By Peter Badham.

Imagine a February day in the City of London in the year 1710. On this winter Tuesday, a grey Faringdon Street is perhaps enlivened by a number of colourful couples making sail for the Fleet Prison. The desired harbour is the chapel of the said prison, which is open for business officially at least from 8am to noon. The business in question is, of course, that of marriage and this clandestine trade carried out mainly by ordained clergy imprisoned for debt was lucrative for them and probably parsimonious for the couples.

Judging by the register sequence the first to arrive, or perhaps the bravest, were Thomas Gindall and his intended bride Hannah Lowe who was from St. John Wappin (sic – hear the accent?). Like many to use the services at the Fleet, Thomas was a “sayler” and we are also given the name of his ship, the Essex (a 70 gun third-rater). At first I miss read this and thought he had the trade of “tayler” This led me into a spurious investigation into tailors in the navy discovering that there was no official role of tailor, but until the 1740s neither were there any uniforms in the navy. The crew of a ship were expected to provide or make their own clothes, so if he had been a tailor such a skilled colleague would have been valued.

No doubt any tailor pressed into the navy would have been tasked with sail mending or making. They worked with canvas and stitched the repair of a sail, using a sailmaker’s “palm” and a bodkin. It was a regular task on a large vessel. A sailmaker’s palm is a hard leather shield worn on the hand by sailmakers to protect the palm of the hand in sewing. It often has a small metal cup in the centre of the palm and is used to push the bodkin through the canvas.

But back to Thomas and Hannah, we know from the register that they claimed to be bachelor and spinster, although some of the registered information in this series of records is questionable and no doubt clandestine marriages were sometimes about bending the law.

Enter now before the clergyman, Elizabeth Badham from St. Giles in the Fields and her intended Jonathan Roberts. Here the plot begins to thicken, for it turns out he too is a sailor and in Her Majesty’s navy serving in the Mary Galley. Research shows this to be a two-decker 32 or possibly 42 gun fifth-rate ship. This was a manoeuvrable and faster boat than ships of the line, often used for general cruising and scouting activities, and had recently been rebuilt in 1708 from a hull originally laid down in 1687.

Two might be a coincidence, but now enter Samuel Cook and Judith Halfyard with a suspiciously nautical surname. She is also from St. Giles in the Fields and perhaps a friend of Elizabeth. Samuel is, yes, a sailor and also in the Royal Navy serving on the Royal Oak, another third-rater. As we work down through the register trying to get our minds round what is happening, it is almost a relief that the next wedding is of a whitesmith (who worked in copper and brass or non-ferrous metals), a widower from Croydon marrying a widow from Mitcham.

However, we are not done for it seems that William Dowles or perhaps his intended Elizabeth Godwin were late joining the party and, yes, we have another sailor, this time serving on a top-of-the-line 100 gun ship, the Royal Sovereign.

Three marriages later we have the last of the sailors for the day, Samuel Stapleton serving in the Oxford, a fourth-rater. He and his wife Maud Scotaway were in company with, amongst others, Edward Broxup, who describes himself as Servant to the Queen, and a “Hospittler of Chelsea” James Brazier, a widower marrying Mary Johnson from Stepney, also widowed.

Sadly, we are never likely to know the full story of this remarkable constellation of events but the fact that this particular Tuesday was the 14th of February and hence Valentine’s Day may well have something to do with it. Given that the seamen had no parish and would be unable to plan for shore leave, it is unsurprising that after craftsmen of various kinds, seamen were the second largest group of patrons of the Fleet chapel, being about one in four. We can imagine that these five were friends and would get together when the fleet was in port. Perhaps the five girls were lying in wait until the men finished their reunion, carousing the previous night, and used Valentine’s Day to propose? Certainly at this period of the Anglo-Dutch wars with the French and Spanish, much of which was conducted at sea, there may have been little opportunity for a long enough period of shore leave in which to call banns.


The prison had been rebuilt after the Great Fire so was some 50 years old at this time. It was to be burnt down again during the Gordon riots in 1780, so that most of the surviving prints depict the building which took its place, although it is said to have been built to the same plan. The accompanying print, the original of which dates from 1747, depicts the seedier side of clandestine marriages which could take place in more or less any place within the “rules” of the Fleet including the street and is entitled “A Fleet wedding between a brisk young sailor & his landlady's daughter at Rederiff.”


The British Museum has another print currently available to see online at a reasonable resolution but for copyright reasons we cannot show it here. It is well worth a look and can be found by searching with the details given at the end of the article. Also from 1747 and by the same hand it seems appropriate in view of the likely celebrations after our Valentine's day marriages. Either print might fit for mariner Michael Badham from St. John, Southwark who married Jane Roberts on 26th November 1753. Jane was a widow, so any cousinship from Elizabeth and Jonathan would be on her dead husband’s side, so no problems with consanguinity! 1753 was the penultimate year for these irregular and clandestine marriages which were brought to an end by the Hardwick Marriage Act.

