registered. Why? Methodism’s founders including John Wesley (1703-1791), did not see themselves as a dissenting group, they were within the Anglican Church.  By 1837 Methodism had broken away, but perhaps still did not really consider themselves to be true dissenters. They did not have any specific theological differences regards marriage, so had not actively campaigned for the law to be changed, unlike other dissenting groups. Whatever the reason, the Methodist Conference (the hierarchy) was happy for marriages to continue to take place in the Anglican Church.  

Couples also had the option of a Registry Office wedding, and for the first two decades religious statements were allowed in those ceremonies, unlike today. 

The “First Annual Report of the Registrar-General on Births, Deaths, and Marriages in England, in 1837-8″ published in the Journal of the Statistical Society of London tells us that 11,481 marriages were registered in that first year (1st July 1837 – 30th June 1838) and gives an idea of the proportions of marriages in different places.

(Jul., 1839, Vol. 2, No. 4, pp. 269-274, published online by Wiley for the Royal Statistical Society Stable URL:

107,201 Anglican marriages

    4,280 Other marriages, of which:

    2,976 in a Registered Place of Worship

    1,093 in the Office of a Superintendent Registrar

        76 were Quaker ceremonies

      135 were Jewish ceremonies.


The Anglican marriages are further subdivided:

9 by Special License

13,677 by License

68,410 by Banns

493 by Certificate from a Superintendent Registrar

(24,612 not stated)


The initial annual report (accessed ) only included 82 Methodist registered places of worship out of 1,257 registered buildings, although Methodists were about 50% of dissenters by that time.  

However, it was clear Methodist ministers did not have the same status or authority as Anglicans, and perhaps it was this that meant Methodists did become involved in subsequent campaigns to change the law. From 1898 non-conformist churches could apply to have their own “Authorised Person” to carry out marriage registration, so a registrar no longer needed to attend.  Unfortunately the law’s division into registration districts that meant each Methodist Minister, to be an authorised person in the churches across their area, would have had to become an “Authorised Person” with each registration district their circuit covered.

Sticklepath Wesleyan Methodist Chapel

Sticklepath Wesleyan Methodist Chapel registered in 1839, not among those first 82, but ahead of most.   When a place of worship was registered this was gazetted, published in The London Gazette, which can be freely searched online.

The London Gazette 26 February 1839. Issue:19710 Page:398

Notice is hereby given, that a separate building, named the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, situated at Sticklepath, in the parish of Sampford Courtenay, in the county of Devon, in the district of Okehampton, being a building certified according to law as a place of religious worship, was, on the 18th day of February 1839, duly registered for solemnizing marriages therein, pursuant to the act of 6th and 7th William 4, Chap 85. Witness my hand this 20th day of February 1839, Henry Hawkes, Superintendent Registrar.

The Chapel’s Register was duly started by the same Henry Hawkes 

(yes there are those who think this was the Harry Hawkes who went to Widecombe Fair… along with Tom Pearse who we will find on the next page…)

Scan of original document held by South West Heritage Trust Devon Archive in Exeter Ref 1812D/2/1 (extract) scanned 2021

The first marriage is documented on 9th July 1839, between Richard Jessop, ironmonger, and Elizabeth Malins, a spinster, both of Okehampton.  The service was led by Rev. James Stote and the Registrar in attendance was Henry Newton.  

Marriage Register of Sticklepath Wesleyan Chapel original held at South West Heritage Trust, Exeter Archive Ref 1812D/2/1 (extract) scanned 2021

 The Marriage was announced with no fuss in the Western Times on Saturday 13th July, just mentioning it was “in the presence of Mr Newton the Registrar and other respectable persons of the neighbourhood”.   

I note the first witness was Thomas Pearse, a woolen mill and serge factory owner in Sticklepath who by 1848 was himself a Registrar.  He perhaps wanted to relieve the burden on Henry Newton, and would have enjoyed an excuse to visit chapels around the circuit.

