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Coldstream Bridge Marriages 1793-1797

Coldstream is situated in Scotland on the north bank of the river Tweed. On the opposite bank of the river is the town of Cornhill, a chapelry of the parish Norham in Northumberland. The two towns were linked by a seven-arched stone bridge, built by John Smeaton of Eddystone Lighthouse fame, in 1766. Shortly after this the Toll House, on the right of the bridge as you cross over from England, achieved a fair degree of notoriety for runaway marriages, some suggesting that it rivalled the more famous venue on the west coast, Gretna Green. This might have been so in earlier days, and the evidence of the register indexed here certainly suggests business was brisk, some 635 marriages being performed between May 1793 and July 1797. However, the fact that so few registers belonging to the Border Priests have survived prevents an objective assessment being made. In fact, the document used to prepare this index is only a copy of the original register, prepared in the late 19th century, about which nothing is known other than the fact that it survived among the Parish Chest contents relating to Cornhill. The name of the Border Priest, the transcriber of the original register and its fate, are unknown.

The details in the copy register are very few, just the name of the bride and groom, their parish of origin, the date they were married and, for the first ten pages, the fee charged by the Border Priest. The majority of the marriages are between couples from parishes in the eastern Scottish Borders and north Northumberland. The first entry, on the 26th of May 1793 reads simply, "Geo. Hutchinson & Charlotte Barbary Dawson of Stockton", who were charged two guineas for the service, for that is what it amounted to. The sixth entry, dated the 24th of August, records the union between "Thomas Henry of the Parish of Ford & Marjory Crone of the Parish of Doddington", and they were charged only eight shillings. The usual fee seems to have been nine shillings and sixpence, however, the impression is that half a guinea was probably the prefered rate, and that desperate runaway lovers prepared to travel some distance were charged a higher rate. One wonders what the Lords Eldon, Erskine and Broughton of their day were charged, as all were married at Coldstream Bridge and, remarkably, all three subsequently became Lord Chancellors of England!

In his book A Thousand Miles of Wandering in the Border Country, published in 1898, Edmund Bogg, a lover of tall tales and legends and larger than life characters, recalled the following amusing episode about old Will Dickson, who usually commenced the ceremony with the question, "What's yer name my mon, and where d'ye come frae." Though probably mid-nineteenth century, it nonetheless gives a good idea of proceedings at a Border Wedding:

Turning to the bridegroom, Dickson thus interogated him, "What do they call ye my man?" "Me name's Anderra Daveson," said he, in a quavering lugubrious tone of voice. "And where div ye come frae?" said Dickson. "I come frae Skidlaw," said Andrew, very solemnly. "Isn't that in the Parish o' Carham?" said Dickson. "Aye," said Andrew, and a dead silence supervened, relieved only by the scraping of Dickson's pen upon the book. After much labour Dickson succeeded in making the necessary entries in his register in regard to Andrew. Then, turning to the bride, he thus addressed her, "And noo, me bonnie lassie, what's yer name?" "They ca' ma Ann Scott," said she, in a loud yelping, shrill tone, which set the other girls all a-giggling." "And div ye come frae the same place as Anderra?" said Dickson. "Whate div I," said she, with a sharp toss up of her head. All the preliminary entries in the record book having been satisfactorily made, Dickson thus proceeded: "Now, Anderra, my man, ye maun say these words after me - I, Anderra Daveson," - "Yes," said Andrew. "No, no," said Dickson, "that's no it. Ye maun say these words after me - I, Anderra Davison." - "Aye," said Andrew, "that's my name." "Ye great stupid goniel, do ye no understand what I say?" shouted Dickson at the top of his voice; but the bride was equal to the occasion. Speaking into Andrew's ear in a loud whisper, she said, "Say I, Anderra Daveson, mon, say that, say that, say that"; and at each repetition of "say that," she gave him a sharp dig at his ribs with the point of her elbow. The girls screamed with laughter, and our loud guffaws in chorus gave a depth and tone to the merriment that is indescribable. Poor Andrew seemed to be bewlidered, his face became pale, and large drops of sweat trickled down his cheeks. After much patient labour on the part of Dickson, the bridegroom was coached through the formulary adopted by Dickson on such occasions, and, for the time being, Andrew was at peace. Turning to the bride, Dickson, in his most winning manner, thus softly addressed her, "My boonie doo, ye maun speak the words which I shall put into yer mouth, just loud enough for all these people to hear ye." What more Dickson intended to say was lost for ever, for the bride (whose feelings seemed to be highly strung, and was impatient at the delays which had already taken place), sang out in a loud clear voice: "I, Ann Scott, tak thee, Anderra Davison, to be my wedded husband, to have, and to hold, from this day forard, for better, for worse, in sickness and in health, till death us do part, and I tak all these folks to witness that I declare and acknowledge Anderra Davison to be my guidman." Amidst the din of laughter which this outburst created, Dickson roared out, "O ye jade! Ye brasent limmer! Ye have been larnin afore ye cam here. Weel! weel! ye've done the trick, and just as weel as I could have done it myself; but I am not to be cheated out o'me fee for o' that. Me usual charge is half-a-guinea, but, as ye are near neighbours o' mine, and as I'll maybe have a gill wi ye some other day, I'll just mak it five shillings on this occasion."

This index differs slightly from similar marriage indexes published in that it includes the parish of abode of both bride and groom. This is presented in brackets below the firstname(s) of the bride and groom. As usual, the entries have been duplicated to provide a full index of all brides and grooms in a single listing, and all dates are presented in the ASCII format of

George Bell
July 1997

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