When the sun is shining Southwold beach is a good place to be for a sniff of sea air, a play in the sand, and a dabble in the surf. If the air starts to chill then you are just minutes away from the town and a handy tea room.

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 2019:

Poachers CottagePoacher's Cottage, Halesworth - Charming self-catering accommodation for three (plus cot) with beach hut option

A welcoming and charming one-bedroomed cottage, with space for a cot. Additional single sofa-bed. Highchair available. This cosy cottage is in a Conservation Area in a street of other interesting period cottages, yet countryside walks start opposite the front door. Stroll to the Market Place and the pedestrianised Thoroughfare. Just ten miles to the coast at Southwold where you have the option of renting a beach hut which is in the same ownership.

Golden Light EssencesA Gift of Transformation

Golden Light Essences comprise a range of flower and vibrational essences. These flower essences have been created to help us to understand and transform the negative beliefs we have about ourselves, and our world.

Chris Doyle PhotographyBeautiful Photos of local recent horse riding events

View extensive online galleries of recent horse shows, show jumping, cross country and other events as well as galleries of racing dogs and wildlife. Prints are available to order online.

Green Haven HolidaysCaravan and Camping Site near Halesworth

Stuart and Katherine have enthusiastically established their campsite in the village of Rumburgh just north of Halesworth. From the outset they were keen that this would be an eco-friendly business. Village CAMRA pub close by. Re-opened on 1st May for the 2015 season.

Michael BullenWalberswick based watercolourist and Artist

Watercolours are a moment in time with all the depth, light and simplicity of a haiku and just as elusive. Michael's paintings and prints can be viewed at his Studio overlooking The Market Square in Halesworth.