Look carefully at any marriage certificate and related register entries to understand exactly when (in relation to marriage laws) and where the couple were married and question why there.  This couple came from Okehampton, presumably because no Methodist Chapel was registered there at the time. This Chapel register does not include father’s names or occupations, but some have extra information or notes in the margin. For non-conformist weddings always check the wording on the certificate of the type of ceremony, where it took place and the name of the registrar or authorised person who made the ceremony legal.  Make a note of the witnesses and consider how they may have been chosen.  Glancing through the Chapel register you may see the names repeated if they were church members that were chosen, or repeated names may suggest links between family members.

Henry Newton attended all 26 weddings in Sticklepath from July 1839 – July 1848, and more after that too. An average of 3 weddings per year in the chapel.

Look again at all the details on this certificate.

13th May 1898 would be before there was an ‘Authorised person’ who could conduct marriages. So we can see Seth Harry Registrar was present. Thomas Trethewey conducted the service but was not a legally necessary person. He lived in Sticklepath with his daughters who ran a dame school and would have been very well known to Albany and Georgina who both attended Sticklepath Chapel regularly (when Albany, a local preacher was not preaching elsewhere).

Did you spot that they were married in Sticklepath Wesleyan chapel according to the rites and ceremonies of the Wesleyan Methodists, by certificate. Sticklepath, Sampford Courtenay (parish) and registration district Okehampton. The witnesses are siblings of the bride. This document is actually a later copy, written out 8th October 1898, by Deputy Superintendent Registrar S Hawkin, certified to be a true copy of the entry in the Register Book of Marriages. I wonder why they wanted a copy then?

There is much more history to learn, for example, there was also a time when divorced Anglicans got re-married in non-conformist chapels, but perhaps we’ll leave that for another day.

Helen Bowden (soon to be Shields!) and Roger Bowden

How did your bride get to church? This one walked through Sticklepath in July 1986, while a policeman parted the heavy tourist traffic on its way to Cornwall to allow her across the road!

Signing the Register in Sticklepath Wesleyan Chapel 1986, this is the entrance between chapel and the Sunday school room.

Questions arising – When did taking a photograph of signing the register become a thing?

Sticklepath Chapel is now closed. Who were the last couple to get married there? and when?

2 ministers seems a little greedy! Rev Ian Young was the circuit minster, friend of the bride’s parents. The younger Rev Paul Martin a friend of the bride and groom.

Any questions, comments, notes of inaccuracies, or answers will be welcomed!

An Enumerator and a List of Houses – 1939 Register

As family historians we usually think of the census records and 1939 England and Wales Register as lists of people. However, several censuses and the 1939 register also give us a list of farms and houses – very useful for One-Place Studies and indeed house histories. The 1939 register is an unusual source in that changes have been made at a later date, usually to show a married name, as it was a working document for National Health Service registration. The enumerators varied in their knowledge of the local area and accuracy, so it can be useful to know a little more about them. Accuracy in terms of coverage can be considered by comparing the registers across the years and trying to explain any discrepancies.

1939 Register image accessed July 2022

Sticklepath in 1939 was part of 3 Parishes, this focuses on the Sampford Courtenay enumerator district. The man in charge on 5th October was Ralph Finch (1891-1979).

Ralph the middle of 3 sons to James and Ellen Finch, had two older sisters. Photo c1905 by Lugg & sons of Okehampton.

He was born and brought up in the village, spent most of his life here, and was the last ‘Finch’ to work at the Finch Foundry.

Finch Foundry Workers, Ralph with hand on hip, 4th from the left.

Ralph was the sort of person who was called upon to be the Presiding Officer in the Polling station for Parliamentary Elections too. Here seen in Sticklepath School polling station alongside the younger Roger Bowden his first cousin once removed.

Polling station at Sticklepath County Primary School 1950s or 60s? Who is casting their vote? (Do let me know!)

