As the days shorten and trees lose their leaves our November image shows that it can still be a  delight to be out and about. Many acres of land, marsh and reedbeds in the Southwold and Walberswick coastal areas are protected wildlife reserves.

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 November 2017:

Lamorna CottageAffordable three-bedroomed self-catering cottage in Reydon near Southwold

An end-terrace cottage offering accommodation for up to five in quiet residential street. Garden plus shed for cycles. Close to village shops. 15 minutes walk to the sea. Open fire in Living Room. Radio, board games, puzzles and books but no TV. Sorry, no pets.

The PenthouseSpacious self-catering penthouse apartment for six in Walberswick

Super views to Southwold from the Penthouse. Close to Walberswick's harbour and beach. Parking for one car plus lockable storage for bicycles, pushchairs etc. Friday to Friday bookings. Sorry, pets not accepted.

Chapel CottageSingle-storey self-contained accommodation very handy for countryside, coast, Minsmere

Children and dogs accepted. Walkers and bird watchers welcome. Close to the countryside town of Halesworth and the Sustrans cycle routes 42 and 1, golf course, stables.

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.

Logs Logs LogsFamily Firm delivering kiln dried logs to Norfolk and Suffolk, including Norwich, Diss and Woodbridge

Logs available in tipper loads and bulk bags for wood burning stoves, open fires and pizza ovens. In addition supplying firewood in bulk bags to Essex, Cambridgeshire, London and beyond.