For those unfamiliar with the legal position, from 1604 regular marriages were those performed in the parish of one of the parties either after banns or by licence, so that even if the marriage was in the parish of one of them it was irregular without banns or licence. If you had a special licence granted by the Archbishop of Canterbury you could have a regular marriage away from the parishes of either party. You could be married by an ordained clergyman outside of your parishes by banns or licence but this would be considered irregular and, strictly speaking, clandestine marriages were those away from either home parish and without banns or licence (see Benton, p.11). The Valentine’s Day activities described above were probably irregular as there were ways of obtaining licences through Doctors’ Commons (a place where a society of lawyers practised church and civil law in London) or of having banns read. The Fleet had become a centre for such unions because it was Crown property and considered to be outside the jurisdiction of the bishop and, of course, there was a ready supply of clerics incarcerated for debt!

The register in which these entries appear is one of the better written registers in a book bought locally. The label bearing the information as formatted below, appears under a device showing three fleur de lys.


Thomas Stone, Stationer at the
Three Flower de Luces on Fleet Street selleth

all sorts of Writing and other Papers Shop-

Books, Journals Leigers Pocket-Books, Slate-



Ink-Horns, with all Sorts of Fine Guilt and

Marble-Paper, Also all Sorts of Curious

Jappan-Paper Hangings (both in Yards & Sheets)

of the Best&Newest Fashions, with all Sorts of

Fine –les (asneat asPainting) for Drugesters

and ApothecarysBoxes& Selleth all other Sorts

of Stationary Wares by Wholesale & retale at
Resionable rates.


The mix of notebooks and fair copy registers in this series of records are confusing. Where the entries were first made in a rough notebook the effort to decipher them can be high and clearly the fair copyists were sometimes led into mistakes. The first notebook is really the primary source and one particular entry gave me much difficulty but it was immediately apparent that there is more information in the notebook than the fair copy.

Having seen from this fair copy register that at his marriage on 23 May 1714 William Badham was from Cambridgeshire, I was anxious to work out the real name of his place of origin and see if I could come up with a more probable surname for the bride. I struggled with this for a long time, eventually realising that the problem was exacerbated by the fact that the entry on the back of the folio had bled through and vice versa. This meant that it was very difficult to know whether a particular mark belonged on that page or the one behind it. I tried various methods, including printing off the entries from both sides and sticking them together by one edge, so that I could look through the back and put a pin through to see which mark appeared on both sides or not. The degree of bleed-through is shown by the next image, which is of the entry on the back of that relating to William and Mary.

The next image is of the same area of the page but it has been mirrored or flipped horizontally so that left is on the right.

Once reversed, William Badham’s bled-through name is clearly visible about a third of the way down. Eventually I finished up deciding that William came from Swafham where, satisfyingly we already have a database entry for a Badham, although it is a place well off our normal piste. Also, he was a shopkeeper. I came up with Starling as a possible surname for Mary but I am not at all positive about this, however, I can say that he is shown as a bachelor (Batch!) and she a spinster of St. Clement Danes. This is considerably more information than is in the fair copy register. If you have a subscription the full images are available on Ancestry: search for William Badham, 1714, spouse Mary, keyword “clandestine”. Any other interpretations welcome!

Altogether there are some 30 Badham and variant marriages in this series of records for the period 1667–1754. The earliest is from 1690 and the latest is 1753. We have mariners, a shipwright at Rotherhithe, two soldiers, one of the 3rd regiment of Foot Guards, two blacksmiths, a cane chair maker, a family of patten makers (a kind of stilt overshoe to keep out of the mud and other street ordures), a chapman and a polisher (French or would this be metal finishing?). Some of these tradesmen are London Freemen and there are useful links with the relevant apprenticeship papers. Our family of patten makers seem to have arrived from Western Beggard near Lugwardine, Herefordshire in the form of James Badham, son of John of that parish when James was apprenticed to Thomas Hope in 1697. I can’t say for sure that William Badham, made free of the company of patten makers 128 years later in 1825 by redemption, was of this family but it seems possible. Arthur Badham the cane chair maker, who was married twice at the Fleet in 1714 and 1736, is probably the Arthur, son of James, a butcher of Wonastow, Monmouthshire, who was apprenticed to John Powell a basket maker in 1711. This helps us separate him from the Arthur from Tidenham and the Chepstow family.

We are not finished with Badham involvement in this borderline marriage business as the chapel of the Clothworkers’ Company known as Lamb’s Chapel became a known venue for irregular marriage and apparently clandestine activities too. This is shown because in December 1706 the then incumbent Mr. Wild was replaced by Rev. Charles Badham, as the former had been marrying without banns or licence. Sadly, Wild’s successor proved to be made of the same weak metal and was himself removed for the same offence in 1709 (Benton, p.26). One of the weaknesses in the system was that the ability to issue licences by surrogate was sometimes delegated to the incumbent of such irregular centres such as Duke’s Place and St. Botolph, Aldgate (Benton, pp.27–8). Another of these centres was at Holy Trinity, Minories where another Charles took advantage of the facility in 1691.

This article owes much for basic facts to:
Irregular Marriage in London before 1754, Tony Benton, 1993, Society of Genealogists
Print 1 "Jack Ashore" Engraved Henry Bacon, Photogravure Gebbie & Husson Co Ltd. publication unknown about 1880
To see the British Museum print referred to, use the following URL:
and then search for Museum number 1868,0808.3837