There were some new residents at the time of the 1939 Register, evacuees, and I think Ralph, who always had a twinkle in his eye and a kind word, will have used the opportunity to say hello and ask both the children and their host families how things were going. With so many families to visit in one day I don’t think he will have accepted many cups of tea on his was around though!

Ralph with Lynette (Violet) his first wife. ‘Tea’ in the 1960’s always included a saucer with the bone china cup and a teaspoon each with lumps (cubes)of sugar. Thinly sliced bread and butter too. I associate this gold hostess trolley with Auntie Lynette.

Whilst there are redactions in the 1939 register for people who may still be living, most heads of households in 1939 would be over 100 today, so it is likely the vast majority of house names will not be redacted. The Schedule helpfully numbers the houses and subjects (people) within so it is clear if a house is fully redacted or not legible. Note may have less redactions than

Example from Sticklepath village 1939 Register accessed via July 2022

Some houses have changed name (or numbering in areas elsewhere), and quite a few small houses have been incorporated into larger ones either with extensions, or two or more houses later made into one. Several of the larger houses in the 1911 census and 1939 register were split into several households. Unfortunately there is nothing about numbers of rooms like 1911 census, but together and alongside random addresses from records of life events, wills, directories, newspapers etc, we can start to create a database, a useful list of houses and their occupiers at various points in time. Deeds and newspaper reports of auctions etc. can help with names of owners.

The database of Sticklepath Houses is in its early stages, starting with a list created in 1983 from people’s memories (especially Muriel Ching Bowden nee Finch) now slowly adding the 1939 register houses to the database and the occupants to the SticklepathOne ‘forest’.

If anyone is willing to share any photographs or information about their Sticklepath house with the Sticklepath Heritage Group or on the website please contact us. Similarly if anyone would like to know if I have information about their sticklepath house, do ask.

Miss E. A. Seward – A valuable obituary?

Elizabeth Ann Seward is not a direct ancestor of anyone. She never married. Yet we can learn so much diverse information from the newspaper report of her funeral, a transcription of which you can find below.

She was well respected, and at the grand old age of 87 years, many attended her funeral. Nowadays, sadly, many of us will spend our last months in a care facility, often many miles from our friends, associates and neighbours (FANS). Perhaps by virtue of being ‘out of sight’, and perhaps because those FANS don’t know about the funeral until too late, perhaps because families are much more spread out geographically and tend to be smaller, funerals may be poorly attended. Covid of course adds another level to that, with many social activities being curtailed, and numbers attending funerals restricted in recent times.

The newspaper gives useful genealogical details including her full name, age, address, and a number of relationships such as nieces and nephews. Often, particularly for men, occupation is included. In fact we learn here that her cousin John was church warden for many years.

Hints at character are often included – ‘A prominent member of the Women’s Institute’ (WI) she was ‘closely associated with the social activity of the village’ somehow implies lady-like activities, not that she was down the pub every evening or a loose woman!

Church was clearly important, to her cousin if not Miss Seward herself, since she donated a stained-glass church window in his honour.

I was aware of the WI, though we now know it was already going strong in the village in 1939. However, I learn of the ‘Belstone, Sticklepath and Sampford Courtenay Nursing Association’, of which she was President for many years. Their floral tribute tells of her ‘generosity and kindness’ to the nurses and association. We also find the secretary is called Miss Reynolds. Further research shows 156 donors to the association and that Albany Finch took over as the President (Exeter and Plymouth Gazette – Friday 04 August 1939).

I spot another floral tribute was sent by my great grandmother, widow of an Ag Lab, and wonder what the connection there was. Perhaps consider which of your ancestors was a contemporary too.

There is mention of the vicar being Rector of ‘Belstone with Sticklepath’, which might alert us to the fact that responsibility for the Sticklepath residents was passed from one vicar to another in different parishes over time.

