I took my first wedding on 10th August 1985 - having been carefully tutored in the tasks of equipping myself with ‘registrar’s ink’ and then writing out the details four times (once each in duplicate registers, then on a certificate for the couple, and then on a ‘quarterly return’ copy for the local Registry Office). It was a laborious process then and has remained so on the four hundred or so occasions I have repeated the exercise since.
On Saturday, another 10th August as it happens, I did it for what might be the last time. I’m not now due to take another wedding until after the date on which new legislation may be implemented to abolish the eighteenth century registration system. All church registers in current use would be due to be closed off. In future a single marriage document will need to be prepared (possibly on-line) to be signed at the wedding. It will be the responsibility of the couple to lodge it at the local Register Office themselves, and it will be Register Offices which then issue wedding certificates in future.
It is going to save the Government quite a bit of money publishing and securely distributing church registers, and soliciting and processing quarterly returns (there is a team of people at the General Register office who key in the hand written returns they receive) – although I can see quite a few of the new documents going astray before they are properly lodged.
Part of me regrets the passing of the old system – perhaps both historic nostalgia and the loss of an area of very minor expertise play their part. Part of me is greatly relieved not to have to go on putting so much effort in.
I told the couple of Saturday that the 250 years or so the present system has run covers perhaps only a quarter of the 1000 years in which Christian marriages have taken place on the site. The eighteenth century reforms arose in part because of Government concern about clandestine weddings (could we really be sure who was married?), and the secure production and distribution of standard registers may not have been a practical option much sooner. The twenty-first reforms arise in part because of Government concern about sham marriage and identity theft, and on-line options are quite new.
One feature of the new document will be that it records the name of the couples’ mothers as well as fathers. The seventeenth century style which we are just about to lose comes from an era when the bride was moving from being the legal responsibility of one male person to that of another, and moving on from that perception in the registration process was certainly long over due.
The older photograph is from the 1911 history of the Cross Roads Co-Operative Society and shows the first shop. The newer one was taken today.