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A chosen people?

St Barts

How God made the English

I watched a programme called ‘How God made the English’ on the BBC last night, it was interesting, but I didn’t agree with the presenter, Professor MacCulloch, entirely. I think perhaps people at Oxford University and those in politics who were educated at Oxford, do think they are the ‘chosen people’. Certainly, Christianity has influenced England as a nation but many people rejected not only the  Catholic religion, but the Church of England too.

The Victorian work ethic produced a lot of wealth as the natural resources of coal and iron were exploited, but that wealth largely went to the aristocracy. They also made money out of other enterprises. In the town where  I live, they built parks, a theatre; every church had a institute and often a school too. The wealthy lived in their mansions and Manor houses and the poor lived in squalor.

I have reading tis morning about life in Victorian times when it was expensive to get a divorce and so men would sell their wives and then celebrate in the local pub! It wasn’t exactly legal or respectable to sell a wife and so they would try to make it more acceptable. They would first make an application to a lawyer, magistrate or even the clergy for a certificate or note to the effect that it gave legal warranty to the sale.

The wife would then be ‘advertised’ by sending around the town crier to to tell people the time, place and nature of the coming event. The wife would then be led to the sale with a halter around her neck, like a head of cattle. To emphasise the point that she was just chattel like an animal that could be sold she would often be taken through a turn-pike gate and a ticket paid for.

The sale was affected by auction or mock auction and the husband would describe his wife’s virtues and homely skills to encourage the bidding. The sale wasn’t taken too seriously and most of the men would be looking forward to the celebration afterwards. The wives weren’t always sold for cash but often exchanged for a warm coat, a dog or a gallon of gin.

In 1859 a Dudley man sold his wife for sixpence and she was said to exhibit no shame in being so easily disposed of.

Rough Moey sold his wife and baby in Wednesbury market place and he was said to be a drunk who had one leg, one eye and one arm, having been injured in a mining explosion. She was happy to be sold to a younger man who wasn’t such a scoundrel!

After the wife selling on a Saturday, the locals would all go to church in their Sunday best the next day and feel nothing was amiss! It seems that religion was important in Victorian times even for the poorest people who would pawn their best suit on a Monday and redeem it on Saturday in time for Sunday services!

Times change of course and we now have pay day loans instead of pawn brokers. Church schools still exist, but are few and far between and even Comprehensive schools are being consigned to history in favour of ‘academies’.  There are still rich and poor and now we have motorways in place of the canals and railways. The England that Charles Dickens wrote about has changed out of all recognition. The work houses are gone and so is much of the culture that led to enterprise. This area is now thought of as deprived. The aristocrats plundered the wealth and went to live in more pleasant places.

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One response

  1. Pingback: The Wednesbury hoard « Mike10613's Blog

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