There is also a hint about funerary customs – the bearers are listed, which is not surprising, but mention is also made of ‘A number of neighbours’ who ‘acted as relief bearers’. The coffin must have been carried a reasonable distance to require one or more teams of relief bearers. Her house, Sunnyside, pictured above, lies about mid-way between the church and cemetery, which are about 100 yards apart. Even a fairly wealthy woman was carried then, not taken by hearse.

My point? It is worth reading about funerals and other events taking place where your relatives lived, even if they were not themselves present. You may just pick up something that helps to put their life in context. Like any source, information should be confirmed where possible and often many new research questions arise – why, for instance, did she come to the village as a child? Where did her money come from to allow such generosity? Who benefitted after her death?

(Although I have used the tribute below, a fuller account can be found on her memorial on Findagrave using the Western Times 3 February 1939 report).

Western Morning News – Tuesday 31 January 1939 accessed via

STICKLEPATH FUNERAL Last Tributes To Miss E. A. Seward.

Many mourners attended the funeral at Sticklepath Church yesterday of Miss Elizabeth Ann Seward, of Sunnyside. Sticklepath, aged 87. Miss Seward went to Sticklepath to live in her early childhood, and during her life had been closely associated with the social activity of the village. She was president for many years of the Belstone, Sticklepath, and Sampford Courtenay Nursing Association, and a prominent member of the Women’s Institute. Some time ago she was the donor of a stained-glass window to Sticklepath Church, in memory of Mr. John Cook, her cousin, who was a churchwarden for many years.

The service was conducted by Rev. C. Lister James (rector of Belstone-with-Sticklepath). Family mourners were Miss B. W. Seward and Miss M. W. Seward, nieces; Mr. and Mrs. Jack Tucker (Crook-Burnell), Mr. and Mrs. Edgar Hawkins (Waterslade), Misses Ada and Elsie Colwill (Hatherleigh), and Mr. Ashley Hopper (North Tawton). Mr. Frank Seward (nephew) was unable to attend.

Bearers were Messrs. J. Cooper, G. Brooks, J. Newcombe. A. Bowden. T. Holman, and G. W. Hellier. A number of neighbours acted as relief bearers.

THE MOURNERS. Among the mourners were Com G. Aldwell R.N., Mr J J. Newcombe (clerk to Okehampton Town Council) and Mrs. B. B. Newcombe (Okehampton). Messrs. C. Counter. Wright, Sleeman. J Cook. Harvey. Bowden. Wonnacott. Brook, R. Finch. E. Heggador,. C. Bowden. J. Newcombe, E. Hull. R. Bennett. A. Hopper. F Richards and A. G. French Mesdames E. C. Maynard. E. Heggarion, Simpson-Grey. M A Bowden. E. Tucker, F. Wonnacott. Cooke. Lethbridge, E Bowden. E Tucker. A. Bowden. S. Bowden. Jones E. Jones. Mr. and Mrs A. J Crews (Plymouth), ard Mrs. S. Yeo, Mr. and Mrs. F Fielder. Misses Alder Brown, Stewart. Mesney. E. Ireson. Warn. H. Heggadon. E. Cobbledick. Reynolds (secretary of the District Nursing Association). Littlejohns. and Nurse Gator.

Floral tributes were sent by Frank and May, Bessie and Mary; Margaret and Cary: Annie: Mrs Sloman and Miss Hockaday (Honeychurch); Mrs. Minnie Tucker and Lena (Mitcham. Surrey); Mrs M A. Bowden; Miss A. C. Watson (Plymouth); Dr. and Mrs Maynard: Elderton ar.d Miss Stewart: Mrs and Miss Miss A. C. Hastie, Mr. and Mrs Freeman (Berryfield. Mrs. and the Misses Colwill Hatherleigh; Mr and Mrs. Edgar Hawkins (Waterslade). Com. and Mrs Metherell (New Milton): Miss Reynolds: “In grateful memory of much generosity and kindness to the Nursing Association”: members of the Women’s Institute.