On 28 April 1854, Henry John Ellison married Mary Dorothy Jebb. The event was commemorated in this humorous account by Richard Jebb with illustrations by Lucy Blomfield, one of the bridesmaids. At the time, Henry was the Vicar of Edensor, domestic chaplain to the Duke of Devonshire, and Honorary Canon of Lichfield. His wife to be, Mary, was the eldest daughter of Sir Joshua Jebb, military engineer and surveyor-general of convict prisons.
The wedding took place at Firbeck Hall near Rotherham, South Yorkshire, the home of the bride’s aunt, Mrs Miles, with the service taking place in the local parish church. Richard Jebb describes how outside the church were a multitude of the local populace “whos mouthes wer open and alle agape with expectacyon as though they wolde hav caught flies, onelie itt being ye moneth off Apryll ther wer noe flies toe catch”. A red carpet was laid from the gate of the church yard to the door of the church in order to spare the white satin shoes of the bridal party, and the service was conducted by John Berridge Jebb with the assistance of Charles Campbell, both uncles to the bride.
After the ceremony, the party made their way to Firbeck Hall for the feast and dancing, until the time came for the bride and groom to take their leave. A lay sung by the bridesmaids describes the unusual tradition which took place on their departure:
“Now prance the coursers at the door, now chafing paw the ground
And now, like arrows from a bow, away away they bound.
Off rolls the honoured carriage which bears the precious two,
Out flies from many a snowy hand full many a worn-out shoe
And John the Footman frantic flies far o’er the flowery mead
With shoe in hand, while all the guests bid the young pair “Good Speed!””
The incident is also described in Jebb’s account, with John the footman shown in this illustration chasing after the carriage. The practice of throwing old shoes at the couple’s carriage dates from Tudor times, when it was believed that if the shoes hit them or their carriage it would bring good luck. It is thought that this in turn stemmed from an Anglo-Saxon practice of tapping the bride with a shoe to signify the groom’s authority over her. Handing over a shoe was also a way of symbolising the transfer of power from the father of the bride to the groom. The bride would then throw her shoe to her bridesmaids to see who would marry next, rather than today’s tradition of throwing the bouquet. In a letter to his mother, Philip Frank Eliot, Dean of Windsor 1891-1917, describes how the German Emperor threw an old shoe at the departing carriage of HH Princess (Marie) Louise of Schleswig-Holstein (daughter of Princess Christian) and HH Prince Aribert of Anhalt! [SGC M.148/9]
Richard Jebb offers an alternative explanation of the strange custom:
“as Master Giroldus Cambrensis affirmeth with more pleasauntrie than gallantrie, thatt there bee comfort in an old shoe, and thatt alle comfort bee throwne awaie with matrimonie”
He goes on to say that he doesn’t believe this explanation, adding that “hee must have beene a monke (or att ye least an olde and fustee Batchelour)”
Sadly the couple’s happiness was short-lived as Mary Ellison passed away in 1870, leaving behind 7 young children. Henry never remarried.
This letter [SGC M.160/A/2/3] forms part of the Ellison Collection, which contains the papers of Henry John Ellison, his son John Henry Ellison and his grandson Gerald Ellison. Both Henry and John Henry were vicars of Windsor and chaplains of the Chapel Royal. The papers were deposited in St George’s Chapel Archives in 1994.
Eleanor Cracknell (Assistant Archivist)