Marriages in Wesleyan Methodist chapels

Until 1837, all marriages (except those involving Quakers and Jews) had to take place in the parish church and according to the rites of the Church of England.

The 1836 Marriage Act made provision for the registration, for the solemnization of marriages, of any building certified as a place of religious worship, as from 1 July 1837.A registrar of marriages had to attend and register the marriage. The Wesleyan Methodist Conference did not, initially, take up this opportunity, and it was only after pressure from individual chapels that they assented to registration in 1845. Even then, only a small proportion of chapels were licenced for weddings.

Even by 1867 only 824 chapels in the whole country were registered for marriages, out of the 5429 chapels registered for worship. It was possible to get married in only fifteen per cent of chapels.

To give non-conformist bodies the same rights as enjoyed by the Established Church, Quakers and Jews, the Marriage Act 1898 provided for the appointment (by the governing body of a registered building) of an authorised person in whose presence the marriage had to be solemnized and by whom it had to be registered. After this date, when ministers could act as Registrar, more chapels were registered.

By the end of 1899 the number of chapels registered for marriage had increased to 2695, thirty-eight per cent of those open for worship; but only 611 congregations had taken advantage of the new rights. Even so, the Wesleyan Methodists were much quicker than the other branches of Methodism to respond to changes in the law this time.

If you are looking for a marriage which took place in a Methodist chapel, you will find the register either in the care of the local minister or in the local County Record Office. You can also find a full record of the marriage in the General Registry Office, and may find it easier to obtain a copy from there. In either case, a fee is required for a copy of the entry. Unlike baptisms or burials, marriage is a legal ceremony, with the minister acting on behalf of the state, so the records belong to the state.

Sources:

Thirtieth Annual report of the Registrar-General (1867)    BPP 1868-69 XVI (4146)    viiiAccessed 19 June 2020 http://www.histpop.org/ohpr/servlet/PageBrowser?path=Browse/Registrar%20General%20(by%20date)&active=yes&mno=493&tocstate=expandnew&display=sections&display=tables&display=pagetitles&pageseq=12

Sixty-second Annual report of the Registrar-General (1899)    BPP 1900 XV [Cd.323] lix Accessed 19 June 2020 http://www.histpop.org/ohpr/servlet/PageBrowser?path=Browse/Registrar%20General%20(by%20date)&active=yes&mno=525&tocstate=expandnew&display=sections&display=tables&display=pagetitles&pageseq=59&zoom=3

David M. Chapman, Born in Song: Methodist Worship in Britain (Church in the Market Place Publications, 2006), Chapter 8 ‘The Solemnisation of Christian Marriage’, pp. 197-217

Wesleyan Methodist Church Minutes of several conversations at the One Hundred and Fifty-Sixth Yearly Conference… (London: Wesleyan Methodist Book Room, 1899) p548

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