A Blyth Valley misty morning, a sign of the coming Autumn season. September is often a pretty month, and often warm too, so is a good time to visit. Come and sniff the Suffolk air, whether by the sea or in the countryside. Relax and recharge.

Selling a wife in Blythburgh

menu
Selling a wife in Blythburgh

An Account of Selling a wife in Blythburgh

The Ipswich Journal of 31st October 1789 carried the following notice:

Oct 29 SAMUEL Balls sold his wife to ABRAHAM RADE in the parish of Blythburgh in this county for 1s. A halter was put round her, and she was resigned up to this Abraham Rade. No person or persons to intrust her with my name, Samuel Balls, for she is no longer my right.

Witnesses,
M. Bullock, constable,
Rob. Sherington,
Samuel Balls,
George Wincop.

Sir John Cullum, of Hardwick House near Bury St Edmunds, saw this report, stuck it in a scrapbook, and wrote alongside: "In this enlightened age, one would hardly think of seeing such an advertisement as the above ... ". We also know from a contemporary directory that George Wincop (sic) was Blythburgh’s village blacksmith (his grave is in the churchyard), and Robert Sherington kept the White Hart.

The Blythburgh event was not unusual. Some 400 documented cases are known, from the seventeenth to the early twentieth century, and there could have been many more, especially in the less censorious eighteenth century when they may not have been noticed. The best–known example is fictional, in Thomas Hardy’s Mayor of Casterbridge. But the casual brutality of this encounter, the fortuitous arrival of the purchaser, who bid on impulse, and the lack of ritual features, make this a misleading stereotype.

The ritual was important: location in a public place, often a market; a formal announcement or advertisement; the use of a halter; the presence of an "auctioneer"; the transfer of money, and sometimes the exchange of pledges. The symbolism was derived from the market sale of goods and chattels, with which the participants were familiar, and intended to make ’lawful’ what was essentially a form of divorce and remarriage.

While the sales took place in a society in which women occupied an inferior position, it may be wrong to assume that they were being represented as chattels. The need to observe a "lawful" procedure was the real significance of the ritual. In fact, the women may rarely have been victims. They knew their value and their rights in their society, and their consent was generally a necessary condition of sale.

Footnote: a Samuel Balls, a single man of Holton, married Mary Bedingfield of Blythburgh by license on 6 August 1782, in the presence of Samuel Thrower and William Blowers. Was this the same Samuel and do we have here an eighteenth–century example of the seven-year itch?

Suggested further reading:

E.P. Thompson, Customs in Common (1991)
S.P. Menefee, Wives for Sale (1981)

Alan Mackley, Blythburgh, April 1994, rev. November 1995.
Back to the History Index

Back to our Featured Reports

Some Favourite Websites For September 2018:

North Manor FarmhouseEnsuite B&B accommodation in beamed Suffolk farmhouse close to the Suffolk coast and Southwold

Two B&B rooms, both with en-suite. Guest lounge with open fire. Discount for stay exceeding three nights. Sorry, dogs not accepted.

Halesworth Arts FestivalThe Seventeenth Festival takes place 13th - 28th October 2018 - online booking open now!

Another marvellous selection of musicians, entertainers, and more. Book at least three qualifying events and receive 15% discount. Why not build a short break in Halesworth or area around an event or two? Come and enjoy!

David Elliott Stained GlassUnique decorative stained glass, plus courses for all abilities held in a custom-equipped studio

David offers his wealth of experience to create unique stained glass commissions and items for your home. Stained glass courses offered, suitable for all abilities, from beginner to expert. Gift vouchers.

Bloom'sComfortable Bed and Breakfast accommodation close to Southwold

B&B accommodation just for one or two, in modern farmhouse on working farm close to Southwold. WiFi. Kingsize bed in room. Exclusive use of private adjacent spacious bathroom with jacuzzi bath. Cycle Route 31 passes farm drive. Sorry, no children or pets accepted.

CICO Chimney and Fireplace ServicesTaking pride in providing a perfect chimney lining and fire prevention service

As one of the largest networks of chimney lining installers in the UK, CICO chimneys offer advice and solutions to individuals and trade. Since the early 1980's CICO chimney linings have continually developed a service and product that have been approved and recognised by many professionals as well as the general public.