Penny Weddings

— #03 The Peacock

Overview Penny Weddings Literary Guests

Fisherfolk have always been superstitious and dedicated to rituals. In that, Newhaven was no exception.  Before Newhaven had its own church building, the village was within the parish of North Leith Church.  Weddings in the 18th and 19th Century — Penny Weddings — were a notable event in the village.

The process of marriage was very prescriptive and everything had to be done just so, When a young couple were going to get married, the bridegroom and the best man went to the Clerk of the Parish of North Leith and got the Marriage Lines as the papers were called for which the groom-to-be paid the sum of seven shillings and six pence for the crying in the Parish Church. The principals returned to Newhaven and got two men who were householders to sign their names to the paper for which the bridegroom gave them a treat or refreshment.

2_1075 Newhaven Fishwife photographed by Hill and Adamson in 1845. (Public Domain — Zeno Fotografie)

After the marriage the Minister filled up the Marriage Lines and divided the lines in two giving half to the bride to keep and the other half to the bridegroom to be taken to the Session Clerk to be registered in the Parish Books of North Leith. On the week of the wedding, the bridegroom and best man and the bride amd her bridesmaid had a
set series of formalities that were expected to be observed. The Bride and the Groom would go round the village inviting their guests personally, Each guest would pay half-a-crown towards the expense, except for bachelors who had to pay five shillings.

Come the day itself — a Friday — the boat belonging to the bridegroom or his father and sometimes the bride’s father’s boat or both would be covered with flags all day. It was the best man’s duty to see this done and he always found plenty of volunteers to put them up and take them down. For this they got their allowance.

2_1027 Hill and Adamson portrait of Newhaven Fishermen taken 1845 (Public Domain — Zeno Fotografie)

In the forenoon the mother of the bride and the mother of the bridegroom each in their own houses sent for every woman in the town to come and take a “Parting Glass” to commemorate the young folk leaving their family homes. In the meantime, the bride’s house was filled with young women coming and going to see the new marital
home and how it was furnished. This was called the “Bed Making” and no little fun and singing there before the bed was made.

Just before 2pm, the couple would ascend the Whale Brae together to the Manse which was on Newhaven Road (just beyond the junction of Ferry Road) followed by best man and bridesmaids, parents, and many friends and family from the village.

When they came out of the Manse, first came the two fathers with staffs in their hands, next the bride and best man with a long, white ribbon round his hat, then the bridegroom and the best maid and led the procession back down the Whale Brae with the young men and young women following arm in arm making a long procession with two fiddlers at the head, the boys and girls singing as loud as they could: “Glad news is come to the Toun” until they all arrived in front to the Peacock Inn for the celebrations. As many as one hundred couples “walked” at a Newhaven wedding.

2_1007 Hill and Adamson portrait entitled "Waiting for the boats. Fisherwomen from Newhaven" Taken in 1845. Public Domain (Zeno Fotografie)

At the end of the wedding, usually around 2am or 3am, and after Auld Lang Syne had been sung, all went out with the fiddlers playing to the bride’s house where everyone drank the health of the young couple wishing them no worse than their parents have been before them. Then the tradition of The Bedding began . . .

At which point we will discreetly leave the story of the Penny Weddings.

2_1050 Hill and Adamson calotype of fisherlassies. Courtesy of the Liston Legacy.